Our message today explores the heartache of losing something of great worth. In Luke 15 Jesus tells 3 consecutive parables and each one is a variation on the same theme: losing something of tremendous value… but in these stories there is also the great joy of finding it again. Each story begins with the heartache of loss and ends with the happiness of receiving back what was lost. So 3 times this chapter Jesus leads us through trauma and to happy endings. Three stories of people who had cause to celebrate.
Our focus today is going to be at the end of the chapter, and, we’ll work our way there quickly in a moment.
However, we must ask: why does Jesus string these 3 parables together? Why does He thread this theme of lost and found through each of them? Jesus isn’t randomly raconteuring – He isn’t thinking, “Hmm, I want a break from all this kingdom talk and I’d like to share some uplifting stories”. He has a definite purpose in this little trilogy. The answer is in verses 1 and 2, “….”
Jesus is criticized by the Jewish religious leaders – the Pharisees and teachers of the law – for associating with sinners. They are offended that He is spending time with them. Notice He doesn’t explain His actions to them. Instead He tells them these three stories. These three stories are His response to their criticism. In these three yarns He will magnify the heart God has to search for lost sinners and the joy God has in sinners who repent – all in contrast with the meanness of the Pharisees towards “sinners” and “tax collectors”. In other words, these 3 stories show us how deeply God cares for lost sinners and how intensely He desires their salvation.
We have to understand some things:
First, the Pharisees had a point. These weren’t just “black sheep” people. They were the underbelly of society. Sinners were just that: sinners. They lived openly in sin and were not the people you brought your kids around. Tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes from their own Jewish people on behalf of the despised Roman government. Often they extorted money from their own Jewish people to get rich. (One of Jesus’ 12 disciples, Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was formerly a tax collector.) They were especially hated by all the Jews because they were seen as traitors. That’s why you always read “sinners and tax collectors”, because tax collectors are sinners who need to be specifically mentioned as particularly disgusting to Jewish society.
Second, Jesus wasn’t hanging with sinners as some kind of affirmation of their sin. Liberal pastors and bible teachers would love for us to believe that because Jesus spent time with sinners so much that He didn’t take issue with their sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus spent time with sinners, yes, because He loved them, but, in doing so to point them to repentance. He never condoned the sin of sinners, but, He pointed them to His forgiveness and mercy they stood in need of precisely because of their sin. He went to them to retrieve them from their sins and put them on the path of righteousness.
Third, these yarns are meant to magnify God’s mercy. God is full of mercy, and that fact is magnified by contrasting it with the mean vindictive Pharisees who hated mercy. Oh did Jesus rebuke them earlier, “You have neglected the more important matters of the Law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.” This was an echo of the OT prophet Micah “What does the LORD require of you, O man? But to act justly and love mercy.” God rejoices over repentant sinners (v7), whereas the religious leaders resent them. God is anxious to give mercy, the Pharisees are anxious to condemn. God’s heart is well expressed in 2 Peter 3:9: “God ….is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Think about it: the magnitude of God’s mercy is seen in the fact that He has mercy for the worst of sinners. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:16, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me the worst of sinners Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”
Lastly: Jesus not only associated with sinners, but, they were drawn to Him. Is there something in that point that ought to be taken to heart in the local church? How willing are we to associate with sinners? How attractive is the local church to the lost? UNDERSTAND that this is not done by affirming sin, but, by making a big deal out of mercy, the way God makes a big deal. Are we people who have big hearts? Do Mercy and Grace champion our message? Let’s look.
Summary of Three Parables (3-24)
Many of us may be familiar with these 3 parables, but, they are worth summarizing.
First we meet a shepherd who had 100 sheep but one got lost. Read verses 3-6. Something is lost, then it is found, and its cause for celebrating. Then the climax, the moral of the story, the whole point of the parable is stated in verse 7, “…..” If those Pharisees had any sensitivity at that point they would have felt the sting of conviction – conviction for how unlike God they were. God loves lost sinners but they were too proud and hard-hearted to care for lost sinners returning home.
Second we meet a woman who lost a valuable coin. Read verse 8-9, “….” Again, something of value is lost, then it is found, and it is cause for celebrating. Different story, same point. Notice verse 10 the point of the story is stated again: “…..” Jesus is speaking truth, He wants us to know what’s really going on in heaven: God gets great delight in finding that which was lost. Are you lost?
Lastly, let’s keep moving into the 3rd story of this trilogy. (The full force of Jesus’ response to the criticism of the Pharisees will be achieved in the 3rd story. (There is something about Jesus and the number 3: 3 Persons of the Trinity, 3 temptations in the wilderness, 3 year ministry on earth, 3 days and 3 nights in the grave).
In this story Jesus explains how a father had two sons. The younger one demanded his share of the inheritance from his father and went off far away to blow it on wild living. Spending every last dime, now broke and destitute, he repents and returns humbly to his father. He makes up his mind, humbly that he won’t come back as a son, but will be his father’s servant. But his father joyfully receives him back and celebrates his return.
So far it is the same pattern as the first two stories: something valuable is lost, then found, and rejoicing happens. But now in this final story there is a new part: someone doesn’t like all the celebrating going on.
Let’s look at 3 Points
REAL REPENTANCE (11-20a)
First we see what real repentance looks like. Read v 11-20a.
The younger brother demands his share of the inheritance – which is equivalent to telling his father that he’s dead to him. “Your only good to me dead. Give me my inheritance.” He goes off and blows it living in foreign lands – Gentile lands. He ends up broke and destitute. He’s so bad off he hires himself out to take care of pigs. He’s so bad off that he eats the pig food because he’s so hungry. Here is what Jesus’ Jewish audience hears while listening to Jesus: this young man dishonored his father, was greedy, was covetous, was immoral, was unclean in the worst way in that he lived among filthy Gentile “dogs,” and even worse, he lived with pigs and ate pig food – pigs were one of the most unclean and abominable animals to a Jew.
But then he “comes to his senses.” I love that line. Its so true. You’re living spiritually crazy when you’re living a rebellious, wicked life. He looks in the mirror and admits that he’s been all wrong. It took a lot of pain, disgrace, humiliation to get to that point, but he arrived.
- Sometimes repentance requires hitting rock bottom. Pain can be one of God’s best ambassadors. Pain can be one of the most effective ways to help someone come back to their senses.
- Real repentance is seen in the genuine acknowledgment of sin.
- Turn to 2 Corinthians 7:8-11
- A great example is found in Acts 19:17-20
- Another great example is Acts 2:36-41
- Another great example is Zacchaeus in Luke 19..
Real repentance is seen in a transformed heart, attitude, outlook and self image. Real repentance is humble, not proud. Real repentance wants to do what’s right, not continue in what’s wrong. Real repentance takes responsibility for the wrong done to God and others, not justifies it. Real repentance accepts consequences, not acts entitled. This kind of repentance is what the younger brother had. And it is the kind of repentance that causes rejoicing.