There are hordes of good theological books, there are many great theological books but there are only a few that knock the breath clean out of you, that enter into the dark corners of your soul and light a flame, that drop your jaw then fill it with awe-struck praise.
Pastor Tim Keller’s book “Prodigal God” is one of those rare few. As he opens the scriptures and unpacks the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” your eyes will be opened to see that the parable is not about one lost son–but two. Two lost sons that represent two ways to rebel, to find fulfillment, to possess the Father’s goods without the Father himself. And yet the Father is as “prodigal” in his love as the younger brother in his waywardness, inviting both unworthy sons into the feast he had prepared.
But this lavish, prodigal love is not without it’s cost. As we turn to “Act 2” of the parable we find that in order to reinstate the younger son into the family, the inheritance of the older brother must be diminished. The parable ends with a question, an unsettling non-conclusion, an unanswered longing.
Pastor Keller writes, “By the time we get to the third story [the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin being the two recorded prior in Luke’s Gospel], and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him. No one does. It is startling, and Jesus meant it to be so. By placing the three parables so closely together, he is inviting thoughtful listeners to ask: “Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?…By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one.” pp. 80-81, 84
“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. There Jesus was stripped naked of his robe and dignity so that we could be clothed with a dignity and standing we don’t deserve. On the cross Jesus was treated as an outcast so that we could be brought into God’s family freely by grace. There Jesus drank the cup of eternal justice so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy. There was no other way for the heavenly Father to bring us in, except at the expense of our true elder brother.”
Keller, Timothy (2008-09-25). The Prodigal God (pp. 84-85). Riverhead Trade. Kindle Edition.
The beauty of the gospel revealed in a parable.
(I truly cannot speak highly enough of the book!)