Last week we mentioned a few of Jesus’ more famous teachings like the lost sheep and the lost coin and so this morning I wanted to look at those and see what we could see. Luke 15 starts this way…..
Now the tax collectors and sinners …
(who was that? Who were the tax collectors and sinners?)
Well, this is the Mafia, their thugs and everyone else who was unacceptable in the minds of the people… this is the worst of the worst. The people who were traditionally alienated from religious circles. And these are the people who Jesus is sitting with…
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
(Well, who is that? Who are the Pharisees and Scribes?)
These are the legalists and the doctrinally trained. These are the holy rollers and the goody-two-shoes.
And these people are upset, because back in Jesus’ day, eating with someone was a way of saying that you were “in” with them, or that you “agreed” with them – or that they were “your people.”
So in this scene so far, the people that Jesus perhaps agrees the most with theologically, he’s ignoring them and in turns he eats and hangs out with sinners. And the Pharisees and the scribes are concerned because it looks to them like Jesus ‘likes’ these people and they are worried that Jesus also then agrees with their behavior, or their lifestyle or their sin….
But I would argue that Jesus knew this would rub them the wrong way, and so he did this to prove a point. But rather than defend himself, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell a story.
v3-4 So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, …”
Wait, how does Jesus start talking about his choice of dinner companions? He begins with sheep…. why? Because this is how Jesus operates. He has two audiences – he has ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ so he has to level the field so to speak and direct his argument at everyone’s range; so Jesus begins with something that everyone is familiar with.
v3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, … does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
Who here has ever lost something? That’s what I thought, everyone. And what do you do – when you lose something? You go and look for it. When do you STOP looking? Typically when you find it. That’s why people say, “It was in the last place I looked.”
Of course it was, nobody ever finds what they were looking for and KEEPS looking. And so what has Jesus done with this story? He has found a subject matter and an idea that everyone who is listening to, understands.
Who hasn’t ever lost something – and who doesn’t know what it means to go and look for it?
v5-6 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
Who hasn’t done that? That when you find your item, you tell your spouse, or you tell your kids the harrowing story of you searching for the lost item and the glorious capture of when you found it? And then… as his kicker, Jesus says this….
v7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Who is Jesus talking about? Still sheep? No, he is talking about Tax-collectors, sinners, Pharisees and scribes. Jesus continues…
v8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?
What’s that about? Well, some people think Jesus is talking about a wedding dowry. Traditional Hebrew dowry for a poor family was 10 coins. So this woman is saving this for her husband. And these would have been special coins, irreplaceable, so naturally very valuable, Yes? And every woman listening to Jesus’ story would agree – “yes, that is exactly what I would do.”
v9-10 And 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.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And again he finishes his second example saying, when one sinner repents (or ‘is found’) heaven rejoices. And now Jesus tells the most famous of his ‘lost item’ trilogy.
v11-12 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’
Which is the nice translation. The reality of what this son is saying is, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I can’t believe you’re not dead yet. I have been waiting for you to die, and it’s just not happening, so here is what I want…give me what I am owed…. NOW”
What a rude boy. Jesus’ audience would have been deeply offended. This is a disgraceful thing to ask for. Everyone listening to this story is thinking, ‘this kid deserves a swift kick in the teeth,’ but what does the Father do?
v12-13 And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
Can you imagine, all of the wealth this Father had amassed in a lifetime in a matter of weeks, this young man spends all of it. Wastes all of it.
v14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.
Ah, now Jesus’ story has gotten good again. His listeners are back to liking this story. Good moral. This punk is getting what he deserves.
v15-16 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Even better. This is a great story. I’m going to remember this story and tell it to my own kids, If you break the laws of Moses, honor your Father and Mother you get what you deserve. This is a great example of sewing and reaping. Thank you Jesus.
But the story is not over….
v17-20 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.
What do you think the audience is thinking now? Well, probably what THEY WOULD DO if this were THEIR son…. “Oh if this were MY son he’d be grounded until his clothes went out of style.”
v20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Well….This is a turn in the story, because THIS is NOT the ending that everyone who was listening expected. This was not the ending that the people listening to the story even liked. Nobody likes this ending. Why? Because this son humiliated his father and squandered his father’s money and the Father has every right to be … what… ANGRY!
The Dad should be angry! He has every right to be ANGRY! Yea, but how does this chapter start? Jesus is eating with Tax collectors and sinners and the ‘religious people” were…. ANGRY! And Jesus knows they are angry so he says, “let’s talk about that…”
And in a justifiable circumstance, where the Father has every right to be angry, the Father’s response wasn’t anger it was…(what does the Bible say?) compassion. The Father who was hurt, abused and mistreated by his son – felt “compassion.” This son had spit his father in the eye! But when he sees his son from a long way off, he runs to his son with compassion.
Jesus’ audience both ‘good guys and bad guys’ have agreed with Jesus’ stories all the way up until now …and now… they certainly do not agree with him. But Jesus keeps going….
v21-24 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
He’s back. The misbehaving son is back and with one act, he is re-established back into the family as an equal as if he had never left.
v25-28 “Now his older son was (the behaving son, the obedient son, the righteous son) in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in.
I heard a Sunday School teacher was teaching this same story and she described to her class about how the lost son was returned and how the father gave the lost son a ring and sandals and how he killed the fattened calf. And the Sunday school teacher then made a grumpy face when describing the older son’s response and her question was – who was the most sorry that the lost son came back?
And one little boy raised his hand and said – “the fattened calf.”
But here is your word again…. the obedient son was angry. Tell me something, shouldn’t this lost son at least get a 90 day trial period? He made a huge mistake, what if he wakes up tomorrow and does it all over again? I mean sure, forgive him I guess that’s the “Christian thing” to do, but shouldn’t he be on probation? He shouldn’t be treated as a child in the family the very same day?
Jesus is teaching a story – and a theme – about how God looks at sinners, about how God recovers and seeks out sinners AND how “religious people” look at sinners.
Jesus says “God has compassion, God seeks them out, but religious people seem to get ANGRY when it comes to sinners and sin.”