Luke 15: There Is Joy When The Lost Are Found.
The context of the parables in this chapter was Jesus receiving of “sinners”, and the complaint raised by the Pharisees and scribes (vv. 1-2). These parables draw a connection with what his hearers knew to what they needed to know. Firstly, they all knew that if they had a lost sheep that they would leave the ninety-nine gathered together to find the one that had lost its way (v. 4). Or likewise, if a woman loses a coin out of ten will search carefully until she finds the missing coin (v. 8). Similarly is the case of a lost son (vv. 11-21). Secondly, when the sheep, coin, and son are found there is great rejoicing (vv. 5-6, 9, 22-24). Finally, Jesus concludes with his main point-that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels when a sinner who was lost is then found (vv. 7, 10, 32).
There is also an interesting numerical progression in these parables. The lost sheep is one in a hundred, the coin is one in ten, and the son is one of two. Jesus begins with what is of relatively lesser value to that of greater value, but it is the thing of the least relative value that Jesus brings in the Pharisees and scribes for he said, “What man of you…? (v. 4)” They would seek what was 1% of their value. The woman with the coin had lost 10% of her value. Likewise, and again this is relative, the father lost one of two sons (v. 11). Jesus did not say to the scribes and Pharisees what they would do if they lost 10% of their flock or even 50%, but what they would do if they lost 1%. The point is, a lost soul is of greater value than a lost sheep or coin. They had no appreciation for the value of a lost soul who was found.
There is joy in heaven which radiates from the presence of God himself (v. 7), through all the angelic host (v. 10), when one sinner is found. However, when Jesus comes to the parable of the lost son he elaborates on the application to His hearers. Clearly the elder son is meant to draw in his objectors. Rather than objecting to the sinners whom Jesus had received, they should be rejoicing with the Father and the angelic host. Furthermore they ought to reflect on the grace of God that they had so much. Like the elder son, God had given to the nation of Israel so much. As Paul would later write-“to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came” (Rom. 9: 4-5).
The Pharisees and scribes were like the elder son who put all their focus on their observance of the law (v. 29). They failed to realize that they were also adopted, and that repentance and faith are what is required in this adoption. The prodigal son, like all men, had squandered all the good things that the Father had given to him, but by God’s grace he came to a place of repentance and faith and was restored with joy. Some people spend all they have before they come to the place where they realize their want (v. 14). The lost son had got to the point of not only doing what the Jews regarded as unclean-looking after swine, but he had to eat what the pigs ate because no one cared about him (v. 16). His life was worse than that of one of his father’s hired servants (vv. 17-19).
The prodigal son finally understood that his sin was first of all against heaven. God alone defines what sin is. However, he had also fallen short of his father’s expectations as well. He had indeed taken his share of the inheritance and had squandered it and now was not worthy to be called a son. However, as in this parable, this is the place all of us must come to if we are to be fitted with the status of royalty (v. 22). Like the prodigal, we go from feeding on the food of the unclean, to celebrating a feast in the family (v. 23). The scribes and Pharisees were like the older son, their anger prevented them from entering in for the feast (v. 28). This would come to symbolize that state of a majority of the nation of Israel and in particular her leaders.
The elder son also reflects the situation of many whose pride in their own works keeps them from the hope of eternal life, for they compare themselves with others and can see no need for repentance and faith on their part. The heavenly Father was pleading with them, through His Son, and so He still pleads today. To the elder son his father had placed less value on him-he had not even been given a goat to celebrate with his friends-something of far lesser value than the fatted calf. Many do not realize all the good which the Father bestows on His creatures, all the more those who have received the things of “special” revelation. However, there is nothing of greater value, including in the heavenly courts, than a sinner who is found. Joy comes with repentance and faith.