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Do You Know What Jesus Did with Pharisees and Legalists?

This Sunday, I preached at Watermark Church in Dallas under the title “A Tender Word for Pharisees.” There are not many tender words for Pharisees in the mouth of Jesus.

Mainly his words to Pharisees are tough, even terrifying (see Matthew 23).

The most moving words of tenderness for Pharisees are in Luke 15:25-31, the words of the father to the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

Luke 15 begins with Jesus eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees grumbled, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

Jesus explains what he is doing with three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. The point of each is that when Jesus eats with sinners, what’s happening is that the Father in heaven is seeking the lost. The physician is tending the sick (Luke 5:30-31). That’s the meaning of Jesus’ ministry.

Seeking lost legalists too.

But in the third of these parables, Jesus goes beyond explaining what he is doing with collectors and sinners; he explains what he is doing with Pharisees.

We know this because in Luke 15:1-2, the Pharisees are standing aloof, grumbling about the meal Jesus is sharing with the sinners. And in Luke 15:28, the older brother is standing aloof, angry and unwilling to join the father who is eating with the younger brother who represents the tax collectors and sinners.

The older brother “was angry and refused to go in” (verse 28). He said to 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!” (verses 29-30).

Notice the words “served” and “command.” The problem is that the older brother related to his father as slave to a master, not as son to a father. His father was merely a command-giver, and he was a command-keeper. And therefore, merit, not mercy, was the foundation of the relationship; and mercy to the undeserving made him angry.

5 tender expressions from the Father.

How will the father handle this situation? The son is angry on the porch of merit and refusing to walk into the celebration of mercy.

In great patience and tenderness, his father does five tender things.

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John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.