To Know the Heart of the Father
Rembrandt – The Return of the Prodigal Son
The older son and the heart of the father
The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We normally think of the younger son as the main subject of this story. But the story Jesus tells is actually about two sons. While it’s important to understand what Jesus is saying about the father’s love for the younger son, Jesus’ main point was that the older son did not know the heart of the father.
Here is the older son’s story, found in Luke 15:25-32:
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“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.’”
The heart of the father, the heart of the son
In this story, Jesus shows us the heart of the father and his love for his younger son. The father was looking and waiting for his lost son, his heart and mind fixed on the hope that his son would return. And he was ready to run and greet him, forgiving him of all he had done.
Unfortunately, the heart of the older son was very different from his father’s. He showed no signs of watching and waiting for his brother’s return. He was busy with his work. When told that his brother had returned and his father was throwing a celebration in his honor, the older son was furious.
He was angry that his father had chosen to forgive the younger son and celebrate his return, rather than punish and humiliate the boy as the older son certainly believed he deserved.
The older son didn’t know his father’s heart
Luke 15:2 tells us why Jesus is telling this story. “The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ’This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
The Pharisees were angry that Jesus would allow “tax collectors and sinners” into His presence, that He would speak to them, share a meal with them, and show love to them.
Like the older son, the Pharisees thought the tax collectors and sinners should be shamed and punished until they improved their behavior.
Jesus was well aware of how the Pharisees felt. On another occasion, Jesus told a group of religious leaders, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.’” (Mark 7:6)
The Pharisees had kept themselves busy with the work they thought was required, but they had lost sight of the loving God they were serving. They had pursued the work without pursuing the Father.
How do we make sure this is not true of us?
Intimacy with God allows you to know His heart
If you want to know the heart of God, pursue intimacy with Him.
It is more important to know the heart of our Father than it is to “do our duty,” or fulfill the expectations of our group or culture.
If we live in the intimate, loving relationship God wants to enjoy with us, we will do all the other things as well. We will fulfill our duty as followers of Christ. We’ll be able to serve the body of Christ in the way we were intended.
And we will know our Father. We will know His heart – both for us and for those around us. And knowing His heart allows us to love and serve others just as Christ would.
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