If possible, read Luke 15.
In speaking of Luke 15, J.C. Ryle once said that “There is probably no chapter of the Bible that has done greater good to the souls of men.”
Seeking The Lost
Jesus was ministering to society’s outcasts: tax collectors, whom everyone hated, and sinners, which meant those who did not observe the legal rules set forth by the Pharisees. Jesus freely mingled among such people. He did not despise them as others did—He loved them. Because He loved them, it was natural that they loved Him and sought Him out in return. That was noticed and resented by the teachers of the law who said that “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (v. 2). They meant it as a slur on Jesus’ reputation, but actually it was part of the great glory of our Lord that He did stoop to save sinners. These three stories are intended to show that it was not only right, but also a revelation of the loving character of God the Father that He did so.
Lost, But Valuable
The most obvious similarity among these three parables is that in each, something has been lost. In the first a sheep is lost, in the second a coin, and in the third a son. This speaks of our miserable condition apart from God. We, too, are lost.
In each case, the object lost remained valuable in the mind of the owner. We can imagine an owner of sheep who might say, “What’s one sheep when I have ninety-nine more? It’s only a one percent loss for my business.” Similarly the woman might have said, “I’m not going to bother myself about this one lost coin. I still have nine more.” Or imagine if the father had decided, “Well, my younger son is gone, but it’s just too bad. I’ll focus my attention on the remaining son.” Of course, that’s not what the owners or father did. The father longed after his prodigal son, and in the first two parables, the owners diligently searched for the lost objects.
What is the explanation for their behavior? Only that the object had value to the owner even though it was lost, and that the owner was determined to recover it again. We are lost, but God loves us and is determined to find and reclaim us.
So often, we consider these parables from the point of view of the lostness of the sinner. We think of the misery of the sheep, the hopeless condition of the coin, or the degradation of the son. But Jesus begins, not with the object’s loss, but with the loss sustained by God. In these parables, we see the feelings of God toward the sinner. He is anxious about each one and will go to great efforts to regain them.
If you are lost, apart from God, know that you are valuable to God even in your lost condition. You may be worthless in your own sight because you can only see what you have made of yourself, but you should learn that you are valuable to God. He is able to see what you were created to be and what He can yet make of you.
In Isaiah 53, the prophet compares sinners to lost sheep: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). But, as Isaiah goes on to show, God has sought us out even in our lost condition. Jesus became like us, a “sheep [silent] before her shearers” or a “lamb [led] to the slaughter,” in order to find us and restore us to God (v. 7).
A Search Party
Some have suggested that in these three stories each Person of the Godhead is pictured. In the first, Jesus is portrayed in the person of the shepherd. He Himself said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14). In the third parable, the divine Father is portrayed in the person of the human father. It is suggested that the Holy Spirit appears in the second parable, in the figure of the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and carefully searches until the misplaced coin is found. That might suggest the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination. It is the entire Godhead that is involved in the sinner’s salvation. The Father plans the restoration. The Son achieves it by His work on the cross. The Holy Spirit applies it to the individual by opening his or her mind to the truth of the love and work of God, and by bringing about a repentance that leads the erring one back from sin to the Father.
Are You Lost? Turn To God
This is our hope—not that we are at work, but that God is at work. He is seeking, and what He seeks He finds. He has said to us, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). Jesus said, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Taken together, it is an amazing picture of God. He is seen grieving, seeking, finding, and rejoicing. This has been true of God’s thoughts and actions toward anyone who has ever been found by Jesus. Remember, no matter how great your sins may be, this is the day of grace. The Bible says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
—Adapted from The Parables of Jesus by James Montgomery Boice.
Every time I see my brother, I just praise God for God’s grace in his life. Because if God can change Franklin from a prodigal into a man of God, he can do it for anybody.—Anne Graham Lotz