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Seeking the Lost


Luke 15:1-32


The Murmuring of the Pharisees and Scribes


Jesus closely associated with sinners, who McGarvey says would be "all who failed to observe the tradition of the elders, and especially their traditional rules of purification.  It was not so much the wickedness of this class as their legal uncleanness that made it wrong to eat with them."  Such reasoning may have been why Peter withdrew from eating with Gentile converts when some came from James (Galatians 2:11-12).


Jesus also was found in the company of tax collectors, or publicans.  The tax collector was most often a man who lived in the district being taxed by the Romans.  The Romans usually sold the right to tax within a given district to certain men who would take advantage of the opportunity to profit by overcharging their own countrymen.  Sometimes, they even brought false accusations against them.  They were therefore considered traitors who plundered their own people for personal gain.  Tax collectors were actually classed with the Gentiles, so to eat with them would be viewed as a violation of the law.  Jesus' entire purpose in coming to earth was to heal those who were spiritually ill (Luke 5:27-32), so he allowed them to come near to him and learn.


The Pharisees and scribes found such close relationships with people they considered to be unclean to be distasteful.  Jesus answered their murmuring by telling three parables about the lost.  Each teaches a clear lesson about the Father's view of sinners (Luke 15:1-3).


The Lost Sheep


Sheep were highly valued in Christ's day because they could be used for food, milk, wool and sacrifice (Exodus 12:1-8; Isaiah 7:21-22; Job 31:20; Leviticus 1:10-11).  Shepherds say that sheep are primarily concerned with food and water.  If they have those, they will wander aimlessly and possibly end up lost.  A man who lost a sheep would leave the others in the place of pasturage and look for the lost.  When it was found, the shepherd would lovingly lay it on his shoulders and take it back to the fold rejoicing.  Upon his return home, the shepherd would call for his neighbors, who likely knew of the loss and had been concerned with the outcome, to come rejoice with him (Luke 15:4-7).


Men, much like sheep, will wander aimlessly into sin without any regard for the danger if they feel their needs are being met.  Despite the fact that they are lost due to their own carelessness, God wants to find the lost.  Like the shepherd, he rejoices more over the return of the lost one than over the self proclaimed righteous who say they have no need for repentance, like the Pharisees (Luke 18:11-12).


The Lost Coin


We may not be impressed when the Lord says a woman had ten coins and lost one, but that was a significant amount of money to the poor working class of Christ's day.  In fact, Lightfoot says, "The coin specified by Luke was a Greek drachma, which was almost equivalent to a Roman denarius.  It was a silver coin, and although worth by our standards less than twenty cents, it was the common wage for a day's labor."  When she realized her loss, the woman lit a lamp and began to sweep until it could be found.  Their houses were usually without windows, had only one door and a dirt floor which was often covered with dried reeds and rushes, so there were many places for a coin to be hidden.


It would seem the woman's diligent search is again indicative of the love God has for the lost.  In this case, it has been noted by some that the coin was likely lost through the negligence of another.  Though we would not suggest that anyone is lost because of God's negligence, it does seem that some are influenced in the wrong direction by others.  Notice, though the coin may have been lost through another's negligence, it was still considered lost and had to be found!  God was so concerned with man's spiritual bondage that he sent his only Son to die and extend the offer of eternal life to those who would express their belief in him through obedience.  The woman rejoiced when the coin was found and invited her neighbors to join her, just as the shepherd who found the sheep had rejoiced.  With this simple illustration, Jesus portrayed the heavenly joy over even one sinner who repents (Luke 15:8-10).


The Prodigal


In contrast to the wandering sheep and coin which may have been lost through another's neglect, the prodigal son determined to leave and take his inheritance with him, even before his father died.  Since he was the younger brother, one third of his father's goods would ordinarily become his at his father's passing (Deuteronomy 21:17).  The prodigal took his future inheritance and wasted it in a far country.  When all his money was gone and the country in famine, he  attached himself to a certain farmer who sent him out to feed the swine.  McGarvey says Jews refused to name pigs and only spoke of them as "dabhar acheer; i. e., 'the other thing,'" so you can imagine the humiliation he felt.


Perhaps the most powerful statement in all of scripture about those lost in sin is, "But when he came to himself."  One is not in his right mind when pursuing the course of sin which leads to his eternal destruction.  The prodigal was now sufficiently humbled to be ready to go back as a day laborer, which Lightfoot says is the meaning of "hired servants."  Though he would not have the security of knowing whether he would have a job from day to day, at least he knew his father treated his servants well!  Of course, the father ran to greet him and accepted the penitent back as a son, saying, "for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."  Anyone who has felt the terrible burden of his own sins has to rejoice upon hearing those words of the father and noting that he had a party to celebrate his son's return (Luke 15:11-24)!


The Older Brother


It may be remembered that Jesus said the man had two sons.  One, the older brother, stayed home with the father the whole time, yet left him in his spirit when he was unwilling to forgive (Romans 5:6-8; Matthew 6:14-15).  He, seemingly, represents the Pharisees and scribes.  Like him, they had many blessings but refused to accept those who had lived in sin and were now returning to God, the heavenly Father.  The older brother's rejection of the father's pleading is reminiscent of the Pharisees' and scribes' unwillingness to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Still, the father's words to the older son about the recovery of his lost son gives hope to all who have ever recognized their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness (Luke 15:25-32). 

Discussion Questions


1.  What was a publican?  Why do you think Jesus ate with publicans and sinners?


2.  Why would a man leave the ninety-nine and seek the one lost sheep?


 3.  What shows you the value the woman placed on the lost coin?



 4.  What message for today can be found in Jesus' comment about rejoicing in heaven?


5.  What spiritual condition is represented by each of the two sons?  What should one do to be sure he is living in the spirit of his Father?


 --Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school director