A Warning to Rule Followers | Luke 15:25-32

Parable

Are you more naturally a rule breaker or a rule follower? In this message, Timothy (TA) Ateek helps us continue to look at the parable of the two sons in Luke 15. This parable is ultimately a story about how rule breakers and rule followers interact with the grace of a perfect heavenly Father.

Timothy "TA" AteekJul 9, 2023Luke 15:25-32
Luke 15:25-32

In This Series (11)
Pray Through to God’s Breakthrough | Luke 18:1-8
John ElmoreAug 6, 2023Luke 18:1-8
The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector | Luke 18:9-14
Blake HolmesJul 30, 2023Luke 18:9-14
Don’t Waste Your Life | Matthew 25:14-30
Timothy "TA" AteekJul 23, 2023Matthew 25:14-30
The Forgiven Forgive | Matthew 18:21-35
John ElmoreJul 16, 2023
A Warning to Rule Followers | Luke 15:25-32
Timothy "TA" AteekJul 9, 2023Luke 15:25-32
The Forgiving Father and His Two Lost Sons: The Prodigal Son | Luke 15:1-32
John ElmoreJul 2, 2023Luke 15:1-32
Which Soil Are You? | Matthew 13:1-9
Marvin WalkerJun 25, 2023
The Path to Being Built Different | Matthew 7:24-27
Jermaine HarrisonJun 18, 2023Matthew 7:24-27
How to Get Into Heaven | Luke 10:25-37
Timothy "TA" AteekJun 11, 2023Luke 10:25-37
Problems, Prayer, and Provision | Luke 11:5-8
John ElmoreJun 4, 2023Luke 11:5-8
Your Best Summer with Jesus | Matthew 13:44-46
Timothy "TA" AteekMay 28, 2023Matthew 13:44-46

Summary

The parable of the two sons serves as a warning to rule followers that they are in danger of missing out on eternity with God. No one will spend eternity with God without a genuine need for and a genuine encounter with the grace of God. Here are four questions to help bring clarity to how you are interacting with the grace of God:

Are you connecting with God’s Word without connecting with God?
  • In Luke 15:25-26, the older son was out in the field, the only one unaware of the celebration. This lesson shows the older son is connected to the father’s rules but is not connected to the father.
  • To enjoy God’s grace is to enjoy undeserved access to God. Instead of reading God’s Word to check a box of completion, we should read to meet with God.
  • Rhythms and routines are essential aspects of the Christian life. Just make sure your routine is cultivating connection and not just completion.
Do you really understand how God operates?
  • When hearing of the celebration, the older brother responded with anger and refused to go in (Luke 15:27-28).
  • The older brother was angry because he never understood how the father operates. The older brother had manipulative motivations for following his father’s rules. He always expected something in return, thinking that his performance would earn his Father’s provision (Luke 15:29-30).
  • The Pharisees were angry with Jesus because he was extending God’s love to sinners and tax collectors, believing they didn’t deserve it because they hadn’t earned it. They didn’t understand how God operates.
  • Have you ever gotten angry at God for not doing what you think He should do in light of what you have done? The reality is that you haven’t understood the way God operates. You have been trying to work God, but God can’t be worked.
  • Anything you have done that is pleasing to God is a result of God’s grace in your life. God’s favor cannot be earned as a reward for performance. It can only be received as a gift.
What’s in your heart?
  • This story shows what was truly in the heart of this rule follower. Anger, resentment, disrespect, pride, selfishness, and greed poured out of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30).
  • The older brother and the Pharisees outwardly were rule followers. On the outside, their lives looked righteous and beautiful. But on the inside, they were full of lawlessness, disobedient to God’s rules (Matthew 23:27-28).
  • Outwardly that is the case for all rule followers. Every single one of us at heart is a rule breaker.
Have you received it?
  • At the parable’s end, the father reminds the older brother that they celebrate because his brother was dead and now alive; lost, and now found (Luke 15:32).
  • The celebration is only for those convinced that the Father’s favor can’t be earned; it can only be received as a gift through repentance and faith.
  • Jesus was the true older brother who left home to bring his brothers and sisters back into the right relationship with their father. Jesus paid the ultimate price by enduring the wrath and judgment of God that our sins deserved.
  • If God’s favor cannot be earned as a reward but only received freely as a gift, the question is, have you received it?

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • Are you a rule breaker or a rule follower? How does that impact the way you relate to God and His Word?
  • Prayerfully reflect on these questions as you read His Word:
    • God, what are you saying to me about yourself?
    • God, what are you saying to me about the beauty of the gospel?
    • God, what are you saying to me about me?
    • God, how do you want me to respond to what you are saying to me?
  • Have you ever been angry with God for not providing for you? Have you ever looked down on or judged someone for being a rule breaker and felt superior to them because you are a rule follower? How can you develop a right view of God’s grace and goodness instead?

Well, good morning, Watermark! How are we doing today? Hey, it's good to see you. My name is Timothy Ateek, and I'm one of the teaching pastors here. If this is your first time ever at Watermark, I'm so glad that you made it. Thank you for trusting us with your Sunday morning. I want to start by asking a question. When I ask it, I want to invite you to turn to the people around you and share your answer.

Here's the question. Are you more naturally a rule follower or a rule breaker? If you're refusing to participate right now, you're a rule breaker. There. I'll tell you. All right. So we have people from both camps in here. Some of you guys are more naturally rule followers, and some of you are more naturally rule breakers.

If you don't know which way you lean, all you have to do is go back to what you were like in middle or high school. Because I'm not really interested in what you've become today. I'm more talking about how are you more naturally inclined. So if you're a rule breaker, then you are most likely a nightmare for your teachers, your parents, and for some of you, even the police. You know who you were.

For you, rules were simply bad suggestions from old people. The question you were asking was, "How great would it be if I could pull this off?" So whether it was throwing a party when your parents were out of town or sneaking into movies that you weren't old enough to see or dating someone your parents said you couldn't date, some of y'all are having serious flashbacks. Right now you're like, "Check, check, check. I did that. It was awesome." So that's you. You're the rule breakers.

Then some of you are rule followers. The rule followers ruined all the fun for the rule breakers. Your teachers loved you. You were your parents' pride and joy. The police didn't even know you existed. For some of you, this is just a few of you, but you rule followers, your rebellious phase was getting a B. If you know someone like that or you are that person, you probably feel pretty good about yourself right now, don't you? That's awesome. Way to go.

The question you were answering was, "What if we get caught? I can't do this. What would my parents think?" The rule breakers were like, "I don't care!" So you figure out which one you are. The reason that I want you to identify whether you're more of a rule breaker or a rule follower is because we're stepping back into Luke 15 and looking at the parable of the two sons. It's one of the most famous parables in the Bible.

There are two sons, and one of the sons is a rule breaker and one of the sons is a rule follower. The whole parable is really about how rule followers and rule breakers interact with the grace of a perfect Father. When I use the word grace this morning, I just want to make sure that we are all on the same page about what I am actually talking about.

Grace is the idea of the unearned, undeserved favor of God. It's the idea that when we could do nothing to earn God's favor as a reward, Jesus Christ did everything so that we could receive God's favor as a gift. When I talk about grace, I'm talking about when we deserve nothing from God except his wrath and his judgment, God gave us everything in the person of Jesus Christ.

So that is grace. When we could do nothing, Jesus did everything. When we deserved nothing, God gave us everything. I'm talking about the unearned, undeserved favor of God. The reason that we have to get our hearts and minds around the idea of grace is because this parable exists to help us understand that no one will experience eternity with God in heaven without a genuine need for and genuine encounter with the grace of God.

Let me just say that one more time because I want to make sure you understand the point of the parable. No one…no one, whether you're a rule follower or a rule breaker…will experience eternity with God without a genuine need for and genuine encounter with the grace of God. So if you have a Bible, join me today in Luke, chapter 15. Luke, chapter 15 is where we are going to be again.

John Elmore did a fantastic job really walking us through the first 24 verses of the parable. As you're turning to Luke 15, I'll just tell you that Tim Keller's book The Prodigal God was extremely influential in my study of this passage. If you are looking for a great, quick summer read, I highly recommend The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.

Now we are focusing today on verses 25 through 32, but it is beneficial for us to just remind ourselves of why Jesus was telling this story. We really find that in verses 1 through 3. So look back at those just really quickly because it gives us the context. It says, "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [Jesus] . And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'" Verse 3, watch. It says, "So he told them this parable…"

So think about it. There are two sons in the story. Why? Because there are two groups of people in Jesus' audience. There were sinners and tax collectors who were…what? Rule breakers. There were Pharisees and scribes who were…what? Rule followers. So Jesus writes two sons into the story because he has two different people in his audience.

Now our tendency is to major in the rule-breaking son, which is the younger son. But that would be incorrect for us to major in one over the other because you have to remember what verse 3 said. It tells us that Jesus told a parable about a lost sheep and a lost coin and now two lost sons. The reason he is telling these parables is to respond to the grumbling of the rule followers, and the rule followers are represented in this story by the older brother.

So the older brother is just as important, if not even more important, than the rule-breaking younger son because Jesus is telling this parable to address the rule followers, the Pharisees and the scribes. Now when we hear the word Pharisees, I just want to make sure that you know who we're talking about. Because when you think of a Pharisee, you might just think of Jesus' main opponents.

So it's easy to just have a negative view of the Pharisees and to assume we are nothing like them. So just to be clear on who the Pharisees were, the Pharisees were professional rule followers. They spent all their time seeking to follow 613 different rules found in the Old Testament. But they actually created more rules to help them follow the 613 rules. So for example, one source said that they had 24 chapters unpacking how they could best follow the Sabbath.

These were professional rule followers. You might hear that and be like, "I am nothing like the Pharisees." Well, what would the Pharisees be like in Dallas, Texas, 2023? The Pharisees would be the people who are at church every single Sunday. It's not twice a month; it's every Sunday. If they're out of town, they drive back in on Saturday night or drive in early Sunday morning. They're at church every Sunday.

These are the people with Bibles open having a quiet time at either Starbucks or Watermark Coffee shop at 6 a.m. each day of the week. These are the people reading their Bibles over the lunch break at their desk at work. These are the people who memorize a lot of Scripture. These are people who read the Bible with their kids every night at dinnertime.

These are the people who when they stub their toe say things like, "Oh, Fig Newton!" These are the people… You look at them and you're like, "They just do life better than I do it." These would be the Pharisees of 2023 in Dallas, Texas. I wonder if I just described anyone in this room or if you are somewhere around that.

What you need to understand is Jesus actually told this parable to warn the Pharisees, the rule followers, that they were in danger of missing out completely on eternity with God. Why? Because no one will spend eternity with God without a genuine need for and genuine encounter with the grace of God. The Pharisees did not value grace because they didn't sense any need for it.

They didn't need God's grace because they believed that they had earned God's favor as a reward for following the Bible. So they didn't need God to give them his favor as a free gift because they had earned it and deserved it. See, following the rules can be a lot like a filter that we use when we're editing our photos.

Why do we use filters to make our pictures look better than they actually are? Following the rules can make you look at your life and think that it is actually better than it truly is. So Jesus tells this parable to the rule followers, and it shows us something very important. The people who struggle to value grace the most… It's not the people outside the church. It's the people inside of the church. It's the spiritual people. It's the religious people. It's the rule followers.

If you remember the story last week that John Elmore unpacked about the younger son, just to catch you up… Many people already know this story, but the younger son is the rule breaker. He goes to his father. He basically says, "I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance now." He gets his inheritance. He runs out to the world. He rejects life with his dad. He goes out to the world looking for life. The world embraces him, satisfies him, and then drops him. He finds himself in a place of need, realizing that true life and joy and peace are found at home with his father.

Unfortunately, he realizes because of what he has done, he is not worthy of the father's love. He is no longer worthy to be a son to his father in this society, but he chooses to go home anyway. When his father sees him still a long way off, his father runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, welcomes him in, calls him his son, kills the fattened calf, and throws the biggest celebration the father has ever thrown because his son was lost and is found. He was dead and is alive.

That is the story of the first son. Why does Jesus write that person into the story? To show that our perfect heavenly Father is in the business of cancelling insurmountable debts. If you realize that you are completely undeserving, completely unworthy of God's love and acceptance, then God's response to you is, "Hey, welcome home! Welcome home!"

There's an invitation into the family of God through the person of Jesus Christ. Christ went to the cross. He went to the grave. He walked out of the tomb. Why? To deal with your sin completely to make a way for you into the family of God. That's the first son. "That's a great ending to the story, Jesus. That wraps up really nicely." Yet he writes a second son into the story. So look at what it says in verse 25. It says,

"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in.

His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

And the story ends! That's not nearly as good of an ending as, "The fattened calf has been killed. There's a great celebration. The son is home." Jesus ends the story on a cliffhanger. He ends the story with the older son standing outside of the celebration. Why? Because Jesus is trying to tell the Pharisees, the rule followers, "Hey, if you're not careful, you are in danger of missing out on the eternal celebration of heaven with God. Why? Because you have no genuine need for grace. You have had no genuine encounter with grace."

I don't know if that's you this morning, but what I want to do is I want to look at the older brother in this story, and I just want to invite you to answer four questions that will hopefully be clarifying questions about how you're interacting with the grace of God. Four questions to hopefully bring clarity to how you're interacting with the grace of God.

The first question is…Are you connecting with God's Word without connecting with God? Especially for the rule followers in the room, answer this question: Are you connecting with God's Word without connecting with God? Where do I get that from? Well, look back at verse 25. What does it say? It says, "Now his older son was in the field…" That's a reference to him following the father's rules. It shows that he was a responsible son. He was waking up every morning and going out to the field to do what the Father expected him to do.

But then it goes on and it says this. "…and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant." Here is why that is weird and there is a disconnect in this verse. Because we found out that the father killed the fattened calf. The fattened calf was an animal that was given special attention. It was an animal that was fed in a certain way to cultivate its mass in order to feed a lot of people.

The fattened calf was… Meat was rare, so it was reserved for special occasions. For the fattened calf to be killed, there would be enough food for dozens of people. Most likely the entire village would've been invited to this celebration, and this would've been the most significant celebration that this father has ever thrown or will ever throw.

The disconnect is that his own son didn't know what was happening. The entire village knows what is happening, but his very own son doesn't know what is happening, and it shows us something important: the son is connected to the father's rules in ways without actually being connected to the father.

This was a description of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were connected to God's Word. They memorized God's Word. They wore phylacteries which mean that they, in a sense, wore God's Word. Yet listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees in John 8:19. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "'Where is your Father?' Jesus answered, 'You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.'"

Jesus is revealing to the Pharisees, "Hey, you don't know God! You do not know the Father." See, the Pharisees were connected to God's Word without being connected to God. So I just want to ask you, did I just describe you? Are you connected to God's Word without actually being connected to God?

See, what we want to do is we want to equate reading God's Word to spending time with God. No doubt we connect with God through reading his Word, but it is possible to connect with God's Word without actually connecting with God. So the question is, do you know the God of God's Word? Are you connected with the God of God's Word?

Well, how is it possible to connect with God's Word without connecting with God? What does it even look like? It's very simple. It's very simple. Evaluate if I'm describing you right now. It's very simple. Here's what it looks like. You open up your Bible. You read a passage. Maybe you understand it; maybe you don't. You feel good about reading it. You realize that you're not too far behind on your reading plan. That makes you feel good about yourself.

Maybe you're up to date on Join the Journey. Maybe you're even skimming the devotionals. And that is the extent of it. I would argue that you are reading for completion, not connection. You might even be reading so you don't feel like a spiritual loser or you're reading to do what you think you are supposed to do as a Christian. That flies in the face of the grace of God.

Why did Jesus go to the cross? Jesus Christ went to the cross to make a way when there was no way for us to have undeserved access to God himself 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what Jesus accomplished through his death, burial, and resurrection. He kicked open the door. The veil was torn. We have access now to enter in to meet with God himself every single day, and we do that through the reading of his Word, but many of us are content to meet with God's Word without actually meeting with God.

I just want you to think about God as Father looking down. If you read a passage, feel good about yourself, and close it and that's it, what do you think God's reaction is? Do you think God is like, "That's what I'm talking about. You crushed that." You as a dad or a mom, does that bring you delight if your kids are like, "Okay, good. Check. I went to lunch with Dad. I feel better about myself because I completed it." No, he wants your heart. He wants you.

That's why I love… My favorite, if you want to know what Timothy Ateek's favorite verse is in the entire Bible, it's Psalm 16:11. Because I think it's a beautiful picture of what a true time with God looks like. David says this. He says, "You make known to me the path of life…" Well, how does God make the path of life known to us? Through his Word. We know God's ways by knowing his Word.

David says, "You make known to me the path of life…" But then he goes on and says, "…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Who sits at the right hand of the Father? Jesus Christ. So you see the marrying of the two: connecting with God's Word and connecting with God.

"You make known to me the path of life…" "God, I am reading your Word, and as I am reading your Word, I am in your presence. I am meeting with you." "…in your presence there is fullness of joy…" And I am delighting in the person of Jesus. "…at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." So let me just say this. Rhythms and routines for the rule followers in the room are essential aspects of the Christian life.

You just need to make sure that your routine is cultivating connection and not just completion. So I would encourage you as you read your Bible, prayerfully answer questions like these: God, what are you saying to me about yourself? God, what are you saying to me about the beauty of the gospel? God, what are you saying to me about me in this passage? God, how do you want me to respond to what you are saying to me? Prayerfully answer those questions. We want to be people who connect with God through his Word.

The second question I encourage you to answer is…Do you really understand how God operates? Do you really understand how God operates?Look back. So the older son is coming home. He hears singing and dancing. He asks the servant what's going on. Here's the report. Verse 27. "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.'"

What's the older brother's response? "But he was angry and refused to go in." The son's response to the father is anger. Why? Because the son still doesn't understand how his father operates. He still doesn't understand how the father operates. The older son really hasn't been working for his father. The older son has been trying to work his father by following the rules.

Those are two different things. It's two different things to work forthe father_ and to try and work the father or to try and manipulate the father. This older son was following the rules to, in a sense, work his father. What makes me say that? Well, look at verses 29 and 30. "…he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat…"

Isn't that always the problem? Someone forgets to give someone a young goat? Re:gen is full of people who have daddy issues because there were goat issues in the family. So if that's you, we have you covered…Monday nights. That was a waste of time. Sorry. "…you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'"

Do you see what he is saying? He is saying, "Dad, this is why I spent years following your rules. I spent years following your rules to get you to give me stuff." His basic point is, "You owe me! I've operated with this unspoken expectation that if I perform for you, you will provide for me. That is the way I've assumed you will operate. That is the unspoken expectation. And yet, Dad, I've performed for you, and you haven't provided me with anything. My younger brother, on the other hand, he hasn't performed for you at all, and you've provided him with everything."

This is why the Pharisees were angry with Jesus. Why? Because Jesus shows up and starts declaring to sinners and tax collectors that the love of God is even for them. The Pharisees are angered by that. Why? Because they're looking at sinners and tax collectors thinking, "They don't deserve it because they haven't earned it! They haven't performed for God, so God will not provide for them."

So this is the problem. If I were to strip it all down and boil it down for you, the older brother believes the father owes him. He believes he owes him. So he has been trying to work his father, and what he is finding out is his father cannot be worked. Here's the reality. We want to operate like God is a cosmic-sized vending machine. We really do. You think about a vending machine. Usually you have to push two buttons to get what you want. It's like a letter and a number.

So for us, the combination of the vending machine of heaven is usually some combination of spiritual activity and moral living. So we want to believe that if we get the combination right that God will, in a sense, have to drop down what we want. But let me ask you, has the vending machine of heaven ever gotten jammed for you? No? Just me? Okay, great. No, we know what it's like for the vending machine of heaven to get jammed.

I wonder if there's anyone here who you feel like you have done everything God wants you to do. You haven't just attended in church; you have been invested in church. You have been the church. You faithfully open up the Scriptures. You faithfully read your Bible every day. You faithfully make decisions that you believe would be pleasing to God. You don't do what other people are doing which is very sinful.

You are seeking to please God for your life, and yet God still hasn't provided you with a spouse. God still hasn't provided you with a job when you have experienced unemployment now for months. God still hasn't changed things at work. God still hasn't changed things in your marriage. God still hasn't healed you. God still hasn't healed your loved one. God still hasn't fixed your child.

The vending machine of heaven has gotten jammed. Have you ever felt anger when that happens? I know that I have. When that happens, what we need to understand is in that moment that we experience anger, we have failed to understand how God operates. We have been trying to work God. We have tried to manipulate him into giving us what we want. We have attempted to back God into a corner to a place where he owes us, but the reality is God never owes us anything. He never owes us anything.

If you think about it, one of the things that I've really had to come to terms with is that the things that I do in my life that are pleasing to God, even those are demonstrations of God's grace in my life. Because the only reason I'm even able to do anything that is pleasing to God is because God first chased me down and drew me to himself and awakened my heart to the gospel so that I could respond in faith to him.

When I responded in faith, he put his Spirit inside of me. His Holy Spirit is now at work empowering me and strengthening me to live more like Jesus would. So for me to know Jesus is a demonstration of the grace of God, and for me to look anything like Jesus is a demonstration of the grace of God. It is all grace. God never owes me, and he never owes you.

Do you understand how God operates? Do you know what's interesting? John unpacked this some last week, but when the younger son comes to the father and asks for his inheritance early, he is basically saying, "Dad, I wish you were dead. I don't want you; I just want your stuff." Interestingly, the older son is communicating the same thing to his dad. He is basically saying, "Dad, I don't want you; I just want your stuff."

Did you see what the father said in verse 31? He says, "'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.'" The father is saying, "Look, you have me. You live in grace. You swim in the grace of my presence. You are always with me." What the older son is saying is, "I don't care. I don't really want you. I just want your stuff."

So let me ask you this. What is the greatest gift God could give you right now? If you could snap your fingers and God would give you what you think you need most, what is that right now? Is it more money? Is it a spouse? Is it a better spouse? I don't know. Is it a job? Is it a better job? What is the greatest thing God could give you right now?

You need to know the greatest thing God could give you right now is more of himself. That is the greatest gift that God could give you right now: more of himself. So you just need to evaluate. Do you agree with that? Because if not, we might be more like the older brother than we think. Because the older brother was following the rules not to express his love for the father but to work his father and to manipulate his father.

It might be that you want God's stuff but you don't want God. You need to understand how God operates. I want to say this because there is urgency in my heart about this. Do not wait until you stand before God at the end of your life to finally understand how God operates. It amazes me that there are Sundays where the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed clearly that you cannot earn God's favor as a reward. You can only receive it freely as a gift by knowing Jesus Christ and his death, burial, and resurrection.

That has been communicated clearly, and yet I've still had conversations up front with people who believe that if they were to die and stand before God and God were to ask them, "Why should I let you into heaven?" they would still try and use some argument of, "I've performed for you; therefore, you provide for me." They would still talk about what they've done. "Well, God, do you know what? I've tried hard. I've gone to church. I've tried to live a good life. I've done this, and I haven't done that."

So I just want to say if that is you, I am begging and I am pleading with you to hear me now. If you stand before God and he were to ask you, "Why should I let you into heaven?" and your answer is all about what you have done, you need to know God will look at you and say, "It is not enough." It's not enough. You cannot earn God's favor as a reward for good behavior. You can't. It can only be received freely as a gift. Knowing Jesus Christ. I beg you and I plead with you to hear that now, to learn that now. Do not wait until you stand before God to finally understand how he operates.

The next question that I encourage you to answer is…What's in your heart? If you want to know why you can't earn God's favor as a reward, then answer this question. What is in your heart? It's important to realize that as Jesus is unpacking this older brother, what Jesus is doing is he is trying to expose to us what is in the brother's heart, what is in the son's heart.

What he is doing is he is trying to expose what is in the Pharisees' hearts. So we find out in the verse 28, there was anger in his heart. In verse 29, we find that there was resentment in his heart. That resentment manifested itself in disrespect toward his dad. Remember this was a patriarchal society. Respect for the father was of utmost importance.

The father is throwing the most important celebration in his life, and yet this older son refuses to go into it. So the father has to stop hosting to go out and deal with his son. By the son refusing to go in, it was the highest form of disrespect. Then when he talks to his father, he says, "Look." In the Greek, it's the equivalent of, "Look, you." It's very disrespectful. Why? It's resentment manifesting itself in disrespect.

Not only was there disrespect, but there was pride. We saw that in verses 29 and 30. This older son starts comparing himself to the younger son. That comparison fuels pride. He is basically saying, "Look, I'm better than him! I've done life a lot better than him! I'm more deserving of your love than he is." So there's pride, there's arrogance, there's superiority.

Then finally, there's greed and selfishness. Why do I say that? Well, he is frustrated that the fattened calf has been killed. The fattened calf was the rarest meat. It was extremely expensive. That fattened calf… Since the younger son had already gotten his inheritance, do you know what that means? That fattened calf actually belonged to the older brother.

The older brother wasn't willing to incur that cost for the sake of his brother. There was greed, and there was selfishness. Jesus is exposing the older brother's heart because he is trying to expose the anger, the resentment, the pride, the arrogance, the greed, and the selfishness that was in the Pharisees' hearts. He is trying to expose what is in our hearts.

It is so important to understand what Jesus says about the Pharisees and to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. If you miss this verse, you have missed the entire message. Don't miss it. Listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, verses 27 and 28. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness."

Watch this. Verse 28. Don't miss it. If you want to know why you can't earn God's favor, here it is. "So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and…" What's that last word? Everyone say it. "…lawlessness." What's lawlessness? It's breaking God's rules. So do you see what Jesus is saying?

He is saying, "Look, outwardly, you're beautiful. You appear righteous." What is he saying? He is saying, "Outwardly, you are rule followers, but once you look inside your heart…" It's like on Fixer Upper when they bash into a wall and they find termites and they find illegal electrical wiring that is one bad day away from a fire.

He is saying, "When you look into your soul, you're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker." He is looking at the Pharisees saying, "You're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker." He is looking at the rule followers in this room saying, "You're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker."

If you've ever had a drop of anger toward God for not dropping down what you think you deserve, in God's eyes you're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker. If you've ever wanted God's stuff more than you've wanted God, in God's eyes you're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker. If you've ever had pride in your heart that you look at the rule breakers and think, "I'm doing life better than that. I'm more deserving than they are," you're not a rule follower in God's eyes. You're actually a rule breaker.

If there has ever been a sexual thought about someone who is not your spouse, if you've ever believed that money is the key to your happiness, in God's eyes, you're not a rule follower. You're actually a rule breaker. If you want to know why God can't be worked for his favor, if you want to know why you are hopeless without grace, it's because every single one of us at heart is a rule breaker.

The life of a rule follower who in their heart of hearts is actually a rule breaker is not good enough for God. It's not. It's not good enough for God. You can't pull enough days of following the rules together to earn anything from him. It's not possible. Years ago, I was in Israel at the Dead Sea. Some of y'all have been to the Dead Sea before.

People love to go to the Dead Sea and just float on top of it. Another thing people like to do at the Dead Sea is they like to reach on the floor of the Dead Sea and take the mud and spread it all over their skin because there is something therapeutic about it apparently. I don't know. I was sitting up on the beach. There was a hill, and I was looking down on these people, not figuratively speaking. I wasn't looking down on them. I was looking at them and I was watching them cake themselves in mud.

They were having such a good time. They were high-fiving. They were laughing at each other. They had smeared it all over their faces to the point where you can't even see their skin. They had covered, just caked their arms in this mud. They were completely covered head to toe in this mud. They are having an incredible time. They are loving every aspect of it.

Then I'm watching them, and they make the decision that it is finally time to get cleaned off from all the mud. So I watch them make this long walk up to the showers and they're still laughing along the way. I watch them walk up to the showers and there's a string that you pull for the water to come on. They're still talking to each other laughing. One of them pulls the string and nothing comes out.

So they try all the showers, pull the strings, nothing comes out. The smiles kind of go away. They start pulling the strings more frantically and nothing is coming out. I watched panic grip these people. Because what was enjoyable now had become uncomfortable, and they were dealing with the reality that they could not get themselves clean.

The reason I tell you that is because some of you are here this morning and you're the rule breaker and you're like, "I don't even belong here. I feel filthy. I feel like I am completely unworthy. There is no way that God could love me. There is no way that God could forgive me because of where I've been or what I've done." You are so aware of the filth of your sin.

You're here this morning feeling broken, feeling busted. You coming here is just like one last-ditch hope that God could maybe look and love you. The message to you this morning is, "Welcome home!" If you will turn to Jesus, if you will let go of your sin, which is repentance… If you will turn from your sin and embrace Jesus as a free gift, the message to you today is, "Welcome home." Because the rivers of Christ's blood that flow from the cross of Calvary are sufficient to wash away every speck of your sin.

I want you to hear me if you're a rule follower in the room. Here's the danger for us, and you need to know that you are looking at a recovering rule follower who is realizing more and more that I am a rule breaker. The most dangerous thing is to just focus on how clean you are on the outside. That you are what Jesus said in Matthew 23, that you appear righteous, you appear beautiful. But did you hear what Jesus said in Matthew 23? He said, "…outwardly [you] appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness."

The danger is for you to be a rule follower, to be filthy on the inside, but what was enjoyable has not yet become uncomfortable. Until you come to a place where you realize your inward filth in the eyes of God. Until it becomes so uncomfortable where you realize, "I cannot get clean in and of myself. I am desperately in need of the grace of God."

Until you realize that, you will still be sitting in your sin. You need to know the only thing that can wash you clean enough to stand before God and experience peace with him, the only thing that can make you right with him is the miraculous work of the grace of God which came in the form of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

The blood that flows from Calvary is sufficient for you and me as well, but without it, we have nothing. When we could do nothing, Christ did everything. When we deserved nothing, God gave us everything. So I'll close just by reminding you of how Jesus ended the story. Verse 32. The father says, "'It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

Then the story ends with the older brother standing outside of the celebration. Why? Because Jesus is trying to communicate in love, "The Father wants you too! There's a reason that the father came out and was entreating his older son to come in. It's because the Father wants the rule followers who are actually rule breakers. He wants them too."

Jesus is trying to communicate, "You are in danger of missing out on the eternal celebration because the celebration is only for those who have a genuine need for and a genuine encounter with the grace of God." The good news is that Jesus Christ was the true older brother. The older brother was frustrated that the fattened calf was killed. He didn't want to incur that cost for the sake of his brother.

Yet Jesus Christ, the true older brother, went after us. He left heaven and came to earth. What did he do? He paid the ultimate price. He didn't just die for us physically. He endured the wrath of God and the judgment of God for all of our sin so that anyone who would repent of their sin, release their sin, release their rule-breaking lives and turn toward Jesus and embrace him as Savior and King could know the complete forgiveness of God.

I said I had four questions for you this morning. I'll end with the last one. If the favor of God cannot be earned as a reward, if it can only be freely received as a gift through repentance and faith, then the final question is this: Have you received it? Let's pray together.

Lord, I ask and pray that in this moment if there's anyone in the room who has lived under the false assumption that you owe them, that they have performed for you; therefore, when they stand before you, you will provide for them, I pray that in this moment they would see clearly.

That they would know in the end that we can do nothing to earn your favor, and that's okay, because you, Jesus, have done everything. So instead of trying to earn it, we can simply receive it by turning from our sins and fully embracing you, Jesus, as our Savior and as our Lord. God, thank you for what you've done. Thank you for your grace. We need you. We love you. In Jesus' name, amen.