I recently started a new sermon series called “The Gospel in the Gospels,” and my first sermon was on the story of the “prodigal son,” though the main focus of the parable – and on my sermon – is actually on the actions of the father.
One of the things that caught my eye, however, that I had missed the hundreds of times I had read the story before, was the juxtaposition between the father’s actions and the elder son’s response (ironically, I just noticed that the cover story in last week’s Adventist Review was called “The Elder Brother,” and it was also on the older brother in this story). In particular, when the older brother gripes to his father about how his brother is being thrown a party, and says “Lo, these many years I have been serving you, I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friend” (Luke 15:29), the father’s response is fascinating: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” (v. 31).
Though I had noticed this expression before, of course, it suddenly had more depth to me because I had lingered beside verse 13 longer in my study of the Greek text – and I suddenly realized that verse 13 and verse 31 needed to be understood beside each other. After the younger brother asks his father to give him his “portion of goods” that would be his after his father died, notice what Jesus says in verse 13, “So he divided to them his livelihood [Greek, bios, literally “life”].” So it’s not just the younger son who was given his inheritance; the older son was as well. For, “He divided to them . . . ”
Think about that! It’s why the father could later say that “all that I have is [Greek: present active indicative] yours” to the older son. And yet this poor chap was slaving away all those “many years” trying to earn a living from his father, working toward an eventual pay day while all the while those very things were already his. Apparently, he either never received the inheritance that had already given to him, or he didn’t believe it was actually his.
What a tragedy! And yet what a reflection of our own condition! We think salvation is something to be obtained in the future through some type of labor on our part – even if that labor is simply repentance or faith. But the Father wants us to know that it is already ours: “All that I have is yours.”
It reminds me of this powerful passage from Ellen White, “To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring” (The Desire of Ages, p. 660).
Salvation is thus not a future prize to obtain, and faith is not something we exercise in order to acquire something in return. Faith is a response to what God has already given to us in Christ. The former way of looking at faith cannot change the heart, while the latter is a “genuine faith which works by love” (Review and Herald, July 24, 1888) that results in a service of love rather than a service of obligation or duty.
So let us thus not be like the “elder brother,” who knew not what he had already been given. Indeed, let us rejoice that in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Doing so will not only bring us great joy, but it will obliterate any judgmentalism in our hearts, since it puts everyone – older son, younger son, servants – all on the same playing field.