Michael Youssef - The Older Son
I'm not gonna ask you to raise your hand if you grew up in a legalistic church or in a legalistic home or legalistic family. Now, in case some of you have not and don't even know what legalistic or legalism means, very put simply, is the elevation of any manmade rules or tradition to almost or at the same level as the Word of God. If you got that, say "Amen". See, legalism is the keeping of manmade rule or tradition and thinking that this is what God wants. Legalism is the thinking that the keeping of manmade rules or tradition is gonna get you favor with God. Listen to me. The problem with legalism is the focusing on things that are not necessary for salvation. Let me repeat this. Focusing on things that are not necessary for salvation, and making it so important. I'm gonna show you we are actually reaping the horror of that now. I'm gonna show you in a minute.
See, the problem with legalism is it mislead you into thinking that if you avoid certain things, which are not necessary for salvation, I'm gonna show you the contrast in a minute. When you avoid certain things that are not necessary for salvation, not sin, not scriptural sin, not biblical sin. I'm talking about things that are not necessary for salvation, that you're a good Christian. See, that's the messing up of legalism. As we come today to "The Older Son" in Luke 15, and the story which often called "The Prodigal Son," and as we've been seeing, it's really more about the father. It's the story about the father. Yes, of course, it's about the other two sons, but it's about the father. We've seen that.
Now, I showed you how it is about the father. It's about the two boys, but it's about the father. Turn with me, if you haven't already, to Luke 15, beginning verse 25. Now the younger boy, repentant, broken, before his father, comes to confess, repent, turn, and the father forgives him, wash him, cleanse him, put on the robe of righteousness, the ring, and then he has a celebration. The fatted calf is prepared to celebrate his return in thankfulness to God. And right at that moment, the older boy who was in the field comes home.
Now, remember again, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. They are the super-duper legalists. They're the legalist of all legalists. They kept all the rituals, but their hearts was far from God. And that is why you have to understand that when Jesus was speaking about that older brother, he was in effect saying to them, "Mr. Pharisee, come over here. Stand right here because, Mr. Pharisee, you are that older brother. The older brother is a portrait of you. You are the one who kept all of the external rituals, but your heart is in the far country. You are the one who condemned some sins but winked at other sins. You are the one who comes across as so sanctimonious, but you dignified unforgiveness and bitterness and gossip and backbiting and smearing the reputation of others with whom you disagree".
If we're truly honest, we have to admit that most Christian legalists sympathize with the older brother. Oh yeah, listen, we condemn the younger brother. I think everybody, "Oh, yeah, oh, this rebellious boy, yes, yes, yes, yes". But we skip the part about the older brother. This growing up, I've never heard a sermon on the older brother. Oh, on the younger brother, on the prodigal, my goodness, hundreds of sermons. Every preacher will preach on the prodigal, always. Why? Because, while the older brother kept the traditions, he was gritting his teeth. Yes, that's right, thank you. While he took care of all the outward appearances, his heart was far from God. While he went to church, yet he was sour, mean, bitter, and had a loveless heart. No wonder Jesus hated legalism. He really, really did. Why? Because legalism gives the impression that you can be saved and accepted by God by just keeping the religious rituals.
Beloved, listen to me. Legalism is Satan's theology. Legalism puts Satan in charge of any church. Let me illustrate this from the writing of the apostle Paul, because legalism is as old as the first church. It's as old as the first church. The apostle Paul writes to the church of Corinth, okay, the Corinthians. And he writes to them, now remember, the Corinthian church was messed up. I mean, they had so many problems and he deals with them. He doesn't skirt, he doesn't wink at them. He deals with them. But he writes to them and he called them saints. Saints! These people are saints? Yeah. But then he writes to the Galatians, but before he even finishes his greetings, he pulls the shirt off their back. What was their sin? Legalism. Legalism. They were adding to the Word of God. They were adding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were saying, "Yes, Jesus, plus circumcision, plus this, plus that, plus the other thing".
Listen to me. The older brother's legalistic heart is clearly manifested in the fact that he could not forgive his repentant brother. Brother, this is important. Don't miss this. Please don't miss this. Don't miss this. If you miss it, you miss something very important. Don't miss it. If you want to be like your heavenly Daddy, you have to forgive like your heavenly Daddy. How does your heavenly Daddy forgives? We saw in the last message: Do not hold sin against the confessing repentant sinner. Don't hold it against them. When we refuse to forgive a repentant person, our relationship with our heavenly Father gets strained. And you see it clearly in this story. You can see it so clearly.
Hear me right, please. For a Christian believer, forgiving a repentant, confessing a repentant person, is not an option. It's not an option. Because forgiveness is the key that unlocks the handcuffs of hatred and bitterness and envy, because forgiveness opens the closed door of unanswered prayers. Because forgiveness lines up your heart with the heart of your heavenly Father. Look at the older brother's indignation turned into rage when he heard that his father has done this, turned into rage.
Now you see, you have to understand, you have to understand the Pharisees, particularly that group, not all Jewish people, but that group, the Pharisees, they never believed that their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their God, the God of Moses and Joshua and Elijah, would actually welcome a repentant Gentile. They wouldn't believe that. It's in the Scripture. It's in the Old Testament. It's repeated over and over and over again. It's there, clearly. But they didn't buy into it. It didn't matter. Why? Because they made a box. They made a box and that box called the Talmud. That Talmud was the traditions, was the extra-biblical material. Not the Torah, not the Old Testament. The Talmud was written by rabbis and their interpretations and their ideas and their concepts. No, they just made that box called the Talmud, and they put God right into it. And it didn't fit with the way they put God in that box.
And we see that clearly when their anger turned into rage on the day we call Good Friday, when they screamed, "Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him". Another thing that is so important, so important. In the culture of the day, even to this day in the Middle East, but certainly in that day, the culture would have dictated, read it in the Old Testament. The culture would have dictated that the older brother is the one who'd have presided over the family celebrations, all family celebrations. The older brother is the chief host of all family banquets. The older brother, that's the older son's duty is to welcome the guests, regardless of his personality.
Now, whether he's an extrovert or introvert, it made no difference. They didn't take those things into account like we do now. Whether he liked it or not, it made no difference. Whether he enjoyed doing that or not, they didn't think about these things. It's part of what he's called to do. It's part, it goes with the territory. It goes with the birth order. It's part of what he does.
Think with me, please. Just think with me. The older son, not only lets his father down by refusing to exercise his responsibility, he actually makes a scene in front of the family home. First he insults his father by not fulfilling his duty, then he actually creates an open rupture of his relationship with his father. See, remember, God chose Israel to be a light to the nations. God chose Israel to be what? Don't ever forget that. Don't ever forget that. I always say: "The gospel is in Genesis 12". Did you know that? It's in Genesis 12. "God said to Abraham, 'In you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.'"
How is that gonna happen? The people are gonna come to know the God of Abraham, and they're gonna be blessed. That's the gospel, that's the beginning. That's how we know the gospel. And throughout the Old Testament, prophet after prophet, light to the nations, light to the nations, light to the nations. That's what they were called to do. Please hear me right on this one. In the eyes of the Father, the older boy's rebellion was just as serious, if not more serious, as the rebellion of the younger son. Are you with me?
Someone will say, "Well, Michael, Michael, where did you get that? Where did you get that"? I'm glad you challenged me. I always love for you to challenge me. Don't ever hesitate. I wanna show you. Verse 28. Verse 28: The Father had to leave the house. He had to leave the guests. Do you know how humiliating that is? He had to leave his guests and go out and entreat his older son. And my beloved friends, listen to me. That was never, never, never, never done in that culture. The father never goes out to entreat the son. The son is the one who entreats the father. The father never pleads with the son. The son pleads with the father. The father never humbles himself before the son. It's the other way around. The son is the one who should humble himself before the father. What's happening here. What's happening? In one day, in one day, think with me.
Please think with me. One single day, the father humbles himself before both sons. He humbles himself before the younger son when he runs. As I told you, it's never done for a dignified man to run. And on the same day, the father humbles himself before the older boy when he came out to entreat his older son. What does it mean? What does it mean? Listen to me please. Listen to me. It means that God in Christ humbled himself for both Jews and Gentiles. The older boy represents the Jews, and the younger represents the Gentiles. The older boy is part of the old covenant, and the rebellious Gentile, the younger son, who's in the far country, far from God.
For you and for me, for us, for all of you watching around the world, this means that God in Christ did the unthinkable. That God in Christ did the impossible. That God in Christ did the most unexpected. That God in Christ did the extraordinary. That God in Christ did what no one could fathom. He humbled himself to death, even death upon the cross, for Jews and for Gentiles. And that is why today both my Jewish friends and my Muslim friends find this part of the Christian faith very difficult to accept. Very difficult to accept. How can God Almighty, the God, the all-powerful God, become man and die on a cross?
And so, they reject the Christ of the cross. Here, Jesus was making the point very clear. It's so clear you can't miss it. You can't miss it. For the Jew who stayed home in the old covenant, the Old Testament, and for the Gentile who took all of God's blessings and ignored him and dismissed him, for both of them, Christ died. Irrespective of the nature of their rebellion, whether their rebellion is an outward rebellion or an inward rebellion, whether their rebellion is false religiosity or rejection altogether, Christ died for their sins, regardless of the nature of their sin.
That is why salvation is found in no one except Jesus the Christ. There is no name under heaven by which men and women, boys and girls, would be saved other than the name of Jesus. And that's precisely why Jesus here in Luke 15, he leaves the ending of the story up in the air, as it were. He doesn't tell the end of the story. He leaves it hanging in the air. You notice that? I know many of you have. He leaves the end of the story hanging in the air. Why? Because the grand finale of this story, I'm getting ready to shout. Is found in the open arms that were stretched on the cross, and they were stretched in order that he might welcome repentant sinners. Repentant sinners from every race, from every nation, from every background, from every age, from every stage, from every form of sin. 'Cause the Bible said breaking one sin, breaking one commandment, breaking all of them.
You see, we grade sin: "Well, this is a big sin, murder. This is a small sin, white lie". God doesn't grade them. To God, sin is sin. Sin is sin. There is no big sin, small sin, great sin, little sin. And that's why the Bible said we all... can you say that with me? "We..." How many of us? "...have sinned and come short of the glory of God". But if you're willing to confess with your mouth and repent from your heart, ask for his forgiveness, you will receive that forgiveness. That's his promise. That's his promise. The love of the Father for both sons is so clearly indicated here. Our heavenly Father loves all. You see, in those days, in ancient times, Jews and Gentiles have represented all of humanity. To them, humanity was divided onto only two segments: Jews and then Gentiles. Everybody. That's humanity for them. Both boys represented all of humanity.
So the question is, is anybody here like the older brother standing on the way from others coming to repentance and faith? Like the older brother, keeping the appearance and the façade and never joyfully falling in love with Jesus, sharing him with others. Like the older son, seeing people dying every day, going to hell, and he says, "They're not my problem". I know it's not easy. I know that. Let's do what's not easy. Let's start with us, repenting of our own religiosity and falling in love with Jesus all over again.