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Elder Brother Lostness
Scripture: Luke 15:25-30; Luke 15:1-3, 7, 10, 32
Track 3 of 4 in the The Two Lost Sons series
Running time: 1 hour, 05 minutes, 29 seconds.
The first sign that a person has an elder-brother spirit is that when things in life dont go as you want, you arent just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe God owes them a smooth life if they try very hard to live up to standards. When life doesnt turn out that way, life gets lost.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Elder Brother Lostness

Luke 15 contains 3 parables. Each one talks about lost and found issues. Jesus liked to use the metaphor of lost and found to describe what sin and salvation are all about. The first parable in Luke 15 is about a shepherd who discovered one of his sheep is lost. The second parable is about a woman who discovers that one of her coins is lost and the third parable is the one we studied the past two weeks. This parable is about two sons who are, in different way, both lost. In a nut shell, Jesus described his ministry as a rescue mission, seeking out the lost.

QUESTION: What does it mean to be spiritually lost?

In this parable, the younger brother’s lostness is pretty easy to point out. Because he left his father’s house, wasted all his money, friends and resources, his foolish behavior caused him to lose his way. He was very miserable and sought his way back to his father. But the older brother displays a more subtle, no less devastating form of sin. It brings with it as much misery and strife as the other kind.

SLIDE 2: Luke 15:25-28 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.

SLIDE 3: True or False: Because I live a good life, I should get a good life.

The first sign that a person has an elder-brother spirit is that when things in life don’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe God owes them a smooth life if they try very hard to live up to standards. When life doesn’t turn out that way, life gets lost.

This is truer than Christians want to admit. Christian Americans live in a society that is result oriented. Everything we do is based on that understanding. It is even built into our constitution. We have the right to pursue happiness. Because we have that right, there is an expectation that everyone should be about their business in that pursuit. People in this country expect results, their own results and the results of others. Losers in life are those who have no results to show or those who don’t care.

The same is true in spiritual life, moral observance is result oriented. The good life is lived, not for delight in good deeds themselves, but as calculated ways to control the environment. Let me give you an example:

Peter and the stone.

Like Peter, elder brothers expect their goodness to pay off and if it doesn’t, there is confusion and anger. If you are a person who thinks goodness and decency is the way to merit a good life from God, you will be eaten up with anger since life never goes as you wish. Everywhere you look, you will see someone doing better than you in some aspect of life. This will cause you to respond this way:

SLIDE 4: Luke 15: 29-30 All these years I’ve worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to…Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have.’

QUESTION: Deep down in this statement, the elder brother is telling his father something else. Can yo9u hear his real message?

The message said is, my moral life makes me superior over my younger brother. It is obvious the elder brother has deep disdain for his younger brother. Notice, in his statement that he disowns his younger brother by referring to his brother as “this son of yours”. His superior self-image is based on his hardworking qualities. He is superior because he is more moral than someone else. His sense of achievement fuels his own significance. Often times, this superior attitude is displayed in racism and classism.

QUESTION: SLIDE 5: How can a Christian be comfortable being a member of the KKK?
Who made up the KKK and worked hard to oppress the blacks and Jews?

If you go to their official website the main heading states this: Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America! How does a Christian maintain this type of attitude or belief unless they believe they are superior to others?

SLIDE 6: True or False: When a self-superior group believes God favors them, their attitude towards others who aren’t favored can turn hostile.

QUESTION: Who do you have the tendency to forgive? Do we tend to forgive more easily those who display sins similar to ours?

How hard is it to forgive the sins of those we feel superior over?
How hard was it for the elder brother to forgive the sins of his younger brother?

People who suffer from the elder-brother syndrome experience a spirit of joyless, fear-based compliance. The elder brother boasts to his dad that he had been slaving for his dad all these years. Notice the word he used “slaving”. In our text is says “working hard” but the true meaning is “slaving”.

QUESTION: According to the elder son, what was working for his dad like?
What happens to work when it is out of duty only?
What is your Christianity like? Is it one of joy and fulfillment or is it “slavish”?

I ask myself all the time the question, why am I doing what I do? Why am I in worship? Why do I teach? Why do I do the things I do as a Christian? If it is to receive some kind of reward or to gain something out of it, then I have to reconsider what I am doing and why. Am I doing it for my sake or for God’s sake? If it is to please me, then my actions, though they might be good, are elder-brother centered.

QUESTION: Any idea what causes a person to become like the elder brother? What makes an elder-brother be who he is? Elder brothers lack the assurance of the father’s love.

SLIDE 7: Luke 15: 29 And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.

All during the time the elder brother worked for his dad, he didn’t feel the festiveness about his relationship with his father. Knowing this dad and the love he had for his sons, this dad was probably one who expressed his love often to them. But an elder-brother type is more focused on trying to earn his relationship rather than enjoying the relationship he already had with his father. He wanted rewards and his self-worth was based on results. To this elder-son, he wanted a feast and a party because h e earned it not realizing it that he was already seated in one.

QUESTION: So what are the signs of this lack of assurance?

• SLIDE 8: Every time something goes wrong or a prayer is not answered the way you like, you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in some area.
• Criticism from others don’t hurt you, they devastate you. The elder brother needs approval from others to bolster their sense of self worth.
• You suffer a long time with guilt when you do something you know is wrong. Even after you repent and confess your sin, you can’t be sure you did it enough so you beat yourself up over it.
• Most importantly, you have a dry prayer life. An elder brother might pray a lot but there is no wonder, no awe in the experience. The elder brother does not delight in conversations with the father.

SLIDE 9: Think about your conversations in life, there are three types of people:

• A business associate
• A friend you enjoy being with
• Someone you are in love with “Your Lover”

Are your conversations with these three types of people the same? No, the business associate usually is goal oriented. You are not necessarily interested in chit-chat. You may open your heart up with your friend but it is never on the level you have with your lover. With your lover, there is a strong sense, a strong impulse to speak about what you find beautiful about him or her. These three types of discourse are similar to the different forms of prayer.

9A: Petition, confession and adoration.

The elder brother might pray a lot but his or her prayer conversations are more on the line of the petition conversation. Seldom do they have a private prayer life unless life is not going well. They are driven to deep private prayers when they find themselves in times of trouble and distress. This reveals their main goal in prayer, to control the environment rather than dive into an intimate relationship with the father who loves them deeply.

So who needs to know this? Why did Jesus feel it was so important to expose the elder-brother’s lostness as being wrong and destructive? Why did Jesus want us to know that the elder-brother’s lostness is just as bad as the younger-brother’s lostness? He wanted the elder-brothers to change. The younger brother knew he was alienated, from the father and came back. But the elder-brother didn’t see it and thought he was superior.
QUESTION: So what happens when both brothers come together?

This is a dangerous situation. But this is what Jesus did in Luke 15.

SLIDE 10: Luke 15:1-3 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them! So Jesus used this illustration:

As Jesus has these two groups together, he tells three parables:

SLIDE 11: Story of One Lost Sheep: Luke 15:7 In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

11A: Story of the Lost Coin: Luke 15:10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

11B: Story of the Two Lost Sons: Luke 15:32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

QUESTION: In these three conclusions, what is the message to you and I? What is Jesus trying to tell us?

So who is it that attends MPCC?

This summer Pam and I had a chance to visit Saddleback Church in the Los Angeles area. This church is where Rick Warren ministers. He wrote the book, The Purpose Driven Life. On a given Sunday they have about 25,000-30,000 people in worship. Most of the growing churches on the west coast figure they have about one third attending who are non-believers, one third are believers and one third are “recovering” believers (younger brothers). What were the recovering believers recovering from? They were recovering from the effects of the elder brothers in the church. Many of them were so hurt or offended by their elder brother that they weren’t sure they still believed in the Christian faith.

QUESTION: What about us? Do we have elder brothers in this church? Are you an elder brother?

How many of those seeking to know Jesus have been run off by us because the elder-brother attitude was on full display for them to see? What are the ways this can be done?

How many believing Christians in this church were run off, hurt or offended because they encountered an elder-brother person? What are the ways this can be done?

Jesus wants us to take a differently radical approach. But what is it? Where do we find it? In reality, we find it when we realize that Jesus desperately left someone out of this parable. He did it so you and I would go looking for him and, finding him, we find ourselves and find our way home at last. We cast off the elder-brother life and come back to the father.