15 is spoken as an answer to the accusation of the Pharisees
and the scribes in verse
2 that Jesus "receives
sinners and eats with them." Verse
1 says that "all
the tax-gatherers and sinners were coming near to him to listen to
him." And Jesus was making a place for them at his table
and encouraging them to stay and eat with him.
uses this word "receive" six other times in his writings
and every time it means “eagerly await or expect and look
15:2 says that Jesus is not just receiving sinners; he is
looking for them and eagerly awaiting their coming. He has his eye
out for them. The word "receive" sounds passive. But
Jesus is not passive. He is seeking sinners and tax-gatherers to
come to him and eat with him.
the Pharisees and scribes accuse him. And all the rest of the
chapter is Jesus' explanation to them of what is really happening
when he welcomes sinners and eats with them.
- The first answer in verses
3–7 is that his receiving sinners is like a shepherd
who finds a lost sheep and celebrates with all his
- The second answer in verses
8–10 is that his receiving sinners is like a woman
who finds a lost coin and celebrates with all her friends.
in both answers Jesus leaves no doubt about what he means, because
7 and 10 he tells the Pharisees that the lost sheep and
the lost coin represent lost sinners, and the being found
represents repentance, and the celebration is what God and all the
angels are doing in heaven.
at that moment some get it and some don't. He is saying: “I
welcome sinners because I am the incarnation of God's love
pursuing the lost. I am the shepherd seeking the sheep. I am the
woman seeking her coin. And this meal that we are eating together
is a little bit of what is happening in heaven right now, and a
foretaste of the joy that is coming. When sinners turn from their
sin and accept my fellowship as the joy of their lives, they have
come home to God. And God is glad”
15: Lost and Found
in verses 11–24
Jesus gives a third answer to the Pharisees' accusation. When he
receives sinners and eats with them, it is like a father who finds
a lost son and celebrates with all his house. All three parables
have this in common: being lost and being found followed by great
joy in heaven.
6: "Rejoice with me for I have found my
sheep which was lost!"
9: "Rejoice with me for I have found the
coin which I had lost!"
24: "'This son of mine was dead, and has come to life
again; he was lost, and has been found.' And
they began to be merry."
lost and found sheep—and a party. A lost and found coin—and a
party. A lost and found son—and a party.
month, Cook County officials buried numerous bodies in Homewood
Memorial Gardens just outside Chicago. Who were they? People who
have nobody that knows or cares. They just die. Someone finds them
on the street or in a park or in an alley or in a lonely tenement.
The officials search for relatives. The Medical Examiner's Office
waits and holds the bodies. No one comes forward to claim the
body. A hundred-eighty-foot long trench is dug at the cemetery and
the wooden boxes are lined up next to each other and buried. No
stone. And no marker. This happens every month with 20 to 30
unclaimed people in Chicago.
by millions in Chicago and not a single person seems to know or
care when they die. This feels like absolute lostness.
it's not. Absolute lostness is when you are cut off from God. It
is better to die unknown by every human in Chicago than to die
unknown by God. If we feel a fearful sense of alienation because
of 68 forgotten people buried in a mass grave in Homewood,
Illinois, how much more should we feel the fearful prospect of
dying without God?
15 is about the love of God coming into the cities and suburbs
of our world to find lost sons and daughters. It's about the
identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of his mission in the
world—then and now – to
seek and to save that which was lost
[Before we consider the Lost Son, let’s go to God in prayer…]
different about the parable of the lost son is that the misery of
his lostness is spelled out, the nature of his repentance is
spelled out, and the lavish enthusiasm of the father is spelled
out more fully than in the other two parables. Let's look briefly
at each of these.
Misery of the Son's Lostness
away from God starts by feeling free and ends in utter
misery—either in this life or the one to come, or both. Look at
this in verse
“And not many days later,
the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey
into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with
The word "loose" (asus) means a "wild,
abandoned, reckless" manner. This always feels free for a
season—like sky-jumping feels free—until you realize you don't
have a parachute. So running from God at first feels free.
“Now when he had spent
everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began
to be in need.”
come easy go. And then reality. A famine. Where do you think that
came from? What might be the design in that?
“And he went and attached
himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him
into his fields to feed swine.”
we break our attachment with God, we will end up attached to
another, and that attachment will be slavery not sonship. It may
be drugs or alcohol or illicit sex or an employer or a spouse or a
sport or a hobby or a television or a lake cabin or a computer or
books. The attachment may be crude or it may be refined. If we
break loose from God, we will be attached to another. And in the
end (whether crude or refined) this alien attachment will send us
to the swine troughs—either in this life or the one to come.
“And he was longing to
fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no
one was giving anything
and I were made to be filled with God. And if we run from him, if
we take our little earthly inheritance of time and money and
energy and use it to attach ourselves to other things than God, it
won't matter whether we are worth nine billion dollars or buried
in Homewood, Illinois—our future will be swine food for all
the misery Jesus describes when we run from the Father's house.
Nature of the Son's Repentance
Then he describes the nature of the son's repentance. Verse
“But when he came to his
came to himself], he said,
"How many of my father's hired men have more than enough
bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my
father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against
heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called
your son; make me as one of your hired men.’”
Notice three elements in this repentance.
comes to himself (v.
When you are alienated from God, you are always alienated
from yourself. You can't know yourself or relate properly to
yourself if you are running from the one who made your self for
You were made by God in the image of God for God. These are
the three main things about your identity as a human being; you
are made by God, like God, for God. Therefore conversion is
"coming to yourself" as well as coming to God. It is
discovering where you came from and who you are and why you exist.
Running from God is always a running from ourselves. Repentance is
waking up to this truth.
part of repentance is humble brokenness and a deep sense of
unworthiness before God. Verse
“I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy
to be called your son.”
Lostness is not something we can make excuses for. We are
guilty. We are rebels (Isaiah
53:6). We have known our Father's will, and have rejected
it. So repentance is a deep sense of how horribly offensive this
is to God, and that we have no rights before him at all.
The third part
of repentance is that we cast ourselves on God's free, merciful,
bountiful provision of grace. Verse
many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I
am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father.”
notice something very carefully here. At this point many people
make a terrible mistake in the way they try to come home to God.
The lost son is willing to come home as a servant rather than a
son. Does that mean he wants to relate to God as a hired hand who
earns things from God and thus turns a generous father into a
wage-paying employer? I don't think so. Is that what God wants?
What the son is saying is: look at how rich and generous my father
is. Even the servants eat well. You might say: even the crumbs
that fall from the father's table would satisfy me more than what
the world has to offer. The focus here is not on the service that
he can supply to the father, which the father then would be
obliged to compensate. The focus is on the incredible bounty
and generosity that he has so foolishly traded for the
fleeting pleasures of sin. Repentance is believing that God is so
great and so good that the smallest enjoyments of his house are
better than ten thousand worlds without him.
With that changed heart, the boy heads home.
Lavish Enthusiasm of the Father
brings us to the third focus of this parable.
there was the misery of lostness;
there was the nature of repentance;
third, there is the lavish enthusiasm of the father when the boy
will you find when you turn home to God through Jesus Christ?
Here's what you will find. See it in six photographs of God's
welcoming his son.
The son "got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him."
God is not so busy with other things that he is not
concerned about his alienated children. All his affairs are in
order, and well taken care of. He is free to be concerned about
his children. Before anyone else sees, God sees. He sees every
twitch of your soul.
When he saw him far off, "he
felt compassion for him."
something in Almighty God like this. Some of you fathers know what
it is like to have a child run away from home. Then there's the
phone call, and a rendezvous, and the flood of emotion and longing
and love when you see him walking toward you. That's the way it is
with God when you head home.
"And he ran."
Now here is a
middle-aged man, the owner of a significant estate, with servants
at his beck and call. There is a certain decorum to maintain.
There is a dignity. Such people do not run. Unless they have
thrown all middle-aged decorum to the wind and given themselves
over to the utter joy of their hearts. That's the way God is about
your coming home.
"And he embraced him and kissed him."
probably bring tears to hundreds of eyes in this room if I
lingered over this and encouraged you imagine that one person in
your life that you want to come home—home from sin, home from
alienation, home from unbelief, home from hard-heartedness—and
what it would be like to see brokenness in their face and to reach
out and embrace them and kiss them. You need to know that God is
this way. God is pure and God is physical. He does not hold you at
arms length. Jesus did not have to include these vivid,
emotion-laden details. He wants you to feel something here about
the way God welcomes you home.
The son makes his confession. Then in verse
22, "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.'"
Here is the
lavish welcome of the father. The best robe. The robe of
sonship, not slavery. The robe of full, lavish, enthusiastic,
unrestrained restoration to the family. That is the way the Father
is when you come home.
Finally, the celebration. Verse
23: "Bring the
fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry."
God is very
glad when you come home. When Jesus receives tax-gatherers and
sinners and eats with them, it is the gladness of the Father
gathering in his lost children.
The gospel is almost too good to be true. But
what do you hear when the Father says (v.24),
“This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and
has been found”?
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ