Thursday, October 5, 2017

Prodigal Worship (Part 2)

This post is a follow-up to my previous post, "Prodigal Worship Part 1," and it was originally published on the Prodigal Preacher blog (

In Prodigal Worship Part 1, we looked at the beautiful picture of worship that happens when we embrace our "prodigal-ness." The younger son repented of his sin, humbly returned to his father, and the father lavished him with love, forgiveness, and blessings. But at the end of that post, we were reminded that the younger son is not the only player in this story. What does worship look like for the older brother?

When the older brother heard the rejoicing over his younger brother’s repentance and return, he was angry and refused to participate in the celebration. He thought the ability to have a relationship with the father and the honor of receiving a blessing from the father was only for him, the “good” son. The one who didn’t wander off. The one who didn’t need to repent and return. Or did he?

As a side note, the subtitles and divisions in our Bibles were not part of the original text. They have been inserted for our reference. Sometimes these subtitles are helpful, but sometimes they divide verses that should remain together. There is one of these subtitles dividing verse 10 from verse 11 in Luke 15.

Verse 10, which is the verse just prior to the story of the Prodigal Son says, “...there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The next verse says, “Jesus continued...” (vs. 11). What He continues to do is to tell us the story of the Prodigal Son in order to paint a picture of one sinner who repents and the ensuing rejoicing ... except that in his story, the older brother refuses to rejoice.

The older brother’s claim is, “I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (Luke 15:29). Is that all that his relationship with the father is about? Duty? And he has never disobeyed? Never? He considers himself to be perfect? The apostle John tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I would dare say that many of us who have been Christians, or at least those of us who have been in the church, for years or even decades can easily slip into following the way of the older son.

"I’ve followed all your rules. I’ve been to church every week. I’ve tithed. I've never done drugs. I've never...I’ve...I’ve...I’ve...” Just like the older brother. And just like the older brother, we may experience some difficulty in rejoicing over a sinner who repents. Especially a really dirty rotten one who squandered the blessings of the Father. We may not want them to receive grace or to be lavished with the Father’s love. We may feel that they should be punished for what they’ve done. However, If we look at everything the younger son experienced, perhaps he was punished enough. His own disobedience resulted in his punishment and suffering, and in turn brought about his humility, and eventually the desire to repent.

It can be difficult to remember that none of us are transformed by punishment. We are transformed by grace. Paul might as well be speaking to the older brother, and the rest of us who sometimes follow the way of the older brother, when he says, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4).

The father rejoiced when his younger son returned to him, saying, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). Perhaps he also said to the older son, “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!” (Rev 3:1-2).
What does worship look like in our brokenness, in our prodigal-ness? In reflecting on this story, I think it looks like humility and repentance. It looks like being lavished with love, grace, and mercy by the Father and not being afraid to rejoice with each other that we are all in the process of being transformed from a broken mess into a beloved child of God.