LUKE CHAPTER 15.
Parables of the Love of Christ to the Lost. Luke 15, 1-10.
The murmuring Pharisees: V. 1. Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. V. 2. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. The fifteenth chapter of Luke is, as one commentator has called it, the golden center of this Gospel, revealing in a wonderful way the love of the Savior for the lost and condemned sinners. The Lord here exhibits the unspeakable riches of His merciful love to all men, but especially to those that feel the need of that mercy. There were nearing to Him at that time, the evangelist writes. As iron filings are attracted to a magnet, so the message of love and forgiveness which Jesus proclaimed drew the broken hearts to His grace. It was not merely the attraction of human sympathy and kindness, but it was the sweetness of the Savior's love and the glorious promise of pardon, full and free. Publicans and sinners they were, despised and cast out of the synagogs throughout the land; they were not permitted to associate on a plane of equality with the Jews in good standing. But these outcasts came, not like the majority of the other people, primarily for the purpose of witnessing miracles of various kinds, but to hear Him. The blessed words of salvation attracted them; they could not hear enough of the healing message which Christ proclaimed with unwearying kindness. Others, however, were present that had a different opinion concerning such intimacy of the Lord with publicans and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes murmured with indignation against Him, saying that He made Himself the equal of the scum of the lowly people by receiving them and eating with them. The mocking and derisive words of the Pharisees have now become the song of praise in the mouth of believing Christians: "Jesus sinners doth receive!"
The Parable of the Lost Sheep: V. 3. And He spake this parable unto them, saying, v. 4. What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? V. 5. And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. V. 6. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. V. 7. I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance. The Lord did not at all consider it an insult to His dignity that the Pharisees classed Him with the publicans and sinners. But He resented their attitude toward the poor outcasts of society whom His love comforted. For that reason He presents this picture of His. merciful love. Pointedly the Lord says: "What man of you." In their own affairs of daily life every one would act as Jesus here describes the owner of the sheep. A hundred sheep the man has, a goodly number, making the loss of a single one seem insignificant. It would seem that the man could well afford to lose one. But the owner thinks differently. If but a single one is absent, and as soon as he discovers the loss, he proceeds forthwith to recover it. He knows the dangers of abyss and swamp, of panther and wolf, of thorns and poisonous plants. He leaves the ninety and nine, though the place be desolate and far from home, and sets out after the lost member of the flock with unceasing, unabating fervor of search, until he has found it; that object must be accomplished. And having found it, his tender solicitude does not cease. Full of joy and gladness he lays it upon his shoulder, preferring to carry it safely, lest it become overweary. Even now, its strength is practically spent. And coming home, he shouts out the glad news to his neighbors and friends, bidding them come and rejoice with him, since he has found the sheep that was lost. Jesus Himself makes the application of the story, saying most impressively that in the same way there is joy in heaven, before God, over .a single sinner that repents, more than over a large number of just people that are not in need of repentance. Since this is true of God and all His holy angels, that they rejoice greatly over every further repentant sinner, how much more would it be expected of Jesus, who is present here on earth and in the sight of all men, that He show His gratification over these former willful and malignant sinners that have now turned from the evil of their ways! The ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance are evidently people like the Pharisees and scribes, who in their own opinion are not in need of a Savior. Cp. Matt. 9, 12. 13. They believe that they are just, accepted before God and men, that their outwardly unblemished life places them above the need of repentance. They have no idea of the actual filthy condition of their hearts. And so they are left in the wilderness while the lost sheep is taken Home.
What the Lord here says of the seeking, finding, carrying of the lost sheep is full of beautiful significance. His merciful love embraces the lost, the forsaken, all sinners. There is comfort for all. "For upon that fact I am baptized and here have the seals and letters in the Gospel, that I am His dear sheep, and that He is the good, pious Shepherd, who seeks His lost sheep and deals with me altogether without the Law, demands nothing of me, neither drives nor threatens nor terrifies; but shows me nothing but sweet mercy and humbles Himself below me and takes me upon Himself that I lie on His back and suffer myself to be carried. Why should I fear the terror and thunder of Moses, and that of the devil in addition, since I am secure in the protection of that Man who gives me His piety, and everything that He has, for my own, and carries me and holds me that I cannot be lost, while I remain a sheep and do not deny the Savior nor deliberately reject Him?" 83) Jesus, the Shepherd of the souls, leads the sinners to repentance by having His Word proclaimed to them. With His Word He searches, calls, pleads, until He finds the lost sinner. "Just as the sheep cannot guard itself nor take care that it does not go astray unless the shepherd always points the way and leads it; it cannot return to the right way nor come to the shepherd, but the shepherd must follow after it and search so long until he finds it; and when he has found it, he must take it upon his back and carry it that it may not again be terrified, driven away, and be seized by the wolf: even so we can neither help nor counsel ourselves to come to the quietness and peace of conscience, and to escape from the devil, death, and hell, unless Christ Himself gets us and calls us to Him through His Word. And even if we come to Him and are in faith, we are not able to keep ourselves therein, . . . but Christ, our Shepherd, must do it all alone." 84) And finally the good Shepherd takes His sheep home into the fold of heaven, giving every single one the bliss ineffable that has been prepared for them before the foundation of the world.
The parable of the lost piece of silver: V. 8. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? V. 9. And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. V. 10. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. The scope, tendency, and lesson of this parable is identical with that of the previous one. A single piece of silver out of ten which a woman possesses may not seem a large sum to lose (it corresponded roughly in value to the denarius, worth not quite seventeen cents), 85) but the owner evidently places a different estimate upon it. She lights a lamp, she sweeps the house, she seeks most diligently till she finds the lost coin. In the first parable the tender solicitude of the Redeemer was brought out; here the unremitting diligence and search for the lost is emphasized. And then comes the joy in the same form of expression, a joyful shout to acquaint the people with the fact of her success. Thus also there is joy, wonderful and inexpressible, in the presence of the angels of God over a single sinner that repents and is won for the kingdom of heaven. The worth of a single soul exceeds that of the whole world, Matt. 16, 26; Mark 8, 37; Jas. 5, 20. Some commentators make the application in such a way as to say that the Holy Ghost's work in the heart of the sinner is here pictured. Just as the woman searched the whole house with all diligence, so the Spirit of God, in the work of regeneration, is of a cleansing and illuminating kind. He is not turned away by the frightful aspect of the natural heart's depravity; He is not deterred by a long and arduous search for a backsliding sinner. Note also: The lost piece of silver is a very fitting emblem of a sinner that is estranged from God and has become a slave of sinful habits. The longer a piece of money is lost, the less probability is there of its being found again; it will lose its glittering newness and be covered with dirt and grime: so the sinner sinks ever more deeply into the filth of sin, loses his character and standing among men, and deliberately defaces the image of his Maker from his heart. Let such a one beware lest his time of grace expire and the searching mercy of the Spirit be turned in other directions.
The Prodigal Son. Luke 15, 11-32.
The reckless departure: V. 11. And He said, A certain man had two sons; v. 12. and the younger of them, said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. V. 13. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. This story has been called the Gospel within the Gospel, since it brings out the fundamental thought of the message of grace so beautifully, the acceptance of the sinners without any merit or worthiness on their part. Two sons a certain man had, both of them in a good home, with all the comforts and advantages which the word implies. But the younger one felt the fretful stir of youth. The boundaries of the home place were altogether too narrow for him, and the restrictions placed upon him by the paternal jurisdiction seemed altogether too galling. The first step of his desire for freedom, as he may have termed it to himself, was the demand that his father give him the goods to which he would fall heir after his father's death. It has been custom in the Orient from times immemorial for sons to demand and receive their portion of the inheritance during their father's lifetime; and in many countries the parent could not legally refuse to comply with the request. So the father, realizing that the heart of the boy was set upon his goods and not upon his person, as filial love would demand, divided his entire living, all that he had, to his two sons, the older probably receiving the home place, and the younger, money. So the younger boy now had the means to carry out any desires that he may have been secretly cherishing. And he determined within a few days to slip off the irksome fetters of parental authority and supervision. He heeded the voice of the oldest delusion in the world, namely, that things in the distance, which wear the halo of desirableness, too often prove mirages which lure people to destruction. He was determined to have his fling; he gathered together all his property, being in haste to escape into wild liberty or license. Home is usually a dear place, and homesickness takes hold of a great many children that are obliged to leave its sacred boundaries, but here selfishness and willfulness had taken possession of his heart. Far away he went, the farther the better, and then he dissipated and flung away all that he had in a dissolute life. The journey led recklessly to final degradation. That is a picture of a person that has grown up in the house of God, in the midst of the Christian congregation, but does not realize the greatness of the blessings which attend him there. He turns his back to the Church," goes out into the world, and runs with the children of the world into the same excess of riot, in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries, 1 Pet. 4, 4.
Folly and repentance: V. 14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. V. 15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. V. 16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him. V. 17. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! V. 18. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, v. 19. and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. The young fellow, after the manner of his kind, undoubtedly had friends in droves while his money lasted and he was willing to spend it recklessly. His indulgence may at first have whetted the edge of appetite, but overindulgence wears out the power of enjoyment. When his money was gone, his so-called friends, after the immemorial manner of their kind, evaporated into thin air, leaving him severely alone. And the poor fellow, no longer a good fellow, having literally destroyed all that he had, found himself face to face with direst extremity and most distressing poverty, since a great famine came into that same land. The result of wastefulness and lack of food combined is dire want. He was at the point of starvation. And so he attached himself to a citizen of that country which he had thought to bless with his presence. The man did not want him, could not use him, in fact; to feed another mouth in the time of dearth is no easy matter. He now had work, that of a swineherd, despised above all other occupations by the Jews, and he could sleep out in the stable; but the amount of food he received from his master was inadequate for keeping body and soul together. He was soon reduced to such straits that he would have been glad to fill his spoiled stomach with husks, the pods of a wild fruit, that of the carob-tree. That was the food of the pigs entrusted to him; but he was denied even the roughage of the beasts. That is the result of sin. It is not only a reproach to the sinner, but it leads to the destruction of both body and soul. The sinner must find out what misery and anguish he brings upon himself if he leaves the Lord, his God. In his misfortune he is forsaken by God and man, he has no comfort nor support, the abyss of despair yawns before him. Or if fortune seems to smile upon him and good days fall to his lot, he still lacks peace of mind and a satisfied conscience: there is no peace in his soul. Happiness is possible only in communion with God; to leave that means to give up true happiness.
At last the heaping up of miseries and griefs had some effect upon the young man. He realized the situation; he came to his true, sane self; he awoke as from a deep, unpleasant dream; he saw himself and his whole life in the true light; he began once more to judge things according to the standards of a well instructed conscience. He called to mind the laborers of his father that were now, in comparison with his own miserable situation, living in affluence, having more bread than they needed, while he was actually starving to death by degrees. His pride was broken, his unruliness a matter of the past. He decided to go at once to his father and make a full, an unequivocal confession of his sin, that he had transgressed against God in heaven, whom every sin strikes, in the first place, and against his father. He feels his utter unworthiness to be called a son of such a father any longer, he has forfeited all filial claims; the best he can hope for, if his father would be so merciful, is to be given a position as hired workman on the farm. That is true contrition and repentance, when the sinner searches his own heart and being, fully acknowledges his transgressions, admits the justice of the divine punishment without restriction, and is fully persuaded as to his own unworthiness. There must be no palliation, no equivocation. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy, Prov. 28, 13.
The return: V. 20. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. V. 21. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. V. 22. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; v. 23. and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and be merry; v. 24. for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. True repentance is not satisfied with resolutions, its sincerity must be proved by actions. The young man therefore carried out his intention without delay. As a proud and haughty, disobedient and unfilial youth he had left home; with a humble, broken, and contrite heart he crept back through the familiar scenes. But the merciful goodness and the cheerful forgiveness of his father was even greater than he had dared to expect after the treatment which the boy had accorded him. The love of a father is not so easily destroyed. Day after day he had been on the lookout for the son of his old age; never had he given up the hope of seeing him return some time. The father's loving eye therefore was the first to espy the boy, although the half-starved, tattered tramp may have resembled only distantly the well-nourished young man that had so flippantly turned his back upon his home a short time ago. All this the father saw in a glance, but it did not fill him with repulsion, but only with the deepest sympathizing pity. To walk was too slow; he ran down to meet his boy, he fell on his neck, he kissed him most tenderly. Before the boy even opened his mouth, the father read in his eyes, in his entire appearance what motive had brought him back home. He indeed accepted the confession of sins which the boy made, but would hear nothing more. As the young man's repentance and confession were unrestricted, so the father's forgiveness was unconditional. The love of the father here pictured is but a weak type and picture of the love of God toward sinners, of His manner of dealing with repentant sinners. His eyes search for them; His Word pleads with them to return from the path of transgression; His heart overflows with commiserating sympathy at their blindness and foolishness, by which they cast themselves into misery, grief, and anguish. He is reconciled to all sinners through the death of Jesus Christ; in the Redeemer He has forgiven them all their trespasses. When He therefore sees the evidences of repentance, His heart goes out to them, and He showers upon them the fulness of His mercy, grace, and kindness. He gives' them the assurance, confirmed with a solemn oath, that all their sins are forgiven, that their transgressions are cast into the depths of the sea. And His promises then give to the fainthearted, penitent sinner new trust and courage, by which the belief is engendered that he has again been accepted as a child of the heavenly Father.
The father, in the overwhelming joy of his heart, reinstates the son into all the rights of son-ship. To some servants that came hurrying up he gave the command to make haste that the wretched rags might be taken from his son and he be clothed in the dress becoming to his station, with a golden ring on his finger and with proper sandals on his feet. They should then take the calf which was being fattened for the slaughter and use its meat to prepare a great feast, since the entire household was to take part in the joy of this occasion. All the symbols of the filial state, all the honors due to the son of the house, should here be brought out. And the father hurriedly explains that this wanderer, if they had not known him before or had not recognized him in his rags, was his son. Dead indeed he had been, lost to all good, given to all evil; but now he had returned to real life, now he was in truth the son of the house, since he had found himself and stood in the relation of a true son to his father. And so the feast was made ready at once, and the celebration went ahead with great joy. Thus the lost children of God that return to Him with penitent hearts are not admitted to heaven in such a way as barely to enter. No, the forgiveness of God is complete. There is joy in heaven over every sinner that comes to repentance.
The older son: V. 25. Now his elder son was in the field; and as lie came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. V. 26. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. V. 27. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf because he hath received him safe and sound. V. 28. And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out and intreated him. V. 29. And he, answering, said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment; and yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends; v. 30. but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath, devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. V. 31. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. V. 32. It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this thy brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found. A picture of the prim and proper, sanctimonious and self-righteous person. The older son, whom no temptation had apparently ever assailed, was busy in the field during all this time, and may not have returned till toward evening. But when he did return, the unusual bustle and commotion on the place, which had recently been as quiet as a cemetery, caused him to wonder. The sound of the musical instruments which accompanied the choirs of singers could be heard for some distance. He was filled with astonishment and displeasure that a festival should have been arranged without his knowledge, and, calling one of the servants to him, he inquired what all that meant. The servant answered, as well as he could, probably according to the part that he had been obliged to take in the feast. The fatted calf had been slaughtered because the brother was home again and well. This news filled the older brother, not only with disgust, but with anger. A sense of wrong and general unfair treatment took hold upon him. So far as he was concerned, he had washed his hands of the good-for-nothing youngster; and the latter might have been lost and could have perished for all he cared. While the father, against whom the sin had been committed, was full of joy over the repentant son, the older son, in his peevish mood, does not even want to be seen in the company of the wastrel. Thereupon the father went out to him and pleaded with him, thus showing as much love and patience with this boy as with the other. The anger and the entire behavior of the older son was altogether unreasonable. It was spiteful talk to accuse his father of never having given him so much as a kid to provide a feast for himself and his friends. And his self-praise of his willing service and of his keeping the commands of the father was a veiled attack on his brother. The gentle rebuke of the father was very properly administered. What the father had acquired since the division of the goods was his to dispose of as he pleased. But he had been generous to the older boy beyond his duty, for lie had shared all with him, had given him the full and unrestricted use of his property. Therefore he admonishes him finally to be joyful with the rest, since the dead one had returned to life, since the lost one had been found. The older son is a type of the self-righteous Pharisees of all times, that are always boasting of their good works and merits and begrudge the poor sinners the unmerited grace of God. That they themselves and all that they can perform owe this to the goodness of God, that fact seems never to strike their minds. That the fact of their never having been tempted to such an extent as many a fallen person is in itself an unmerited grace, that has never occurred to them. But God is merciful above all comprehension of man. According to His gracious will, He wants all men to be saved. He is not only happy over the repentance of publicans and sinners, but He tries to soften the hearts of proud Pharisees as well.
The entire parable has reference to the lost and prodigal sons and daughters of all times, showing to all sinners the way of redemption. But also the believers, the true children of God, that are enjoying the fulness of God's grace, should learn the lesson of this parable, to understand ever more fully what sin and grace includes. The 'entire life of every Christian is a continual repentance. True Christians, by daily contrition and repentance, turn away from the world and its allurements, turn to God the Father, pray daily in true faith for forgiveness of all trespasses, and are glad of the experience of God's love toward sinners. Such Christians will rejoice from their hearts whenever a prodigal son or daughter returns and asks for admission; they will give them a reception which is in accordance with the merciful will of God, never forgetting that every one that is saved receives this mercy in the same way as the thief on the cross, by grace alone.
Summary. Jesus teaches the Pharisees the meaning of God's love for the lost by telling the parables of the lost sheep, the lost piece of silver, and the prodigal son.