This morning, people continue to value perception over reality. To some, they have all the answers, and none can teach them anything. Quite often, the things that frustrate these people the most are the very things that they too are guilty of themselves. For example, the ever-increasing world of "tolerance" that we live in promotes from the highest authorities that we need to be tolerant and accepting of people even though they are different than we are. Scripture commands that we should extend liberty to those that might do things differently than we do in non-essential matters, but the world would have us compromise principles and moral integrity in the name of tolerance and open acceptance. Consider, though, that these great heralds of tolerance are themselves some of the most intolerant people in the world. For, they cry that Christians should be tolerant of those things that go contrary to principled living, but they fail to tolerate the Christian lifestyle, mindset, and decorum. The Pharisees in Christ's day were great promoters of the law and sought to instruct the people in the points of the law, yet Christ pointed out in many venues that they were guilty of breaking the very law that they claimed to uphold with highest purity and authority. So it is in our day today. We fallen creatures will quickly point out the problems with others in our own perceptions yet fail to see that we ourselves are guilty of the same things and quite often must be reminded of them ourselves. Thank God when He reminds us of these things that He reminds us of never-changing realities that do not ebb and flow based on the perception of the day.
Our study verse is set in the midst of an account that is commonly referred to as the story of the "Prodigal Son." As a wise elder pointed out, "It is really not the story of the 'Prodigal Son' but the 'Prodigal Sons.'" Our verse pertains to the elder son that was a prodigal in his own right, though often his younger brother is the only one that bears such a moniker in theological vernacular. In the story, the younger brother seeks his portion of the inheritance to live on his own. After leaving home, he spends all that he has, finds himself in the slops of the pigpen, and decides in himself to come home. He plans to plead a servant's place simply for his own survival. However, his father sees him return and embraces him as though nothing of ill had happened between them. His place in the house is restored, and the elder son returns from laboring in the field to a celebration in the house. Upon finding out the reason for the party, he refuses to go in for the hardheartedness and unforgiving attitude that he had about his younger brother. When his father comes out of the house to visit with this prodigal situation, the older son reminds his father of his faithfulness. Why father? Why in all my faithfulness did you never do this for me, yet you did it for my wayward little brother?
With this setting, we find the father's response to his son with our study verse at the very outset of his answer. Before he tells his son the reasoning for the celebration, he reminds his son that he is 1. Ever with him and 2. An heir of the fulness of the father's house. These are realities that do not sway based on the shifting sands of time; nor do they change based on the whims or perceptions of man of the goings on of this universe. Now, the younger son is rightly called a prodigal, for he certainly displayed such decorum of life in riotous living. However, the older son is also a prodigal (as it takes various and sundry forms) by hardening himself to feel compassion, love, and mercy for his blood and family. His perception of what "must be done" had blinded him from the weightier matters of God's law such as mercy. Doubtless, it was a righteous thing that the elder had done in not leaving the father's house, yet it was also a righteous thing that his little brother did in coming back with a servant's attitude. In that sense, they both share in some manifestations of righteous behavior. Yet, just as they share in manifestations of righteous behavior, they also display great lacking, indicative of the fallen nature of man's depravity.
With both of these sons showing some measure of righteousness and some measure of depravity, has their relationship ever changed? No, for they are always brethren. They are always their father's sons. Yet, their fellowship and interaction with one another changed immensely based on their conduct and thinking. So is it with the family of God today. We are always God's sons, and we are always each other's brethren. However, the presence of our Father and the blessings of His house and our spiritual family will greatly change based on our decisions – for good or evil. The elder son watched his little brother foolishly leave his father's house for a far country, yet at the end he was in relatively the same shape as his brother had been: without the house. The younger willingly chose to leave the house to another country, and the elder willingly (or stubbornly) refused to go in the house due to pride. And yet, the glory of it all is that reality never changes. They are their father's sons.
Brethren, if I have been blessed to see anything in my tenure in this old world, it is the reality and ever present fact that God is real and that He has touched my life in mercy and compassion in numberless ways. From the declaration of His word, this teaches me that I am His son, and if that be reality, so shall it ever be. His family that he loves and paid for has been and forever shall be my brethren in this old world. Yes, our decisions can render our fellowship fruitless and cut it off for long seasons and possibly for the remainder of our existence, but we are forever brethren. As an old preacher in this part of the country is known for saying, "If you don't like me, you better start. We're going to be in heaven forever together." So, looking at our study verse, we see two realities that as God's children never change.
We are ever with Him our Father. Yes, our stubbornness may keep us from enjoying His house, and our moral failings may keep us from the pleasure of His courts, but we are ever with Him. As Isaiah prophesied in 49:16, God is better than even a natural mother. She may forget her sucking child, but the Lord will never forget us as we have been graven upon the palms of His hands and our walls are continually before Him. That means that we are in His hand, on His mind, and captured in His heart all the time. Being continually before Him gives strong confirmation that nothing ever changes that reality. Just as this stubborn son had to be reminded of this, so must I be reminded from time to time. No matter how long the road and no matter how many my failings, I am ever with Him. As David declared in Psalm 139:18, we are still with him even after we awake. As the promise to His children of "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" shows, sleeping, stubbornness, immorality, and any other host of natural situations cannot serve to separate us from our Father. One of the glories of that beautiful promise goes beyond Him not forsaking us. He promised never to leave us as well. Though I must leave my family from time to time when I go to work or on preaching trips, our God is such a better Father than I can be. He not only does not forsake us, but He never leaves us either.
Another reality brought to the elder son's attention was that of his inheritance. Now, in the natural example, there had already been great waste made of the father's assets by the younger boy. Yet, the father told his stubborn eldest, "all" is thine. Not some, not part, but all is his. One of the most comforting thoughts about heaven is that we shall all experience the fulness of the glories untold equally with our brethren: none more important or elevated than another. As Paul so eloquently declares in Romans 8:16-17, our inheritance and standing is that we are "joint heirs with Christ." To be a joint heir means that 100% of what is there is ours. Now while I do not have any conception of the exact number of God's family, let us just hypothesize that it is 1,000,000,000,000 souls. Each of us in God's family is not going to get one 1,000,000,000,000th of heaven and immortal glory. Rather each of the blood-bought ransomed family of God will get 100% of glory. When a husband and wife have a joint relationship, 100% of what they possess belongs to each. Not 50/50 as so many divorce proceedings shoot for, but all of it for each. Friends, the elder was told – in the midst of wrongdoing – that all the father's house belonged to him. Friends, even in the midst of wrongdoing, all that pertains to our Father's house belongs to us. Each and every one of us equally. 100%. No exceptions.
In the ever changing world in which we live – these days primarily for the worse – it is easy to lose sight of the eternal realities that God has declared unto us. Though His chastening hand and rod are not pleasant to endure in the moment, thank God that His chastening and correction reminds us of those things that are ever real. He is still there, and we possess all that He has. Friends, we are all prodigals at different times and different ways. Some of us leave the house in immoral and unrighteous living in untoward lands. Some of us through the wickedness of pride and stubbornness of rebellion refuse to enjoy the good things of God because things are not going "our way." Yet others of us allow the world to get us down to the point that we live in fear and morbid dread of what may come our way. Have I touched everybody yet? Friends, the glorious truth and wonderful reality is that our Father's house is ours, and our presence never parted. Hang on to these glorious realities. The wickedness of the world cannot change them. Our wayward steps cannot change them. Surely, I am persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)