Luke 15 - The Joy of Finding the Lost
A. The lost sheep, the lost coin.
1. (1-3) Jesus responds to an accusation from the Pharisees.
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
a. This, one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible, is made up of parables spoken in response to the accusation "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
b. The Pharisees divided men into two classes: the unclean and the righteous, and they would have nothing to do with the "unclean." Of course, many followers of Jesus do the same today.
i. The rabbis were so serious about not associating with the ungodly. They even refused to teach them the word of God.
2. (4-7) Finding a lost sheep.
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."
a. If he loses one of them: It isn't strange that a sheep would be lost. "No creature strays more easily than a sheep; none is more heedless; and none so incapable of finding its way back to the flock, when once gone astray: it will bleat for the flock, and still run on in an opposite direction to the place where the flock is: this I have often noticed." (Clarke)
b. The shepherd's concern is for the lost sheep; the one who is not lost is not in his immediate concern. When he finds the sheep, the shepherd is happy, not angry.
i. Notice the word rejoicing: when Jesus carries us, He does it with rejoicing, not with a grudge, but gladly.
c. He lays it on His shoulders, rejoicing: When Jesus found us, He had to carry us also. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
d. The rabbis believed that God would receive a sinner who came to Him the right way. But in the parable of the shepherd and the sheep, Jesus teaches that God actively seeks out the lost.
i. God does not grudgingly receive the lost. Instead, He searches after them. God finds the sinner more than the sinner does find God.
ii. This was a completely alien thought to Jesus' audience of religious leaders. They believed they were more righteous than others were because they had diligently sought God and others had not.
e. Likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance: The application is plain: there is joy in heaven when the lost are found and they come to repentance. Even though there may be no joy among the Pharisees, there is joy in heaven!
3. (8-10) Finding a lost coin.
"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
a. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin: If the shepherd was interested in one in a hundred, it makes sense that the woman would be interested in one in ten. She does not just account the coin as lost and care nothing about it.
b. Possibly, this coin refers to one that would be held with several others on a silver chain worn round the head as a mark of a married woman. It was a precious ornament to the woman, and would make the loss all the more severely felt.
c. Light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully: Just as the sheep would be hard to find, so a small coin would be hard to find on a dirt floor.
d. Until she finds it: Why does Jesus associate with sinners? Because God naturally wants to recover His things that are lost, just like us.
i. There is an instinct in us that prizes something all the more simply because it is lost. Your keys are never so precious to you as when you can't find them!
e. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents: God (and the angels) rejoice when one who was lost is found.
i. We don't often think of God as rejoicing, but this passage tells us that He does, and in what circumstances. As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:5). The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
ii. The religious people of Jesus' day believed differently and even had a saying: "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God." In our zeal to speak out against the sin of our culture, do we give the same impression?
B. Finding the lost son.
1. (11-16) How the son came to be lost.
Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything."
a. Give me the portion of goods: In those days, a father could either grant the inheritance before or after his death, but it was usually done after. The younger son asks for a special exception.
i. The father clearly illustrates God's love. His love would allow rebellion and would respect man's will. The father more than knew what would happen to the son, but allowed him to go his course none the less.
b. Journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living: The son left the area to become independent of the father - but he soon found himself in worse bondage than ever.
c. He sent him into his fields to feed swine: Pigs were, of course, considered unclean by Jews (Leviticus 11:7), and there could be no more disgusting profession than to feed pigs. And think of the smell!
d. No one gave him anything: If somebody were to support this prodigal in his prodigal life, he would delay the day that he came to himself and got right with God.
2. (17-19) The lost son's decision to return to his father.
"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'"
a. But when he came to himself: When the son came to himself, he didn't join a self-help group. He didn't seek to repair his inner child. He didn't blame his friends, his boss, or the pigs. He went back to his father (I will arise and go to my father).
b. Go to my father: Jesus doesn't say that the man returned to his village or to his home, but to his father. That is how we need to come back to God - to come back to Him first and foremost, before coming back to church or coming back to Christian friends.
i. Of course, when the son returned to the father, he also came back to the village and to the house; but his focus was on coming back to the father.
c. Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants: The son displays his complete sense of unworthiness and confession of sin - essentials to receive the forgiveness the father would give us. We must come to God willing to be total slaves, but by His love, He makes us total sons.
3. (20-24) The father joyfully receives the lost son.
"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry."
a. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion: The father had a love that waited, and never forgot the one who was loved, even when he was away. It was a love that fully received, not putting the son on probation.
i. How passionately did the father receive the son? Kissed him is emphatic; he kissed him repeatedly.
b. Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it: None of the four things brought to the son were necessities; they are all meant to honor the son and make him know he was loved. The father does much more than meet the son's needs.
c. The younger son had two petitions. Father, give me (Luke 15:12) a request that showed rebellion; this request made him poor and destitute. Father, make me like one of your hired servants (Luke 15:19) a request that showed submission; this request made him rich and loved.
4. (25-32) The bitterness and resentment of the older son.
"Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.' But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"
a. I never transgressed . . . you never gave: These kind of exaggerations are common for those who harbor bitterness in their heart. Now, it finally comes out before the father, but the bitterness has done its corrosive damage in the heart already.
i. "The proud and the self-righteous always feel that they are not treated as well as they deserve." (Morris)
b. But he was angry and would not go in: The older son was very obedient, yet very far from his father's heart; he will not even see his younger brother. The older son is a perfect picture of the heart of the Pharisees, who were angry that God would receive the lost multitudes coming to Jesus.
i. But notice that the father also loved the older son, and he came out after him as well.
c. It is easy to see ourselves as the prodigal; how many of us can see ourselves as the elder brother? It is all a matter of focus. The younger son's focus is on the father; the elder son's focus is on himself and how much he has been wronged.
d. Some have criticized this parable because it seems to make repentance something apart from Jesus and the work on the cross. But we should see Jesus as being the way, the very road back to the Father. The prodigal can never come to God the Father unless he comes by way of the Son.
1. We can see Luke 15 as one parable in three scenes.
a. Each scene illustrates a different aspect of God's work. The Son seeks the lost as the Good Shepherd, the Holy Spirit seeks the lost with searching illumination, and the Father in seeks the lost with open arms upon return.
b. Each scene illustrates an increasing severity of loss. Of the sheep 1% were lost, of the coins 10% were lost, and of the sons 50% were lost.
c. Each scene illustrates a different way of being lost.
i. The sheep was lost by foolish wandering, and so are many people today.
ii. The coin was lost by what someone else did, and we can say that we are lost because of what Adam did.
iii. The son was lost because of rebellion, and a rebellious departure required a submissive return by the lost one.
2. We should never miss the main point: Jesus is answering the criticism "This Man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). Of course, He should seek after sinners, even as a shepherd seeks after sheep, a woman seeks after a coin that is lost, and as a father seeks after a lost son. It is only natural of the Son of God to seek the lost.
a. Is it natural with us to seek the lost? Do we have the heart of God? Who are the lost one we seeking to find in the Lord?
3. Summary: "The truth here taught is just this: that mercy stretches forth her hand to misery, that grace receives men as sinners, that it deals with demerit, unworthiness and worthlessness; that those who think themselves righteous are not the objects of divine compassion, but the unrighteous, the guilty and the undeserving, are the proper subjects for the infinite mercy of God; in a word, that salvation is not of merit but of grace." (Spurgeon)