In the story of the Prodigal Son, there are two sons: the one who ran away and the one who stayed. Each had an inheritance from their father. We know the story- the younger son squandered all of his inheritance on lavish, sinful living and tried to come home as a hired worker to pay his debt to his father. But the father saw him off in the distance and ran after him, embraced him and reinstalled him as a proper member of the family. Robe, ring, and fattened calf.
The older son, upon hearing the commotion and celebration, learns of the return of his younger brother but instead of being joyful with his father and family, he is filled with anger! The remainder of the estate all belonged to him now since his younger brother took his portion early. All he sees is the expense of everything it was costing him. Robe, ring, and fattened calf.
Both brothers are concerned with the father’s things but not with the father’s heart. Both brothers were “lost” – one did it by being very bad, the other did it by being very good.
The two groups of people in the audience who had heard this parable from Jesus each represented a brother. The younger brother was represented by the “sinners” present: tax collectors and prostitutes. The older brother was represented by the self-righteous, religious leaders.
Jesus completely reversed their idea of God: that you can do everything right, like the older brother, and still be lost. There is this incredible reality that somehow with Jesus, the younger brother and lover of prostitutes is saved but the one who never disobeyed is still lost. What we learn through this story is that God isn’t looking for people to be good. He’s looking for people to become new.
In this story, the father, who represents God, goes out to both brothers. He ran after the younger son upon his return. He leaves the party to find the older brother and invite him inside. It is only by the Father seeking us and others first that anyone is able to become part of the family of God. He initiates it! He is already on a mission to seek and save the lost! In prayer, we should remember that the Holy Spirit is actively seeking and pursuing lost souls.
We must ask a question about this parable. When the younger brother ran away, why didn’t anyone run after him? Who should’ve gone?
In that culture and context, it would have been the older brother’s responsibility to run after the younger brother; to leave everything behind and care about his father’s heart. Yet he doesn’t. The younger brother has a Pharisee for an older brother, unfortunately. We can see through this parable, which ends with no resolution, that we are all the younger brother and that Jesus is our true older brother. He is the One who left his inheritance and His Father to run after us. It cost Him immensely.
Instead of a robe, He received a cross. Instead of a signet ring, He received a crown of thorns. Instead of the fattened calf, He received vinegar. But He willingly gave it up so that we could have it all. Robe, ring, and fattened calf.
What does this story have to do with evangelism?
Jesus’ mission is our mission. If it cost Jesus immensely, then it will certainly cost us immensely. Evangelism could cost us our social standing, our reputations, and in some instances, it may cost us our very lives. But as the missionary Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, even into the darkest of places?
We need to be like a true older brother, not the one who is only concerned with never disobeying the Father. Who does the Father’s heart go out to? The lost. Are we burdened for the lost? Or are we only concerned with the Father’s things and how much it will cost?
Evangelism is an invitation to come home. Remember when Jesus first extended that invitation to you? Imagine how it will be when we go to our Heavenly Home and our Father runs to us, and embraces us! Imagine how it will be when we see all the others that we’ve extended the same invitation? These are joys not yet fully experienced, but it’s coming! What an overwhelming reunion it will be!
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to do three things:
- Open our eyes to the lost all around us
- Open our hearts to those who He is already actively seeking
- Open our mouths to explain the Gospel of Christ
It might take some time or it might happen quicker than we could have ever expected. Either way, Jesus is worth it.
“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?” Romans 10:14-16 MSG