The Elder Brother

Scripture: Luke 15:25-30

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house,
26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on.
27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him,
29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.
30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’


The key to understanding this story is found in Luke 15:1-2, Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

The Pharisees, who prided themselves in obeying the law, failed to keep the two most important commandments: [1] Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and [2] love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. They neither loved God nor man. As a matter of fact, they basically hated everyone who was not like them. They hated Gentiles, Samaritans and Sinners. They were filled with pride and self-righteousness. They refused to even acknowledge their sin, let alone repent of it. In this story the elder brother is a portrait of the Pharisees.

I’m sure you are wondering: if this is about the Pharisees, why preach it today, there are no Pharisees here. But there are, Self-righteousness is not dead, nor is pride, contempt for others and self-will. The Pharisees are very much alive and among us….As a matter of fact, I consider myself as a “Recovering Pharisee.”

  1. They are very religious, faithful to the church.
  2. Most of them do not miss a service.
  3. They tend to be morally impecable. [cover their flaws]
  4. They are critical and judgmental.
  5. They don’t seem to be happy.

Today, we are going to look at the characteristics of a Pharisee or Elder Brother.


{V. 25-26} When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on?

Elder brothers don’t like music and dancing. They don’t like celebration because they have no concept of grace. They are legalist and they hate grace. When the elder brother found out they were having a party, he went ballistic.

Elder brother are working on a holy look for appearance sake: it is somewhere between a migrane headache and acid indigestion. They look like they were born on the dark side of the moon and baptized in pickle juice. They are not a good advertisement for Christianity. They appear to be having as much fun as the Cruise Director on the Titanic. The bad thing is, they think they are holy. They have no clue what real holiness looks like. The elder brother was unhappy. 
  • He was unhappy with his brothers return
  • He was unhappy with his fathers response
  • Unhappy about his work (slaving)
  • He was unhappy that they began the party without him
  • He was unhappy with the party itself

Have you ever meet any unhappy Baptist?

  • Unhappy with the music
  • Unhappy with the preacher [little ladies at Cash]
  • Unhappy with the deacons

Have you noticed: you can change music, preachers and deacons and they are still unhappy. The more you placate and pamper them the unhapppier they get because they do not understand GRACE and why we are celebrating. They believe that everything is merited. The elder brother was upset with the party because his brother did not deserve to be forgiven, let alone had a party thrown in his honor.

Folks, we cannot earn God’s favor. We are all sinners and we all deserve death and hell. There are no exceptions. Everything is grace, everything. Once you understand GRACE, you can party and party hardy. Pharisees have no concept of grace.


Yet when this son of yours comes back…. after squandering your money on prostitutes.

The Father ran to meet the prodigal. He was quick to forgive. He didn’t even allow the boy to finish his confession. The elder brother is a different story. He refuses to forgive his brother. He doesn’t even claim him as a brother...Yet when this son of yours comes back...the elder brother said. We can’t claim to love the FATHER when we don’t love our brother. We have to forgive. Not only did Jesus command it, relationships demand it. You will not stay married if you don’t learn to forgive. An unforgiving attitude is an indication that you are holding on to something and it could be an offense but that is not your call or mine: if the FATHER forgives, we are also to forgive. The offense is first and foremost against Him.


The Pharisee or Elder Brother types are good at posting and recording the sins of others but they do not see their own sins. The big difference between the brothers is that the baby finally acknowledged his sin, repented and confessed his sin to his father. The Elder brother is a sinner as well but he masked his rebellion. His sin is covert. He keeps it covered but after a time, sin decieves us and the elder brother does not see his own sin. 

He does however see his brothers sin…Yet when this son of yours comes back…. after squandering your money on prostitutes.

  • How did the Elder know about the prostitutes?
  • Did he spy on his baby brother? {not likely}
  • Did he hire someone to spy on him? {possible but not likely}
  • How did he know he was spending money on prostitutes? {that is what he would have done if it were not for his polished exterior, for the fact that he was concerned about what other people thought of him}

NOTE: You and I have the same black heart as a prodigal. They go out and sin openly, we desire to do the same but are afraid of being found out.

I was in a mens SS class 40 years ago when a man spoke up in the middle of the lesson, he said, “It just dawned on my, my sin of judging others is worse than the sins I am judging them for.” Bingo, he understood grace. Prodigals don’t pretend. They make no attempt to hide their sin. Elder brothers are big pretenders. They cover their sin, they mask their lust. They would not be caught dead with a prostitute but they look at porn on the internet. They have the same black heart as a prodigal.

The Elder Brother, like the Pharisee did not see his sins but he had them, they are evident to us.

  • The Elder was jealous.
  • The Elder was angry with the Father
  • The Elder was disobedient to the Father {refused to go in to the party with his Father begging him}
  • They are judgmental
  • They are unsympathic and unyielding: hard on people


The bottom line is this story is: the Elder brother did not share his FATHERS heart. He did not love his brother. I am reading the bible again and this time I am making note of the passages that have to do with loving our brother. Jesus said there are two GREAT COMMANDMENTS: [1] Love God with all your heart [2] Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. These two commandments are preached throughout scripture, old and new Testaments.

Here is what I am saying, when you boil everything down, TWO THINGS MATTER [1] Loving Jesus [2] Loving your neighbor. If you get these two things down, you are in good shape. BUT you have to understand that they go together. If you don’t love God with all your heart, you will not love your neighbor as you do yourself. If you can’t stand your neighbor, you don’t love God.

The Elder pretended to love his father but did he? He certainly didn’t love his brother, did he? The truth is, he loved neither. When you love your FATHER with all your heart, you want to honor them, please them. What would it have taken for the Elder to please his FATHER? To forgive and love his brother.


This story is a Chiasm, a Middle Eastern literary structure with a mirrored pattern. If you have studies poetry, this is similar. The pattern in this story of parallels is ABCDDCBA [first stanza or half]. The second is ABCDDCB and the A is missing. Jesus did not end the story. We do not know if the Elder brother changed his mind and joined the celebration. In other words, Jesus was giving a personal invitation to the Pharisees. Please repent, come in and join the celebration.

So where are you in this story. I am the elder brother and I have repented, it took me a wild to adjust but I am loving the CELEBRATION. I want to please my FATHER. I want to honor HIM. I want to love people the way He loves people.

What about you? Do you want to acknowledge your sins today or you focused on the sins of others? Do you want to come inside and join the Party or had you rather stay outside and pout? I am begging you to come inside.


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