Lost and Found
“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them…” (Luke 15:1-32)
This chapter and the message it contains needs no introduction. The chapter opens with publicans and sinners gathering around the Son of God to hear His words of mercy and grace, and with Pharisees and Scribes griping about it (vv. 1-2). These two groups of men always brought out our Savior’s deepest emotions. Publicans and sinners evoked His tenderness, compassion, mercy, love, and grace. Whenever and wherever we see publicans and sinners coming to Him, we see the Friend of sinners joyously engaged in ministering to them. Pharisees and scribes evoked open displays of utter contempt, anger, and wrath. Our Master simply could not stomach self-righteous, religious legalists. He never stayed in their company very long. They didn’t like Him; and He didn’t like them. He scorned them, rebuked them, derided them, and condemned them at every opportunity. Then He departed from them.
I suppose we should be grateful to the Pharisees for having led our Lord to utter the trilogy of parables we are about to read. Luke tells us plainly that these three parables, as we commonly speak of them, are really one parable. “He spake this parable unto them.” In this trilogy of parables, we see the whole work of grace, the whole work of the Triune God in saving lost sinners. The lost sheep shows us the work of Christ, the Son of God, our Good Shepherd, in bringing His elect home to God. The lost coin shows us the work of God the Holy Spirit seeking and finding that which was lost. The prodigal son, the lost son, shows us the wondrous grace and goodness of God the Father in receiving sinners for Christ’s sake.
The Lost Sheep
“And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:3-7)
What piercing words these must have been to the Pharisees and scribes, who thought they needed no repentance! How sweet they sound in the ears of poor publicans and sinners, who know both that they must have repentance and that they cannot produce it!
Here is a blessed, instructive description of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ in redemption. All God’s elect are sheep, chosen of God and given to Christ as the Good Shepherd, but ever straying from Him, lost in the wilderness of fallen humanity. Christ came into this world after His sheep. He seeks each of His sheep until He finds it. When He finds his sheep, He lays it upon His broad, omnipotent shoulders and carries it all the way home. And when He gets home with His sheep there is joy in heaven over every sinner “that repenteth.” Be sure you don’t miss this: The repentance here is not something the sheep does, but something the Shepherd does for the sheep, in the sheep, and with the sheep. He turns the sheep homeward; and He carries the sheep home, all the way home!
The Lost Coin
“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:8-10)
Here we see another part of God’s great work of grace. This woman shows us the work of God the Holy Spirit in omnipotent mercy and effectual grace. Unlike the sheep, the coin is an inanimate thing, a thing altogether without life, feeling, or ability, but very precious to the one who has lost it. As such, this lost coin shows a picture of God’s elect in this world, “dead in trespasses and sins,” until God steps in to save (Ephesians 2:1-5).
When God the Holy Spirit comes in grace, He lights the candle of the Gospel, causing “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ” to shine in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). When you sweep a house that has been in darkness for a long time, you stir up a lot of dust. And when God the Holy Spirit performs His mighty operation of grace, he stirs our souls with the broom of conviction. And there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over every repenting sinner. Again, the repentance here is not a work performed by the coin, but the work of God the Holy Spirit finding the coin.
The Lost Son
In verses 11-24 we see the very familiar story of the prodigal son. Usually, the emphasis is placed upon the son’s rebellion. But our Lord’s purpose in this third part of His parable is to show us the marvelous lovingkindness, infinite mercy, and wondrous grace of God in receiving sinners for Christ’s sake. Here is another picture of God’s elect in their fallen, lost condition by nature. We are all by nature straying sheep, as dead and lifeless as a coin, and utterly profligate rebels. Let’s read verses 11-24.
“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:11-24)
Here is a needy sinner coming to the throne of grace. Here is God waiting to be gracious. Here is the blessed reception of grace. When poor sinners come home to God, when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, not only does the Lord God run to greet us, fall on our necks and kiss us, He freely gives every repenting sinner all the fulness of His bounteous free grace in Christ Jesus: ― Kisses of Love ― A Robe of Righteousness ― Shoes of Stability ― A Ring (Seal) of Sonship ― A Slain Sacrifice to Feast Upon ― and An Unceasing Celebration of Mercy!
The Elder Brother
But the parable does not end here. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son were all designed to give hope to those poor publicans and sinners who come to the Savior. The rest of the parable seems specifically intended to condemn the Pharisees and scribes of all ages. They are depicted by the prodigal’s elder brother in verses 25-32.
“Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:25-32)
This elder brother is not in the house, but in the field. He refuses to come into the house. He is a slave wearing the name of a son. He is self-righteous. He despises the sacrifice, the robe, and the father. He is full of envy. He has all the ordinances of the father’s house, but none of the blessedness.
Perhaps the most wondrous and most mysterious aspect of this great parable is the way it closes. Only in eternity will we see the fulness of this closing verse manifest. In verse 32 we read ― “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” Here God the Father speaks of Himself, all the angels of heaven, and every saved sinner, represented in this prodigal, making merry and being glad, because though we were dead He has given us life, and though we were lost He has found us!
Did He not promise “I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth”? He did indeed (Zephaniah 3:18-20). So it shall be in that great day that is yet to come (Zephaniah 3:14-17; Ephesians 2:1-7).
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