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The Legalistic Son B

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
March 24, 2023 4:00 am

The Legalistic Son B

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Here is the proud hypocrite. Here is the guy who because he has done good for satisfaction and pride as a way to earn salvation, he has pushed it so far down that he can't even touch it and he lives with this illusion that he has never neglected a command that his father has given him. There is the amazing self-deception of the hypocrite. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Maybe a family you know is dealing with a child who, simply put, is out of step with mom and dad. He chafes at their authority, he gets in lots of trouble, he does things without regard to his own well-being and without regard for the family who loves him. Well, when you look at the family in the parable of the prodigal son, it seems pretty clear who the problem child is. It's the younger son. Yet today, John MacArthur is going to draw that story to a decidedly unfamiliar conclusion. And as he wraps up his series on the tale of two sons, what John will say about the older son might stun you.

And so with the lesson now, here is John MacArthur. Luke 15 is our text and back to the story that Jesus told, the parable, starting in verse 11 and running to the end of the chapter. Now we come to verse 25 and there are three more shameful things here, a shameful reaction, a shameful response and a shameful resolution. These involve the older son. The shameful reaction, verse 25, his older son was in the field. When he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. Some and one of the servants began inquiring what these things might be. 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.'"

We meet the older brother. He's a Pharisee. He is a Pharisee. He pretends to stay in the father's house, to be dutiful, to do what the father says, to hang around, to get what he wants, to get approval and affirmation and wealth and land and community prestige. He wants to appear religious. On the outside he upholds all the conventional modes of external honor. But he has no love for his father at all. He has a love for himself.

It's all about him and his property and his reputation and his prestige. So, verse 26, he began inquiring what these things might be. And he says to him, verse 27, "'Oh, your brother has come.'" Uh-oh, that should have filled his heart with joy. That should have been enough that after that was said, he rushed in. He knew his father's heart had been broken when his brother left.

He knew how he regularly looked for him and longed for him. If he loved his father at that point, he would have immediately run in. But it really was his fear that his brother would come back. And so he can't be a part of a shameful event. His son has shamed himself. His father has continually shamed himself.

He's gotten the whole community involved in this shameful celebration and he's not going to be a part of it. Verse 28, he became angry, was not willing to go in. It says in verse 28, and his father came out and began entreating him. And the response of the older son, verse 29, he answered and said to his father, "'Look, for so many years I have been serving you, douluo, slave language, doulos, for so many years I have been your slave.'" Now there's a legalist mentality.

That's a no fun posture, no joy. And what it indicates is that in the heart of this guy, he has seen this as a horrible grit your teeth, grind your way through these years and years of slugging out your slavery to this guy so that when he finally dies, you can get what you're after. He was no different than the younger son. He wanted what he wanted, he just had a different way to get it.

Now he decided the safe ground was to hang around and wait till the father dies and then get it. It's all nothing but slavery to him, bitter, resentful, angry for so many years and he piles on the descriptives. And then if you want to know the self-image of a hypocrite, here it is, "'And I have never neglected a command of yours.'"

Wow! Well if that isn't the language of a self-righteous hypocrite, I don't know what is. Here is the proud hypocrite. Here is the guy who because he has done good is under the illusion that he is good. Because he has done good for self-satisfaction and pride, he has buried the truth of who he is deep. Because he has done good for satisfaction and pride as a way to earn salvation, he has pushed it so far down that he can't even touch it any longer. It's completely buried in his subconscious and he lives with this illusion that he has never ever neglected a command that his father has given him.

There is the amazing self-deception of a hypocrite. He's perfect. I'm perfect which is to say to the father, and look, buddy, you're not. I am perfect. I understand what perfection is. I understand what perfect righteousness is and perfect justice and I know what perfect honor is and I know how you're supposed to behave and you're in violation of it.

Again and again you're in violation of it. You took him back. You ran.

You shamed yourself. You protected him from shame. You forgave him. You embraced him.

You kissed him. You gave him full sonship. You gave him honor. You gave him authority. You gave him responsibility. You hold this massive celebration for an absolutely unworthy sinner.

I'm perfect and you're not. By the way, this is why Paul went around killing Christians because he hated grace. It was Paul, you remember, in Philippians 3 who says, blameless according to the Law. That's how I live my life, under the illusion that I was absolutely blameless and these Christians with their message of grace were violators of God's holy Law.

And he went everywhere he could, breathing, threatening and slaughter and imprisoning and killing them. He has no love for the father. He has no interest in the father's love for his younger brother. He has no desire to share in his father's joy. He has no joy, period, in anything but he's still perfect and needs no repentance.

How about that? What a classic illustration of a hypocrite, angry, bitter, slave mentality, I've done all this to get what I expect to get. But he sees himself as perfect and needing no repentance.

You want to know something? Nobody goes into the Kingdom of God without repentance. This is classic hypocrisy. His heart is wretched, his heart is wicked, his heart is alienated, his heart is selfish and he's blind to spiritual reality.

And again, here are the Pharisees and the scribes, here's the religious sinner in the home of God, in the house of God, if you will, making a public display of affection for God, wearing clerical garb or attending certain kinds of rituals, certain religious activities, moral on the public front, outwardly good, outwardly obeying the Law, keeping all the rules but no relationship to God, no concern for the honor of God, no joy, no understanding of grace. The son isn't finished. He's going to dig his claws deeper into his father whom he sees as a sinner. He sees his father as a violator of righteous standards of which he is the source and says to him this, I have never neglected a command of yours and yet you have never given me a kid or a goat that I might be married with my friends. I've been the worker and I don't even get a goat.

He's done nothing for you and he gets the fattened calf. This is not fair. This is not equitable.

This is not just. This is not righteous. You know what the son is really saying? Father, I don't need to ask you for forgiveness.

I haven't done anything. But I'll tell you something, you need to ask me for forgiveness for what you've done. That is the outrage of hypocrisy.

That is the outrage of legalism. It demands that God forgive us for a violation of our understanding. He thinks the father needs to ask Him for forgiveness. And the Pharisees are going to identify with it. Yeah, this is right.

This is the right posture. This is outrageous conduct by the father. The father is the culprit. The father is the bad guy here. The son is a bad guy, son number one. Sure, he's a bad guy, the younger son, but the father is really the bad one.

He's the one who has completely violated all conventional standards of respect and honor. The son gives himself away a little bit here, he says, cause he says, You've never given me a kid that I might be married with my friends. He's accusing the father of favoritism and he's accusing the father of an unjust favoritism. But he's also pointing out the fact that when he has a party, it's not going to include his brother, it's not going to include his father. He lives in a completely different world. He has a completely different group of friends. He's at home but he has no relationship to the family. All his friends are outside the family. This is the time when the older brother wishes the father were dead.

He probably wished it a lot if this were a real person. But in the story, it comes out. I haven't had my party. I haven't had anybody kill a kid for me so that I could have a party with my friends. He doesn't care about his father and now his father is wasting assets on this other son. Verse 30 carries on a further assault on his father's character, integrity and virtue. But when this son of yours...he won't even say my brother, so much disdain in him... when this son of yours came who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him. You don't give me a goat but you killed the fattened calf for him, this son of yours.

Wow, you can cut that contempt with a knife. How did he know that he had used all that money with harlots? Because Jesus said he knew in the story. Just a little insight that tells us more about the behavior of the first son in the story. And there, of course, characters that Jesus has fabricated and so this is part of the story. This is to emphasize again that this man has lived as low as low gets. Add that to all the rest of the horror of his behavior. Some people have suggested that he made this up just out of scorn.

There's nothing in the text that says that. We assume that if Jesus puts it in his mouth, it was a reflection of what Jesus wanted us to know about the behavior of the younger son. So here is just something juxtaposed against a celebration that's pretty stark. You've got a celebration going on with music and dancing and the younger son and the feast and it's just a high time of joy and out in the dark of the night you've got this horrific assault going on and the older brother is attacking the virtue, the integrity, the character of his father.

All that he had kept in for all those years explodes out of him. All that fake respect and honor is gone, the facade is off, the cover is blown. And while they're all inside honoring that father, he's on the outside heaping contempt on him. This is the Pharisees.

They saw themselves as righteous, they saw themselves as just, they therefore sat in judgment on God in Christ and they condemned Jesus for His mercy, compassion, love and the gospel of grace. The Pharisees would see this older brother, yeah, and they would say, This is righteous indignation, this is...for finally in the story we have somebody who holds up honor. You know, in his mind a Pharisee would think, That son should be dead. If you spend your money on harlots, you get killed.

Deuteronomy 21, 18 to 21, you get stoned to death. He should be dead. Instead of dead, look at the party. This is incongruous, this is outrageous, this is shameful, everything about it. It's a shameful reaction by the son who is looking at the whole thing as shameful. By the way, little note here, you killed the fattened calf for him, not really...not really. The fattened calf wasn't really killed for the son, it was killed for the father. The father is the one who gives the credit, who gets the credit, I should say, he's the reconciler. He determines who's going to be reconciled and under what terms.

He's the one who ran and embraced and kissed. It really was a celebration of the father. But his anger has completely blinded him and he has no knowledge of his father. The father is the main figure at the feast. The father is the one they're all honoring for such loving forgiveness. And the people will accept the younger son because it's against convention to accept him.

It would be against the norm to accept him back under those conditions, but they will because the father has. And so it's really the father who is being celebrated just as in the end, in heaven, the joy of heaven, the eternal joy of the angels and all the redeemed that gather around the throne of God and even the joy of God is the joy that comes to God Himself for being the reconciler. When we go to heaven, the direction of our praise isn't going to be toward the sinners, it's going to be toward the Savior. So here is this great feast and all the celebration honoring the father and here at the same time is this son who heaps dishonor on the father simultaneously.

It's the picture. The party symbolizes all the sinners who've collected around God to honor Him for their salvation. And outside are the Pharisees who are heaping scorn upon the father, God in Christ. Then there's a shameful response from another angle. Verse 31, He said to him, "'My child, you've always been with Me, all that is Mine is yours.'" What a tender response, that would be shameful in the eyes of the villagers.

They would say, finally somebody slapped this guy. I mean, enough is enough. This mercy is getting a little over the top here, please. But he says, "'My child,' teknon, eight times in the section wios, the more formal word for son, tekna, my boy, my child. It's speaking in grieving, painful, agonizing, compassionate love and mercy. He speaks to him in endearing terms and that's the heart of God toward a wretched hypocrite.

Wow, is there any question about God being a loving, compassionate Savior? The Son uses no title, no respect. The Son attacks the virtue, the integrity, the justice and the righteousness of the Father. The Son is saying in effect, you need to be forgiven by Me for the outrageous and unjust and dishonorable conduct that you have perpetrated. And here you see the patience of God with sinners, even hypocrites. Sometimes, you know, it's easier to be patient with prodigals than it is with hypocrites. But He says to them, look, My child, in endearing terms, you've been around.

The Father knows He's estranged. You've been around here superficially. Everything has always been available. It's all here.

I always think of that when I think of people who misinterpret the Scripture. You know, cults, false religions, it's here. It's all here. You've always had it. If you ever wanted a relationship with Me, I was here and everything I have was here. And look what He says, all that is Mine is yours. I don't ever have to split it up and here's a picture of the magnanimity of God and the endlessness of His grace and His resources, it's all for all who come to Him. It will never be yours with your attitude. It will never be yours by works.

You'll never earn it, but it's here if you ever want to establish a relationship with Me. And verse 32 goes back to the main theme. We had to be merry and rejoice. We had to. Not like we had an option. For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live and was lost and has been found. We had no choice.

Why? This is what causes joy to God. This is heaven's joy.

It can't be restrained, it can't be delayed, it can't be postponed, it can't be subdued, it can't be mitigated, it can't be lessened. Divine joy is released when one sinner repents and is reconciled. And heaven's joy will be released not just for a prodigal, not just for someone who is immoral and irreligious and blatantly sinful, but for secret sinners, rebels, the religious, the moral, the hypocrites, the ones whose lawlessness is all on the inside. God is saying here, Christ is saying, I go out into the street for the prodigal and I go out into the courtyard for you. I humble myself and take on public shame for the prodigal and I humble myself and take on public shame for you. I come with compassion and love and forgiveness and I am ready to embrace you and to kiss you and to give you full sonship with all its privileges, not just if you're the prodigal, but even if you're the hypocrite. He's really inviting him to salvation.

You can come to the party if you choose, if you recognize your true spiritual condition, if you come home, you can take possession of everything that's always been there. The younger son was overwhelmed with his father's grace, immediately confessed to sin, confessed his unworthiness in the very most magnanimous ways and he received instantaneously forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship, all the rights and privileges that the father had at his disposal to give. He entered into the celebration of the father's joy. That is eternal salvation and as I've been saying, that joy goes on in heaven forever. The older son, same tenderness, the same kindness, the same mercy, offered the same grace, reacts with bitter resentment, attacks the virtue, the integrity of the father and his father makes one final appeal, my child, it's all here.

We had to celebrate, implied and we will celebrate for you too if you come. And it stops in verse 32. Isn't that strange? What do you have hanging in your mind right now? Do you have a question there?

I do. This is not an ending. What happened, right?

What did he do? You don't end a story without an ending. And I guess this is another one of a series of shocks. After all of this, you're waiting, you're waiting, you're waiting and it stops. And you know, if you had been listening to the whole thing, you'd say, come on. It's like a joke with no punch line that lasts a long time.

We're all saying the same thing. What did he do? What did the older son do? The guests are all there, they're waiting. They know what's going on outside because the Word is going in.

What did he do? The guests are waiting. They want to know if he comes in having embraced and kissed his older son who repented. They want to know if he humbled himself, if he fell down before his father and sought grace for his long hypocrisy and bitter service.

They want to know if he was forgiven and reconciled and they would love to see the father come in with his arm around his son. Wouldn't that be great? You know, there are a lot of stories like this that you can sort of write your own ending. Now I would love to write one.

I think maybe this would be good. And the older son fell on his knees before his father saying, I repent for my loveless cold service, my pride and selfishness. Forgive me, father, make me a true son, take me to the feast at which point the father embraced and kissed him, took him in and seated him at his table by his brother and all rejoiced in the sons who had been reconciled to their loving father. I like that.

But you know what? I don't get to write the end. Who wrote the end? Pharisees wrote the end. Here's the end they wrote. And the older son, being outraged at his father, picked up a piece of wood and beat him to death in front of everyone. That's the ending they wrote.

That's the cross. And that's what they did just a few months after this. And by the way, congratulated themselves on their righteous act that preserved the honor of Israel and Judaism and true religion and God. Those who come to God in repentance will be forgiven no matter their past nor how great their sins are. John MacArthur, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, drove that point home in the series he wrapped up today on Grace to You.

Series is titled The Tale of Two Sons. Well, John, very simply, what do you hope people will take away from this study? What effect do you see it having on those who've been listening? You know, it's always the same thing for me. I just hope people will understand the meaning of the Word of God.

I'm not looking for anything beyond that because I can't really generate anything beyond that. Sometimes when we talk with young preachers and we talk about, what are you trying to do in your sermon? You hear people say, well, I'm trying to motivate the person.

Really. Or they'll say, I'm trying to get a person to make a decision. If that's what you think you can do, then you don't understand your limitations. As a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God, I can't internally motivate people.

I certainly don't want to externally manipulate people with music and tear-jerking stories or whatever you might use. The best that I can do and the responsibility that I have is to help people have a clear understanding of the truth. And then the Holy Spirit takes that truth, penetrates the heart, and motivates the person toward obedience. And that's all that we've been after in this wonderful series on the Tale of Two Sons, to have you understand the story.

There's so much power in just understanding it, and the Spirit of God can take that truth that you now understand and motivate you and motivate others through you. If you don't have the series, A Tale of Two Sons, it's available on three CDs or three MP3 downloads, free on our website. And be sure that you request the free copy of the condensed little book, 60 pages, called Grace for You. And for a deeper study of this parable and others, get the volume on Luke that encompasses this account, Luke 11-17 in the New Testament Commentary Series. You can order it today. Yes, and also, remember, you can pick up a free copy of this helpful little book on the parable of the prodigal son called Grace for You.

And for your devotional study or your sermon preparation, remember John's commentary, Luke Volume 3. You can get both of these when you contact us today. To request Grace for You, call us at 800-55-GRACE or visit our website, And remember, the Grace for You booklet is yours with our compliments.

It's free. For your copy, call our customer service team at 800-55-GRACE, and you need to call between 730 in the morning and 4 o'clock in the afternoon Pacific time. Or you can go to our website at any time, And to purchase the Luke Volume 3 commentary or all four of John's commentaries on Luke, go to or call us toll free at 800-55-GRACE. Our web address, one more time,, and our number, 800-55-GRACE.

You can order either place. And keep in mind, today was the final installment of John's series, The Tale of Two Sons. You can download all three of those messages free of charge in MP3 and transcript format, also along with every message from John's 54 years of pulpit ministry. All of those are downloadable at our website, Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, encouraging you to catch Grace to You television this Sunday and then be here starting Monday when John helps you prepare for a worshipful Easter with a compelling look at the murder of Jesus. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-24 05:47:14 / 2023-03-24 05:57:41 / 10

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