The Prodigal Who Stayed at Home
September 29th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE PRODIGAL WHO STAYED AT HOME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-29-68 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio, believe it or not, on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. On Sunday night, unless there is an exigency to arise, and it seldom does, on Sunday night I preach through the life of Christ. Always on Sunday night, unless there is a determining factor over which we do not have control, the message will be from the life of our Lord. And I have sort of decided, Margaret, that I like you there too. I have decided to keep that up as long as I am pastor of the church. Every Sunday night I will preach a sermon on Jesus. I have been for years now preaching through the life of Christ, and when I get to the end, years and years hence, why, we will just start over again. But every Sunday night the sermon will be on the life of our Lord.
Now we have come to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. So you turn to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. Last Sunday night I preached from verses 11 to 24, verses 11 to 24 [Luke 15:11-24]. This is the parable of the prodigal son. Now tonight we will begin at verse 25, and we will read out loud together to the end of the chapter [Luke 15:25-32]. Luke chapter 15, we are going to read about the elder brother, whom I have called The Prodigal who Stayed at Home; last Sunday night, the prodigal, the younger brother who went away, and tonight the prodigal who stayed at home, the elder brother.
Now with me read it out loud together, and on the radio get your Bible, open it to Luke 15 and begin at verse 25 with us, and all of us read it aloud together. Now let us read:
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
I wish that the story could have closed with verse twenty-four: one of the dearest, sweetest, most moving dramatic stories in literature; a boy who went away into a far country and there wasted himself in orgies, but he came to himself, humbled himself before his father, and was received back a son again. I wish it could have stopped there [Luke 15:11-24]—but no, the story continues at verse 25 with the recounting of the reaction of the elder brother to the younger son who, in repentance, came back home [Luke 15:25-32].
However, had the Lord not told the story about the elder son, it would not have been true to life, for life is like this. Every year comes wintertime and in the wintertime come the storms. In every band of disciples, there is a Judas. Not that we choose it. It is a part of the conflict at the heart of this world. It is a part of the fallen story of mankind. So, in this story, if it is true to life, you have here an elder brother, an elder son. Now, in the story he is most despicable. We would anathematize him. We would hurl stones at him. He is of all creatures most reprehensible. But if you will let him step out of this story and into human life, you will find him very acceptable. He is a fine young man. He comes in late in the evening from the field, and he is steady, and he is dependable. He has stayed at home and worked hard. At no time did he transgress his father’s commandment [Luke 15:29].
I repeat, if you will let him step out of this story and into human life, you will find him a most welcomed member of the order of our society. But it is a strange thing what Jesus does to our ideas of what is right and what is wrong. It is an amazing thing how Jesus plows up our lists of virtues and how He disorganizes our little systems of what is evil, and people who have fallen into wrong and iniquity.
I ran across an instance of that in studying Greek down at Baylor. When I was in the seminary we studied New Testament Greek, but down there at Baylor we studied classical Greek, and I remember a story that we read in our Greek class and on which we had to recite. Isn’t it strange how the years take things out of your mind? I can’t remember the philosopher—well, let’s call him Socrates. I remember the young fellow that he talked to, his name was Lysius.
So Socrates is walking down the streets of Athens and he goes by the gymnasium, the school, and he sees there a young fellow, and he speaks to him and says, “Lysius, come over here and sit by me.” So Lysius comes and seats himself by the side of the Greek philosopher. So Socrates begins and he says, “Lysius, do you know the difference between right and wrong? Do you know what is good and what is bad?” And the young fellow: “Why, yes, Socrates, why, yes, I know what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong.” “Well,” says Socrates, “let’s get a papyrus, let’s get a piece of paper and you draw a line down through the middle of it. And on one side you put what is bad, what is wrong. And on the other side you put what is good, what is right.”
So the young fellow gets a piece of papyrus and he draws a line down the middle. Then Socrates says, “Now let’s begin. Now, Lysius, name something that is bad.” So Lysius says, “Murder is bad.”
“Fine,” says Socrates, “put that down here on the left.” So he writes murder. “Now what else is bad?”
“Well,” says Lysius, “thievery is bad, to steal is bad.”
“All right,” says Socrates, “put that down here on the left. To steal is bad. What else is bad?”
“Well,” says Lysius to the philosopher, “to lie is bad. Lying is bad.”
“Fine,” said Socrates, “Now put that down on the left side what is bad.” So they go down the line of everything that is bad.
Then on this side, why, Socrates has Lysius write everything that is good. Now after the list is made Socrates says, “Now Lysius, let’s look at your list, at what you think is bad and what you say is good. Now up here you say murder is bad. Now Lysius, let me ask. If we had a foreign foe to invade Attica and to threaten Athens, and you were called into the army, and you went out to defend your city and your people, and you took arms and you fought for the defense of your country; that means you would kill. Would that be good or would that be bad?”
“Well,” Lysius says, “Socrates, I think that would be good.” “Well, then let’s take murder and put it over here on the right side. Let’s put that on the good side. Now Lysius, you have here that thievery is bad. Now Lysius, let me ask you. Suppose you were to see a man who was greatly discouraged. And he had a sword there on the table, and you knew he was going to take that dagger, that sword, and he was going to plunge it into his heart, in that despondency and despair he was going to take his own life. So, you had an opportunity to steal that dagger and to spare that man’s life. Now Lysius, would that be good or would that be bad?”
“Well,” says Lysius, “I think to steal that dagger would be good.”
“Well, fine,” says Socrates. “Now, let’s take stealing and put it on the right side over here, on the good side.”
“Now Lysius, you say here lying is bad. Lying is bad. Now suppose, Lysius, there were soldiers coming by slaying all of the infants in the little town, and in the house there was a little baby boy, and you stood at the door and when the soldiers came by to slay the infant in the house, and he asked you, ‘Are there any babies in this house?’ And you say to the soldier, ‘No, sir, there are no children here,’ and you do it to save the life of that little child. Lysius, do you think that would be good or that would be bad?”
And Lysius says, “Well, Socrates, I think that would be good, so let’s take lying and put it on the other side.”
And he goes clear down the list, and all the things that Lysius had that [were] bad Socrates gets over on the side that is good. Then he starts on the other side, and all the things that Lysius said were good, he puts them over on the bad side. And when the thing is done, Lysius turns to Socrates and says, “Socrates, I just don’t believe I know what is good and what is bad.” That is one of the classical passages in Greek literature.
Jesus does that to us. Most of the things that you think are most vile, the Lord does not consider most vile at all. And most of the things that you think are just thoughts, Jesus says are the vilest of all. Well, let’s look at it and see.
When you list vile things, evil things, there is not a one of us but that will list the sins of passion and of the flesh—“this is evil and this is vile”—and we will put that on the left side here, and because of those sins of passion and of the flesh, we stigmatize men and women, sometimes drive them out of society. And we call children, of all things, and we call children illegitimate. And if you grow up in a little town, you would be a thousand times sensitive to what I am saying.
Now Jesus never minimizes sin, whether it’s sin of the flesh or it’s the sin of the spirit. But if you will follow the life of our Lord, you will never find Him castigating or damning or throwing out as castaways these who fall into sins of passion and sins of the flesh. But He met them with mercy and with understanding and with forgiveness.
For example, there was a woman of the street, she was a harlot. She was for sale. And she came and bathed the feet of the Lord, and washed His feet with her tears, and dried His feet with her hair, and anointed Him with ointment [Luke 7:37-38]. And those of the Pharisees who looked upon it were, they were offended by the presence of such a woman and said the Lord was no prophet or else He would know who she was, bathing His feet and drying them with her hair [Luke 7:39]. But the Lord said to her, “Woman, daughter, go in peace. Thy faith hath saved thee” [Luke 7:50]. He said in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Matthew, “Verily I say unto you,” talking to the Pharisees, “That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” [Matthew 21:31].
Any time in the life of our Lord, and read it for yourself, that He met the weaknesses of humanity, the sins of the flesh, He did so with mercy and understanding and forgiveness. You say those are the vilest sins. And we see men and women and children driven out of society because they have fallen into those scarlet sins. But when you list other sins such as the sins of a critical spirit, or the sins of passing judgment, or the sins of jealousy, or envy, or selfishness, or self-righteousness; when you see sins like that you say those are just faults. They are not grievous sins. They are just aberrations in somebody’s make up.
Jesus says just the opposite. Jesus says that the vile sins and the damning sins are the sins of the spirit, the censorious, critical spirit, the judging spirit, the unforgiving spirit, the selfish spirit, the unyielding spirit, the condemning spirit. Jesus says these are the sins that damn the life and condemn the soul. He would say to a harlot, “Your sins are forgiven you, go and sin no more [John 8:11]. Thy faith has saved thee” [Luke 7:50]. But He would say to the Pharisees, now because of the Lord’s description of the Pharisees, we have made the name synonymous with hypocrisy. But in their day they were the finest of the nation. The apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus, prided himself and boasted that he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees [Acts 23:6]. They were the finest people, but they were the most critical and the most censorious. They were the most judging, and they were the most self-righteous and the most selfish. And Jesus said to them, “You whited sepulchers [Matthew 23:27], it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than it will be for you” [Matthew 11:24]. Yet you call that just a fall, and these other sins of the flesh you call scarlet.
Jesus said not so. And He illustrates it with this story that we just read [Luke 15:25-32]. Here is an elder son, and he has a brother who has wasted his substance in orgiastic living. He lived with harlots, and he wasted what he possessed in drunkenness, in a thousand revelries [Luke 15:13, 30]. That prodigal son is forgiven, comes back home and is instated, reinstated, as a loved, welcomed child of God [Luke 15:21-24]. But the elder son, what is the matter with him? Well, let’s look at him for just a moment [Luke 15:25-30].
First of all, he is selfish. The father says to him, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” [Luke 15:31]. He had everything that his father had, and apparently his father was the most well-to-do man, for he had many servants. The father said to the boy, “Son, you have everything that I have.” But when the boy possessed everything that his father had, he objected to the little that was being bestowed upon his younger brother [Luke 15:22-23]. He had it all [Luke 15:31], all of it, but he could not countenance what little that younger son was receiving from the hands of his father; a robe for his tattered rags, a ring for his finger, and shoes for his bare feet [Luke 15:22]. And that older brother, though he had everything that his father possessed, was full of envy because of this little that was bestowed upon his younger brother.
He was selfish. And you say that is a fault, but Jesus says it is a damning sin; selfishness [Luke 12:15-21]. Look at this elder brother again. He was self-righteous, and answering he said to his father, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I any time thy commandment” [Luke 15:29]. “Look at me,” he says. “Look at me!” And he gloried and was proud of his self-righteousness.
Jesus told another story like that. There were two men who went up to the temple to pray, He says. One of them was a despised, outcast publican and the other was a Pharisee [Luke 18:10]. And the Pharisee prayed by himself saying, “O Lord God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men. I am no fornicator. And I am no drunkard and I am no blasphemer. Why, Lord, I walk in rectitude all the days of my life. I even fast [twice] a week, and I do all this and all that, and I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like these heathen pagan sinners all around me. And I thank Thee, especially, I am not like that publican there” [Luke 18:11-12], and pointed him out.
But the publican would not so much as lift his face heavenward. “But bowing before the Lord, he beat on his breast, saying, Lord, be merciful to me”—the only sinner in the world—“And the Lord Jesus said, I tell you that when those two men left the house of worship that that heathen, pagan publican went down to his house justified” [Luke 18:13-14], justified. Self-righteousness is a curse and a damning sin, Jesus says.
I may not fall into some sins that I see other men fall into, but I have sins of my own. You may not be vile and scarlet like some other people you know, but if you will look at your life carefully, you will find sins of your own. In fact, we are kind of much all alike, sinners all of us; sinners all of us [Romans 3:23]. The only difference mostly is that some of us are sinners lost, and some of us are sinners saved by grace, and it doesn’t behoove any of us to exalt himself or parade himself over the rest of us [Ephesians 2:8-9].
What is that saying? “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it never behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” And if there is evil in somebody’s life, if there is sin in somebody’s character, instead of being censorious or self-righteous or full of judgment, what pleases God is that we would meet it in sympathy and in mercy and in prayer. Take it to God and ask God about it and leave it to the Lord. Vengeance belongs to Him [Romans 12:19]. He is the One that judges [Hebrews 12:23]. We don’t judge.
God says we are not to judge; that’s the prerogative of God [Matthew 7:1]. And all of the issues of life lie in His hands, not in ours. And our attitude toward other people who sin, and we see it, is ever to be one of sympathy, and understanding, and mercy, and intercession; prayer asking God to save, to forgive, to change. We are never to be censorious or self-righteous. This elder brother was.
All right, a third thing about him: he was loveless. When he speaks of his brother, he says, “But as soon as this thy son” [Luke 15:30], him, him, him. He doesn’t say “my brother.” He says “thy son.” It was his father who says, “For this thy brother” [Luke 15:32]. He was loveless. There was no spark of the milk of human kindness in him.
There is a point to that beautiful paean of praise to love, written by Paul in the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not (love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not (love), I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not (love), it profiteth me nothing.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-3]
To have a loveless soul and to live a loveless life is of all things to be shriveled and miniatured and made midget in the sight of God. This elder brother was loveless. He had no understanding of his father’s grief or of the woes that had beset that prodigal boy. You don’t have to worry about those who fall into sin; sin carries its own judgment. Sin carries its own tragic visitation from heaven. But our part is always to be in loving understanding, always, always.
We must hasten, I have but a moment left. Look at what happened when the boy came back. First of all, let’s look at him. Rudyard Kipling has written a little poem about that prodigal boy who came back home and this is how he describes the reaction of the lad when he came back home:
My father glooms and advises me,
My brother sulks and despises me,
And Mother catechises me
I never was very refined, you see,
(And it weighs on my brother’s mind, you see)
And there’s no reproach among sinners, you see,
For being a bit of a sinner.
So I’m off with wallet and staff to eat
The bread that is three parts chaff to wheat,
But glory be!–there’s a laugh to it,
Which isn’t the case when we dine.
[from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Prodigal Son”]
Now, I don’t think it happened like that, of course, but I think Rudyard Kipling had a thought. When the prodigal boy came back and found his brother who said “I never transgressed thy commandment, and I have worked here all the days of my life” [Luke 15:29], I can see how Rudyard Kipling could have a thought: “The prodigal says, ‘I think I will leave again, for out there where I have been, they are sinners, I know, but they are not censorious, and they are not critical.’” Isn’t that terrible, that a man who is a sinner would fair better out in the world than he would in the hands of God’s people?
Not only what happened to the boy—think what happened to the father. The father had prayed over that boy and wept over that boy. And went out to his eldest son to entreat him, and he says to him, “For this thy brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:32]. And to see his eldest son, who stayed at home all these years, to see that eldest son bitter and jealous and critical must have broken the father’s heart. He went out to entreat his older boy who would not even come inside the house [Luke 15:28].
But worst of all, think of what must have happened in the soul of this elder son. There is a deterioration in human life when you are censorious and when you are full of judgment and critical, unsympathetic in response and attitude. My brother, look around you. You will meet yourself everywhere you go. If you are selfish, and critical, and bitter, and full of judgment, you are going to meet it wherever you turn. But if you are sympathetic, and loving, and understanding, and merciful, you will meet yourself wherever you are. Isn’t that an amazing and a strange thing?
If I love people, and if I am open-hearted, and if I am friendly, why, the whole world looks open-hearted and friendly. But if I am bitter and censorious, the whole world seems to be full of bitter and censorious people.
Dear Lord, kind Lord, blessed Lord, who had mercy upon sinners and who came into this world to die for them [John 12:27; Hebrews 10:5-14], Lord have mercy upon me. And precious Jesus, if in some little bit I could reflect that same spirit of loving understanding, and sympathy, and forgiveness, O dear Lord, I would thank Thee for the gift and forever.
Let’s be like that. We shall understand. We shall sympathize. We shall be gracious and loving and merciful. And the viler or more scarlet a sinner might be, that he might feel, that if he needed help he could find it in us. A loving, open heart, a sympathetic and understanding ear: this is our Savior, He was like that.
We are going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, to give your heart to Jesus, to ask God to forgive your sins, to ask the Savior to write your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life, to ask God to save you now and in the hour of your death, to ask God to take you to heaven and to give you heaven here, all the sweet and precious things that only Jesus can bestow, come and receive them from His gracious hands. There is no sweetness like the glad good glory of loving the Lord. Come and walk with us. Pray with us. Serve the Lord with us. Love Jesus with us. Do it. Do it now. In a moment when we stand to sing, you stand up coming. There is time and to spare. If you are on the last row of that topmost balcony or the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Do it now. Make it now, while we stand while we sing.
I. The story
A. Wish parable could
have ended at verse 24, with return of prodigal
1. The story not
true to life without the elder son
B. In the story he is
1. Outside of the
story he is a most welcomed member of our society
C. Lysius and his list
II. What Jesus does to our idea of what is
right and wrong
He met the weaknesses of humanity, sins of the flesh, with mercy
list sins of critical spirit, passing judgment, jealousy as “faults”
Jesus says these are the sins that damn the soul (Matthew
III. What were the elder son’s faults?
A. Selfish (Luke 15:31)
B. Self-righteous (Luke 15:29)
1. Publican and
the Pharisee went up to pray (Luke 18:11-14)
C. He was loveless (Luke 15:30, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
IV. The result
A. The prodigal boy who
1. Poem, “The
B. The father (Luke 15:32)
C. In the soul of the elder