Note- Tim Keller uses the term ‘Prodigal’ in the book title in this sense: that God is the ones who spends extravagantly, who gives everything, in order to bring his children back. The book is based on the parable in Luke 15:11-32
It is in response to their [The Pharisees] attitude that Jesus tells this parable…Jesus purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him.
If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.Chapter 1, The People Around Jesus
The younger brother, then, is asking his father to tear his life apart. And the father does so, for the love of his son. Most if Jesus’ listeners would have never seen a Middle Eastern patriarch respond like this. The father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honor as well as the pain of rejected love.
Act 1 then, demonstrates the lavish prodigality of God’s grace. Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love, not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech.
Why is the older son so furious?… He’s adding things up. “I’ve worked myself to death and earned what I’ve got, but my brother has done NOTHING to earn anything, indeed he’s merited only expulsion, and yet you lavish him with wealth! Where’s the justice in that?”
Why doesn’t Jesus finish the story and tell us what happened?! It is because the real audience for this story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers. Jesus is pleading with his enemies to respond to his message.Chapter 2, The Two Lost Sons
The person in the way of moral conformity says, “I’m not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community want me to do. The person choosing the way of self discovery says: I’m the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way.”
So we have two sons, one “bad” by conventional standards and one “good,” yet both are alienated from the father. The father has to go out and invite each of them to come into the feast of his love.
Do you realize then, what Jesus is teaching? Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake.
If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior…Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of god as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.Chapter 3, Redefining Sin
Elder brothers base their self images on being hardworking, or moral, or members of an elite clan, or extremely smart and savvy. This inevitably leads to feeling superior to those who don’t have the same qualities…It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.
As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough for him. You simply aren’t sure God loves and delights in you.
If the elder brother had known his own heart, he would have said, “I am just as self-centered and a grief to my father in my own way as my brother is in his. I have no right to feel superior.” Then he would have had the freedom to give his brother the same forgiveness that his father did.Chapter 4, Redefining Lostness
We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins, and under all our righteousness–the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.
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…The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price–someone has to pay. There was not 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.
In the beginning of the book of Genesis we learn the reason why all people feel like exiles, like we aren’t really home. We are told there that we were created to live in the garden of God…We wanted to live without God’s interference, and so we turned away, and became alienated from him, and lost our home for the same reason the younger brother lost his. The result was exile…The parable of the prodigal son is about every one of us.
At the end of the story of the prodigal sons, there is a feast of homecoming. So too at the end of the book of Revelation, at the end of history, there is a feast, the “marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19). The Lamb is Jesus, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world so that we could be pardoned and brought home…Jesus, unlike the founder of any other major faith, holds out hope for ordinary human life. Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air, but rather we will eat, embrace, sing, laugh, and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine.Chapter 5, The True Elder Brother and Chapter 6, Redefining Hope