Kingdom: Finding Joy Luke 15
As we have seen in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is drawing crowds from all manners of life; the religious the irreligious, saints and sinners, high class and the outcaste. His main audience is often those who are considered unwelcome and unwanted. But the religious Pharisees continually mutter (cf.5:30; 19:7; Matt 20:11) about Jesus. Jesus is called a friend of sinners and to them it is not positive. Luke 15 opens with this thought and appears to be the purpose for Jesus telling this parable(s). It is one parable in three episodes; called the Lost Sheep, the Lost Silver and the Lost Son. Each episode tells the deep heavenly and unfathomable realities about the kingdom and character of God.
Let’s look at the parable with each episode and at the end will make several observations about the God’s kingdom, character and application for us as believers today. Jesus starts the parable with 2 illustrations:
Lost Sheep Luke 15:4-7
Jesus appeals to the group’s livelihood of sheep. If one has a 100 sheep and 1 is lost, he will leave the 99 safe to pursue and rescue the 1. And after finding that 1, there will be care for this sheep. The lost sheep will have been weak for having wandered so far away and needing special attention; so the shepherd will put it on his shoulders. This rescue will also bring about celebration. The shepherd will even call others to share in his joy.
Lost Silver Luke 15:8-10
Jesus appeals to the group’s livelihood of silver. If a woman has 10 silver coins then this is likely her entire savings. A single coin would have been worth a day’s wages and to have 10 together would have been saving for something extremely special – perhaps a wedding or an inheritance for family. Yet, the woman loses one in a dark, windowless house and she has to light a lamp, sweep the entire house and diligently seek after it.
You know the frantic that happens when you lose your car keys, something less valuable. Or the panic when a credit card or wallet is missing. This is the woman’s emotion with greater intensity and she must find this coin. And when she does find it she celebrates.
Lost Son Luke 15:11-24
Jesus continues the parable that is commonly referred to as the Prodigal Son. Interestingly enough, the word “prodigal” is not found in this passage or any where else in the Bible. The word is a description of someone who is wastefully and recklessly extravagant or self-indulgent; a spend thrift. It describes the lifestyle of one of the sons in the story.
A father has 2 sons and one asks for his inheritance early; essentially wishing to leave forever his family. The inheritance the son asked for was of material possessions (tes useios), like the land, animals, buildings, etc. He did not ask for his normal inheritance (kleronomia) which was the material possessions along with the management of its resources for future wealth and generational continuity. In essence, the son viewed his father in financial terms rather than familial relationship. He wanted his father’s hand not his heart.
The father had every right to rebuke the son and shame him publicly, expelling him from the family. In the social setting of Israel at this time, this son’s request was a supreme act of rebellion. In fact, it was even customary in that time to hold an officially ceremony, like a funeral, proclaiming that the son was dead (v.24, 32).
Yet, the father does not rebuke or expel his son. Instead, he extends his love through patience. He grants the son his portion of the inheritance with the freedom to choose, even if it is the wrong choice.
The son journeyed off and wasted his possessions. And if that were not enough, a famine arose leaving the son even more hopeless. Almost at rock bottom he joins a Gentile to work in pig fields. This would have been a major disgrace to a Jewish raised boy (Lev 11:7, Deut 14:8). And if this were not enough, the son longed/lusted (epithumeo) to be fed with what the pigs ate.
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you’re willing to pay.” (Steve Farrar)
The son had spiraled into separation and sin against his family & father. He hit rock bottom. What had looked promising to please only failed to fulfill. He thought freedom would be found in independence from the father when true freedom is found in being independently dependent; meaning there is freedom of choice but they are inside boundaries.
The Bible warns us of spiraling sin in Romans 2:3b-5
“…do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
The son realized the emptiness of his living (came to himself/sense) and decided to return (repent) to his father. If you are a prodigal, wandering away from father and family, growing away from God there is a call for you to simply examine reality. What is real? Wake up and look around – is this what God wants for you? is this what your family hoped you would become? is this everything you dreamed and really satisfying? If not, what are you doing? REPENT!
The prodigal son returns with a contrite heart. In response, the father has been doing the unthinkable. The father’s patience turns into pursuit and seeing his son returning from afar, he runs to greet and embrace him.
Kenneth Bailey writes, “Middle Easterners do not run… traditionally [because] they all wear long robes… No one can run in a long robe without taking it up into his or her hands. When this occurs the legs are exposed which is considered humiliating.” This cultural behavior shows the extent of the father’s love even to the point of self humiliation. The depth of the father’s pursuing love would be obvious to this audience.
Their embrace and reunion cancels out the son’s practiced speech of earning restoration through becoming a hired servant. The father simply extends grace and mercy and is ready to celebrate the homecoming. He pulls out all the stops – placing a robe, ring and sandals on the son. These are marks of a free man versus a slave who would have little if any accessories and go barefoot. A huge feast was prepared… you can almost smell the barbeque aroma!
What is the point of Jesus’ parable in 3 episodes? What truths do we learn about God’s kingdom? What lessons are we to apply?
1) The lost belong to someone. The parable is not meant to solely focus on that which is lost but to whom the lost belong. The sheep belong to the shepherd; the silver belonged to its master; the son belonged to the father.
God has made you for eternity, for Himself. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:26-28)
– As believers, we need to take this personally. Some of the lost live in your own home. Some of the lost have known you for decades.
– Some of the lost are waiting on you to find them.
2) Joy is found in the mission of recovery. Notice that with each rescue there was great joy and celebration. And the rejoicing was not just made up for the story but is a reality in the kingdom of heaven.
15:7 “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.”
– As for us, when something is lost and later found, anxiety and depression are relieved. Likewise, when a person turns away from sin to worship God this catalyzes celebration and joy. If you and our church want to experience greater joy we must be about the mission of recovering souls.
Psalm 126:5-6 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Romans 10:15 “How beautiful are the [SENT] feet of those who preach the good news.”
3) Joy is found because repentance is possible. If the shepherd, the silver owner or the father did not believe they could find that which was lost then there would be no joy. But in each episode we see that the patience and pursuit of the finder because there was a faith that the lost could be found; a change of circumstances and repentance was possible.
John MacArthur says of this passage, “And this is the agony that’s the most painful of any personal agony, the agony of rejected love. The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. This is God, God giving the sinner freedom.”
God, in the agony of rejected love gives the sinner patience and freedom. He waits for you to come to your senses.
– No one is too far from God’s reach. The door is always open to those who return to God in repentance and faith. But realize that repentance is not mere words or actions to earn our way back to God. Genuine repentance is awakening to reality. It is an accurate assessment of your own character and circumstances. It is a heartfelt brokenness realizing that you have not only crossed the line of God’s law but you have individually offended God’s person. You are undeserving yet through trusting and receiving God’s grace you are changed and restored in a right relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.
– As for us, we may be tempted to give up hope on ourselves or those we love. We may want to write someone off or abandon the effort to bring someone to repentance and saving faith. This message is for you – there is still time.
Lost Self-righteousness Luke 15:25-32
In the midst of this celebration there arose some jealousy and bitterness from the older son. Rather than celebrating the repentant brother’s homecoming, the older brother became angry and refused to participate in the festivities. From the reader’s perspective, the older son’s attitude was equally shameful towards the father. This son was never seen to rise to the father’s defense in the earlier conflict. He appears equally distant from the father though not physically but emotionally. His self-righteous attitude of external obedience is eerily familiar to those of the Pharisees… and unfortunately many Christians today.
Many Christians are tempted to live with the “older brother” perspective. We have reduced Christianity and the gospel to living by a set of rules or moral values check lists, without little thought to how disgusting our self-righteous pride is to a holy God.
This is a shallow understanding of sin AND a shallow view of grace. This older brother was untouched by his brother’s repentance and restoration. Where was the joy in this family relationship?
Above all, the father shows unfathomable grace. He extends forgiveness not to just the younger son but the older as well. He is an example of God the Father removing our sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12) and proclaiming that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).