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We have adopted Luke, chapter 15, as our “theme verses” for why we are in ministry. In this chapter, Jesus tells three well-known parables, and all with the same message: lost people are valuable to God!
And in response to the scorn over those the Pharisees and Scribes considered lower than them, Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Each parable is about something that the world values little, but God values much. Each parable teaches that lost people are valuable to God.
The first parable Jesus told to the Pharisees and Scribes was “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” (). Jesus told of a shepherd who had 100 sheep, but one got away. The shepherd’s response? He went after that one sheep! “And when he has found [the sheep], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (vs. 5).
Imagine the scandal of leaving 99 sheep “in the open country.” And why? For 1% of your flock? Certainly other shepherds would say, “Don’t leave the 99. Don’t you know wolves could get them? Or others could run away? And you could get hurt, climbing through thickets and woods. Why trouble yourself and risk your own injury to go after just one sheep? Certainly your 99 will give birth to lambs and you’ll get more. That one is a ‘collateral loss.'”
But this shepherd didn’t think that way. He rejoiced at finding the one. And more, he called all his friends to share the joy over the news – that which was lost is now found!
Jesus used this parable to give a picture of the heart of God, that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (vs. 7).
This parable is not about a sheep. It teaches that lost people are valuable to God.
Conventional wisdom tells us that if only one coin is missing, don’t bother yourself worrying about it. Certainly it will turn up eventually. Why waste time and energy searching for one when you have nine others? It must take a lot of energy and time to “sweep the house and seek diligently” (vs. 8). It also says that she had to light a lamp, which implies she worked into the evening hours.
And what for? A coin that you’ll end up finding sometime later anyway?
That’s how the world thinks, but not God. The woman in this parable must have seemed eccentric to her “friends and neighbors” when she called them together just to tell them about one small coin.
But Jesus used this parable to illustrate the “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Once again, what is not valuable to the world is so very valuable to God. This parable is about so much more than a mere coin. Jesus told it to remind us that lost people are valuable to God.
If one could suspend their disbelief over a strange shepherd willing to risk loss and injury over one sheep, and if one could overlook the strange behavior of a woman searching her home through the night for one coin, the parable of the prodigal son would be unthinkable. It’s a story only a could believe!
A father had two sons, and the younger demanded his inheritance, an act that would have been a harsh insult in the First Century, as children were only allowed their inheritance after the death of the parent. Jesus’ audience would have understood this son to be saying, “Dad, I’m too impatient to wait for you to die. I want my money now.” The MacArthur Study Bible explains it this way, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me A shocking request, tantamount to saying he wished his father were dead. He was not entitled to any inheritance while his father still lived.”
How did the father react to such brash rebellion? Punnishment? Stoning? Incredibly, the father “divided his property” (vs. 12). The son took all his father worked so hard for, and he “squandered his property in reckless living” (vs. 13).
Eventually the son came to ruin, stooping so low that he had to take a job tending pigs and eating with them. No doubt the Pharisees and Scribes enjoyed that part, figuring the boy got what was coming to him.
But Jesus wasn’t finished with the story. The son, realizing he had nothing, went back to his dad, humbled. He was in the perfect place for the father to take revenge on this strong-willed embarassment of a child.
Incredibly, the father showed something that the Pharisees and Scribes did not know much about – the father showed mercy!
Jesus continued the story, saying that “while [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (vs. 20). The ESV Study Bible explains it this way: “A long way off emphasizes the father’s great love; he must have been watching for the son. ran. The father cast aside all behavioral conventions of the time, as running was considered to be undignified for an older person, especially a wealthy landowner such as this man. embraced him. Literally ‘fell on his neck'”
The word “prodigal” means “extravagant,” and this parable is named after the “prodigal son” because he lived an “extravagant” lifestyle, but the father could also be described as “prodigal,” because he displayed an “extravagant” amount of love.
As if forgiving his child were not enough, this extravagant father put the best robe on his son, sandals on his dirty feet, adorned him with jewelry, and even killed the fattened calf, celebrating with “music and dancing” (vs. 25).
When the older son heard about this, Jesus said “he was angry and refused to go in” (vs. 28). When the father came out to speak with the older son, the son harshly questioned the father’s behavior. The older son rebuked his father, “when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (vs. 30). “Amen!” the Pharisees and Scribes must have thought. “At last somebody has some sense in this story!”
But just as in “The Parable of the Lost Sheep,” and in “The Parable of the Lost Coin,” Jesus was showing them the heart of God towards the lost. In the words of the “extravagant” father, “your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (vs. 32).
This parable is not about a younger son who went away, nor is it about an older son who stayed. It is a picture of our Father in Heaven who loves extravagantly. It is a joy to God to show mercy to sinners who come to God in repentance. Though the world may despise and look down upon those considered “lower,” Jesus told three parables in Luke Chapter 15 to teach that lost people are valuable to God, and it is God’s pleasure to find and redeem them.
Why am I leaving the comfort of my corporate job, heading out in faith that God will provide for my wife and children? Because God loves to redeem the lost. I can’t not go. I am compelled to lovingly tell whoever will listen (and maybe a few who won’t) that we have all broken God’s Law, and unless we are forgiven through Christ, then we are “alienated and enemies [of God] in [our] mind by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21). I must tell them that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). And I must share that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). By raising Himself from the dead, Jesus proved He was God, that there is life after death, and that He has authority! He commands all people everywhere to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15.)
What an amazing God! What an amazing gospel! That’s why the verses in Luke, chapter 15 are our “ministry verses.” They remind us that what is not valuable to the world is so very valuable to God.Lost people are valuable to God. By God’s grace, perhaps it will be His pleasure to use me and you to find a few lost sheep, coins, and rebellious sons.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found'”