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The Two Lost Sons
Scripture: Luke 15:28-32; Matthew 21:31;
Track 1 of 4 in the The Two Lost Sons series
Running time: 1 hour, 06 minutes, 48 seconds.
In this parable, Jesus reveals for us two kinds of people. Since there are two brothers, they represent the different ways to be alienated from God and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.

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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.

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Parable of the 2 Lost Sons
Lesson 1

I chose to teach this lesson series because one Sunday Chuck Sackett introduced to us the concept of God being a prodigal. When I first heard that I was taken aback by what he said and he said he took the thought from a small little book called “The Prodigal God” I found the concept interesting so I purchased the book and read it. I was stunned by what I read and began a personal study on the subject. I fell in love with a parable I didn’t realize existed, the Parable of the 2 Lost Sons. You and I know it as the Prodigal Son.

I say I fell in love with a parable that I didn’t realize existed because I only knew a part of the parable. Most Christians see and rejoice about the changed life of the younger brother, the prodigal son. But this parable is as much about the older brother as well as the younger. But even more, this parable is about the father and his love for his two sons. And what Jesus says about the older brother is one of the most important messages given to us in the Bible yet very few concentrate on that part or Jesus’ message.

Let’s first look at a term that is misunderstood by many Christians. What does the word “prodigal” mean? According to the dictionary, prodigal means recklessly, spendthrift. You spend until you have nothing left. Thus is the description of the younger son. He spent everything he had until he had nothing left.

But what does it mean when we say the Prodigal God? Is God a prodigal? Did he spend everything until he had nothing left?

There is a part of this passage I want you to pay close attention to.

Luke 15:28-32 The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

In this parable, Jesus reveals for us two kinds of people. Since there are two brothers, they represent the different ways to be alienated from God and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven. I hope as you watched the movie clip you saw the different types of people who were around Jesus.

Describe for me who Jesus told this parable to. Who were around him? There were tax collectors and sinners. These men and women correspond to the younger brother. The observed neither the moral laws of the Bible nor the rules for ceremonial purity followed by the Jews. They basically engaged in “wild living”. The other group was the religious. There were Pharisees and teachers of the law. Probably the disciples fell into this category. They were represented by the elder brother. They studied and obeyed the scriptures. They worshiped faithfully and prayed constantly.

The pattern of Jesus as he traveled throughout Israel was to attract as many “younger brother “ types as he could. They flocked around him and Jesus gave them a lot of attention. This pattern puzzled and angered the moral and religious. The basic complaint against Jesus from the religious was that Jesus welcomed sinners and even ate with them. How dare Jesus do this? What could they want or expect to get from Jesus teachings? The immoral are unable to hear or understand the truths from God.

To whom is this parable directed towards? The sinners or the religious? This parable is directed to the second group, the religious. The reason why Jesus tells this parable is because of their response to him being with sinners. This parable takes an extended look at the soul of the elder brother and climaxes with a powerful plea for him to change his heart.

When you hear this parable taught or preached, what is the usual point that gets communicated? The focus is usually on the younger son and how the father freely receives his wayward son back. That is a beautiful picture to those who are far from Jesus and realize that God wants them back and will receive them back.

But, this is not what the parable is about. The target is not the wayward sinners, but the religious people who do everything the Bible requires. It is a mistake to think that this parable is about Jesus explaining to the younger brothers the idea of his unconditional love. The original listeners didn’t melt into tears by this story but rather they were thunder struck, offended and infuriated.

I need you to understand this truth; this parable is all about challenging your understanding of God, sin and salvation. Just like the many times I warned you not to be suckered into believing in something from scripture that was told to you and wasn’t true, this parable also falls into that category. This parable has a lot to say to the religious in this world.

True or False: People like Jesus but Not the Church.

Both older and younger brothers are with us in this church. That is just a reality. It is also true within our families. Frequently the older sibling in a family is the parent-pleaser, the responsible one who obeys the parental standards. The youngest sibling tends to be the rebel. Am I right or wrong? So this leads to an important question to ask:

Then whose side is Jesus on? The Younger or the Older brother? As we will see as we study this parable deeper, Jesus is not on either side. He does not line up with the irreligious nor the religious but he singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition.

True or False: The religious in Jesus day were attracted to him? No, they were offended.

The irreligious in Jesus day were attracted to him? Yes they were?

Think about this a minute, in every case where Jesus meets a religious person and an outcast, it was the outcast that connects with Jesus and the eldest brother type does not. What did Jesus say to the religious in is day?

Matthew 21:31 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

There was no question, Jesus teaching constantly attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. But today, in the modern Church, Jesus teachings don’t have that affect.

True or False: The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to our contemporary churches?

Who do we normally attract to our church? Are we attracting the broken and marginal in this city? If not, then what does this mean? Maybe we have too many elder-brothers in our family?

The Two Lost Brothers

The parable starts off with a short but shocking request. The younger brother says, “Give me my share of the estate”. The normal listeners of the parable would have been amazed at such a request. In Jewish society, the eldest son received a double portion over all the other children. If the father had two heirs, when the father died, the eldest son would receive 2/3rds of the estate while the younger son received 1/3. However, the division of the estate only occurred when the father was dead.

What does it mean for a son to demand that he have his inheritance now? This is a sign of deep disrespect. To ask a father while he is still alive is like wishing that the father were dead. The younger son was saying he wanted his father things but not his father.

What is more startling than the son’s request for his inheritance? In a patriarchal society like Israel, the fathers response would have been one of throwing the son out of the house and driving him from the family. Except for this father, he doesn’t do anything like that.

What did the father do and what did he have to do in order to give over 1/3 of his son’s inheritance? He had to sell off 1/3 of his estate. But also, in order to give the 1/3, he also would have had to give the eldest son his 2/3. In essence, the father had to sell off all of his estate. Most of it would have been in land holdings.

What was the relationship between a man and his land in Israel? To lose part of your land was like losing a part of yourself. This is what gave a man his standing within a community. Their very identities were tied up in their land.

The younger son asks his father to tear his life up in order that the son can have his inheritance early. The father does so because of the love he has for his son. The listeners of this parable would have never seen a patriarch respond like this.

What if you did the same thing and then learned that your son just lost everything he had which included the value of everything you gave him?

Here is what is fascinating to me about the father; we don’t know if the father ever knew what wrong the younger son did in his life. We have no clue if the father knew of his son’s total loss. There is no mention of the father asking what he did with all the wealth he gave over to him. All we see is the love and passion poured out on the son who had returned home.

How many of you would have asked about where all that money went? How many of you would have given a lecture or been furious at the poor behavior of the son? How many of you would make him pay it all back?

The response of the father was opposite what most of us would do. It was here that Jesus demonstrated the character of this prodigal father. Grace was the fathers response. The father pounced on his son with love and kisses. He responded by cleaning up his son from the filth he found himself in. The father gave him this response freely.

It would be nice if the narrative would have ended here but Jesus continues. In fact, what Jesus says next is the true climax of the story.

What was the response of the eldest brother when he heard the news his younger brothers was back?

Now it is his turn to disgrace his father. The eldest son refuses to go into what is perhaps the biggest feast the father had ever put on. The eldest son remains outside the door, publicly casting a vote of no-confidence in his father’s actions. What does the son make his father do? The father has to go out to his son, a demeaning thing to have to do when you are the lord of the manor and the host of a great feast.

Why was the son so furious? What is he so upset over? He is upset about the cost of this decision. How much do you think this feast cost? Was he really upset about the cost of the feast or was the fattened calf a symbol of something else?

By bringing the younger brother back into the family, he is now an heir again with a claim to 1/3 of their now very diminished family wealth. The eldest son is quickly adding things up. He did everything right without failing and remained faithful while the younger son didn’t do anything and still received his father’s wealth. Where is the justice in that?

What right(s) does the son think he has in relationship to his father in this matter? He felt he deserved to be consulted about this. His father had no right to make a decision like this unilaterally.

How will the father respond to his oldest son’s open rebellion? What will he do? Most patriarchs would have disowned his son on the spot. Again, he responds with tenderness but he draws a line in the sand. The son can swallow his pride and come into the house and join the feast or he can refuse to participate. The choice is his.

The listeners of this parable had to be on the edge of their seats. Will the family finally reunite in unity and love? Will the brothers be reconciled? Will the elder brother be softened by this remarkable offer and be reconciled to his father? All of these thoughts probably passed through the minds of his audience.

But Jesus doesn’t end the story. Jesus didn’t tell them what happened next. Why?

It is because the real audience for this story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers. Jesus is pleading with his enemies to respond to his message. In this parable Jesus is redefining everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost and what it means to be saved.