The Parables of Jesus
Who are “those” people for you? In Grease it was the greasers and the jocks—they didn’t mix or mingle. Maybe it was similar for you in high school. Maybe you were one of the sport kids, so you didn’t hang out with the druggies. Maybe it was the opposite? In Footloose and Dirty Dancing it was those kids who danced and listened to music versus the “good” kids. In the comics it is always the kids who cut across the old man’s yard. In football, it is always the Cowboys or the Patriots.
These may all sound funny at this level of silliness, but sadly this happens in real life in very painful ways. The idea of the other or “those people” is sometimes subtle, sometimes purposeful. The entire movie of “The Greatest Showman” is about those who were outcast from society: the odd, macabre, the different. In India it has a name—Dalit. Those considered broken, the “Untouchables.” People from a minority or caste that are ostracized from the broader culture. It is very obvious and purposeful. Much of our American history is lamentably filled with many who were labeled as “other” and not cared for. Native Americans in our early history. Africans and then African-Americans throughout much of our almost 250 years as a nation. Even now it is popular to talk about immigrants as though they are part of “those” people, as if all our families didn’t immigrate to the United States at some point in history.
The way this often happens in a religious community is by labeling specific sins and sinners as “those” people. People who identify as LGBTQ. Drug users. Adulterers. Porn addicts. We label the sin and the sinner and in doing so we make them functionally “dalit”—untouchable and unwanted.
Our passage this morning drops us into a very similar scenario. Here is Jesus with those who the religious community—the Jews—had labeled as “those” people.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”—Luke 15:1
Now, this was too much for the Jews.
“And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”—Luke 15:2
Amazingly, even though Jesus had much to say about sin, these sinners still wanted to be with him. He said much about all the sins I listed and even more about money lovers and dishonest people as the tax collectors were known to be, and yet they still gathered to him! Something about how Jesus carried himself—even though he was honest and clear about what was sin and what wasn’t—still made all types of people want to be with him. Why was that? It’s obvious Jesus has a very different philosophy and attitude about sinners and the lost. Unlike the Pharisees and scribes, he doesn’t grumble, rather, as Luke says:
“So he told them this parable:”—Luke 15:3
In fact, he tells them three parables, all about the sinners and those who are lost. “Those people” to the Pharisees and Scribes, and oftentimes, to the church. Table Rock, I pray this morning that we realize the three truth’s that Jesus shares and live them out when we think about the lost sinners we know.
The lost are valuable!
God is seeking the lost!
God rejoices when the lost are found and return!
These three truths should shape how we engage with everyone who is still lost and still far from the kingdom of God. And it begs the question: Are you seeking the lost that you might rejoice with God?
As we come to these parables, the main characters are God and the lost. Here, God is pictured as the shepherd, the woman, and the father. These are all pictures of God and his love for the lost. What we see first is that God is seeking the lost!
In our first parable, we see a shepherd. He realizes he has lost a sheep and goes to great lengths to retrieve it.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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.”—Luke 15:4–7
This is an amazing picture of God. Knowing that he has lost a sheep, the shepherd leaves the others and goes after the one who is lost. This is, in fact, the beautiful picture of Jesus. So many of the world’s religions tell us that if we just try hard enough, we can reach out and know God. Through studying, meditation, and hard work we can reach the knowledge of God himself. But this isn’t true. In fact, we know from scripture that it was only because Jesus came down that we could know God.
“For the bread of God is he who came down from heaven and gives life to the world.”—John 6:32
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”—Philippians 2:5–8
This God who leaves and seeks—Jesus Christ—is central to our faith and joy.
Jesus is also the one who seeks at great cost and diligence, as Paul in Philippians pointed out. Here, that is shown through the woman who loses her coin.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”—Luke 15:8–10
If we get the picture from the shepherd that he is willing to go looking, here we see the diligence that looking may take. This woman has lost a silver coin—a drachma—worth about a day’s wage. And it is obviously lost beyond just walking around the house and looking for it. She has obviously already done that. Here she has to light a lamp and begins to sweep what is likely a dirt floor, looking for where this coin might be hidden. Perhaps a crack in the dirt that it has slipped into, or a corner or edge of the room where the coin is covered with dust and hiding.
When we were first married, Katie had taken off her wedding ring to wash her hands one day. Something caught her attention and she walked off, and later, when she went back to the sink, it was no longer there. I’m not sure how we would handle this today, but as newlyweds this was no small problem. We looked through the plumbing line—nothing. We looked all through the carpet, under couch cushions, under couches and chairs. I took out garbage bags and spread the garbage on tarps and looked through each minuscule piece for this ring and where it had gone! Several hours later, I went to our closet and started looking through clothes. On an odd notion I picked up our shoes and started shaking them. And there it was! It had fallen into a pair of shoes that were out and had been put away.
This is the kind of seeking God does. He leaves no stone unturned, no corner of this earth unsearched for those lost sinners he is calling back to himself.
I am so thankful for these two examples because what we often perceive is what the son perceives in the parable of the prodigal son. He has left his home and father. He is on his own. Things are bad and he decides, “I ought to return home.” We don’t know anything about the father in that parable and whether he is observing and watching his son’s travails from afar. But these parables leave no question about our Father in heaven. He is intimately aware, and intently drawing us back to himself. So much so, that he doesn’t care what it looks like.
There is a great episode of the TV show “Friends”. In this episode Phoebe decides she will go jogging with her friend Rachel in the park. And Phoebe runs like a little kid with a sugar high, no sense of balance and two left shoes! She flaps and wails and runs her way around Central Park, much to the embarrassment of her friends. This is exactly how the Jews listening to Jesus would have felt. The father does what?! Not only did he accept back this sinful child, but he runs to him. Yes! When you return to God, he runs to you—unashamedly and unabashedly. He loves you and is drawing you back into relationship with him and he comes to you no matter what it looks like. You don’t think Satan and the demons were disgusted that Jesus would take on flesh and come to earth? You don’t think they saw him as less than valuable for that act of God?!
And all the while, God is seeking JOY! He is not lamentably doing these things, nor is he sternly lecturing you and me as we come back. He rejoices!
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”—Luke 15:6
“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”—Luke 15:9
“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”—Luke 15:22–24
This is the picture of God that the sinners and tax collectors are seeing in Jesus. Yes, he calls sin ‘sin.’ Sin draws you away from relationship with God. Sin kills and distorts the image of God that you are meant to portray in this world. But he is pursuing these sinners and rejoicing as they come back into relationship with him! That is part of what the sinners are seeing—their God, who is joyful, as they begin to come back to relationship with him that day.
And what do these passages tell us about the lost? We are lost sinners!
First and foremost, we are the lost ones! We all were and many still are. Jesus takes a swipe at the hard hearts of the Pharisees when he says in verse 7:
“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.”—Luke 15:7
To think we have no need of repentance, like the Pharisees, is foolishness! Scripture is very clear about this.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”—Colossians 1:21
We were the ones away from God—Alienated—which is what makes Romans 5:8 so sweet!
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”—Romans 5:8
It was while we were all alienated that Christ came and died for us, the lost and sinners!
Yet we see even more about our lostness in sin here. While sheep are dumb and coins have no general concept of being in the wrong place, people do. And all of us carry around with us the reality that we are not where we belong outside of our relationship with God. There is something missing that we desperately are trying to find and fill. That is where all the idols of our heart come in. This story of the prodigal tells us exactly what we have done in our sin when we don’t look to God:
“‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.”—Luke 15:12–13
We have, in essence, said to God what this young man said to his father. “I wish you were dead. My life would be better if you were gone and had no influence on me. Give me my leave and my inheritance, and I will live a much better life.” Our sin is not like that of a lost sheep or coin, but rather we, with a high hand, forsake the God who loves us. But as we have already seen, that does not deter him! And that leads us to the second thing that we see about the lost: they are valuable!
Each of these pictures shows us a unique perspective on the value of the lost Jesus is seeking. In the picture of the shepherd, we see how even though we are one amongst many, we are valuable and worth seeking. The shepherd has other sheep, but he is going to go after the lost. If you are here wondering why God would care about you this morning, know that he does! You are one of his sheep, and he has gone to great lengths to bring you back!
With the woman and the coins, we see that the lost have intrinsic value. The coin is valuable because it images and represents work. You are valuable because you image and represent God! You are made in his image and as such you demonstrate the glory of God by being one of his created children.
And with the prodigal son we see that you are one of his beloved children. You are not valuable as just any part of creation. Rather, you are a son and daughter of the king, whom he loves and cherishes, and desires to see back in relationship with him through Jesus!
Table Rock, is this the vision you have of God and his passion for the lost? Do you realize that God loves the lost and is seeking to save them? Jesus himself, later in Luke 19:10 says:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”—Luke 19:10
And your call as disciples who make disciples, like in Matthew 28, means you have this same mission as Jesus.
I think we often view the lost, at best, like the scenic by-ways of life. Sure, it’s nice to stop every now and then and see the interesting sight, read the story, but it isn’t necessary. We can choose to just ignore it. Rather, the lost are every other car on the road with us. We have to engage them, choosing either to pass them by or come alongside them.
When we see Jesus’s heart for the lost, we should be amazed. Not only at his effort to save the lost, but what he is seeking—Joy! He finds joy in their salvation, and so should we. We should enter into this work with our Savior not out of compulsion, not out of pity, but out of the pursuit of joy. Sharing Jesus with the lost, sharing the good news of his death for our sins and his righteous life exchanged for ours can be hard, but when God saves a lost person—it is worth rejoicing.
As I said earlier, this whole section begs the question: Are you seeking the lost that you might rejoice with God? Like the Pharisees, the first step is to remember you were one of the lost, only found by the grace of Jesus Christ. But the second is to remember God’s passion for the lost and to come alongside him with his mission. When you see that, you are no longer like the Pharisees and stand there grumbling. That is the last picture we see in this section—that of the prodigal son’s brother.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”—Luke 15:25–32
We never see the end of the story. It is like a movie that fades out with the oldest son standing outside the door. We don’t know if he ever enters into the father’s joy or if he stubbornly refuses because of the grace the father gives to lost sinners. This was the picture of the Pharisees; is it the picture of you? Have you so labeled sinners as “those people” and in doing so have been the older brother refusing to enter into the Joy of Jesus?