Luke 15:1-32

I recall watching with the rest of the world in July of 1999 when the United States Coast Guard conducted an extensive search for the lost plane of John F. Kennedy Jr.

No expense was spared. No stone was overlooked. The resources of a nation were utilized in this search. Tragically, what was found were only remains that were eventually buried at sea.

In this chapter, we will see three stories about an all-out search for that which has been lost. They are stories that Jesus told. But we must begin by setting the stage. He told these stories because of some grumbling and murmurings which were taking place.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had told a parable of a man sending out dinner invitations. But when it came time for people to come, they instead sent their excuses. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the day who had not answered the call to come to Jesus. As a result, the invitation went out to the multitudes. And sure enough, in Luke 14:25 the multitude began to come. But as they came, Jesus challenged them with what it mean to be a disciple. It meant that they must give up all of their own self-righteousness and standing to depend solely upon Jesus.

What was their reaction? We do not know. But the next thing we read is that tax-gatherers and sinners were coming to Him. They were the people who had no self-righteousness or spiritual standing and they knew it.

Luke 14:1-24

Luke 14:25-35

Luke 15:1-2

The Pharisees were invited to the kingdom, but they offered excuses

Multitudes begin to go along with Jesus

Tax-gatherers and sinners were coming to Him

Jesus tells a story of turning to the poor, crippled, land and lame and inviting from the highways and byways

Jesus tells them to count the cost of discipleship

The Pharisees and Scribes begin to grumble

As the tax-collectors and sinners began coming to Jesus, it was not long before verbal opposition arose. It came from those who had received the initial invitation and who had disdained it.


Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:1-2).

This sets the stage for the entire chapter. There were two groups coming to hear Jesus. They were the tax-gatherers and the sinners.

1. Tax-gatherers.

This described the man who had sold out his country to Rome in hopes of making a profit by overcharging people on their taxes. Such a man was considered a traitor and a turncoat.

2. Sinners.

This term was commonly used for prostitutes and those who regularly engaged in sexual sins.

They were considered to be the very lowest strata of society. They were excluded from worship in the Temple and the synagogue.

They had come to hear Jesus. They would not have gone to hear a Pharisee or a scribe, since they would have only suffered rebuke and criticism from such a one. But Jesus had something to give them. And so, He received them and even ate with them.

This gave rise to criticism on behalf of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees were the religious elite. They represented the conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals of the day. They were religious and they were good at it and they were proud of the fact. It bothered them that Jesus, a popular rabbi, was consorting with sinners. It did not seem to be a very good testimony. They didn’t hang around with sinners and prostitutes and they couldn’t see why Jesus ought to.

Luke the Physician records the words of Jesus: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32).

The truth is that Jesus didn’t come to make good people better. He came to heal the sick. He came to sinners who commit real sins. And if you don’t see yourself as a sinner, then He didn’t come for you.


And He told them this parable, saying,

"What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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 which was lost.’

"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:3-7).

This is the first of three parables that Jesus is going to tell. They each have essentially the same theme. They each describe something that has been lost and is now found.

Luke 15:4-7

Luke 15:8-10

Luke 15:11-32

A Lost Sheep

A Lost Coin

A Lost Son

When it is found, there is rejoicing.

When he returns, the Father throws a party.

1. The Story.

The story was a familiar one in the countrysides of antiquity. It is the story of a lost sheep. Sheep are excellent about getting lost. Little Bo Peep got bad advice - the truth is that they won’t come home on their own - you have to go and get them.

In our story, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep that are not lost and he goes out in search of the one that IS lost. When he finds it, he celebrates.

2. The Interpretation of the Parable.

Verse 7 gives the interpretation of this parable. Jesus came to save those who would admit that they were lost. On the other hand, those who claim to be righteous in their own deeds reject any need for a savior.

Who is Jesus addressing in this parable? The Pharisees and the scribes. They are the "Ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

This is divine sarcasm. The Pharisees claim that they do not need repentance. They think that they are righteous on the basis of their own good works. And because they do not view themselves as being lost, they cannot be found. There is no rejoicing in heaven over them. Heaven is utterly indifferent to them. Heaven only rejoices over the one who knows that he is lost but now is found.

3. An Anti-statistical Approach.

"I tell you that in the same way, 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).

One critic of the Bible called this an anti-statistical approach to people. He was right. Jesus did not have a statistical approach to people. He saw them as more than mere numbers on a computer printout. He saw them as individuals. And He still does.



"Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully 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 which I had lost.'

"In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:8-10).

This next parable has the same message as the first. It is a parallel to the first. In both parables...

As in the first parable, so also now, the point is made that there is corresponding joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. It is the repentance of the sinner that brings rejoicing in heaven.

There is a principle here. As long as you are never lost, you can never be found. Salvation is only for the lost.



As we come to this third parable, it will have exactly the same point which was made in the first two parables. It is the point that only one who is lost can be found. Only one who is dead can be raised. Only one who is sick can be healed.

1. The Son who wanted it Now.

And He said, "A certain man had two sons;

"And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them." (Luke 15:11-12).

The story begins with two sons. One was older and one was younger. The older son would eventually receive two-thirds of the inheritance.

The younger son wanted his inheritance now. He was more concerned with his father’s money than with his father’s welfare.

This was the height of disrespect. This son had no concern for his father. He was saying in effect, "I don’t want to wait until you die to receive my inheritance." The underlying idea was, "I wish you would hurry up and die."

By the way, the father was under no obligation to grant this request. But he did anyway. Perhaps there is a lesson here. It is that obedience comes through freedom, not freedom through obedience.

We have a freedom in Christ. It is a freedom that is not based on obedience. God did not say, "If you obey me and keep all my rules, then I will give you salvation." Instead, He gave salvation freely and then He says, "Because you are now my child, I want you to obey."

2. A Squandered Inheritance.

"And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living." (Luke 15:13).

Why did he go to a distant land? Because no one would know him there. He could do what he wanted and no one would say anything.

Temptation often comes when you travel to a distant land.

Here is the principle. Sin isn’t defined so much as by what you do as it is by where you live. Jesus called you to live a resurrected live in the heavenly places with Him.

3. Reversal of Fortunes.

"Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need.

"And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

"And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him." (Luke 15:14-16).

Johnny Cash was once asked by a reporter, "Do you believe in hell?" He answered in the affirmative and was then asked, "How do you know?" He replied, "Because I've been there." It may not be theologically correct, but there is a point to be made. Living for God is not only the right thing to do; it is also the more rewarding thing to do.

Here is the principle. Judgment isn’t defined so much as by how God responds, but by what you experience.

A lot of people view God as waiting with a bolt of lightning to zap you when you step out of line. But the reality is that one of the laws built into the very fabric of the universe is that you reap what you sow.

It is the law of cause and effect. It is the lesson you learn from jumping off a cliff. It isn’t the fall that hurts; it’s the sudden stop at the bottom. This was a man who hit rock bottom. It was only then that he "came to his senses."

4. A Repentant Resolve.

"But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!

"‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

"‘"I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."’" (Luke 15:17-19).

The phrase "he came to his senses" is literally, "he came to himself." This is an Aramaic expression. It is the language of repentance.

The unbeliever is one who has lost himself. He views the world through the eyes of unreality. He doesn’t see things the way they really are.

The same thing happens to you when you sin. When you sin, you are not thinking clearly. Sin is blinding. But there comes a time when you come to your senses. You see what you have done. And the result is repentance.

Notice that this repentance takes responsibility for its own actions.

"...Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight" (Luke 15:18).

All too often, we seek to blame others for our own sin. A true repentance does not do this.

5. A Forgiving Homecoming.

"And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.

"And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

"But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ And they began to be merry." (Luke 15:20-24).

The father was waiting. His eyes were upon the horizon, awaiting the return of his lost son. And when he saw him, he ran to meet him. He did not insist that his son first grovel and beg forgiveness. This is a picture of a father who is eager to forgive.

The son is not expecting this kind of reception. He has a speech prepared and memorized. He begins to give it by rote. But his father interrupts him.



Remember that this whole series of parables began because of a dinner party. They began because Jesus was eating with tax-gatherers and sinners.

The Pharisees and scribes are pictured in the elder son. The name "Pharisee" means "separated one." They were separatists.

They claim to have never transgressed. They think that they have kept the law. And they are angry because sinners are being forgiven.

They are contrasted with the wayward son. This man realized that he was a sinner. He recognized that he was undeserving. His self-righteousness was completely broken. And as a result, he found repentance and forgiveness.

1. The Anger of the Older Brother.

"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be.

"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 became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him.

"But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.’" (Luke 15:25-30).

The older brother was resentful. He was keeping score. He had accounted certain things that were owed to him and he now felt that his younger brother was getting more than he deserved. He was jealous. And so, he throws a temper tantrum. After all, he had never asked for his inheritance. He had never left home or squandered his money. He had stayed home and had worked the fields. He felt that he DESERVED the father’s blessing. He had EARNED the father’s goodwill.

There is quite a contrast between these two brothers:

The Younger Brother

The Older Brother

Left home

Stayed home

The Prodigal Son (Wasteful)

The Productive Son (Worker)

No longer felt worthy of his father’s blessings

Felt that his father owed him blessings

Realized his sins

Assumed an attitude of self-righteousness



In verse 30, he calls the younger brother "this son of yours" instead of "this brother of mine." When Sky would misbehave, I used to say to Paula, "Look what that daughter of yours did!"

And yet, in spite of the older brother’s self-righteousness, these two brothers were a lot more alike than they realized.

Notice that the father came out after this son, too. He lets his son speak his peace. And then he answers him with words of love.

2. The Father’s Response.

"And he said to him, ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

"‘But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’" (Luke 15:31-32).

The father’s response toward the older brother was loving and gracious. He could have said, "You get in there and we will talk about this later!"

Don’t miss the grace of the father. The older brother was jealous of the single lamb. But the father was ready to give him the entire flock.

The father also reminds the older brother that he has a younger brother. He calls him "this brother of yours."

Now let’s look at the application of this parable. Remember that is was given to the scribes and the Pharisees - the religious people. It was given to people who had made a career out of being religious. They expected that if God were going to do anything, it would surely be on their behalf. It bothered them that Jesus had been socializing with sinners. Like the older brother, they thought that the party should have been for them and no one else.

I believe that there is a little bit of the older brother in all of us. We want the party to be for us. We want what is in it for ourselves. And our problem is that we have not realized that WE are the real prodigal.

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