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Lost and Found

In Luke 19:10 we read that Jesus said "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost", a truth already conveyed in various ways

by Luke, and nowhere more clearly than in the parables of chapter 15.


The Lost Sheep

15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining,

"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."


As a general rule, wherever he went, multitudes (Luke says ‘all’) of tax collectors and sinners, came to hear what Jesus had to say; this angered the

Pharisees and scribes, especially since Jesus welcomed and accepted these people with open arms. Jesus’ openness to these people unnerved them,

for since they considered themselves particularly holy they would never have had anything to do with those who they regarded as unholy.


15:3-5 So Jesus told them this parable: "Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the

open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing.


Jesus spoke these parables chiefly for their benefit. In them he clarifies the attitude of God—who is genuinely the holiest being in existence—towards sinners, and contrasts it with their own hypocrisy and lack of love.


On the face of it, the shepherd’s actions seem unreasonable.  To leave ninety-nine sheep unguarded in the wilderness and go to look for one that had willfully strayed from the flock at the risk of not only losing the rest of the flock but also his own life seems foolhardy. But Jesus is using this drastic concept to illustrate the extreme lengths to which God is prepared to go in order to save one lost soul. Christ would not only risk his life but lay it down for—not one sheep only—but for the whole flock (Isa. 53:6; John 10:11).

This picture of God as a shepherd of his people was familiar to the students of the Law. The picture of God finding a lost sheep and carrying it home with great joy calls to mind the picture of God in Isaiah 40:11. So Jesus Christ receives those whom He finds; with great joy he takes them to his arms and lifts them up out of the pit of sin (Isaiah 51:1; 1 Peter 2:25).


15:6-7 Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, 'Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.' I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.


The illustration does not end with a sheep being found—for he is not truly found until he is restored to the community. When a sinner is saved he is included in the community of saved sinners God has already begun—the church (Acts 2:47). All those who are in the intimacy of God’s social circle (whether men or angels) will rejoice together with God on the occasion of a soul’s salvation, just as the friends and neighbors rejoiced over the lost sheep in the parable. Indeed, by saying that there will be greater rejoicing in heaven when one lost sinner repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need not repent, Jesus is being ironic. The irony of this statement is that God’s word had already declared ‘there is none that does good’ (Ps. 14:3; 1 Kings 8:46); and this irony is aimed at the Pharisees who considered themselves righteous, and did not see their need of repentance and salvation.


The Lost Coin

15:8 "Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it?


The fact that the woman who lost one of her ten silver coins searched carefully until she found it demonstrates how important each coin was to her—she did not want to lose any of them.  In a similar way, God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 18:32) and people are far more important to God than a coin could be to this woman. What is more, the way in which the woman set about looking for the coin, her thorough search once again illustrates the care with which God seeks out lost souls, and the lighting of the lamp may be a deliberate echo by Jesus of the already well-known means by which God reaches out to bring men and women to himself (Prov. 6:23; Ps. 119:105).


15:9-10 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God's angels over one sinner who repents."


Here is exactly the same picture which Jesus gave in the first parable, of God and all those in his society rejoicing together over the salvation of a soul. These first two parables introduce the idea of being lost and found, but these themes are more fully explained in the third and final parable of the set.


The Lost Son  

15:11-12 Then Jesus said, "A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me' so he divided his assets between them.


Jesus’s third parable on this subject concerns a man who had two sons. The younger of the two was not satisfied with what his father was giving to him, and so he asked his father for something that was not yet his—the portion of the inheritance that would have been his after his father had died. So, without discussing the rights or wrongs of such an action, Jesus said the father divided his wealth between his two sons.


15:13 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle.


A few days later the younger son packed his bags and went to live in a far country. He couldn't wait to get away from the influence and home of his father; he wanted to get as far away as he possibly could. It is perhaps significant, in Jesus society, that the way in which the boy treats his father immediately reveals him to be a reprobate (Duet. 21:18-21).


Those who have no time for God and will not acknowledge him in their lives often take extreme measures to get away from his influence, hardening their hearts to the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings on them. They will not have Jesus Christ to reign in the lives (Luke 19:14). Jesus emphasizes the sheer folly of the younger son, who squandered his wealth on a wild lifestyle.


This sad departure of the son from his roots and the home of love reminds me of the incident in Eden when man first thought to be independent of God. It is an attitude which prevails among humankind to this day (Ps. 2:2-3). The way in which the father gave the son everything that was his reminds me of God’s role as creator, and the way in which the father allows the son to have his way reminds me of how God created humanity with free will—the father did not try to stop the son; the relationship itself should have been enough to keep him there. The way in which the son squandered his wealth reveals that humanity has not come off well from its experiment with independence.


15:14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need.


Money does not last forever, and so eventually the son became penniless. This penury coincided with a famine in the country where he was living, meaning that not only did he have no money to buy food, there was no food to buy. All those who turn their back on God become spiritually bankrupt. John Gill in his commentary says ‘Sin strips a man of all that is good and valuable’. Try as he might, paradise cannot be regained without divine help.


15:15-16 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.


The boy had sunk so low that he sought employment with a local farmer who—perhaps in derision—sent him into his fields to feed pigs. The Pharisees would have seen this as repugnant, for they knew the Law which forbade Jews to eat pigs or even to keep them. Not only so, it would appear that the boy was not even offered any payment for this work, but was left to fend for himself, taking shelter with the pigs. He became so hungry that the carob pods which the pigs were eating looked good enough for him to satisfy his hunger. This was the wages he had to pay for going away from his father's house and wasting his inheritance (Rom. 6:23). The picture Jesus is painting is of someone who is unclean before God (represented by the pigs) and who is enduring the natural punishment expected for moral evils—it is the condition of every human being before God (Isa. 64:6).


15:17 But when he came to his senses he said, 'How many of my father's hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger!


Jesus notes the point of the young man’s behavior was ‘when he came to himself’. The young man comes to his senses and remembers his father's home where even the hired servants have more than enough bread to eat while he is starving to death. This was time for right thinking. When someone wants to get right with God then that is always right thinking—the Pharisees should from this description recognize the tax collectors and sinners who were flocking to hear Jesus.


15:18-19 I will get up and go 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; treat me like one of your hired workers." '


The young man’s experience had, through the alchemy of God’s grace, brought him to a place of repentance, where in all humility he decided to go back home to his father, say that he was sorry, and ask forgiveness for the sins he had committed against him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9). His confession of his unworthiness to be acknowledged as a son was a necessary prelude to his being ready to receive astonishing grace.


15:20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.


In the action of returning to the father, the miracle was in progress, for he did not have to come all the way before his father ran out to meet him. Jesus’ enduring picture of God’s eagerness to welcome repentant sinners has never been surpassed. The father in the parable had never given up on his son, but was always looking for his return, just as God delights in the twin experience of repentance and forgiveness. When the father saw the son in the distance coming towards him, he was filled with love and compassion, and ran to meet, embrace and kiss him (Psa. 86:5, Psa. 86:15).


15:21-22 Then his 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 slaves, 'Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet!


The son makes his confession to his father that his sin was against God, as well as against his father, and that he was not worthy to be called his son. The confession reveals his true repentance, but it is not dwelt on in the narrative. Repentance is the necessary prelude to the receiving of grace, but what Jesus wants to emphasize is the grace upon grace that the repentant sinner received (John 1:16).


Here the father’s love and compassion are put into action. He does not remonstrate with his son over the way he behaved but calls his servants to bring out the best robe on dress him in it, to put a ring of belonging on his finger, and to put sandals on his unprotected feet.


In a similar way God has shown his love and compassion to us in that he gave his only begotten Son to die on the cross that we might be reconciled to Him (Rom. 5:8-11). He has clothed us with his righteousness (Isa. 61:10; Phil. 3:9). He has identified us as His own by putting His seal upon us, the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22), and he has shod our feet with the readiness for action and service which comes through the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).


15:23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate.


A calf that was being prepared for some special event was slain and made ready to eat to celebrate with great rejoicing the return of his son; a symbol of the ‘all things’ that God has given to us in Jesus (Rom. 8:32).


15:24 Because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again — he was lost and is found!' So they began to celebrate.


Throughout the time of his absence, the son had been dead to his father, with no communication between them. The fact of the alienation between them also meant that the son, even if alive, was lost to his father—the relationship had broken down. Their reunion was as if he had risen from the dead, and through forgiveness, their human relationship was restored—as human relationships always can be through forgiveness. Being dead in trespasses and sins is a condition of being alienated from God; the sin standing between us prevents the restoration of fellowship. But the death of Jesus provides the way for sin to be forgiven, and so the barrier to fellowship can be removed.  Through repentance toward God and faith in the death and resurrection of Christ we are brought from our condition of spiritual death and alienation from God to new and eternal life through the process of being born again.  Every sinner is as lost as this young man was when he went from his father’s house; and every sinner who comes home to God is welcomed by grace as he was on his return (Eph. 2:1-6).


15:25-26 Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening.


Although the father and the servants rejoiced and welcomed the younger son home, the elder son was not so pleased to hear of his brother’s homecoming. He had been working in the fields when his brother had arrived, and had not heard news of his return. So when he heard the noise of rejoicing, he asked the servants what it was all about.


15:27-28 The slave replied, 'Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.' But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him.


On hearing that his brother had arrived safely home, and that his father had killed the fatted calf for him, he became angry and would not join in the celebrations. What is more, he refused to be pacified by his father's pleadings.


15:29-30 But he answered his father, 'Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'


This part of the parable was addressed directly to the Pharisees and scribes who were righteous in their own eyes. Like the older son protested that he had always served his father, so they claimed to be the true servants of God who were faithful and obedient to the Law. Everyone else was either a tax collector or a sinner to them; not deserving God's blessing. They failed to see—as the older son did—that everything they had was a gift from God. Even the Law was a gift from God to guide the people towards repentance, not a platform to highlight the achievements of the pious. Jesus’ argument seems to be, not that the Pharisees were just as wicked sinners as anyone else, although that certainly is true, but that they were dependent on the same grace and mercy as everyone else if they were to enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God.  


15:31-32 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.'


The fact that Jesus says, ‘everything I have is yours’ indicates that God had chosen the Jews and separated them to Himself, entrusting them with His word and the promises (Rom. 9:4). Yet the parable reveals that this did not guarantee their acceptance with God—the grace of God given by Jesus Christ was essential for the salvation of those who were the religious mainstream as well as for those on the margins of society. The way in which the Pharisees failed to rejoice in the restoration of sinners indicates that they failed to appreciate their own need of God’s grace.



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Chapter 15

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