Summary: Three parables carrying one message: the lost sheep; the lost coin; and the Prodigal son.


Luke 15

‘Horror of horrors!’ proclaimed the scribes and Pharisees. The tax-collectors and ‘sinners’ were drawing near to hear the words of Jesus! The three parables which follow in Luke 15 show the calm response of the Master.

In fact, whilst there are three parables, the teaching is one. It reminds me of what Joseph said to Pharaoh about his two dreams: ‘The dream of Pharaoh is one’ (Genesis 41:25). The concept of Three-in-One also reminds me of the Trinity.

The parables have a common theme: that of being lost and being found. Each also emphasises the rejoicing that follows restoration. We see different elements in each parable, all of which help to paint the whole picture.

1. In the first parable we see the caring shepherd. He left his ninety-nine other sheep in order to seek the one that was lost, until he had found it. This is an image which is familiar from both the Old Testament and the New:

‘For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out’ (Ezekiel 34:11).

Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11).

I am familiar with the bleating of lost sheep from my sojourn in the Western Isles of Scotland. Usually it was a lamb that had got the wrong side of the fence by the roadside, or a stubborn ewe grazing on the foreshore that had become separated from her companions by the incoming tide. They were unable to help themselves, and cried out in alarm.

The tax collectors and “sinners” similarly recognised their lost-ness.

Then a man with a crook would come to the rescue. The stubborn ewe would be waded through water, if necessary, to bring her to safety. The lamb would be lifted from the roadside and carried back into the field in one of the most evocative of Biblical illustrations:

‘He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom’ (Isaiah 40:11).

In our text, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing - and parties with his friends over the lost one of his hundred, which is now found. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ accusation was a statement of fact: sinners resort to Jesus, and He receives them. He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus tells us that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, more than over ninety-nine people who are “just” and need no repentance!

2. The second illustration shows us a woman who loses one of her ten pieces of silver. Perhaps she has had it sewn into her garment as part of her dowry. The coin has now slipped onto the floor of her dark, dusty home. She lights a lamp, and sweeps thoroughly, until at last she finds her lost coin.

Again there is a party, again rejoicing. The woman’s one coin in ten has been found. And again we are reminded that there is much joy in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents.

Unlike the sheep, the coin was totally unaware of its lost-ness. Likewise unconverted man is lifeless until the light of the Holy Spirit illumines him, and brings him to life.

The woman represents the church. The sweeping might represent the work of evangelism. The lamp would then illustrate the light of the gospel, and particularly the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing the light to bear on the life of the sinner.

3. So we come to the parable of the prodigal son. The father here has two sons, but one is over-anxious to receive his inheritance.

Here the illustration steps closest to our reality. The Father is God. The son, like Adam, has short-circuited his relationship with his father by wanting too much too soon. And while the prodigal wanders abroad, the father waits patiently at home.

A series of providences brought the younger son to his senses. Recognising his lost-ness, he returned to his father in humility. He was willing to accept the place of a servant rather than a son. And thus returning he found the father rushing out to meet him.

The joy of the father is evident in that he would not let his wayward son get beyond his words of confession. It was enough that the boy was repentant, without his debasing himself.

The best robe was brought out and given to the returning prodigal. A ring was placed on his finger, and shoes on his feet. There was another party, and merrymaking.

The scribes and Pharisees, like the elder brother, imagine themselves oh-so-righteous, and presume that they might tell the Lord what company to keep. Like some today, they cannot abide the idea of sinners being received into the fellowship of the church, and would rather remain aloof from the rejoicing that follows a man’s salvation. Their loss!

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