Luke 15:1 to 32
Harold and Tina Ehrenberg were cleaning up before family arrived for Thanksgiving dinner this week, when Tina came across some old lottery tickets on a nightstand—one of them a winning ticket worth $1.8 million. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the ticket was due to expire in just two weeks. Found it in the nick of time!
While that’s an extreme example, it is thrilling to lose something valuable, but then find it again. For this Sunday on the heels of feasting on turkey and green bean casserole and whatever specialties your family enjoys, we come across this meal-based encounter in Luke 15:1-2:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
We saw last Sunday that Jesus made a habit of making room at the table for anyone who wanted in. In last week’s Scripture, Jesus was the invited guest at the home of a prominent Pharisee. Pharisees were religiously devout Jewish laymen, not clergy. Their name is thought to derive from a Hebrew term meaning separate; out of the desire to honor God, they separated themselves from people and practices that were impure.
It was to their shock and confusion, then, that religiously devout Jesus broadened who he shared meals with. Some who were there on this day could not wrap their heads—or more accurately their hearts—around why a holy man would hang around spiritual outsiders, the kinds of people they did not want to become.
It is in response to muttering over this that Jesus tells, back to back, three parables all driving the same Kingdom of God secret home to those who “have ears to hear,” to those who truly want to hear what God says on the matter, how he feels about being holy by getting your hands dirty.
So if you would, open your Bible to Luke chapter 15. With exactly a month till Christmas, let me suggest the best gift you can get for yourself is your own Bible. Read it during the week. Take it to your small group. Bring it with you to church.
Get your own personal Bible. And start wearing it out. As has been pointed out:
“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Charles Spurgeon
So true. So get a Bible and start wearing it out: best Christmas gift you can get for yourself, best way to head into the new year and a renewed you.
Luke 15. To jump start their hearts and ours, Jesus tells three stories about something lost, and valued. He begins with…
A lost & treasured animal
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:3-7
This is a lesser-to-greater argument. Speaking to members of an agrarian society, Jesus meets them where they’re at: If one of you here today lost just one of your sheep, you wouldn’t shrug and say, “Meh, who cares?” You would search for it until you find it. Then you’d bring it back home and throw a party! If you treasure a single wayward animal, how much more do you think God thrills over wayward people coming home to him?
Which is worth more? Their muttering exposed the bitter truth.
You’ll never convince anyone God wants to welcome them, if you don’t welcome them. People go out of their way to find lost pets. God goes out of his way to find lost people—and calls us to have a heart…like his, for what is lost…and treasured.
Philip Griffin describes seeing a lost dog sign. There was a big cash reward for whoever found the dog, and a description. It said: “He’s only got three legs, he’s blind in the left eye, he’s missing a right ear, his tail has been broken off, he was neutered accidentally by a fence, he’s almost deaf, and he answers by the name ‘Lucky.'”
Source: Philip Griffin, from the sermon “A God Who Redeems”
You know what? That dog is lucky, because he’s got someone who loves him and wants him back.
You have someone who loves you and wants you by his side, in his company, at his table. The “Luckys” who cross your path at work or neighborhood or here in the Y, people who would never see themselves in church and at home with God, are precisely who God is searching for right now. That was me not too many years ago. That was many of you. You were lost…and treasured. Jesus immediately tells the next parable, Luke chapter 15:8 tells of…
A lost & treasured coin
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins [each one in those days representing a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10
Jesus has the attention of those who own sheep, now he talks about money. If you have your Bible open, flip the page to chapter 16 and verse 14. It says…
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” Luke 16:14
That is immediately after Jesus insisted that “You cannot serve both God and money.” Nonetheless they wanted to try! They said they loved God; they showed they loved money. So Jesus flips the script—from an animal that is lost and treasured, to a valuable coin, worth a days’ wages.
If you ever want to see what is truly valued, next time you’re in the mall on a busy Saturday leading up to Christmas, throw a handful of quarters onto the floor and see what happens. Heads will turn. Fast.
Sheep get lost by mindlessly following their appetites—same way some people get lost.
Coins get lost due to inattention or theft. We have a neighbor who owns a numismatic business—one that’s all about money collections, including coins. He was robbed last year, a memory that still burns fresh within him.
His collection is lost, but hasn’t lost its value—just like people who become spiritually lost. They are in fact lost, yet they bear the image of their Maker. He wants them found, and he’s thrilled when the next one is found. Are you? Which is worth more—a lost coin or a spiritually lost person?
Bill Adams, the CEO of a large hospital in Virginia, received a frantic call from a woman who explained, “My mother came into your hospital with her wedding ring, and now we can’t find it,” [she] said. … “I want to make an appointment to discuss this with you.” At the meeting she explained that her mother had died a few days earlier in the hospital, as a result of cancer.
She described how her parents had been married for 50 years, and what a wonderful couple and caring parents they had been. She told Bill how the day before, her dad had said, “It would mean so much for me to be able to slip that ring back on her finger before we bury her.”
“So I was hoping” the woman continued, ” that there was some way you could help me fulfill his dream of putting that ring back on my mother’s finger. Is there anyone you can think of who may be able to help us find that ring?”
Bill promised to do all he could to locate the ring. He left his office and went to the ward where her Mom had spent her final days. The staff described how the paient had lost so much weight during her time there that her ring might have fallen off. They looked underneath the bed, around the room, in the bathroom—no luck.
Bill went back to his office disappointed. But he felt restless and not ready to give up. He had the strong sense that there was something more he needed to do. Then he got an idea. He went down into the hospital basement and located the laundry chute.
The hospital’s CEO climbed into the bin and started digging into wet, soggy, dirty laundry. And he found the ring. He almost cried right there and then. In a book that recounts that true story, he says he will never forget the look on that woman’s face the next day, nor the look on her father’s face, when he handed them the ring.”
Source: Ken Tucker, Are You Satisfied? (BookSurge, 2008), pp. 55-56
We love our pets who wander off and become lost.
We treasure money or jewelry enough that when it becomes lost we search until we find it.
Jesus immediately launches into a third parable, the lengthiest yet, in his final attempt to convey God’s compassion for spiritually lost people. This is one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables, and it is intended to be the most penetrating for those who trash rather than treasure spiritually lost people. This one is about…
A lost & treasured son
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ [which is essentially saying, ‘Dad, I can’t wait for you to die!’] So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32
With this and the previous two parables, the Lord has given a comprehensive picture of the various ways people become spiritually lost:
Some by mindlessly following their appetites;
Some through inattention or theft;
And finally, some lose their way through blatant rebellion, willfully walking away.
My story as a teen was a mix of all three. You can say for yourself what your story is. The point of the three parables back to back is the same:
However anyone gets lost, God’s greatest joy is that they be found!
How someone who crosses your path grew far from God isn’t the issue. The question is do you have the heart of God for them, longing for them to come home to him? That’s the issue. That’s why Jesus told these three parables, to these listeners, at this time.
Which is more valuable—pets or people?
Which moves you more—money, or Christ’s mission?
Which son best describes you—grateful or grumbling?
Are you one who came to his senses and returned, to find your father thrilled to see you, or are the son who gripes at the expense, effort, and attention devoted to welcoming a lost brother home?
Those are the questions that ought to pierce our hearts here.
There’s a fictitious story about a guy who applies for a job as an usher at a movie theater. The manager calls him in for an interview as asks a single question: “What would you do in case a fire breaks out?”
The job applicant answers, “Don’t worry about me. I’d get out okay.”
That was the end of the interview. The manager helped him find the exit.
Because when you become an usher, it’s not enough just to get yourself to safety. You are responsible for helping others get out.
Illustration Digest (March-April-May, 1993)
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were diligent about keeping God’s Word in their minds, but they lost having God’s love in their hearts.
Jesus taught this triplet of parables to drive home to our hearts that:
From the first parable we catch that although people apart from Christ are lost, they’re not forgotten. God wants his lost sheep found. Do we? Do you?
From the second parable we catch that although people apart from Christ are lost, they are still greatly valued. John 3:16, God so loved the world (that is, a world filled with people who don’t love him) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish (shall not remain lost) but have eternal life. God treasures lost people, like you treasure lost cash.
And from the third parable we catch that although people apart from Christ are lost, they are sought out. Not merely put up with, but actively pursued. Verse 20 reveals God’s pursuing passion for lost people: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
You will never see a king or queen, president or prime minister run at full speed to embrace someone coming their way. It’s simply not done. But as Jesus tells it, the father in this final parable forgets his dignity, as it were. He throws off decorum, and compelled by compassion, races to welcome his lost son home.
Here is the heart of God for spiritually lost people. Is it yours as well? How far do you inconvenience yourself in order to seek and find those who right now are lost and living like it? How much money do you spend seeking and saving the lost? We’re just about even for the year in giving compared to ministry expenses, but if more comes in, we’ll give more to seeking the lost.
How much time do you devote to being with spiritually lost people?
If being asked about devoting money and time to God’s highest priority annoys you…then you are missing the heart of God. You need a new heart.
The massive wildfire still burning in California has drawn out some compelling stories, including Rachelle Sanders’ experience. Just hours after giving birth to a healthy baby boy via C-section at a hospital in Paradise, California, she had to evacuate.
Rachelle was placed in a wheelchair with her newborn and rushed to a car driven by a hospital employee named David. Because it was so soon after surgery, she had intravenous lines still in. David, who has no medical background, hung the IV on his car’s rear-view mirror and got it dripping again. Then they drove.
At times, flames were flanking them on both sides. Other times the fire was in the middle of the road. Rachelle’s surgery left her unable to run or even walk if the fire overtook them.
She said the combination of fire and wind created what looked like a “windstorm of fire.” They heard propane tanks exploding, and were forced to turn around several times when fire cut off their route. At one point they actually drove past her home. All that was left was a chimney.
They only had to cover twenty miles. It took them several hours. When things were at their worst, Rachelle made a dramatic request of this stranger, should they be trapped by the flames.
“I want you to take the baby and run.”
Right there is a parent’s mind-blowing, sacrificial love. If it came down to her losing her life but her baby being saved, so be it. “I want you to take the baby and run.”
Nine hours into forced turnarounds, gridlock and prayers, they made it to another hospital away from the fire. Rachelle Sanders’ interview ended with a statement that could have come straight out of this last parable. She said…
“Never have I had a Thanksgiving come where I have had so little and felt more thankful and blessed.”
Our series on the parables ends on that note. But with this conclusion comes the challenge to examine which son you are.
If you realize you are the son who became lost, then come home to your heavenly Father. As Richard Phillips puts it: “If you want to come to Jesus Christ for salvation—and there is no other way—it must be as one who was lost and now is found. Jesus is the Savior of the lost and of them only:
The lost who are sought by the Good Shepherd who died for their sins;
The lost who are found by the light of God’s Spirit burning brightly in the hand of his lady the Church;
The lost who come to their senses and trusting a father’s love come racing to him, finding that he is running to them in return.”
Source: Turning Your World Upside Down, p. 123
The Shepherd wants his lost sheep found.
The homeowner wants her lost cash discovered.
The father wants his lost son back home.
If you are that son who was lost but now has come home, welcome home! Enjoy the celebration! Keep the party going!
But if you are, like the older brother, bothered by ‘too much’ emphasis on seeking and saving the lost, may you seek God’s heart for spiritually lost people, until you find it.
Wayne Cordeiro tells the story about a church member named Bully, a gentle man who got his nickname from his days of barking orders at construction sites. After Cordeiro noticed the scars on Bully’s hands, he asked him, “Bully, how’d you get so many cuts?” Bully told the following story about a tsunami that hit the Hawaiian Island in the 1960s:
I was working above the bay that our home overlooks. One morning, the tide receded so much that the children ran out to catch fish in the tide pools left behind. We’d never witnessed the tide so low before, and it gave the kids an unprecedented opportunity to play and romp through the reefs that now protruded above the waterline like newly formed islands in the ocean. But what we didn’t know was that the ocean was preparing to unleash the largest tsunami our sleepy little town had ever experienced.
Within minutes, a sixty-foot wave charged our unsuspecting town with a force we’d never seen before. The hungry waters rushed inland. Like bony fingers, the waters scratched and pulled homes, cars, possessions, and people back into a watery grave. The devastating power of that wave left in its wake twisted buildings, shattered windows, splintered homes, and broken dreams. I ran as fast as I could to our home, where I found my wife sobbing uncontrollably. “Robby is missing,” she shouted. “I can’t find Robby!”
Robby was our six-month-old child who was asleep in the house when the ocean raged against our helpless village. I was frantic as I looked over the shore strewn with the remains of the frail stick houses that were now piled in heaps along the sands. Realizing that another wave may soon be following, I began running on top of the wooden structures, tearing up pieces of twisted corrugated roofs that were ripped like discarded remains of a demolition project. I tore up one piece after another running over boards and broken beams until I heard the whimpering of a child under one of the mattresses that had gotten lodged beneath an overturned car.
I reached under and pulled up my little son, Robby. I tucked him under my arm like a football player running for the end zone, then I sprinted back over the debris until I reached my wife. We ran for higher ground, hugging our child and one another, thanking God for his mercy.
Just then, my wife said, “Bully, your feet and your hands. You’re covered in blood!”
I had been wearing tennis shoes, and I didn’t realize that as I ran over the wreckage, I was stepping on protruding nails and screws that had been exposed in the rubble. And as I pulled back the torn corrugated roofing looking for Robby, the sharp edges tore into my hand …. I was so intent on finding my boy that nothing else mattered.
Possible Preaching Applications: (1) Like the father in this illustration, Jesus was so intent on finding us that he experienced the pain and judgment of the cross to save us. (2) As followers of Christ we should display the passion and sacrificial love of this father to seek and save lost people. (3) Bully demonstrates the kind of sacrificial leadership that should mark every father as he tries to love and lead his family.
Wayne Cordeiro, Sifted (Zondervan, 2012), pp. 205-208