Summary: The three parables of Luke 15
ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show Lost is now in its second season. It’s website sums up the show this way: “After Oceanic Air flight 815 tore apart in mid-air and crashed on a Pacific island, its survivors were forced to find inner strength they never knew they had in order to survive. But they discovered that the island holds many secrets, including the intense howls of a mysterious creature stalking the jungle, as well as a polar bear, a marooned and possibly crazy French woman, a mystical boar, a mysterious group known only as ‘The Others,’ a ship called The Black Rock and... a hatch.”
All of these people are lost after a plane crash. It is not through any fault of their own, they are just lost, and they want to be found. They do not like being lost, but they don’t know how to get home. They are trapped. Week after week the program shows what it is like to be lost with little hope of ever getting home. There are real and imagined dangers as they fight to stay alive, and also fight to keep their hope of being rescued intact.
At one time the word LOST could be written over all our lives. Some of us were like the lost sheep: We just wandered away. We didn’t really intend on leaving the fold, we just weren’t careful about staying near the Shepherd, and before we knew it we were lost.
Some of us were like the lost coin: We didn’t even know we were lost. As distressing as it was to be under a pile of dirt, we thought this was how it was supposed to be. We didn’t realize we had a spiritual home.
Others of us were like the lost son: We were lost because we made deliberate choices that led us away from the Father. The good thing is that we not only knew we were lost, we also knew the way back home. The saving factor was that we knew our Father would be watching and waiting for us to return.
What is the big idea behind each of these stories? From beginning to end in the Bible we see people running from God, and God in relentless pursuit of his rebellious creation. The overarching theme is the persistent lostness of people (by whatever means: wandering away, falling away or deliberate rebellion), and a God who will do anything to find his lost creation. The story of the Bible is not how mankind is seeking God, far from it, mankind is doing everything it can to avoid God and get away from him. Mankind is living in total rebellion against their Creator. No, the story of the Bible is the story of how God is seeking mankind. Mankind is on the run and God is in search of them. In the beginning God and man were living together in harmony. But it is not long until we see the first people hiding from God. The Bible tells the story this way: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9). That is the history of humanity and their Creator in just a few words. God continues to call us and seek us, and we continue to flee. He called to us through the prophets. God came with great acts of deliverance and amazing signs and miracles, but even though the miracles of deliverance bring God’s wandering people home, it is only for a short time. God came seeking us in the person of Jesus Christ. He continues to seek us today in the person of the Holy Spirit. In a sense the three parables are one, and tell us about God’s love for his erring and lost creation. They each tell it in a different way, but the message is the same: If you are lost, God loves you and misses you. He is searching for you and wants you to come home.
Consider first Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this story Jesus tells about a sheep that wandered away. It was only one of 100 sheep, but it was still very important to the shepherd. The surprising element of the story is that the shepherd leaves the other sheep in order to seek the one which is lost. The lost sheep is the one who gets the attention of the shepherd. Far from God not caring about us when we sin and wander away from him, he is intensely concerned about us and our well being. He does not throw us away because of our sin, he seeks us through our sin. God never gives up on us in disgust. And here we come across an important truth of Scripture: There is nothing you could ever do that could cause God to stop loving you and caring about you.