Summary: The background for this parable is that multitudes of publicans and sinners came to hear the Lord Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes began to murmur, to criticize Him because of this. They were shocked that He would welcome them and even eat with them.
Lesson: Parables of Lost Sheep, Coin, Son
This chapter has probably got the best-loved parable that our Lord told; we call it the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The background for this parable is that multitudes of publicans and sinners came to hear the Lord Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes began to murmur, to criticize Him because of this. They were shocked that He would welcome them and even eat with them.
His answer to the murmurings of the Pharisees and scribes is a parable. We usually think of it as three different parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. Actually, it’s three parts of one parable. There is a common theme that runs through all three parts; it’s His love and concern for sinful men and women.
(Luke 15:1-2) 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.
I want to pause for a moment and look at who the publicans were. The class designated by this word in the New Testament was employed as collectors of the Roman revenue. The Roman senate farmed-out the collection of the direct taxes and the customs duty to capitalists who undertook to pay a given sum into the treasury called the publican, and so received the name of publican. Contracts of this kind fell naturally into the hands of the richest class of Romans. They appointed managers who were the actual custom-house officers, who examined each bale of goods, exported or imported, assessed its value more or less arbitrarily, wrote out the ticket, and enforced payment. The name publican was used in the New Testament exclusively, for these Roman agents. The system was essentially a corrupt one. The publicans were encouraged to overcharge whenever they had an opportunity. In Luke 3:13; they brought false charges of smuggling in the hope of extorting hush-money, and in Luke 19:8; they detained and opened letters on mere suspicion. It was the worst of all livelihoods. In addition to their other faults, the publicans of the New Testament were regarded as traitors, defiled by their frequent interaction with the heathen Romans, willing tools of their conquerors.
(Luke 15:3-7) 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.
A Parable is a short, simple story designed to communicate a spiritual truth, religious principle, or moral lesson; a figure of speech in which truth is illustrated by a comparison or example drawn from everyday experiences. A parable is often no more than a story, using symbolic language to illustrate a particular truth. In a parable something is placed alongside something else, in order that one may throw light on the other. A familiar custom or incident is used to illustrate some truth that is less familiar. Jesus’ characteristic method of teaching was through parables. Although parables are often memorable stories, impressing the listener with a clear picture of the truth, even the disciples were sometimes confused as to the meaning of parables. For instance, after Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24–30), the disciples needed interpretation in order to understand its meaning (Matt. 13:36–43). Jesus sometimes used parables in His teaching to reveal the truth to those who followed Him and to conceal the truth from those who did not (Matt. 13:10–17; Mark 4:10–12; Luke 8:9–10). His parables therefore fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9–10. Like a double-edged sword, they cut two ways—enlightening those who sought the truth and blinding those who were disobedient.
In His first parable, Jesus uses an animal that was very familiar to His audience. The sheep is an exceedingly dumb animal, apparently not having much sense. As such, it is sometimes used to picture the lost spiritual condition of people (Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; Mt 9:36; I Pet 2:25). This parable tells of a shepherd going out in search of one lost sheep while he leaves ninety-nine safely in the fold. It is almost a universal human characteristic to go after that which one loses. Jesus sees the plight of lost sinners and goes to seek and to save them (Lk. 19:10), while the Pharisees care little about lost sinners. When he finds the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. The poor sheep was probably exhausted from wandering, exposure, and hunger. The shepherd did not mind the extra burden or journey because he rejoiced. When he reached home, his friends and neighbors were summoned because of the shepherd’s great joy and because they may have aided in the search.