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.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
“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 neighbours 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.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
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 15:3-32)
What’s Going On Here?
The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were muttering among themselves, criticising the Lord for fraternising with sinners. They believed that even acknowledging a sinner’s presence was wrong, and sharing a meal with a one was a sign of acceptance to be avoided at all costs. Guilt by association, they called it. It’s an attitude that’s still around. Go bankrupt, get a divorce, or even lose your job and you’ll soon find out who your friends are. If you’re lucky, one or two will come around. The rest will avoid you like the plague, as if your condition is contagious and they might catch it.
The so-called righteous people of the day placed little or no value on the lives of sinners, believing their behaviour had rendered them undeserving of any effort toward reconciliation. So Jesus told them three parables to explain God’s view that sinners were actually of more urgent importance to Him than the righteous.
On one occasion He told them that He had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and on another that it was the sick that needed a doctor, not the healthy. “I have not come to call the righteous,” He said, ” but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Now He said, “If you had 100 sheep and one got lost you’d leave the 99 and search for the lost one wouldn’t you? And wouldn’t you be glad when you found it?”
“And suppose you had 10 coins and lost one? Wouldn’t you focus all your efforts on finding it? And when you did wouldn’t you celebrate?”
If they felt that way about material possessions that could easily be replaced, how much more important should a human soul be?
To our Creator each and every life is of infinite value; irreplaceable. He doesn’t desire that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) That’s why there’s more rejoicing in Heaven over redeeming one lost soul than over 99 who never got lost. And that’s why every time a sinner repents and receives the Lord the angels in Heaven sing for joy.
By the way, the Bible only mentions five events that cause the angels to sing. One was when God said, “Let there be light,” and the Earth came to life. Another was when the Lord Jesus was born, and then there’s the arrival of the Church in Heaven, and finally the Lord’s defeat of His enemies at the end of the age. That’s just four other times in all the history of man. But they get plenty of practice, because the fifth one repeats itself every time one of us comes to the Lord. In His view saving a single life ranks right up there with creating and saving the world.
Here’s The Point
But it’s the third parable that must have cut them to the quick, because it highlights the resentment the obedient son felt over the return of the disobedient one.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in (to the celebration). 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 guess is that this parable exposed their true motives for ostracising the sinners among them. They worked hard to keep the Law and took pride in doing a good job. Those who didn’t were being disobedient and deserved to be punished. By shunning them the Pharisees were actually helping the Lord mete out the punishment. This made them feel all the better about themselves. Nothing like being on the Lord’s side to make one feel righteous.
Then comes this itinerant preacher giving these sinners all kinds of attention and actually making them feel good about themselves, giving them hope, and taking away their motivation to clean up their act. It wasn’t fair. The Pharisees worked so hard at being good and these sinners get all the attention. On top of that, the Pharisees labored to earn their ticket to eternity. If the sinners got a free pass, like Jesus seemed to be implying, what kind of example would that set? They were plainly jealous.
And so the Lord softened the blow with the last point in the parable. He had the joyful father say, “My son, 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.”
Rewarding sinners doesn’t penalize the righteous. The Lord doesn’t subscribe to the scarcity mentality that there’s only so much to go around and giving to one means taking from another. For everyone who asks will receive, all who seek will find, and to all who knock the door will be opened (Matt 7:7-8).
And Finally …
It’s easy to spot the Pharisees’ error. They thought salvation was something they could earn, and by attempting to do so they developed a self-righteous attitude that actually placed them further in their debt of sin. The only difference between the Pharisees and the sinners, is that the sinners knew they needed a Savior. But the Lord’s compassion for them, as expressed by the father in the parable to the older son, must have worked. On the Day of Pentecost, the newborn church picked up over 3000 members, many of them Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.
The Pharisees were a group from Biblical times, but they’re not all dead yet. There’s still plenty of that self-righteous “holier than thou” attitude around, and most of us harbor some of it. So next time you feel a little jealous when some undeserving sinner repents and is saved, remember … this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And in Heaven the angels rejoice. Selah