“Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth. We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater. Either as elder brothers or as younger brothers we have rebelled against the Father. We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price- someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place.”- Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, 95.
“For he who sanctifies and those are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…”- Hebrews 2:11
Keller finds Jesus in all the right places. This story is a familiar one to us all. A son squanders his inheritance, ends up living amongst pigs, comes to his senses, and returns home hoping to be treated as a simple slave in his father’s house. But that’s not what happens. The son is welcomed home not as a slave but as a son. He is robed, fed, and rejoiced over! But in the shadows, lurking in his self-pity is the older brother. He is outraged by His father’s perceived extravagant waste on the brother who had returned home. There are two brothers, and they are both in the wrong. The Scriptures, though, necessitate that we recognize a third brother, another elder brother that does not appear directly in the story. This Third Brother is the teller of the story, the Maker of stories, and the One in whom all parables find their fulfillment and their meaning.
Here Tim Keller gives us much insight. This third brother is not one to squander or waste an inheritance, and He is not one to lurk in shadows in debilitating self-pity. He is the Elder Brother who is the Beloved One. Sent from the Father, He travels out to the brother in the self-righteous shadow and the brother in the broken, tumultuous state. Thank God for family! It was Family that came for His people, it was Family that came to save. By His death, the Other, Elder Brother melts the self-righteous heart and comforts the downtrodden soul. In His prodigal-ness, in his extravagant, generous grace, He accomplishes perfect redemption for all types of people, for those that believe they have it all together, those that know they do not, and all those in between. Let’s rejoice over our Elder Brother, who has risen and has ascended! And as we rejoice in His work, let us mirror His actions, going out to both the shadow-children and the pigsty-children, showing them that the Father and the Son are prodigal towards their own.