Wednesday, August 8, 2018

That which was lost is found (Luke 15)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated.
While on vacation, a family went to dine at a fancy restaurant. Their two young girls were playing quietly under the table while the parents ate. A nearby couple kept staring at the girls, which annoyed their parents because the kids were not being disruptive. Finally the woman leaned over and said, "You should know that your girls are picking gum off the bottom of the table...and eating it."
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated. On such occasions the challenge may be distinguishing between "Lost and Found," and moving those from the 'lost' column to the 'found' column. Jesus tells a trio of parables to illustrate God's relentless pursuit of people who become estranged from Him and need to be reassigned.
Jesus does not always get along with religious leaders of the day. There are some of course who agree with him. A group of those positively disposed toward his message, for example, sends a representative to inquire about his ministry:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council [the Sanhedrin]. He came to Jesus.. .and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (John 3:1-2)
Nicodemus and his colleagues are open to what Jesus has to say, largely because they cannot ignore the evidence of his power in support of his preaching.
There are others, however, who do not agree with him and who oppose him. While a few may differ with Jesus in matters of doctrine, most who oppose him do so out of envy, because his popularity is exceeding theirs. In response, they attempt to marginalize him, silence him, and finally eliminate him. Their animosity grows gradually, though, fueled by encounters like the one in Luke 15:
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." Then Jesus told them [these three] parable[s]. (Luke 15:1-3)
  • The lost sheep
  • The lost silver
  • The lost son
I. A shepherd finds his lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7).
Luke 15:4 "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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 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.
A. He searches for it diligently.
This shepherd is so concerned for the single lost lamb that he leaves the rest of his flock (probably in the care of other shepherds) to search for it. There may also be some urgency if the area is habitat for wild beasts to which the sheep are prey. In any case, when he finds the one that wandered off, he does not attempt to coax it back to the others but wastes no more time away from the herd and carries it back himself.
B. He celebrates over its recovery.
He is so happy to find the one missing lamb that he calls his fellow shepherds and others together that they may mark this good fortune with him. "In the same way" (v. 7), Jesus says, there is celebration in the heavenly court when a single lost soul turns back to God, especially when that soul had been estranged from Him by a life committed to sinful behavior. The shepherd's compassion and his friends' congratulations contrasts with the indifference of Jesus' critics.
II. A woman finds her lost silver (Luke 15:8-10).
Luke 15:8 "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? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
A. She searches for it diligently.
This woman is so concerned for a single lost coin that she spares no effort in her search, scouring the house to find it. Her perseverance illustrates the determination God demonstrates and the effort He is willing to expend in His pursuit of the lost.
B. She celebrates over its recovery.
She is so happy to find the one missing coin that she calls her friends and neighbors together that they may mark this good fortune with her. "In the same way" (v. 10), Jesus says, there is celebration in the heavenly court when a single lost soul turns back to God.
III. A father finds his lost son (Luke 1511-32).
Luke 15:11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
Similarly, God respects man's free will. He does not force anyone into the kingdom who will not go. He would rather an individual turn to Him by choice than by coercion.
This third parable most closely represents the setting for Jesus' discourse, with three main characters—father, elder son, younger son—corresponding to the audience in Jesus' telling—God, Pharisees and teachers of the law, tax collectors and "sinners."
 A. He waits for him patiently.
Luke 15:13 "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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
The younger son squanders all he has on self-indulgent living. "He sought pleasure, [but] he finds pain." "It is when the young man's resources are at an end that the realities of life hit him.". He realizes that his behavior is both unproductive and unsatisfying. The boy sinks so low that he turns to tending animals God designates as "unclean" (Lev 11:7), desiring to eat what they eat.
Luke 15:17 "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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 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.
Jesus says about the boy, "he came to his senses" (v. 17), which is what one does to repent. The son then acts on this epiphany by swallowing his pride and returning to his father. To the boy's surprise and delight, his father welcomes him back with open arms.
What an impression must have been produced on the publicans present by this faithful picture of their past and present experiences! But how much deeper still the emotion which awaits them when they hear Jesus unveiling...the feelings of God Himself toward them!"
Luke 15:21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
The boy confesses his transgression, which is another step in repentance, along with an expression of personal abasement.
The possibility of an immediate and entire restoration does not enter his mind. He is ready to take the position of a servant in the house where he lived as a son.
The father "seems never to have given up waiting for his son; perceiving him from afar, he runs to meet him." He does not gloat over the boy's failure or scold him for his rebellion. Rather...
B. He celebrates over his recovery.
The father takes several decisive steps to mark his younger son's return and reintegration into the family. Likewise, God's restoration follows man's repentance.
Luke 15:22 "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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
After divesting himself of whatever personal possessions he had and subsisting on a minimal food ration, the younger son comes home penniless and hungry. His father's generosity contrasts sharply with the boy's previous fallen state. The very company the boy hoped to join, household servants, now tend to his return.
Luke 15:25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
The older son hears the loud celebration marking his younger bother's return and is not happy with the festivities. He resents the rebellious boy's easy restoration to their father's good graces. The older son feels slighted that, despite his own loyalty, his abiding presence has never warranted such appreciation. "He reflects the outlook of the Pharisees" whose scrupulous attention to the law contrasts with the inattention of the riffraff.
Luke 15:31 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours2' was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
The father reminds his older son that there is still a difference between the two boys: "Everything I have is yours" (v. 31). The celebration does not mark a change in how the father values the boys, only his gratitude for the younger son's homecoming.
Application: God goes to great lengths to pursue those who are estranged from Him. That is, after all, a primary reason for Jesus' advent. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). If you want to align yourself with God's purpose, that must be the motivation for you as well. Just as God sought you, despite your sin, so you must seek others, because their value is great in His estimation.
These three parables about things "Lost and Found" illustrate that as the return of what was once lost, be it sheep or silver or son, led to great rejoicing on earth, so the return of an individual once estranged from God leads to great rejoicing in heaven. Imagine that: The angels partied when you repented.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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