There are three parables in Luke 15. They are usually referred to by titles that begin with the words "The parable of the Lost..." But we are going to look at them from a different view point –that of the finder.
Like the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, each of these parables can increase our understanding –and our faith– by adding another facet to our Finder's character. After all, that is what Jesus' parables are for –to grow our trust in God.
Let's start with the introduction passage.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 14:35b-15:2)
As in this passage, Jesus often said something to the effect of "Let those who have ears hear." He divided His audience in two groups. There were the unrighteous, lost who used their ears to hear Him –and there were the self-righteous, religious, pious who didn't.
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I 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. (Luke 15:3-7)
Here are some notable qualities of that shepherd. First, he was acutely aware that one of his sheep was lost. He was wholeheartedly dedicated to do whatever it took to recover that sheep. He was compassionate: he searched for it, he picked it up, he carried it, he took to his home. Not quite so obvious is the fact that he was permissive, he allowed his sheep to travel the expanse of the field –and come to the realization that it desperately needed him. Lastly, he was joyful –in finding his sheep and in celebrating his find with others.
The passage ends with a stern warning for repentance. That's turning from what the books of James and Hebrews refer to as "works that lead to death" –religious acts (they are based on self-righteousness). It's turning to Jesus for salvation –resulting with great rejoicing in heaven.
According to the parable, the object of the shepherd's dedication was a lost sheep. That sheep wasn't necessarily a little lamb –which conjures up the image of a child. However, that sheep could have been full grown and heavy –an adult like you or me! Either way, the shepherd joyfully put it on his shoulders and carried it back to his own home. He didn't drag it, push it, or even lead it. He carried it. And it wasn't merely turned out into the open field with the others –he took it into his house with him!
The sheep was lost and knew it was lost. Being lost was sufficient to know that it needed his shepherd. It didn't need to be scolded and embarrassed even more. We aren't told how the shepherd knew that his sheep was lost; but he did. In the same way, our heavenly Father knew when we realized that we were "lost" (in need of life in His company). It's this grand compassion of His that draws us to Him.
"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:8-10)
The woman displays some of the same qualities of the shepherd; however, the emphasis of this story is on her zeal. She was searching everywhere to find her coin. She virtually brought out search lights and rescue dogs to find what she knew was missing. It doesn't matter if we live alone in a most remote part of the world or in a city filled with deserving souls, God finds us. If we work underground in mines or live on the plains or travel the seas, He knows just when we realize that we are lost. Nothing gets past Him. No one is too insignificant for His attention.
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (Luke 15:11-32)
The father has most of the same character qualities as the shepherd and the woman. But there is more depth shown in his forgiveness and acceptance. And we see the exceptional permissiveness of the father who not only allowed his son to go, but financed the whole experience. What is seen in this parable, that isn't seen in the others, is a wealthy finder. That wealth is a reflection of the inheritance that God has given each one of us. It is all that He had to give – it is the life of His Son as payment for all of the sins of all persons in the world for all times. He divided it so that everyone's debt is paid in full; with no exception.
Although some teach that both brothers represent Christians. The reality shows through in the passage where the servant asked the older son to come into the house and join in the celebration. The son refused to go into his father's house. Then the father pleaded with him to come in but the son still refused. "Entering the house" depicts accepting God's gift of eternal life –presence with Him. I hope you have "come into His house."
The one son –the Christian– knows that he has squandered his inheritance with sinful living. The other –the self-righteous one– hates his brother, stating that he has been doing good works all of his life and remains unsatisfied.
How much effort did each of the lost ones (the sheep, coin, and son) put into being found? You might say that the son realized his situation and turned homeward. But how much did even he have to do with his final destination? Nothing!
The coin was lost; it was the woman who began and completed the search. The sheep was lost; there is not so much as a mention of it crying out for help. The shepherd started and finished the rescue. The son left his father. It was the father who kept diligently watching the horizon for his son. And when the son was way out in the distance, the father began making the preparations for celebrating the son's return. It was the father who made the relationship whole again. These stories tell us about our Finder –our God –our Savior!
Now that you have read these passages, it might be beneficial for you to write the qualities that you find to be important for each finder. They help to define your relationship with God. And, if you would care to share them, please email them to me.