In Luke 15-16, Jesus gives a series of parables in response to the religious leaders of the day scoffing at Him for receiving sinners. Jesus displays His and God’s great compassion for those who are lost and separated from Him because of their sins.
In chapter 14 Jesus had been invited into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to east bread (14:1). While there Jesus heals a man with dropsy and then begins teaching in a series of parables.
It doesn’t say in the text but it appears that Jesus had left the house at the same time and was now walking and teaching (14:25). It was not that the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to Jesus to hear Him and the Pharisees and the scribes to grumble about Jesus associating with these sinners (15:1-2).
Jesus then responds by teaching in a series of parables and in them He reveals God’s concern for those who are lost and separated from Him due to their sins.
Before looking at the three parables separately, Herbert Lockyer1 offers some insight into how they are connected. [Material in brackets added.]
By means of this triune parable, Jesus set forth the supreme and sublime fact that as the Son of Man He came into the world to seek and save the lost.
… The sheep was lost and likely knew it was lost. It had a vague idea that it was with companionship and the care of the shepherd.
… The coin was lost, but being without life, had no consciousness or sensation of being lost. … It was lost either because it was badly mishandled or unconsciously dropped.
… The son was lost, deliberately, willfully and consciously, and the loss of a man is “the dizziest pinnacle of tragedy.” The prodigal was guilty of inexcusable waywardness.
[On the function of the Trinity in the parables]
… In the first picture we have Christ, as the Good Shepherd, laying down His life to save lost sheep. In the second picture, the woman sweeping the house for her lost coin, is an illustration of the Holy Spirit working through His Church (the saved) to save others. The Spirit’s work naturally follows the Shepherd’s task. In the third picture, God is suggested by the father seeking his lost child. Here the Divine Father is before us in all His abundant love to seek and save the lost.
While all three parables have a standing and meaning on their own, they should be viewed three piece set. Jesus told them in successive order for a reason, each building on the other and giving a fuller understanding of Christ’s desire to see the lost found.
Parable of the Lost Sheep.
In this parable a shepherd who has 100 sheep and one of them becomes lost. The shepherd then leaves the 99 and goes and searches for the lost 1 until he finds it. Upon finding it, the shepherd puts it on his shoulders and carries it home rejoicing that he found it. He calls together his friends and they have a party celebrating the event.
Jesus then makes the application of the parable.
Luke 15:7 NASB I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Parable of The Lost Coin
In this parable a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. She is pictured as lighting a lamp and turning her house upside down searching for the lost coin until it is found. She then calls her neighbors and friends and has a celebration.
Jesus then offers a similar application
Luke 15:10 NASB “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
When sinners repent 1) heaven rejoices and 2) the angels are joyous. What does that tell us about what our attitude should be toward those lost in sin?
The Pharisees were concerned about Jesus associating with these so called sinners. Jesus didn’t have a problem with it because they likely knew they were sinners and needed to hear His message of the gospel.
The questions we have to ask ourselves is this, what are we more concerned with, the past shortcomings and the perception of others or the lost being found? Are we able to rejoice when someone repents and returns to fellowship with God? Finally, are we willing to go looking for the lost ones?
The other questions we need to ask ourselves are these.
- Am I the one who wandered away from the fold or misplaced myself?
- Are we making it hard for God to find us so that He can bring us back into the fold or place us where we should be and then celebrate our return?
The Prodigal Son
Jesus had been using non-human objects to illustrate His point but now He wanted to shift the application to a human level. He does this by telling a story bout a young man who asks for his inheritance early and leaves home only to fall into sinful habits whose only friends are those who are interested in his money and leave him high and dry when the money runs out. At which point he resorts to feeding pigs (something no good Jewish boy would EVER do) and having to fight with them to get food.
Finally, the young man comes to his senses and remembers that even the servants in his father’s home had better lives than he did right then. So he determined to return home in humility and ask for a job as a hired man, which is what he did.
His plan was to ask for forgiveness and beg for a job, but the father had other plans. Jesus describes it like this.
Luke 15:20-24 NASB So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate.
In asking though, he reveals his awareness of his spiritual condition. He knew that he sinned first of all against heaven (i.e., God, which is true of all sin) and that he sinned against his father. One of the first steps of restoration is the acknowledgment of our sinful condition and asking for forgiveness.
The son wanted to get out of the pigsty; the father wanted to restore the son to his rightful place and celebrate the return of his son.
Now the older brother who had been working somewhere else while all of this happened, came home and inquired of his father as to the reason for the celebration. The father explained about the return of his brother but the older brother complained about why his father never through a party for him. The father’s response tells it all.
Luke 15:31-32 NASB And he said to him, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
The older son could have thrown a party for his friends anytime he wanted to, but they HAD to celebrate the return of the lost son, who was as good as dead, and has returned to life in the family.
Do I ever act like the older brother in my Christian life, begrudging the celebrations that take place when sinners are saved or am I willing to quickly join in the celebration of a life made new?
Additionally, am I being careful in using the things that God has given me and forgetting my status as His son or daughter? Am I letting myself get distracted by and led astray into sin when I should be doing the work God has given me to do?
I’m sure there is much more to be said about the various aspects of these three parables but I think this paints the picture for us so that we can see a glimpse into the heart of God through the stories Jesus used to illustrate the need to seek, save, and restore the lost and encourage us to make sure we don’t become one of them.
The Unrighteous Steward
It is interesting then that Jesus relates the next story immediately following the interaction between the older son and the father.
Definition: steward2 means a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.
In this parable a rich man who has a manager who is mishandling his possessions and demands he give an account for his actions. So the manager, sure that he would lose his job, quickly goes about reducing what is owed to the rich man from each of his creditors so that the debt could be paid off and so that he might be welcomed into people’s homes as a guest after losing his job as manager. As a result the rich man praised the manager for acting shrewdly.
Jesus then makes a series of curious statements.
Luke 16:9-13 NASB And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Here are a couple of insights from the Believer’s Bible Commentary3 that might help clarify.
The following verses show that the steward was not at all commended for his crookedness, but rather for his foresight. He had acted prudently. He looked to the future, and made provision for it. He sacrificed present gain for future reward. In applying this to our own lives, we must be very clear on this point, however; the future of the child of God is not on this earth but in heaven. Just as the steward took steps to insure that he would have friends during his retirement here below, so the Christian should use his Master’s goods in such a way as to insure a welcoming party when he gets to heaven.
… We should make friends for ourselves by means of unrighteous mammon. That is, we should use money and other material things in such a way as to win souls for Christ and thus form friendships that will endure throughout eternity.
… This then is the teaching of our Lord. By the wise investment of material possessions, we can have part in the eternal blessing of men and women. We can make sure that when we arrive at the gates of heaven, there will be a welcoming committee of those who were saved through our sacrificial giving and prayers. These people will thank us saying, “It was you who invited me here.
… It is utterly impossible to live for things and for God at the same time. If we are mastered by money, we cannot really be serving the Lord. In order to accumulate wealth, we must devote our finest efforts to the task. In the very act of doing this we rob God of what is rightfully His. It is a matter of divided loyalty. Motives are mixed. Decisions are not impartial. Where our treasure is, there our heart is also. In the effort to gain wealth, we are serving mammon. It is quite impossible to serve God at the same time. Mammon cries out for all that we have and are—our evenings, our weekends, the time we should be giving to the Lord.”
The Pharisees, the scripture tells us, were lovers of money. As such they became upset with what Jesus was teaching and were scoffing at Jesus while He was speaking.
Definition: scoff4 means to speak derisively; mock; jeer.
Jesus knew what was happening in their hearts though and He called them to account. William Hendriksen5 has this to say about Jesus’ response.
Knowing exactly what was happening, Jesus unmasked these hypocrites. What he told them amounted to this: You are the people who pass yourselves off before men as if you were living in harmony with God’s holy law. But your righteousness is only a façade. On the inside you are the very opposite of what you want people to believe you are. However, God has your number. He knows that your religion is sham. For, what men see of you and admire is an abomination in God’s sight.
In other places (the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 for one), Jesus chastises the Pharisees for concocting their own traditions for getting around the Law so that they didn’t have to keep the Law. Everything in the Law and the Prophets were pointing to the time of John the Baptist who was the forerunner of a new age to come and to Jesus, the Messiah.
Jesus also reminds them that not even the smallest part of one of the letters of the Law would pass away. Then Jesus reminds them of one of the laws that they would try to get around by their traditions, marriage and divorce. Jesus spoke about this in the Sermon on the Mount as well.
Suffice it to say, that man’s attempts to “get around” or disregard the “law” of God do not go unnoticed by God. Just because we might make up a new social custom or practice doesn’t negate God’s law.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Jesus then relates another parable about a rich man who has died and has found himself in Hades. He looks across the chasm dividing those in Hades and those who were and he sees a poor beggar named Lazarus who he would see on the street begging for food, who when he died, was carried to Abraham’s bosom by angels and was being comforted.
The rich man asks Father Abraham to send back Lazarus to warn his brother’s of the reality of Hades and for them to change their lives.
Luke 16:29-31 NASB But Abraham *said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” 30 But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” 31 But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
Jesus makes it clear that the appearance of a familiar person’s “ghost” won’t convince someone to believe and take seriously the things written in God’s word, the Bible.
Jesus makes it very clear what His views of the role scripture is to play in the lives of His disciples and the level of importance and reverence they should be given.
To download an outline for these two chapters of Luke, go to the Downloads page and look under the Outlines folder.
1 Lockyer, Herbert. All the Parables of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of the More Than 250 Parables in Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1988. Print.
2 “steward.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Jun. 2014. Dictionary.com.
3 MacDonald, William, and Arthur Farstad. Believer’s Bible Commentary: An Exposition of the Sacred Scriptures. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers; e-Sword, 1995.
4 “scoff.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Jun. 2014. Dictionary.com.
5 Hendriksen, William. Baker’s New Testament Commentary: Luke. Baker Academic; e-Sword, 1978.