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THE PARABLE OF THE OLDER SON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, January 3, 2004


"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing…And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:25, 28).


The parable of the Prodigal Son is given in verses 11 through 24. A man had two sons in Christ's parable. The younger son took his inheritance and went far away to another country. This is a picture of the Gentile world apostatizing from God. The man in the parable represents God. The younger son represents the Gentiles, who

"When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21).

But the younger son awoke from his poverty and decided to come back to his father. This represents the Gentile world turning back to God through the preaching of Christ and the Apostles. The prophet Isaiah foretold God sending Christ to the Gentiles,

"I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).

Thus, the younger son pictures the publicans and sinners, the Samaritans and Gentiles, who came to God through Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul said,

"…the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord…" (Acts 13:47-48).

But the older son represents the scribes and Pharisees. Look at Luke, chapter fifteen, verses one through three.

"Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured [grumbled], saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them…" (Luke 15:1-3).

Christ then gave the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and then, the parable of the lost son (the parable of the Prodigal Son). All three of these parables show that God rejoices over publicans and sinners who receive salvation through Christ.

The grumbling Pharisees are pictured as the older son. The words of the older son in verse twenty-nine perfectly describe the grumbling and murmuring of the Pharisees,

"Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment…" (Luke 15:29).

Notice, again, verse two,

"And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them" (Luke 15:2).

J. C. Ryle gives these comments,

This elder brother is an exact picture of the Jews of our Lord's times. They could not bear the idea of their Gentile younger brother being made partaker of their privileges…the elder brother is an exact type of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's times. They objected that our Lord received sinners and ate with them. They murmured because He opened the door of salvation to publicans and harlots…Our Lord saw this state of things clearly; and never did He paint it with such graphic power as in the picture of the "elder brother" (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke - Volume Two, Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 reprint, page 190).

This, then, is the basic doctrinal meaning of this passage of Scripture. But, of course, it has a deep application today. Thousands of sermons have been preached on the Prodigal Son returning to his father. And it is right to apply the passage in this way. But it is also right for us to preach about the older brother, who never left his father's house. As J. C. Ryle pointed out, "The elder brother is an exact type of a large class in the Church of Christ in the present day" (ibid.). The older brother represents those who have been raised in the church, those who have gone to church all their lives, but have never experienced true conversion. Ryle says, "The man who can take deep interest in politics, or…sports, or money-making, but none in the conversion of souls, is no true Christian. He is himself 'dead'  and  must  be  made  'alive again.'  He  is  himself  'lost'  and  must  be  found"  (ibid., pp. 192-193).

This is a parable of Christ. Therefore, it is proper for us to think about what each part of the parable signifies to us, just as preachers do with the parable of the Prodigal Son. I am following most of Dr. John Gill's explanation and application of the parable of the Elder Son (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume 1, pp. 650-651).

Let us stand and read aloud verses 25 and 28,

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing….And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:25, 28).

You may be seated.

As I said, this older brother applies to those of you who have been raised in the church, or who have been in the church for many years, but are still unconverted. In these two verses we see five things about your condition.

I. First, he was in the field.

"Now his elder son was in the field" (Luke 15:25).

He was not in the house. He was in the field. Salvation was taking place in the house, but this elder brother was in the field. In another parable, Jesus said, "The field is the world" (Matthew 13:38).

The field represents the world. Even though you have been physically in the church for many years, you are still, in reality, out in the field. In spite of your morality and knowledge of the Bible, you are still unregenerated, in the same condition you were in when you were born. You are under the influence of Satan, the god of this world. You are concerned only with the things of this world - making good grades, making money, having a good time. Even though you come to church every Sunday, and have done so for a long time, your heart still belongs to the world. This is shown by your neglect of secret prayer. You come to the outward meetings of the church, but you have no inward communion and fellowship with God.

Isn't that the way the older son was? He had never left home physically. And yet he was not close to his father. Even though he had never left home, he disagreed with his father in his heart. He was as far away from his father, emotionally and spiritually, as his younger brother had been.

"Now his elder son was in the field" (Luke 15:25).

You are as far away from God, out in the field, as a person who has never entered the door of an evangelistic church. Isn't that true? Isn't it true that you are still out "in the field"? And what will happen to you if you die while you are still in the field? I heard of a twenty-five year old boy who died of a sudden stroke last week. He was a close friend of my nephew. What would happen to your soul if you died with your heart in the field? What good would your church attendance and Bible reading do you then? Jesus said,

"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments" (Luke 16:23).

II. Second, he came near the house.

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house…" (Luke 15:25).

The "house" represents the spiritual church,

"the house of God, which is the church of the living God"
      (I Timothy 3:15).

But notice that, although he came near the house, he did not enter into it. The only way a man can enter the "house of God" is through the new birth.

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

Only those who were being saved were added truly to the church at Jerusalem.

You may wonder why we make such a fuss about you needing to be born again. You may think, "What more do they want? After all, I'm coming to church every week!" But you have confused coming to church with being part of the church. Then, you may say, "O.K., then I'll join the church. Is that what you want?" No, that is not what we want. Coming to this church, or even physically joining this church, will not save you. The only way to get into the spiritual church is to be born again. If you remain unconverted you will be just another lost church attender. What good would that do you? Jesus said,

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

As long as you remain unconverted you will be like the older son. He was in the field. He could only come "nigh to the house." He could not actually enter in to the house unless there was a basic change in his inner heart, taking him out of the field and into the spiritual house of God. Unless you are converted you will always be on the outside looking in. No matter how many "church activities" you participate in, you will still be an outsider. You may say, "I don't want to be an outsider! I want to get in to the church!" Then you must be born again. There is no other way to get "in." What would happen to you if you died as you are - outside of the family of God - outside the true spiritual church? Jesus said,

"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments" (Luke 16:23).

III. Third, he heard the music and dancing.

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing" (Luke 15:25).

What a picture this is of a lost church attender! He hears the music and dancing, but he is not part of it. His heart stands outside in the cold, even though his physical body is in the church building. He is in the church, but he is not of it.

I think this "musick and dancing" simply means "joy" in the parable. In the parable of the lost sheep, we read,

"Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost"
      (Luke 15:6).

In the parable of the lost coin we read,

"Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost"
      (Luke 15:9).

So, also, in this parable there is great rejoicing and happiness over one sinner who was converted.

Note, first, that this was no drunken dance, as we see today. The Jews abhorred drunkenness, and their dances were for men only, as you can see in the video of "Fiddler on the Roof." This was simply a big, hearty, joyful party, filled with happy music - and some of the men were so carried away with joy over the return of the lost son, that they broke into a traditional Jewish folk dance.

Note, second, that the older son could not enter in to this joy. I must point out, again, that he remained outside.

There is never any real joy in the heart of a church attender who remains lost. There is always a questioning, "Am I lost?" There is always an uncertainty, "What will happen to me when I die?"

"There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked" 
      (Isaiah 48:22).

You will hear the music and the dancing, but you will be outside - forever. The elder son outside the joyful party is a sad picture of a lost man - shut out of the joy of Heaven for all eternity. Jesus said,

"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments" (Luke 16:23).

IV. Fourth, he was angry and would not go in.

Look at verse twenty-eight,

"And he was angry, and would not go in…" (Luke 15:28).

I wonder if there may not be some of that among you. You have come to church for many years. You have seen people come and go. You have seen them profess to be saved - and you have then seen them fall away. You think that the whole thing may be a fantasy. Sometimes you may wonder if there really is such a thing as conversion at all.

And then someone comes and gets saved. And we all rejoice over it. But you stand aside and think, "We'll see about that. He'll fall away like the others. Why get so excited about that? And you won't get me to go in. I think the whole thing is a fake." I am quite sure that some who have been here for years in an unconverted state think those things at times.

Eighty-eight percent of those who are raised in church stop coming, never to return, by the age of 18. Surely young people like that have anger and unbelief - like the older son. Why, that older son didn't believe in conversion at all! But look where it left him - alone, outside, full of anger and pride - without hope or inner happiness in Christ.

"And he was angry, and would not go in…" (Luke 15:28).

Instead of thinking about those who made false professions and then went back to sin, how about thinking of those who had true conversions, and never fell away? Why not think about my mother, Cecelia, who had a miraculous conversion at the age of 80? Why not think about Dr. Cagan, who was converted from atheism? Conversion was total, complete, and very real in the lives of my mother and Dr. Cagan. If those were the only two real conversions you ever saw, how could you deny the reality of conversion? My mother and Dr. Cagan were never again the same after they were converted - and you know it!

"For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14).

Here this poor fellow stands, outside and angry, because he does not believe in the conversion of his brother! What good did it do him to remain skeptical and cold? How did it help him?

He doubtlessly thought that his brother was no good, and that he would go back to sin again. And what if he did? What if everyone in the world fell away? How would that disprove the value of conversion? The old pioneer missionaries had a better way of looking at things. David Livingstone went to Africa and threw his life away to convert the heathen. He had only one "convert" - and that one proved to be a false conversion. But that did not stop Livingstone! He went right on preaching the gospel until the day he died. Livingstone believed in conversion because the Bible says so - whether any human being believes it or not! The Apostle Paul said,

"What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar" (Romans 3:3-4).

I believe in conversion because Jesus said so - in the Bible. I do not believe it because some fallible human being said so. I believe in conversion because Jesus said so! He said,

"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

That settles the question of whether conversion is real or not. Jesus said so. That is enough.

"And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter…Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris…" (Acts 17:32, 34).

Don't stand outside angry, not believing in conversion. Be like Dionysius the Areopagite and that woman named Damaris! You make sure that you believe in Christ and are converted!

For I must warn you again, if you remain angry and unbelieving, like the older son, there is no hope for you.

"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments" (Luke 16:23).

V. Fifth, his father called him to come in.

Look one last time at Luke 15:28. Let us stand and read that verse aloud.

"And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:28).

You may be seated.

The father represents God in this parable. When you will not come in to Christ, the Father goes out and entreats you to come in. God beseeches you. He implores you, calls you to come in to Christ and the salvation He offers.

"Therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:28).

The Greek word translated "intreated" is from "parakalĕō." It means "to invite, to call for" (Strong). Rienecker points out that the Greek word is imperfect, indicating that "he kept on beseeching him [calling for him]" (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1980, p. 188).

"And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:28).

God kept on calling his older son to come in. And God has been calling you in to Christ for years. He has never stopped loving you. Down through the years you have been in church, not really believing in conversion, because you saw many who "in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). But even though you may have been discouraged and given up belief in conversion, the Lord has not given up on you! He keeps on calling you to come in to Christ. God the Father says, "Come in, my son." Come in, "for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:17).

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely"  (Revelation 22:17).

Come in to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Others may disappoint you. Others may prove to be false. But Jesus will never disappoint you. He will not give you a false promise. He stands with His arms open intreating you to come to Him. He will welcome you with open arms. He will save you from your sins, comfort your heart, fill you with joy, cleanse your sin, and convert your soul. He will do it. He promised that He would - and He did not lie when He promised it, when He said,

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Oh, what a wonderful love He has promised,

Promised for you and for me!

Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,

Pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home;

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,

Calling, O sinner, come home!

("Softly and Tenderly" by Will H. Thompson, 1847-1909).


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 15:25-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Softly and Tenderly" (by Will H. Thompson, 1847-1909).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE PARABLE OF THE OLDER SON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing…And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him" (Luke 15:25, 28).

(Romans 1:21; Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47-48; Luke 15:1-3, 29, 2)

I.   He was in the field, Luke 15:25a; Matthew 13:38; Luke 16:23.

II.  He came near the house, Luke 15:25b; I Timothy 3:15; Acts 2:47;
John 3:3; Luke 16:23.

III. He heard the music and dancing, Luke 15:25c; Luke 15:6, 9;
Isaiah 48:22; Luke 16:23.

IV. He was angry and would not go in, Luke 15:28a; Matthew 22:14;
Romans 3:3-4; Matthew 18:3; Acts 17:32, 34; Luke 16:23.

V.  His father called him to come in, Luke 15:28b; 8:13; 14:17;
Revelation 22:17; Matthew 11:28.

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at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."