Luke 15. More On How Salvation Works. God As Seeker of Lost.
Key Notes: Three parables about lost things--lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. For sinners and Pharisees.
We were left at the end of Lk.14:33 with the uncomfortable feeling that Jesus had made becoming His disciple impossible: you cannot, cannot, cannot be my disciple. The demands of the Kingdom are too great. This lesson broadens the perspective on salvation and provides a solution to the puzzle.
Lk.15:1 The episode opens with Jesus huddling with the outcasts of society: tax-collectors and "sinners" (we suppose that includes thieves, cut-throats, the irreligious and alcoholics). The scribes and Pharisees were there too, but only to criticize Jesus. They were following Psa.1:1–3 and they knew that anyone who walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood in the way of sinners and sat in the seat of the scoffers could not be blessed.
Jesus told both groups three parables about lost things to explain the exception to Psa.1:1–3. We all have vivid emotional responses to losing things, often trivial things. It is hard to explain even to ourselves why we invest so much time and energy looking for something that we might easily replace with a little time and money. But we attach emotional bonds to our things; they become part of us and we hate to lose any part of ourselves. One wonders if God does not hear more fervent prayers for lost keys than for lost relatives.
Lk.15:3–7The lost sheep is only one of a hundred, but it probably has a name and the shepherd is willing to risk life and limb to get it back. Even the Pharisees would do the same. ("Which one of you would not....") And there is great joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents. Jesus leaves us with no doubt about the application of the parable: we are like sheep gone astray (Isa. 53:6 ) and need to be rescued by a shepherd. He loves us and goes after us.
Lk.15:8–10 The lost coin is one of ten. Falling to the mud floor of the house, it will be hard to find but the broom may move it enough to be heard. What was the significance of the coin? One suggestion is that it was part of the head-dress of a married woman. If so, it might be part of her dowry, and a mark of her status. If one piece is lost, the head-dress loses its beauty and value. She will sweep the house until she finds it. Jesus said the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents. We are like coins that roll into a corner or under a bed and need to be found and put back in a safe place.
Lk.15:11 The lost son is one of two (or two of two as we shall see). Note that Jesus increases the emotional intensity of each parable--from a sheep to a coin to a son. The younger of two sons demanded his 1/3rd of the estate before the father died. The disruption involved in liquidating assets to give him a third of all that a first century Jewish father owned is hard to imagine. In modern society, it would involve selling the house or getting a second mortgage on the property. A farmer who had to sell off 30 of his100 acres would lose a major part of his income. Either would put the rest of the family in jeopardy. Off he went to sunny Italy on a cruise ship with his pockets full of money. We are indignant.
The second annoyance is that the younger son then wasted the money and was soon bankrupt. A famine in the land and his penniless state ended him in the pig-pen where he could not even get pig-feed for himself. A pig farm suggests that the son had left the Promised Land and was living with Gentiles. Now truly defiled, having hit bottom, the son thought of home. He repented of his sins, and headed back, perhaps as an oarsman on a galley or a on fishing boat, this time full of remorse.
The third annoyance is that the father disgraced himself. Seeing his son coming home from afar, he ran out to him, hugged and kissed him although he was dirty and smelled bad. He gave him the best robe (he was in rags), put shoes on his feet (he came home barefoot), and a ring on his finger (restoring his family status), and a big banquet with premium grade mutton (he was starving).
We can sympathize with his older brother who came home to find this total injustice going on, especially when he had never had a party in all his years of working for his father. The story ends with the older son still outside the door, fuming.
Asian students are offended by the father's behavior. He lost face by acting unjustly toward the younger son who had disgraced the family. It is ironic that human beings who commonly criticize God because he does not save everyone regardless of their sins, now criticize the Father for saving the Prodigal without making him pay for his sins. God is accused of not enough grace and also too much grace!
However, we note that the Father did not take the Prodigal back as a prodigal. He came home humble and repentant. If the son had come home for more money, the story would not be too surprising--children do that--but it would be impossible for the Father to be reconciled. God has no rebels in His house. Grace does not imply that God accepts sinners on their own terms. Grace is free but not cheap.
We can see that the story of the Prodigal is addressed to both the sinners (the prodigal) and the Pharisees (the older brother). Since the Pharisees provoked the stories, they are left to ask whether they will stay outside in spite of the Father's pleading. The story is intentionally incomplete so that they can go away and think about what the older brother should do.
How were the lost things lost?
•The sheep has its face in the grass and nibbles its way away from the flock. It is foolish. It has no moral compass.
•The coin was lost perhaps because of the carelessness of the jeweler. It was not well-fastened by its rings. It was lost by someone else's fault. Some people lose out spiritually because of the failure of their leaders to ensure that they are well grounded.
•But the son got lost out of deliberate choice. He bears full responsibility. The older son also lost out of choice: he refused to come to the Feast.
If Luke 14 leaves us distressed with the difficulty of being Jesus' disciples, Luke 15 answers the question.
•What is Jesus Himself doing? He is in a huddle with publicans and sinners, shepherding them into the Kingdom.
•"Religion is man's search for God" expresses an outsider's view. Inside, we know that saving faith is the result of God's search for us.
•Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Lk.19:10). As God's lost things, He attaches more care toward us than we attach to our lost wallet or keys. And Heaven rejoices when we repent and return.
•How can we be his disciples? We cannot, we cannot. He must find us. He will shepherd us into the kingdom, and bring us into His House and to the Feast.
All we must do is to come Home in our rags and say "Father, I have sinned before Heaven and in Your sight and am no longer worthy to be called Your son. Treat me as one of Your hired servants."
See how He blesses such a penitent.