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Series C
The Parables Of The Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son:
Gospel Analysis

Lent 4: Luke 15: 1-3,11b-32

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, pp. 194-195. 

The first two parables of “the lost sheep” and “the lost coin” set the tone for the third parable of “the lost son” which is better know as “the parable of the prodigal son.” In preparation for a sermon about the prodigal son, it is wise to familiarize one’s self with the previous two parables.

#219.  The Parable Of The Lost Sheep

Luke 15:1-7

Many Biblical scholars think that Luke 15 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) is the high point of the travel narrative and the entire gospels. It has been called “The Heart of the Third Gospel.” (Arthur Just, LUKE, v. 2, p. 586).

The three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are invitations for us to hear of God’s great joy when we finally come to our senses, repent, and live lives that are pleasing to God. When we come to our senses and come back home to our Heavenly Father, we begin to find life.

We will study Luke’s version of this particular parable of the lost sheep.

-Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. We notice that the tax collectors and sinners were “drawing near to Jesus in order to hear him.” We remember that Mary, in the Mary-Martha story, also drew near to Jesus, sat at his feet, and listened to him. Similarly, we are to draw near to Jesus in order to hear him.

-And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured/grumbled saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” This sentence unlocks the meaning of the parable. Jesus portrays two groups of people who were in conflict: the tax collectors/other sinners verses the Pharisees/scribes. We have seen this conflict several times before in the life of Jesus. The Pharisees also grumbled when Jesus ate with Levi, the tax collector (Luke 5:30) and also when Jesus stayed at the home of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector (Luke 19:7).

- So he told them this parable. As we have said repeatedly, Jesus’ parables are often classic stories that are immortalized within our memories. This is another one of Jesus’ great stories, stories that he created out of everyday, familiar experiences. Jesus did not create his short homey stories with profound meanings by quoting the Old Testament nor by quoting famous philosophers. Jesus taught the truth about God and the kingdom of God by using familiar, common, everyday experiences such as losing a sheep from the herd or losing a coin in a house. In today’s world, Jesus may have used the universal American example of losing our car keys (which are still in the ignition) or misplacing our glasses. We search intensely, almost frantically, until our car keys or glasses are found. Similarly, Jesus used examples from everyday life.

-What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness/desert and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? That was common sense for a shepherd: a sheep gets lost and the shepherd goes to find the one sheep that is lost.  Normally, there would be several shepherds caring for a flock of sheep. One shepherd would go out to search for the lost sheep, while the other shepherds would watch the remaining flock. This passage has always been an invitation for the Church to go searching for that person who has become lost from the faith.

-And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Many of us have images in our minds of a painting with a lamb on Jesus’ shoulder. In that painting, Jesus has found that lamb, has a smile on his face, and is returning to the rest of the flock. This popular image of Jesus who has a sheep on his shoulders traces its roots to this particular Bible verse. This is the only verse in the Bible where we find a sheep on Jesus’ shoulders.

We find three references to the word, “joy,” in this short parable, and two more references to joy in the next parable. There is great joy in the heart of God when anyone who is lost is found.

We remember that Jesus is declared to be the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John (10:1-18, page 213.) The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, knows the sheep and the sheep know him.

Take a moment and closely examine the following three paintings that portray Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders

Painting And Imagination: Jesus The Good Shepherd

-When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them: The natural reaction is to share the good news of finding a lost sheep with your friends, family and neighbors. We, who experience good news, want to share the good new with our closest family and friends so they can celebrate with us e.g. the birth of a baby, the finding of a new job, or the purchase of a new home. There is something about good news that it needs to be shared with our closest friends and family.

-Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. Circle the word, “rejoice,” and this is the second time this word is used in the story. People in Jesus’ crowd would have known the experience of a shepherd finding a lost sheep, and how much joy that brought to everyone. When the lost sheep is found, there is great joy.

-Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Whoops! Here is a new direction. Here is an unexpected twist of the story. Here is the crux of the problem: the Pharisees and scribes did not know that they themselves were lost. Even though they were in synagogue every Friday night; even though they tithed and were financially generous to their synagogue; even though they followed the devotional rituals of their religion; the Pharisees were still lost. The Pharisees were the hypocrites, the “white washed tombs,” who looked good on the outside but inside of their hearts, they were filled with jealousy and love of money. The Pharisees could fool people around them, but they could not fool Jesus or God.  Jesus uses this parable as another invitation for the Pharisees  (who are symbolic of self righteous people) to repent and change their (our) ways.

The “lost’ in this parable are not those outside the synagogue but those inside the synagogue. The parable does not focus as much on a person who wandered away from the church and is considered a “lost soul” but on a religiously self righteous person who is still within the religious community but who doesn’t know that he/she is lost. The “lost” are not the “outsiders” but the “insiders.”  When a religiously self righteous person repents, there is great joy in heaven.

Many denominations convert this parable into an evangelism story that Jesus finds the “lost” who are outside the church. That is, the church is to find the “lost souls” outside the church who do not know Jesus Christ. But the thrust of this parable is directed to the “insiders” in the synagogue and church. It is directed to those people who do not see their own sinfulness and their own need to be cleansed by the powers of God. The people “inside” the synagogue or church need to be repent, be cleansed of the crud in their lives, so they can “make contact” with the power and light of God and Jesus.

Discussion Question:
Why is it so often in the church we think of "the lost" as referring to someone outside the church rather than within the church?

#220.  The Parable Of The Lost Coin

Luke 15:8-10

-Or what woman, having ten silver coins/drachma; if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she finds it. The word, “or,” connects this parable to the previous parable. The two parables are on the same theme.

This is the only time where the word, “drachma,” occurs in the New Testament. Its value was equivalent to a denarius which was worth a day’s wage. See the footnote on page 195 about a drachma. If you found money that was worth a day of your wages, you would be mighty happy.

The woman sweeps the house and searches diligently until she finds it. In this way, the woman of the house is equivalent to the good shepherd in the previous parable who searches for the lost sheep. There is a focused diligence as both the woman householder and the good shepherd search for what is precious to them and lost.

-When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together saying: A person always wants to share good news with your friends and neighbors. That’s the way it is.

-Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I lost. The woman is joyful in her heart that she has found what was lost. So it is with any man or woman who has lost their car keys, their billfold or purse, their tool in the tool shed, etc. This is a universal experience for all of us. This is what makes the parables of Jesus so great: they express a universal experience for all people regardless of century or culture. So it is with God when someone who has lost his/her senses about God is found.

-Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Jesus is telling us how happy and joyful God is when we finally are found; when we finally come to our senses and return to God and his ways. Again, the context unlocks the meaning of the parable. This parable was addressed to the Pharisees who did not think that they were lost but actually, they were.

The key word in both parables is “repent.” We know that these parables are an invitation to repent. We know that we need to understand what Jesus meant by us repenting and returning to God. We want to know what it means to repent and the next parable will answer the question.

#221.  The Parable Of The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

Read this parable slowly and carefully and absorb its details and grandeur. It is one of the finest short stories in existence. The person who authored this story must have been a literary and oral genius. It is as if you are taking a trip to the most beautiful places in the United States and your car stops on the highway that has a panoramic view of the Teton Mountain Range. You don’t want to drive past that panoramic view but stop, turn off your car, and stay a while. That is the way it is with this parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the Prodigal Son may be the finest short story in all of literature just as the Pieta by Michelangelo may be the finest sculpture in all of history.  It is time to stop your life, pause, and soak in the scenery of this grand story about the Prodigal Son.

Many people feel that the parable of the prodigal son is the priceless pearl of Jesus’ parables. It is his finest parable. It is the most valuable story he ever created. Charles Dickens, the great English author, has called it “the greatest story ever told.” Some say it is the finest short story in literature. Another poet, Robert Bridges, has judged it as a “flawless piece of art.” Small wonder that through the centuries, this story has inspired the pen of Rembrandt, the music of DeBussey, and the poetry of John Masefield. George Buttrick, one of the greatest preachers of recent past, has said that the story of the prodigal son captures “the essence of the Christian faith.”  This story sums the central message of the whole New Testament. It is the gospel in a nutshell. If you truly understand this story…of the father, the prodigal, and the older brother, you will begin to grasp the central thrust of Jesus and the main emphasis of the New Testament.

It is important for us to understand the context or setting because the context or setting unlocks the meaning of the parable. It isn’t very often that the key is in the context, but the key that unlocks this parable is its setting. The parable begins like this in Luke 15:1: “Jesus was eating with a group of publicans and sinners. When the Pharisees saw it, they were very upset and said, ‘Jesus, why are you eating with this kind of people? They aren’t religious enough for you.’”

-Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. In the parables of Jesus, it seems that we often have two sons. The two sons are symbolic of two alternative ways to live life. The two sons are symbolic of the “either-or” in life, a fork in the road, a choice between “this road” and “that road,” between “this way of life” and “that way of life.”

-The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. We have read an incident earlier (Luke 12:13-15) about Jesus being drawn into a family dispute when the younger son wanted his share of the inheritance. Jesus warned that young man about covetousness and then told a parable about the rich fool and bigger barns. That incident was a historical incident that became a teaching moment for Jesus.

This parable about the prodigal son begins identically with the incident in Luke 12. There was man who had two sons and one son wanted his portion of the inheritance.

The father complied and gave the younger son his portion of the wealth.

We recall from the teachings in the previous lesson from Luke 12 that the older son received two thirds of the inheritance and the younger son received one third.

-A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. This son took his inheritance and went down to the first century equivalent of San Francisco and he had a wee of a time. He had so many friends. Of course, he pretended that this money was his own hard earned money and not an inheritance from his father. He had a great time, but finally the money ran out. The friends ran out. The good times ran out, and he ended up in the gutters of San Francisco.

-When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. Things went from bad to worse. He was totally broke and then a famine hit and he not only was out of money but he was out of food as well.

-So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.  In Biblical says, this is the lowest a Jewish person could ever fall: to eat with the pigs, unkosher animals.

Underline the phrase, “No one gave him anything.” That is good. That is the essence of “tough love,” letting someone hit the bottom and not enable them to continue their selfish and self centered ways.

The man ran out of so-called friends who would “bail him out” of his disaster that he had made for himself.

-But when he came to himself,This phrase is one of the keys to Jesus’ story. This phrase is one of the keys to the story of our lives as well. “To come to yourself” or “to come to your senses” is what repentance means.

“Finally, we human beings come to our senses. We finally wake up and realize that we need to return home to our heavenly father and our heavenly family. To return home to God and his love. To return home to loving relationships with a loving God. To return home to loving people and loving friends. To return home and live a life of responsible love. That is what this story is all about. It is about when we take our God given inheritance and use it in such a way that we live without God and the ways of God. That’s what this story is all about. This story is not to be narrowly interpreted so that the prodigal son becomes symbolic of people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs and end up in jail. The meaning of this story is much broader than that. It is about taking our God given inheritance and leaving God and forgetting God, and then we finally come to our senses and return to our heavenly father.”

-he said, "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, He hit the bottom. Yes, sometimes in life we hit the bottom and run out of options to protect us from the consequences of living irresponsibly. Sometimes, the consequences of decisions and actions force us into a corner so we have to die or change. The man knew that his father would love him if he returned to him.

-"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." ' Here is a true confession of the heart. He didn’t blame anyone but himself for the stupid mess he was in. He knew that he had sinned against both God and his father and a whole bunch of other people who had tried to help him along the way. He had come to that moment in life where he was totally honest about himself and felt badly that he had lived and acted like such a creep. He had found the attitude of true and humble confession which is the foundation of all authentic change in life.

-So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. As he approached his home, his father had been watching for him every night on the fence, looking down the country road. From a distance, the father saw his son’s walk, his son’s gait, there far in the distance. The father ran to him and threw his arms around him and put a ring on his finger and a coat on his back and shoes on his feet and killed the fatted calf and had a big party for him. The father was so happy that his son who had been lost finally came home. The father could see that look of loving humility in his son’s eyes as he embraced him. The son had come to his moment of truth and knew that he needed to change in order to find life, happiness and goodness.

-Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. The son found the courage to verbally confess to his Heavenly Father and his earthly father and perhaps all the other people he hurt along the line. In the scope of life, it is important to make that crucial step of orally confessing to someone you have injured or hurt.

He truly thought he was no longer a son in the Father’s house, but…

-But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' But the father didn’t feel that way. The father knew that his son had deeply sinned and squandered his inheritance and ruined his life, but…this was STILL his son. The father never let go of the possibility that this son would return to be his son again.

-And they began to celebrate. Yes, when the lost is found, that is always an occasion for celebrating BIG TIME.

-"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. Meanwhile, outside, was the older brother, and when he came home and heard all this noise, he said to a servant, ‘What is all the noise? What’s the party about?’ The servant said, ‘Well, your brother has come back home. We thought that he was dead but he is alive.’ The older brother said, ‘I’m not coming into the house to see that good for nothing.’ The older brother stood out there on the porch, pouting away with a stiff upper lip. The father came out to the porch and said, ‘Son, I love you. Everything I have is yours. Come in and see your brother for your brother who is dead is now alive. He was lost but is now found.’

-He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

-He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'

-Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. The poor older brother. He had stayed home and had worked for the father for all these years. The reader can feel the older brother “pouting” that his father actually welcomed home and celebrated the return of the “good for nothing” brother.

-But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

-But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'

-Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

-But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.' " There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who comes to his senses and returns to God and God’s ways, than over self righteous people whose hearts have become hardened to people they doesn’t like. The Pharisees were symbolic of the older brother who erroneously thought he was morally and spiritually superior in comparison with the younger brother.

So, basically, we have two brothers in this parable. We have one brother who is the prodigal of the flesh and the other is a prodigal of the spirit. Both are loved. Both are loved deeply by God, the Father.

Paintings and Imagination: The Prodigal Son

Discussion Question:
What do you think are the most important truths that Jesus was teaching through the parable of the prodigal son?

Please read the following sermons about The Prodigal Son:

Lent 4
The Prodigal, Luke 15:1-3; 11-32

Lent 4
The Lonely Lady of Blairstone Park, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Dr. Richard Jensen)

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