Luke chapter 15 contains the telling of three parables:
The lost sheep (vv. 1-7)
The lost coin (vv. 8-10)
The lost son (vv. 11-32)
While we don’t typically examine entire chapters together1, let’s go through it, paying close attention to several truths.
I encourage you to pull out your Bible, open to the chapter and read it. Then, keep your Bible open as we go along, going back and reading the specific verses that are called out in each section.
Notice first the response in the heavenlies → vv. 7, 10
Here we have the unseen realm, which can so often be a mystery, opened up to us. Though we cannot see, we are told clearly the result, there is much joy.
Next the condition of the items → vv. 4, 8-9, 24, 32
These three items, the sheep, the coin, and the son, are called by their true state - lost. And in the case of the son, is added this trait - dead. In these words we find ourselves described as well, some of us as we are in our current state, and others as we once were not so long ago. Lost, dead, unworthy to be called a son, hungry, begging for bread, having nothing. There are none who avoid this condition, yet there are some who escape it, and some who never realize this as their true state until it is too late.
We would do well to stop at this point and consider ourselves. Life moves by so quickly that we are prone to never take the time to reflect, ponder, and self-examine. We may get to the end of our lives and still not know the answer to our question - “which am I, the one who remains lost but does not know it, or the one who once was lost but now is found?”
Let us also not skip too quickly over the depths of lostness that our sin will lead us to. What began as a straightforward request, “Give me my share. I just want what’s mine, what I deserve, don’t withhold it from me any longer.” Led to a depravity beyond anything he could have imagined - desiring even the scraps of pigs. The nature of sin runs deep and the seed of sin gives birth to countless evils. Therefore in dealing with sin we must understand this is no surface problem or a matter to be solved through simple reform. We cannot better ourselves or enlighten our minds out of it. Mantras and self-help steps do well to produce a form of godliness, but cannot touch the true condition of the sinner. Let us look at this condition in more detail.
Then, the change in the condition of the items → vv. 5, 6, 9, 24, 32
For those inanimate objects and those without something so precious as the human soul, we are given one simple change - from lost to found. And in the case of the son it is the same, lost to found, but it does not stop there. From all outward appearances this description may seem sufficient, but we are told of a deeper change, a heart change - from foolish to coming to his senses, a change in what he thought he deserved (son to hired servant) and finally a recognition of his personal and specific sin as well as who he has sinned against (heaven) and before (in his father’s sight). Thus in conclusion of his condition it can be accurately said, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again.” A reminder to all of us that there is no true life found outside of death.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the response of the father → vv. 20-24
Of our three parables, this final one clears up any confusion we may have had after hearing the first two. Heaven rejoices, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels, but what of the Father Himself when a sinner repents? Lest we fall into the trap of thinking perhaps parts of the heavenly hosts welcome the sinner with praise while the Father waits back at a distance, here it is clearly spelled out. The heavenlies rejoice because the Father rejoices. There is joy in the presence of the angels because there is joy in the Father.
We are tempted to hold back here. To picture the Father in restraint, at least partially. He is so sovereign, so high above, so in control, so holy, how could He then react with such extravagance towards a single sinner who returns in repentance? Do not fall into this temptation. Such is the love of the Father - extravagant, beyond anything we could ask, think, or imagine.
The sinner approaches in repentance, yes, this is a must. But what is the response of the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the angels, and the heavens? Joy, compassion, embrace, affection, blessing, grace, forgiveness, and celebration!
Sinner, do you view the welcome and greeting of the Lord in this way? Righteous, do you plead with sinners in this manner, confirming to them over and again, “He came for sinners, the sick, the unworthy, and the lost. The one who comes to Him He will by no means cast out, instead He will receive that lost one with joy and celebration.”
This is the pardoning God we serve. This is His grace unfathomable and His faithful love on display. Were we to search the Scriptures we would find hundreds of assurances to this truth, let us look at just one together2:
"Lord, your faithful love reaches to heaven, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your judgments like the deepest sea. Lord, you preserve people and animals. How priceless your faithful love is, God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are filled from the abundance of your house. You let them drink from your refreshing stream. For the wellspring of life is with you. By means of your light we see light."
We must never forget that this parable was spoken in the presence of sinners and here again it is the same. These are no mere intellectual principles or general wisdoms for life, rather this is a word spoken in due season, a specific appeal made to individual sinners. Here He stands even now at the door, knocking, if you would just open it. Here He beckons to all, and to you as well, “Come, drink freely.”
Let us look at one more thing before we go, the reaction of the older brother → vv. 28-30
Instead of joy, we see anger. Rather than an embrace, stinginess at a distance. And in place of celebration, we find jealousy. In the condition of the heart of the older brother we are shown the opposite of the father, or perhaps it is even what we think the response of the father should be (it is all too possible for each one of us to find within our own hearts a piece of the older brother), “You are right to call yourself unworthy. You have squandered, sinned in the most horrific ways, and you expect to find a place here? Well perhaps we could find room for you amongst the lowest of servants, but do not think this position secure or that this counts as complete forgiveness. Because of your past lifestyle of sin you will constantly wander, carrying around the weight of what you’ve done, regretting it every day of your life and never able to come out from underneath it.”
Or maybe we are slightly less cruel, yet still not so generous as the father. We think this extravagant love to be a thing that could easily get taken advantage of and so we restrict access, downplay the blessings, and heap on the guilt-inducing words, “Look what you’ve done! What a mess.” Whereas this older brother initially represented the Jews and the Pharisees, who objected with, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Now to this same character we can ascribe those who share in their disdain of the other, “Too far gone, too unclean, not chosen, unworthy,” there are the sort who seek to divide on matters not following to the commandments of God but according to the doctrines of men. Forgetting that there are only two sides - those lost in sin and those found in Christ. Or put another way - those dead in sin and those made alive in Christ.
“There is no distinction…for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”3 You have created distinction when you withhold hope from some who seem to be too far gone. You have created distinction when you say He will save but He will not rejoice with joy in their salvation. You have created distinction when you say He will welcome even the least but don’t expect this welcome to include the ring, the robe, the fattened calf, and the party. When Christ saves, He saves to the uttermost4. When a sinner repents, any sinner, even the worst, most vile, and despicable of our race, “There will be more joy in heaven than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.”
Therefore, let us take great consolation. If we but turn from our wicked ways and seek Him, we will find Him and He will fill. “He filleth the vessels of such as will come and seek.”5 And when He fills, it is not just a drop, nor halfway, or even to the brim, but to overflowing. We ask for a drink, and He responds, “Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water.”6
A man once replied to Corrie Ten Boom, “You asked for a cupful and God gave you an ocean.”7 Such is the love of our heavenly Father.
Samuel Rutherford, from The Loveliness of Christ. The full quote is as follows, “Blessed be my rich Lord Jesus, who sendeth not away beggars from his house with a toom dish. He filleth the vessels of such as will come and seek. We might beg ourselves rich (if we were wise), if we could but hold out our withered hands to Christ, and learn to suit and seek, ask and knock.”
Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord, p. 63