Luke 15:1–10 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
The Pharisees Complain and Heaven Responds
Luke 14 ends with Jesus saying, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." Luke 15 begins with the notice that all the tax-gatherers and sinners were coming near to listen to him. They had ears to hear what the Savior was teaching. But the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." What great words of hope for sinners! If the thought of standing before the holy God — who knows everything you have ever thought, said, or done — frightens you because you know that your sin is great, don't run! Rather, do what sinners in Jesus' day did: Draw near to him and listen to him; he'll welcome you. God makes great effort to seek lost sinners, and he greatly rejoices when they repent.
God's “Lost and Found” (15:1–10)
It's always a joy to find lost valuables, right? We find in our text today Luke's account of the first two of three parables, each describing the finding of a lost item and the joy and celebration that resulted. The full impact of the third parable — that of the prodigal son — which differs considerably from today's lost/found parables, and which we'll focus on next week, is best grasped in the light of today's passage: the setting leading up to Jesus' telling of the first parable (vv. 1–2) and these first two of three lost/found parables (vv. 3–7 and 8–10).
The setting: The tax collectors and "sinners" all gathered around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Despite our Lord's strong words about the cost of discipleship (seen in our previous study, Week 51, 14:25–35), and the exhortation to those who had ears to hear, many were still approaching Jesus, curious to hear what he was teaching, including the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (v. 1, shown below). But for the Pharisees and scribes, their mood lacked curiosity and interest: They were grumbling specifically about the fact that Jesus "welcomed sinners and ate with them" (v. 2). Should this have been so offensive to the Pharisees and scribes? What would it matter to them if Jesus chose to associate with sinners?
Early in Luke's gospel, the Pharisees mocked Jesus' association with sinners and the joyful mood and celebration that dominated the scene of his eating together with them (5:29–32). The Pharisees found no joy at all in the repentance of sinners. Sadly, the Pharisees looked at sin as an external thing, rather than a matter of the heart. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the internal aspects of sin (cf. Matthew 5–7). To associate with those whose outward lives were sinful was to challenge the entire system of spirituality that the Pharisees had developed, which was designed to avoid outward, socially unacceptable sin and those sinners who did evil acts. As a result, they couldn't passively accept the Lord's opposing view of spirituality, which encouraged him to connect with sinners without being defiled by such association. So, Jesus knew why the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling. All three upcoming parables, which he spoke in response to their grumbling, were directed toward the Pharisees and scribes.
† The Parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 3–7) Jesus now tells the first of three lost/found parables. A lost sheep in the Judean wilderness would be doomed. Lacking protection, it wouldn't be long before coyotes or other predators would attack and kill it. A lost dog might eventually find its way home, but a lost sheep is unable to do so. As such, Jesus presents a picture of a lost sinner, one who may not even know that he's lost and headed for destruction. Thankfully, God makes great effort to seek and find lost sinners. The shepherd in this parable leaves his 99 other sheep and goes after the lost one, searching until he finds it.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who strove "to seek and to save the lost" (19:10). He now directs his critics' attention to their own attitudes and actions as they relate to a lost sheep. Which one of them, if they owned 100 sheep, wouldn't leave the 99 to search for one lost sheep? After a diligent search, wouldn't he rejoice greatly at finding the one lost sheep? Would he not tenderly put the sheep on his shoulders, lovingly carrying it back to the fold, rather than scolding it all the way home? And wouldn't he let his friends know of his success and have them over to joyfully celebrate the finding of that lone lost sheep? You bet he would; every sheep rancher would. And so should every Pharisee and teacher of the Law.
Just as Jesus suggested, every Pharisee would have responded appropriately to the loss and the finding of one sheep; that would be the assumption. In a similar way, Jesus added, all of heaven rejoices over the repentance of one lost sinner, rejoicing more at the repentance of one lost sinner than over the 99 "righteous" souls who seemingly didn't feel the need to repent. You'll see more about rejoicing as a result of repentance in the next two parables and in the five concluding paragraphs below.
† The Parable of the Lost Coin (vv. 8–10) Just as the sheep rancher would feel touched by the loss of a single sheep, the loss of part of the family finances would deeply touch a woman of the house. We aren't told the value of that silver coin; it shouldn't matter to us but it certainly mattered to the woman who lost one of her ten coins. The woman would "turn the house upside-down" to find that one lost coin: She'd light a lamp to illuminate her search, and then sweep and clean until she found it. Seemingly, she wouldn't stop until she found her lost coin.
And when the coin was found, the woman, as the sheep rancher did, would rejoice greatly at finding it. She, too, would call her friends and neighbors, inviting them to rejoice with her. It's assumed by our Lord in both parables that his entire audience is nodding their heads in agreement. They'd have searched for their lost coin, just as they'd rejoice in finding it. Note that in both parables, Jesus uses the phrase "in the same way," enlightening his listeners to the reality of heaven's recurring joy at every act of repentance by every single sinner. [Quiet, please! Try to see if you can hear the angels rejoicing right now. . .]
These first two parables are a like-kind pair, emphasizing the same truths: (1) that being lost is being stressed more than sinfulness; (2) that the owner takes the initiative to seek what is lost; (3) that the owner seeks what is lost diligently and persistently; (4) that the owner rejoices and invites and expects his neighbors to do likewise; and (5) that the rejoicing of the one who has found the lost item is likened to the rejoicing in heaven for the salvation of every single sinner.
Both Jesus and the Pharisees would demonstrate compassion, as shown by the tenderness of the shepherd toward the lost sheep that he placed over his shoulders. The Pharisees cared very much for what was lost, and they rejoiced greatly concerning its recovery. The critical difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is that the Pharisees cared about possessions while Jesus cared about people. The Pharisees were hypocrites. They grumbled that Jesus could gladly welcome repentant people who were sinners and rejoice in their salvation while they should be credited diligently for searching compassionately for lost possessions, and celebrate joyfully after finding them. Both parables, then, expose the Pharisees as being endowed with misplaced compassion.
Today's two lost/found parables show God's concern and genuine compassion for sinners, not en masse but as individuals. The shepherd searched for one sheep while the woman hunted diligently for a single coin. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name (John 10:3), calling them individually to come to him. Jesus cares about every single lost sinner who needs repentance. He cares for you.
It's easy to see that the Pharisees were "out of sync" with heaven. Why were they so unwilling to seek then save sinners, rejoicing at their repentance? Why were they also unwilling to associate with them? This is exactly what the third lost/found parable will reveal, which we'll cover in next week's study. Don't miss it or you'll likely become lost.
Finally, realize that you are valuable to Father God. Jesus underscored the importance of every person to God with three lost/found parables — today's two and next week's famous one — all deal with something lost. In each story, a person has lost something of great value. When it's found, friends and neighbors are called to celebrate and rejoice together. The point of the three parables is clear: We are all of great value to God, who offers us forgiveness and new life through Christ Jesus. And he faithfully pursues us with his love and grace.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 Should every Christian strive to spend time with the lost, or only those having the gift of evangelism?
- Q. 2 While Jesus maintained his holiness, sinners seemed comfortable in his presence. How can we sinners do similarly?
This Week's Passage
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."