This morning we’re going to look at three different parables – all about lost valuables. Jesus tells these three stories back to back to back in order to make a very clear point – specifically for the Pharisees – but also for us. We’re going to be looking at Luke chapter 15 this morning – we’re actually going to go through the entire chapter – verses 1 through 32. But we’ll read it in bite-sized chunks, so it’s a little easier to digest. So let’s start with just verses 1 & 2.
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” Luke 15:1-2
Now before we go any further, in order to understand the issue at hand here, we need to understand who these Pharisees and teachers of religious law were. These guys were extreme legalists. They were totally devoted to following the all laws of Moses – right down to the very last detail. (The laws of Moses being all that stuff you read about in Exodus & Leviticus. The “Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do this…) Obeying the law was the most important thing to these Pharisees – and they took their obedience to extremes. For example, where the law said to give a tithe – a tenth of their crops to God, the Pharisees would go out to their herb garden and clip off a tenth of their mint or a tenth of their basil or whatever else they had growing in their garden and tithe that. Or where the law said not to do any work on the Sabbath, if their house caught on fire on the Sabbath, they would not do the ‘work’ of trying to put the fire out. They took the greatest care in making sure they were no where close to breaking the law. It was like they obeyed the law, PLUS, just to make sure.
The were totally devoted to keeping the letter of the law and staying pure and holy – and of course, staying separated from anything or anyone that was sinful. Actually, that’s where the word “Pharisee” comes from – it means ‘separated ones. They were to be separate from the sinfulness around them. So of course, for Jesus to be hanging out with notorious sinners like the tax collectors, the town drunks, the prostitutes, and all sorts of shady characters … That was a serious no no. And for a reputable religious teacher, like Jesus, to sit and eat a meal with these lawless sinners, that was absolutely repulsive to these Pharisees. It went against everything they stood for.
So to address their complaints, Jesus tells them not one, not two, but three little stories. Three parables – which of course, as you remember, are also parallels. There is a hidden spiritual truth running parallel within each story. So let’s start at verse 3 for parable #1… We just read that the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus hanging out with notorious sinners…. verse 3.
“So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Luke 15:3-7
You know, Jesus probably could have stopped after just that one story. Just in itself, it’s a pretty powerful rebuke to these “righteous” Pharisees. In essence, Jesus is telling them that God rejoices more when one of these ‘lawless sinners’ repents of his sin and turns to God – than when 99 of these ‘righteous’ Pharisees faithfully follow all their rules and regulations all their life.
Now that might seem a little backwards to us. Why would God care so much about some sinner that has wasted away his life – living in sin, breaking God’s commands, ignoring God – doing whatever he wanted to do regardless of what God thought about it. Why would God rejoice when this guy repents and turns to God – MORE than when 99 fine, upstanding, righteous citizens faithfully follow God’s commands all their life?
Well, let’s hold that thought for a while, and let’s read the next little parable. Verse 8.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Luke 15:8-10
This is a very similar story to the one we just read. In both stories, something valuable is lost. In both stories, the owners diligently search for their item until they find it. In both stories, there is great rejoicing when it is found. And in both stories Jesus likens this celebration to the one that happens in heaven when a sinner repents.
And that leads us to parable #3. And even though this one is very different from the first two stories, they all contain the same lesson. Let’s have a look. Verse 11.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.
15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
And that’s the end of the parable. It’s interesting to note that Jesus never did say whether the older son actually came in to celebrate after talking with his father or whether he continued to stubbornly refuse. And I think that’s maybe because He wants us to apply this story to our lives, and make that decision for ourselves. So let’s see if we can figure out the lesson in this story.
Now there are three main characters in this story – the younger son, the older son, and the father. Each is a key part of this story.
Let’s start with the younger son. Clearly this son is representative of the tax collectors and other notorious sinners that Jesus was eating with in the first place. I mean, this guy is the poster child for rebellious, selfish sinners. At the beginning of the story, he clearly has no respect for his father. Especially in that culture, to take your inheritance early and abandon your family – to leave your parents to fend for themselves instead of taking care of them in their old age, that was a pretty serious slap in the face. He basically tells his dad, “Look Pop, I don’t want to wait for you to die before I get my inheritance. Fork it over now, so I can blow this popsicle stand. I’m tired of living in your house under your rules. I want to go live my own life. Do my own thing.” Of course, that’s just my paraphrase, but are you getting a sense of the selfishness going on here? This kid’s being a real jerk.
But don’t we sometimes take that same attitude with God? Maybe not so much at this point in our lives, but certainly before we were saved. We tell God, “Hey, thanks for the blessings. It’s great to know you’ve got my back – but, ah… I think I can take it from here. I can make my own decisions, thanks. I’ll live my life the way I want to. You just, kinda stay out of it, God.” We can be pretty selfish jerks too.
But anyway, this kid gets his money and he heads out and lives his life just the way he wants. The Bible says he goes out and wastes all of his money in wild living. And just a the money runs out, a famine hits. And before long, he’s starving. He ends up feeding pigs (which for an Israelite is the lowest of all jobs). He becomes so hungry that he wishes he could eat the pig food. His foolishness – his selfishness – his sinfulness – has caught up with him and he hits rock bottom.
And I think most of us have probably been there at some time in our lives too. We can only do our own thing for so long – before it’s inevitable that we hit the bottom. Our sin catches up with us. And quite often it takes hitting the bottom, for us to look up.
Well, this kid realizes what a fool he has been, and he comes up with a plan to go back to his father, confess his sin, and hope that his father will at least allow him to work as a hired hand.
And by the way, if you find yourself relating well to this young man… Maybe you’re somewhere near rock-bottom yourself. You’ve been living your own life – You’ve been doing your own thing – keeping God out of the picture. But things have not been turning out the way you’d hoped. Perhaps your sin is catching up with you. If you’re in the same situation as this young man, I’d sure recommend that you do the same thing he’s doing – turn back to your heavenly Father. Confess to God what a jerk you’ve been. He already knows, so you might as well admit it. And ask Him for forgiveness. And the cool thing is, as we’re about to see from the dad in this story, is that God has been waiting for you with open arms. He can hardly wait to forgive you and help you get back on your feet. He’s really pretty awesome. But more on that in a minute.
Getting back to our story, the rebellious son returns home. And this is where the focus shifts from the son to the father. Notice how the father reacts when he sees the son returning home. Verse 20.
And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.
No reprimand. No scolding. No “I hope you’ve learned your lesson.” No. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. The son had a great speech prepared, but he doesn’t even get a chance to finish it. He begins in verse 21…
21 ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ Luke 15:21
But before he can get to the part about asking to be one of his hired hands, the father interrupts him…. verse 22
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”
In our culture, we likely miss the significance of those three items that the father gave – the robe, the ring, and the sandals. But by giving him those three things, the father was declaring in no uncertain terms that the son was not to be just a hired hand – but was to be fully restored as family.
The finest robe was usually reserved for the guest of honor. This was for someone of great importance. Certainly not for a just hired hand.
The ring was a sign of authority. You might remember that one of the things Pharaoh gave to Joseph when he made him second in command of Egypt was his ring. No mere servant would be given a ring like that.
And servants also never wore sandals – they always went barefoot. Sandals were for family.
And so even though the son declared that he wasn’t worthy to be called his father’s son anymore, the father made it abundantly clear that he was just as much family as he ever had been.
And that’s how God views us too. Even though we were just as selfish and rotten as this younger son, God is filled with love and compassion towards us and the minute we repent and turn back to Him, He welcomes and embraces us the same way as He welcomes and embraces His own Son, Jesus. Isn’t that incredible? He doesn’t just reluctantly forgive us – or merely put up with us – He loves us just the same as He loves His own Son Jesus. That’s the love God has for you.
That’s why Jesus happily ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners. He loved them like family. Sure, they had made mistakes. Sure, they were sinners. But He loved them like crazy and when they repented and turned to God, He accepted them as family. It was as if they were dead – but now they’re alive. They were lost – but now they’re found. And to God, that’s a huge reason to celebrate!
But not for the Pharisees. Not for the older brother.
Its interesting that Jesus doesn’t just end the story there – but he goes on to talk about the older brother. Don’t miss the significance of this.
The older brother is not at all happy that his ‘sinful’ younger brother is being welcomed back and celebrated like this. So he doesn’t go in and join the party. He sulks outside. Eventually the father goes out to talk to him. And what the older brothers says to his father is very telling. Listen to his words and see if you can hear the Pharisee in him.
“He replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’” Luke 15:29-30
You can hear his distain for both his brother and his father. There’s a lot of bitterness here. Like the Pharisees, he did everything his father told him to do. Like the Pharisees, he obeyed the letter of the law. Like the Pharisees, his actions were righteous, but his attitude was still completely selfish. He obeyed on the outside, but on the inside, he was just as rebellious, just as selfish, and just as sinful as was his brother earlier.
The difference, is that now, his younger brother had repented – while he still had a hard, proud heart – just like the Pharisees.
The problem with the older brother and the problem with the Pharisees that Jesus was trying to point out was that they were too good for their own good. That is to say, while they could easily identify others as sinners, they failed to see themselves the same way.
They failed to see what Romans 3 clearly says.
“No one is righteous—not even one.” Romans 3:10
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23
And you know what? It matters little whether you are a socially acceptable sinner—like the Pharisees—or a socially unacceptable sinner—like the younger son. Either way, we are still sinners. Either way, we deserve condemnation.
The only thing that saves us is the grace of God.
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Only by the sinless life of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, can we be saved. It is our faith in Jesus that makes us acceptable to God. It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher or a prostitute – Sinners and saints are saved the same way. By putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
This morning, we’re going to celebrate communion together. And as we do, I want you to think of the feast that the father threw for the repentant son and how they celebrated the fact that this boy – who once was lost, was now found. He was once dead, but now he’s alive. Because that’s what we celebrate today too.
We were lost (everyone of us) – but now we’re found. We were dead, but now we are alive. And it’s all because of Jesus death on the cross – because his body was broken, and his blood was spilled for us. Jesus took our punishment on that cross so that we could have eternal life with Him. And He did that because He loved us.