“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Meant to be a derogatory statement, this is one of my favorite descriptions of Jesus. He welcomes me, a sinner and you and wants to spend time with us! In response, Jesus then told some of the most heartfelt stories in the Bible, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the classic, Lost or Prodigal Son. With such beauty they explain God’s love for us. He seeks us diligently he spares nothing in getting us back to him. We see the very heart of God in today’s reading. Let it capture you and change how you see yourself and how you see God.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep / 15:1-7
15:1-2 Jesus’ association with notorious sinners in the eyes of the Pharisees has already been documented (5:30; 7:34). Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Roman Empire in collecting Rome’s taxes from their countrymen. Yet these people came to listen to Jesus teach. These were the very people Jesus had come to reach—those who needed help. In that culture, sitting down and having a meal with a person showed a certain amount of identification and welcome. If Jesus were eating with such horrible people, then he was guilty by association. The Pharisees would not even go near such people, not even to teach them the law or point them to God.
- LIFE APPLICATION – GUILTLY BY ASSOCIATION
- There is wisdom in choosing friends wisely. Sports stars are told not to hang out with gamblers. A teenager who runs with druggies stands a good chance of becoming one. In big cities, caring parents forbid youngsters any contact with street gangs. In Jesus’ case, however, time spent with sinners was part of a mission to spread the Good News to all people. Churches today should be like an oasis in the jungle for sinners of all notorious types. Investigate this week what your church might do to help different, overlooked, and disreputable people hear and believe God’s message.
15:3-5 The religious leaders were to picture themselves as shepherds (in reality, as leaders of the nation, they should have been serving as shepherds of God’s people). Each shepherd has one hundred sheep—a typical number for the average flock of sheep. Shepherds counted their sheep every night, for sheep would easily stray away and get lost. When this shepherd counted, he was missing one sheep. Jesus used the shepherd’s concern for each sheep to set up the question, “Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one?” The answer was obvious to these listeners—any caring shepherd would do so. He would search, find the lost sheep, carry it back to the flock, and rejoice.
God’s love for each individual is so great that he seeks each one out and rejoices when he or she is “found.” Jesus associated with sinners because he wanted to bring the lost sheep—people considered beyond hope—the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Just as the shepherd took the initiative to go out and find the sheep, so Jesus actively seeks lost souls. These tax collectors and sinners (15:1) with whom Jesus was associating were like sheep who had strayed away from God and needed to be returned. More than that, they needed the salvation that Jesus offered.
15:6-7 The shepherd did not rejoice alone. He even called his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him that he found his lost sheep. In reality, the shepherds would not have had a party over one found sheep. Jesus used this element in the story to stress his Kingdom’s reality and the value of one lost person. God rejoices when one lost sinner is found and returns to God.
- LIFE APPLICATION- LOST AND FOUND
- The Bible is full of gladness when lost valuables are found: the Prodigal Son, the lost coin, and, here, a lost sheep. Picture yourself in both roles. As the lost sheep, you need a Shepherd-Savior to bring you home. As a shepherd, you have a job to do, and all heaven rejoices when you find a lost person, just as heaven did when you were found. In the shepherd’s role, take a step beyond your comfort zone today. Start a conversation with a stranger, greet a neighbor on the other side of the block, cross a standard dividing line that separates you from others. And if you’re better cast in the lost-sheep role today, follow the Savior’s voice home without delay or detour.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Lost Coin / 15:8-10
In this parable, Jesus portrays God’s love for someone who falls into a life of sin. They are lost, disconnected from their true owner, God himself. But their owner doesn’t give up on people. Instead, he compassionately searches for them, freely offering them forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ.
15:8-9 Palestinian women would often receive ten silver coins as a wedding gift. Besides their monetary value, these coins held sentimental value like that of a wedding ring; to lose one would be extremely distressing. The ten coins could have been this woman’s life savings, meant to support her in a time of need. Upon discovering that one of the coins was missing, the woman would light a lamp in order to see into the dark corners, and sweep every part of the dirt-packed floor in hope of finding it. Although the woman still had nine coins, she would not rest until the tenth was retrieved. Her search was rewarded. Like the shepherd, she shared her joy with her friends and neighbors so they could rejoice with her.
15:10 Just as a shepherd would rejoice over finding a lost sheep and a woman would rejoice at finding her lost coin, so all heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner. Each individual is precious to God. He actively seeks those lost ones, and when they are found, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels. Through these two parables, Jesus was explaining to his detractors that, while they were not pleased with him, God was pleased that Jesus was seeking the lost souls and bringing them the Good News of the Kingdom.
- LIFE APPLICATION- SEARCHING FOR YOU
- It may be easy to understand God forgiving sinners who had come to him for mercy. But God, who tenderly searches for sinners and then joyfully forgives them, must possess an extraordinary love! This love prompted Jesus to come to earth to search for lost people and save them. This is the kind of extraordinary love that God has for you. If you feel far from God, don’t despair. He is searching for you.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Lost Son / 15:11-32
The previous two parables—the one of lost sheep and the lost coin—build up to the climax, the parable of the lost son, a parable that is unique to Luke. Through the parable of the lost son, Jesus presents a vivid illustration of God and his mercy for repentant sinners.
15:11-12 Jesus continued with another parable to illustrate the point further that God rejoices when lost sinners repent and find forgiveness. A man had two sons, the younger of whom wanted his share of his father’s estate (inheritance). This would have been one-third of the total estate, with the older son receiving two-thirds, a double portion of the other as prescribed by the law (Deuteronomy 21:17). In most cases, the son would have received this at his father’s death, although fathers sometimes chose to divide up their inheritance early and retire from managing their estates. What is unusual is that the younger son initiated the division of the estate. This showed arrogant disregard for his father’s authority as head of the family.
15:13-14 Within just a few days, the younger son was on his way—indicating that this had been his plan when he had asked for his inheritance in the first place. He packed all his belongings and traveled to a distant land. The young man apparently had wanted to live his own way, be his own master, get out from under the rules of his home and his father. Money was his ticket out, so he took it and ran.
In this distant land, he wasted all his money on wild living. But then his money ran out. To make matters worse, a great famine swept over the land and the boy did not even have money for food.
15:15-16 The young man became so desperate that he began to work feeding pigs. According to Moses’ law, pigs were unclean animals (Leviticus 11:2-8; Deuteronomy 14:8). To protect themselves from defilement, Jews would not even touch pigs. For a Jew to stoop to feeding pigs would have been a great humiliation. The pods were the seeds of the carob tree, which grows around the Mediterranean Sea. That no one gave him anything shows that he was neglected and insignificant; he had truly sunk to the depths.
15:17-19 Sitting among pigs that were better fed than he was, he reflected on life back home. With no money, no dignity, and, so he thought, no claim to sonship in his father’s household, he decided to go home to his father, confess his sin, and ask to be taken on as a hired man. At least there he would not go hungry. The key lies in the words that he planned to say to his father, “I have sinned against both heaven and you.” He wanted to tell his father he was sorry. He wanted to repent of the selfishness that had led him to leave and spend all the money that his father had set aside for his future. Even if it meant living as a hired man in his own home, he would return there in order to say these things to his father.
- LIFE APPLICATION- COMING TO ONE’S SENSES
- The younger son, like many who are rebellious and immature, wanted to be free to live as he pleased, and he had to hit bottom before he came to his senses. It often takes great sorrow and tragedy to cause people to look to the only one who can help them. For this young man, coming to his senses meant reconnecting his life to those who loved him. He had had his fill of individualistic adventure, and he realized his best prospect was to reconnect with family and friends. Are you trying to live your own way, selfishly pushing aside any responsibility or commitment that gets in your way? Stop and look before you hit bottom. You will save yourself and your family much grief. In your young adult years, reach high but keep connections strong.
15:20-21 So the son returned home to his father, not knowing what to expect—the best he could anticipate was a cold shoulder, a halfhearted welcome, or a chance to be hired as a slave. The father, however, seemed to have cast his eyes on the horizon many times since his son had left, hoping one day to see him returning. Finally, his father saw him coming even while he was far away. The father ran, embraced, and kissed his son. He was filled with love and compassion at the sight of his son who had come home. The son began to give his father the speech he had prepared (15:19), but he didn’t even get to the part about asking to be hired, for the father wanted to welcome his son back into his home with a grand celebration.
In the two preceding stories, the seeker actively looked for the sheep and the coin, which could not return by themselves. In this story, the father watched and waited. He was dealing with a human being with a will, but he was ready to greet his son if he returned. In the same way, God’s love is constant and patient and welcoming. He will search and give people opportunities to respond, but he will not force them to come to him. Like the father in this story, God waits patiently for people to come to their senses.
- LIFE APPLICATION – ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES
- When the wayward son returned home, he apologized to his father. Though his father loved him anyway, the son needed to apologize in order to heal his own relationship with his father. When you have offended someone, don’t apologize indirectly or halfheartedly. Say it and mean it. When you have made a mistake, don’t blame bad luck or bad friends. Admit it, and prepare to go on. When you are embraced by those you have hurt, don’t refuse the forgiveness they offer. Guilt will ruin your recovery. When forgiven, accept the gift and let the past go.
15:22-24 The father immediately restored this destitute and humbled young man as his son. Then the calf that was being fattened up for the time when a special feast should be prepared was to be killed—the father could think of no more fitting celebration. His son had been as good as dead to him, but now had returned to life. He had been lost, but now was found. As the shepherd celebrated upon finding the lost sheep (15:6), and the woman upon finding her lost coin (15:9), so this father celebrated at “finding” his “lost” son.
- LIFE APPLICATION – FORGIVE AND FORGET
- This father restored his wayward son and celebrated his return. In this reconciliation, the father absorbed the hurt and financial loss and was willing to adjust his hopes and dreams for his child. People are not perfect; your life will not unfold according to blueprints; your children will not develop according to your specifications. You can harbor resentment if you choose, but when it comes to relationships, that choice is always self-defeating. Joy embraces others; stubbornness shuns them. Peace forgives others; pride prolongs the separation. Love cleans the slate of hurts recorded; self-pity smudges the record until nobody remembers who is at fault or why. When the lost relationship is found, when apology is genuine, when reconciliation is sought, forgive and forget, absorb the loss and the cost, and let the party begin!
15:25-27 The older son, according to tradition, would have received a double inheritance. He probably had continued to be under his father’s authority, working on the estate. While he would inherit it, this would not take place until his father’s death. So he was in the fields working, being responsible to do the work that he should do, patiently following the typical plan for passing on the family inheritance. Imagine this other brother’s surprise at returning from a day of hard work to the sound of a grand celebration going on in the house. Naturally he wondered what was going on. The servant simply replied with the facts—the wayward brother had returned, the calf had been killed, the feast had been prepared, and everyone was celebrating the brother’s safe return.
15:28-30 At the report of the news, the older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in to join the celebration. The older son was quite reasonable in his list of complaints. The father could have consented, pacifying his older son with additional gifts and rewards. But relationships prosper on love, not on fairness. Love is the dynamic that sweeps “reasonable claims” into secondary concerns here. When relationships need love, we often must let fairness take a second seat.
While the resentment of this older brother is easy to understand, his volley of words reveals the same sort of self-righteousness that afflicted the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The key to understanding this story is found in the context of 15:1-2. The younger son stands for the tax collectors and sinners, the waiting father is God, and the older brother represents the religious leaders. The younger son had lived as a notorious sinner, so the brother wanted nothing to do with him. Yet the loving father, who had gone out to meet his younger son, also came out to plead with his elder one who would not take a moment to understand that he would inherit everything that he was working for and that he was dearly loved by his father. He only felt angry that his father was celebrating for an irresponsible person.
The religious leaders, claiming how hard they “slaved” for God, were attempting to keep myriad rules and regulations, many of which God never even demanded. They had the Father’s love, but had chosen to reject it in favor of hard work and self-denial. So when God eagerly welcomed the sinful, common people into the Kingdom, the religious leaders were refusing to join the celebration. But God rejoiced that these sinful people had come “home,” and he invited even these religious leaders to join the party. They had only anger and resentment that their efforts had not earned a party.
- LIFE APPLICATION- YOUNGER BROTHERS
- It was hard for the older brother to accept his younger brother when he returned, and it is just as difficult to accept “younger brothers” today. People who repent after leading notoriously sinful lives are often held in suspicion; churches are sometimes unwilling to admit them to membership. Instead, we should rejoice like the angels in heaven when an unbeliever repents and turns to God. Like the father in the parable, accept repentant sinners wholeheartedly and give them the support and encouragement that they need to grow in Christ.
15:31-32 The father spoke kindly to his overheated son; the son had not been displaced as the firstborn—he had his relationship with his father (who obviously loved him very much), and he still had his inheritance. The younger son had squandered his, and had gone through great suffering before coming to his senses. The wild life the younger son had sought had brought him only to ruin, and he returned home with no inheritance, humbled from having suffered some hard knocks. The older son needed to get his perspective, be grateful that he had not had to go through such pain, and celebrate this happy day of his brother’s safe return.
Desperate sinners, notorious outcasts, difficult people—all have been offered salvation. God’s people must not stand aside and above, but must join in heaven’s celebration when those who were lost have been found.
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
For more information about The Ridge Fellowship or Darrell Koop go to www.ridgefellowship.com