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Becoming Like the Father – Brandon Bradley

Are you familiar with this painting? It’s a classic. If you wanted to see the original, you would need to visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the giant painting resides. It was painted by Rembrandt, a famous and really the last of the great renaissance painters. This painting depicts a pretty famous story, the prodigal son.

Jesus uses a trilogy of parables

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of stories. He is identifying some key principles about what it is to be in relationship to him and what it is to be valued by God, but he does it in parables.

  • The first one he tells is about a lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep that he has to go and find the one lost sheep. He finds it and brings it home. When he does, everybody celebrates. There is a huge party.
  • The next story is about a widow who has lost some precious coins. She cleans out her entire house, and when she finds them, she steps out of her house and everybody celebrates. The entire community is so happy that she has found these lost coins.
  • The third story builds on this idea of what is precious to God and starts to dig into relationships. The famous story of the prodigal son.

You’re probably familiar with this story

We see it in Luke 15:11-32. When most people tell the story of the prodigal son, they focus on the first son. He comes to his father who is a very wealthy landowner and says to him, “Father, I would like my inheritance now.” This is an absolutely absurd request. He is essentially saying, “Father, you’re as good to me dead as anything else, so why don’t we act like you are dead and you go ahead and give me what I desire, which is the wealth. I want the stuff; Give me my inheritance.”

So, the father sells some land and can give his son his inheritance, and the son immediately packs up all of his stuff and he goes off to a distant land where he begins to live the high-life. He has parties, lots of friends, for the time being, lots of attention from women, and lots of exciting times until the money disappears. The friends, the women, the fun times all disappear. Nobody is there to help him up, but they are willing to be helped up by him.

They are willing to consume him the way he was willing to consume what his father gave him.

He sells his work to carefor pigs, but nobody is giving him any food. Lying in the slop, hungry as he sees the food that they are giving to the pigs, he is wondering what it would be like to go home. Of course, his father would reject him as a son, but maybe he would accept him as a servant. He wraps his mind around this idea that he is going to tell his father that he is a servant and goes home to his father.
 

The whole way on this great journey, this great walk home with his clothes all tethered he is preparing to tell his father that he is not his son but his servant. In the painting, we see that the father has run out to meet the son and he throws his arms around him. Before the son can fully utter, “I am not worthy to be your son. I’ve sinned against you and Heaven. I’ll be your servant. I’ll be your slave.”, the father is throwing his arms around the son, putting a ring on his finger and a robe on his body.

The father doesn’t care about the tattered clothes or the worn shoes, or the scars of a hard life that are illustrated through the way the son appears. Instead, the father throws a great party, and he wants everyone to come in and celebrate. Similar to the shepherd who brings in the lost sheep or the widow who brings in the lost coins, he wants to celebrate that what is precious to him has come back.
 
In the bible, we read the older son has been working in the fields all this time being very loyal to his father, while his younger brother has gone off and wasted everything and made a mockery of his father’s wealth and blessing. He can’t stand this, so when he finds out that there is this party going on, he won’t go in. The father goes out to the son and says, “Come into the party. We have to celebrate. Your brother is here! We thought he was dead, but he is alive. He was lost, but now he is found. Don’t you want to celebrate?”. The son says, “No! I’ve slaved here for you all this time and you have never thrown me a party. I’m confused. I don’t see how you can celebrate this. He has shown you no loyalty, and I have been your slave.” The father says, “Ah! But this is precious. We have to celebrate.”
 
What is interesting is that the painting is radically different than the story. Do you notice the difference? In the painting, the older son is prominently featured when the father comes to meet the younger son. But in the bible, the older son was not there. He didn’t see the scene when the father ran out to meet the younger son. However, there is a tension in the distance that Rembrandt wanted to bring out in the painting. You see, the painting does tell the story of the prodigal son and there is some artistic license, but it also tells the story of Rembrandt’s life.
 
 

Rembrandt was a great art prodigy

Everybody knew his art from an early age. He was born in 1609 AD in the Netherlands and died in 1669 AD. It wasn’t a very long life, but it was a life of incredible ups and incredible downs. He was one of the wealthiest young and upcoming artists that there was around. People loved to say, “I’ve got the latest Rembrandt!”, or talk about how they commissioned Rembrandt. So, he would take their money, but he struggled like the younger son because he scoffed at the people who were paying him. He didn’t like their expectations and often took liberties in the paintings.

One such liberty became a trademark, that is placing himself in almost every painting he painted. He was incredibly vain and prideful. He knew he was good. He focused on how good he was and essentially went off and did his own thing. In the process though, he squandered a ton. 

  • He went through multiple relationships with women. 
  • His wife died, as did most of the children that he had with her. The second woman in his life he had placed in an insane asylum because she was causing him problems.
  • He was ruthless.
  • He went through times of incredible poverty. Like many artists of his day, he had amassed this great wealth of other people’s art to study and learn from. He had to sell all of those works of art and all of his own art to pay off his debts.
He was anguished because he seemed to be lost in who he was supposed to be. Late in his career and a few years before he died, he begins to have a little bit of a resurgence, but his attitude has changed. He seems more trite and remorseful of the broken relationships of his past. That comes through in this painting. In each of the three main characters, he paints an image of himself in their face. We know this because the drawings and sketches of how he created this painting have been found and studied at length. Rembrandt saw that in many ways he was the younger son who squandered everything. All of his relationships. All of his wealth. Everything. He also saw himself as the older son who despised his patrons, despised the people who would ask him to do anything outside of his understanding of their relationship, and he would be ruthless about it. He would not have any forgiveness for anybody that he felt had wronged him. Ultimately, he recognized that part of the growing process would be to become like the father, so he painted himself in the father as well. An aspiration of where he felt drawn to be.

This is a story of homecoming, of finding ourselves in a relationship with the Father.

The thing that we often miss when we tell this story, when we preach this story, and when we read it in scripture is how similar the two sons are. We tend to focus on the story of a lost relationship that is regained for the younger son. However, both sons have an identity crisis. The younger son is broken and contrite, and he pleads with his father to let him be his slave. The father responds with, “You are my son! You are home, and I am so glad you are here.” The younger son has an identity crisis. He does not know who he is.
 
The older son sees the party going on, and he sees his father celebrating what was once lost is now found, and he is angry that the younger son who ran off is now being treated so special as if he never left. The older son doesn’t understand how this could be, and he confronts his father and points out that he never left and has slaved for his father all this time.
 
The older son sees the party going on, and he sees his father celebrating what was once lost is now found, and he is angry that the younger son who ran off is now being treated so special as if he never left. The older son doesn’t understand how this could be, and he confronts his father and points out that he never left and has slaved for his father all this time.

They are selling themselves short.

The father reminds him of his sonship by addressing him as son. Both sons have an identity crisis. The father says, “You are my child with whom I am well pleased, whom I love.”, and the sons tell him that they are his servant. They say they are slaves. They feel this grace being given is so big and they don’t understand it, so they can’t fully embrace it.

Rembrandt figured out

As Rembrandt completed and illustrated in this painting, the truth of Ephesians 5:1 where Paul tells us to be imitators of God as dearly loved children. We are all to become like the Father, to have a heart that loves the things that God does. We are to yearn for relationships, wholeness, and restoration. We are to long for those who are lost and far out to have emotional, spiritual, and physical healing to come through the Father.
 
Just like the sons, we can misunderstand. We can get lost. We can have an identity crisis. Whether we are very far from God or we have walked with him for a long time, wecan become disillusioned with who God is, but also with who we are, and need help with becoming more like Him. Of course, God gives us scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and relationships with each other. That journey to becoming more like the Father, to regain His heart, to bear The likeness of His image is really what discipleship is all about.

That is what the journey is about.

This lifelong journey is not about wanting to be good. Although, becoming like our heavenly father will lead us down apath of his goodness. It is not about doing the right thing. It is about being in the right relationship with our Father. Through that relationship, we understand who we are and who He created us to be, which is our identity. Likewise, what he calls us todo because of that identity. What purpose he gives us in serving him. What he creates in us that needs to be worked out in the relationship for our giftedness, relationship, vocation, and calling.
 
Spend some time thinking about the journey between the two sons and the father. The similarities and differences in their separation from the father. What is the issue with the identity crisis that I have brought up? What are the necessary steps for coming into a healed and fuller relationship with the Father, so we can experience our identity as his sons and daughters?
Brandon Bradley

Brandon Bradley

Prior to Vocational Ministry, Brandon worked as a Surgical First Assistant in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He holds certifications from the American Board of Surgical Assistants and the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. He specialized in General, Vascular, Cardiothoracic, and Robotic surgery.

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Becoming Like the Father – Brandon Bradley

Are you familiar with this painting? It’s a classic. If you wanted to see the original, you would need to visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the giant painting resides. It was painted by Rembrandt, a famous and really the last of the great renaissance painters. This painting depicts a pretty famous story, the prodigal son.

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