Tim Keller: Luke 15


I’ve read Keller’s book on the prodigal son and really enjoyed it, especially the way he describes the True Older Brother. As one of my assignments for my Connect Program I was told to listen to this talk. Here are my notes on it (as always, this is my interpretation of what I heard, not necessarily word for word what Keller was saying) I’d encourage you to listen to it for yourself if you have time:

He was telling the parables for the Pharisees. Younger son is like the sinners around Jesus, Older son is like the Pharisees. The parable is aimed at the older sons, it is to address the “moral” religious people.

Both sons are alienated from the Father’s heart, in both cases they are lost. The younger brother is obvious he wants the money NOT the Father. The older brother, doesn’t want the Father either, he wants the money, he is so concerned with how the Father is spending his money/estate. However this is more concealed. The younger tries to get it by being bad, the older by being good, they both have the same goal in mind.

There are two ways to try to be your own saviour and lord, by being bad, or by being good and religious. These are two (falsely) perceived ways, to get the Father’s things. Jesus may be the inspiration, example, for the older brother, but not his Saviour and Lord.

For both sons the Father has to come out, to welcome each son into the feast. The good one isn’t lost in spite of his “goodness” but rather because of it, and his placing of hope in it.

The gospel is neither religion or non-religion, its not in the middle either. It’s something else.

Religion: I obey therefore I am accepted

Gospel: God accepts me, because of what Jesus has done for me, therefore I will obey

Two people can be at church worshiping with the same vigor but have two different motives.

The Gospel says that Jesus gives us a righteous standing, which no amount of hard religious work could do. Gospel believers obey to get more of God not things. Older brothers, because of their attempt to earn God’s blessing, believe they are getting leverage on God. And therefore they become self-righteous to others, and we see no fruit of the Spirit at work in their life.

Marks of Older Brothers

  • Get incredibly angry when their life doesn’t go well, not just sad and disappointed, but furious with God. Because they believe God owes them.
  • When elder brothers encounter criticism, they’ll either become super defensive or totally destroyed, because criticism hurts so much. They want their appearance to be good.
  • Prayer wise, elder brothers pray, but mostly petition-prayers, and when things are going well they pray less but when things are going badly they pray more. There isn’t much intimacy, worship, adoration, enjoyment of God etc.
  • It is very difficult to Old brothers to not be constantly loathing of other people.
    • If you’re self-image is based on your hard working status, you will look down on people who seem lazy.
    • If you’re self image is based on you having right doctrine, not on what the right doctrine is about, you will loath anyone who disagrees with you.
  • Elder brothers struggle forgive, because you can’t stay angry at someone if you feel superior to them.

What to do?

  • Get to a new level of repentance
    1. Sorrowful for wrongdoing, but this isn’t it at all, even Pharisees did that, and then they’d get proud about how much they’ve repented.
    2. It’s repenting for the reasons of your right doing! The one thing separating you from Jesus will be your damnable right doing (which is the right doing from which you do because of desire for God’s things.)
  • Get to a new level of rejoicing
    1. See what it cost to bring the young man home, and you.
      1. Everything that was offered came out of the second half of the inheritance.
      2. It was going to be costly, and the elder brother wasn’t happy about that.

Had the older brother been the True Older Brother, who wanted to hold the family together, he would have been like the shepherd in a previous parable. That younger brother didn’t have a True Older Brother, but you do. Our True Elder Brother didn’t save us at the expense of His money, but at the cost of His life!

  • This will lead us to genuine worship.

Practical Application

  • You the leader work this truth into your heart, Romans 1.16 “he who through faith is righteous will live”. Not “he who preaches correctly will live” etc.
  • If you are a preacher/teacher, when you communicate, move beyond biblical principles to the Gospel. g. Tithing (when we see the price Jesus paid we will run to tithe), Ps 23 our Good Shepherd, the reason we can lack nothing, is not because we trust him, but because He was sacrificed.
  • Get a group of leaders together, take them through a book like the prodigal God. Then get them to go through it with others.
  • Pray for this.


What will you see as a result? (just one example)

  • Gracious disagreements




Bible Heart Sermon Notes

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