Luke Chapter Fifteen

 

v.1-2 “THEN DREW NEAR UNTO HIM ALL THE PUBLICANS AND SINNERS FOR TO HEAR HIM AND THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES MURMURED, SAYING, THIS MAN RECEIVETH SINNERS, AND EATETH WITH THEM.”

 

            As we noted in chapter 14, Jesus has started back toward Jerusalem for the final Passover and is teaching in the area east of Jordan called Perea.  The publicans were tax collectors working for the Roman government and were despised by the Jews, especially those in positions of power.   Sinners were those who had proven through their actions that they had no respect for the Law given through Moses.  Perhaps part of the reason for their failure to follow the Law was the way the Pharisees and Jewish elders interpreted and applied that law.  But they came to hear Jesus and every indication is that their interest was genuine.

            But the scribes and Pharisees found fault with Jesus because of his association with these people.  Jesus welcomed these men because of their interest in his teaching, he instructed them and ate with them.  The attitude of these scribes and Pharisees carried over into the church at Jerusalem.  Peter, after baptizing Cornelius and his household, faced this prejudice:

 

Acts 11:3 “SAYING, THOU WENTEST IN TO MEN UNCIRCUMCISED, AND DIDST EAT WITH THEM.”

 

v.3-4 “AND HE SPAKE THIS PARABLE UNTO THEM, SAYING, 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 TO AFTER THAT WHICH IS LOST, UNTIL HE FIND IT?”

 

            Jesus uses a very simple illustration, one that everyone listening understood, a parable that we also find in Matthew 18:12-13.  Who, having a sheep that has wandered away and gotten lost will not leave the rest of the flock, that is not lost, and go to find it.

 

v.5-6 “AND WHEN HE HATH FOUND it, LAYETH it ON HIS SHOULDERS, REJOICING.  AND WHEN HE COMETH HOME, HE CALLETH TOGETHER his FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS, SAYING UNTO THEM, REJOICE WITH ME; FOR I HAVE FOUND MY SHEEP WHICH WAS LOST.”

 

            When the shepherd found his lost sheep, he would most likely carry it across his shoulders rather than try to drive it back to the flock.  A sheep is an unruly beast, not readily agreeable to being driven but will follow another sheep readily.  Then when the opportunity was presented he would revisit his experience with his friends and rejoice because of his good fortune to recover his sheep.

            To complete the analogy, Jesus is seeking after those that were lost, those that were separated from God because of their sin.  He welcomed these publicans and sinners because of their spiritual condition and because of their interest in what he was teaching.

 

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.”

 

            Jesus brings them to the conclusion that he wants and makes application of his parable.  Just like their friends who where shepherds; when the Good Shepherd is allowed to rescue one lost soul, is allowed to restore one lost sheep to his flock there will be rejoicing in heaven.  And we recall Jesus purpose as he has described previously:

 

Luke 5:32 “I CAME NOT TO CALL THE RIGHTEOUS, BUT SINNERS TO REPENTANCE.”

 

v.8-9  “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?  AND WHEN SHE HATH FOUND it, SHE CALLETH her FRIENDS AND her NEIGHBORS TOGETHER, SAYING, REJOICE WITH ME; FOR I HAVE FOUND THE PIECE WHICH I HAD LOST.”

 

            Jesus gives them a second example to make sure that they understand.  A woman has ten pieces of silver but loses one.  What does she do?  She will get a light, and then sweeps and cleans the entire house looking in every nook, cranny and corner until she finds it.  When she does she calls in her friends and neighbors and they rejoice with her because she has found something valuable that had been lost.

 

v.10. “LIKEWISE, I SAY UNTO YOU, THERE IS JOY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH.”

 

            Just like the shepherds, just like the women, when one lost soul is redeemed there is rejoicing in heaven.  These two parables have the same meaning, the same message.  God does not find more satisfaction in a sinner that repents than he does a righteous person but will rejoice when someone who is eternally lost is brought into a right relationship with Him.

 

v.11-12 “AND HE SAID, A CERTAIN MAN HAD TWO SONS: AND THE YOUNGER OF THEM SAID TO his FATHER, FATHER, GIVE ME THE PORTION OF GOODS THAT FALLEH to me.  AND HE DIVIDED UNTO THEM his LIVING.”

 

            Now we have the parable of the prodigal son, a parable that is recorded only by Luke.  Nowhere in it do we find the word, prodigal, but that is the label that men have put on it.  It follows the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin or silver naturally and could, just as well, we called the parable of the lost son.  It is also significant that Jesus spoke these parables in a setting where both the publicans and sinners and scribes and Pharisees could hear them.  He is talking about someone who has alienated his father and then returned, as a sinner.

            The younger of this man’s two sons goes to him and requests that he give him his inheritance.  Under Jewish law, the law of Moses, the eldest son would receive a 2/3rds share and the younger son 1/3rd because the firstborn son was to receive a double portion (Deuteronomy 21:17).

 

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.”

 

            Just like a young buck isn’t it?  He gets his inheritance from his father, a third of his father’s living and apparently he was given it in the form of money or something readily convertible to cash.  He gathers it all up and went away from home, Jesus says to a “far country”.  He wanted to get completely away from the influence and control of his father, where his father could not object to what he had planned.  He wasted, squandered, we would say he “blew it all” living a wild and riotous life; his brother even accuses him is living with harlots (verse 30), a charge that was undoubtedly true.

 

v.14 “AND WHEN HE HAD SPENT ALL, THERE AROSE A MIGHTY FAMINE IN THAT LAND; AND HE BEGAN TO BE IN WANT.”

 

            When the young man has gone through all of his substance, has no more and now has to find work in order to survive; his situation is aggravated by other circumstances.  A great famine arises in the land where he is living.  Famines were terrible situations especially then, very similar to those we see in Africa today, where thousands of people simply die because there is nothing to sustain them.  This young son now begins 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.”

 

            His condition gets even worse.  Not only is this young man destitute, hungry and required by his circumstances to hire himself out as a servant he has to take absolutely the worst job a Jew could have to take.  He has to take care of this person’s hogs; an animal that was unclean under Mosaic Law.  In fact the original language would indicate that he even had to beg for this job feeding the hogs, that he all but forced this stranger to hire him and took this job because he had no other choice, no other prospects of being able to maintain his physical living.

 

v.16 “AND HE WOULD FAIN HAVE FILLED HIS BELLY WITH THE HUSKS THAT THE SWINE DID EAT: AND NO MAN GAVE UNTO HIM.”

 

            This young Jewish boy isn’t just reduced to keeping the hogs and taking care of them; he actually is so destitute and hungry that he would have to eat with them and nobody cared, nobody helped or took pity on him.  It’s a cold, cruel world.  We’re not talking about eating their grain, but rather the husks of the grain, that part from which the part good for food is removed and discarded and not even very good feed for the animals.

 

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!”

 

            This young man was following the pattern of so many.  He would not listen to reason, he lost sight of all that was good, reasonable and just, he had adopted a form of rebellious and reckless living.  He was blind to what was good, deaf to any advice regarding what he was doing to himself and lost in a whirlpool of sin.  He was literally living the lifestyle depicted in so many of our commercials today; especially those for alcoholic drinks, he was indeed letting the “good times roll”.

            But they weren’t good; and when he had wasted his inheritance and there was no more they had turned very bad.  But Jesus says that he came to himself. Suddenly he decides to look at his situation and do something sensible.  He remembers that his father’s servants were always well fed and his father provided for all of their other needs as well.  He was starving and wretched and had no one to blame but himself.  It didn’t take much to make up his mind about what must be done to bring this nightmare to an end.

 

v.18-1918I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”

 

            He prepares to return to his father.  Not to have him bail him out as a son, he understands that he has no right to be even considered his father’s son at this stage in his life.  But he feels sure that his father will allow him to work as one of his servants.  He has sinned greatly against his father and it is now time for humility and repentance.  The Holy Spirit through the wise man Solomon tells us:

 

Proverbs 28:13 “HE THAT COVERETH HIS SINS SHALL NOT PROSPER: BUT WHOSO CONFESSETH AND FORSAKETH them SHALL HAVE MERCY.”

 

He needed to follow the instruction given to the Jews of his day by Hosea:

 

Hosea 14:1-21O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. 2Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.”

 

Follow the example of David:

 

II Samuel 12:13  13And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”

 

And we have this same privilege today:

 

I John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 

v.2020And 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.”

 

            He arose; he got himself up and left.  We don’t know how he managed to travel from this “far country” back to his father’s house, we don’t know how long this journey might have been, Jesus doesn’t even tell us how he sustained himself on this journey.  But when he had made up his mind what needed to be done, he got up, and went and did it.

            His father is watching for him.  He perhaps even knows the ways of rebellious, wayward, headstrong young people.  The young man has his speech all rehearsed, he’s prepared to beg for just a job, but his father is regaining a son, he’s welcomed as a son.

 

v.2121And 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.”

 

            We can see the change of heart that Jesus is describing here by the words in verse 21.  The father has just greeted him as a son, he has welcomed his with open arms and a kiss as if he has only returned from a long journey and to a degree he has.  At this point most people would have just forgotten the confession and repentance part of his plan and allowed his indulgent father to restore him  to the place reserved for his son.  But in this example that Jesus gives us, he goes ahead with his confession.

 

v. 22-2422But 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: 23And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”

 

            While I’m sure that the father heard his son’s confession and understands just how grievous his sins are; he is filled with more than just compassion and mercy, he’s filled with a father’s love.  He doesn’t tell the servants just to make a place for this wayward son as a servant, but prepare to welcome home a lost son.  Bring out the best robe, put a ring on his finger, probably the family signet ring, one made like the one the father used to seal his business documents, and they are to put shoes on his feet, why?

            Because to God this is like receiving one back from the dead, it is like those Ephesians that had became Christians that Paul describes:

 

Ephesians 2:1 “AND YOU hath he quickened, WHO WERE DEAD IN TRESPASSES AND SINS;”

 

            Go back, if you will, to the Sunday morning sermon from January 24th.  We start out in this life as pure, sinless little children.  God knows and loves everyone of us; then we sin and separate ourselves from God because he can in no way tolerate sin.  We find this side of God’s nature described very vividly by Isaiah:

 

Isaiah 59:11Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”

 

            So this son that was dead, separated, totally lost, has now returned and is being welcomed as a son.  A feast is prepared to celebrate the joy of his spiritual resurrection, his restoration to his place in the family; he’s alive and I’m sure worse for wear but otherwise OK.  What did we just read a little earlier?

 

Luke 15:10 “LIKEWISE, I SAY UNTO YOU, THERE IS JOY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH.”

 

But the elder brother doesn’t see this situation with the same mind as the father.

 

v.2525Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.”

 

            The older son is out in the fields diligently carrying out his duties and responsibilities to his father and his inheritance.  The commentators don’t agree just who the older son represents in Jesus parable except that it is one that is contrary to God receiving penitent sinners, the return of those who have rebelled against God.  And in that vein, perhaps he represents the Jews and their religious leaders who objected to God restoring the Gentile nations to his spiritual family.  So when he hears the merry making and celebration he wants to know what is happening.

 

v.26-2726And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.”

 

            Instead of going in to the feast himself to find out what has happened he calls a servant to ask him.  We can already see that he has an attitude.  We perhaps learn a little more about his attitude by the kind of servant he calls as the Greek here indicates that this servant was a “lackey”, someone we would call a boot licker, a toady; apparently a favorite of the older son.  This servant breaks the news to him, his younger brother has come home; his father has welcomed him as a son; killed the fatted calf being prepared for a very special occasion and they are celebrating.

 

v.2828And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.”

 

            The older brother is angry.  We’re not talking about a little temper tantrum that he will throw and get over, he’s furious, he’s “get even if takes the rest of my life” mad.  Remember, the father gave his two sons all of their inheritance, so he welcoming the younger back using the goods from whose share?  The elder sons share.  His attitude is displayed even more vividly by his actions toward his father.  He won’t even honor him by going in to see him; his father if forced to come to him; he’s outside pouting.

 

v.29-3029And 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: 30But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”

 

            He makes his complaint.  All these years I’ve served you as a dutiful son, I’ve never disobeyed your commandments, and you never even thought to celebrate my devotion and commitment to what was right.  But the moment this wastrel returns, the one who took your hard-earned money and wasted it living with harlots and lowlife you kill the fatted calf and prepare a celebration.  He doesn’t even acknowledge that he is his brother, he calls him “thy son”; this son of yours that has done these things.  Is this reflective of the Jews who rejected Jesus because he did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be?  Is this the kind of attitude that they had against anyone who was not of the children of God?  Even those who had some genealogical relationship, the Samaritans, who were a mixture of people from the ten tribes and others imported by Assyria, were despised by these Jews.

 

v.31  31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”

 

            Note the contrast between the attitude of the elder brother and the father.  The father says you have always been with me, everything that I have is yours.  He’s calm, he’s following the scriptural example:

 

Proverbs 15:1 “A SOFT ANSWER TURNETH AWAY WRATH: BUT GRIEVOUS WORDS STIR UP ANGER.”

 

They could have had a donnybrook right there, but the father answers with calm wisdom, as he should.

 

v.3232It 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.”

 

            It was meet, it was proper, it was appropriate on this occasion that we should celebrate and be happy.  Your brother who was lost, is found again, your brother who was as one who was dead is alive again and restored to his proper place is this life.  And there Jesus ends his parable.

            We are all prodigals in some sense, at some time in our lives.  Initially we are born pure, without sin, then we sin and are separated from God.  If we ever find our way back, avail ourselves of the redemption that God has provided to all mankind, we can become prodigals again; prodigals such as the lost son that Jesus describes here in this parable.  When we do that, there is only one remedy; the same remedy that the younger son followed.  We get ourselves up, return to the Father in humility and repentance and he is gracious and wise and will forgive us when we become obedient again.