The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."
[As we have discussed, tax collectors are hated because they fund the brutal Roman occupying army. So Jews working for Rome are traitors and worthy to be shunned. The word for sinners is hamartolos (ham-ar-to-los'), based on the root word "meros" meaning to miss the mark, and thereby not share in the prize. But hamartolos (ham-ar-to-los') used in context here refers to one who is recognizable or notorious for their sin. So either their sin was just revealed, or their sin has become a way of life, and the most noticeable thing about them. So when you read sinners in Luke 15 think prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, or some other easily recognizable sin that would dominate your life. Pharisees concerned mostly for their own reputation would shun these people, and in their thinking so should Jesus. You can even view this with a tinge of jealousy, as thought they were saying "Jesus don't hang out with these people, it's bad for your reputation. Come hang with us." In dining with these sinners the Pharisees saw an implied acceptance of their sinful life, but Jesus had another motive, and these sinners were drawn to him, and wanted to hear him teach. Remember these verses as they are the key to the last parable.]
3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, 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 neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
[It says he "spoke this parable to them", probably everyone could hear but I think these parables were targeted to the Pharisees. This one is simple. A shepherd has 100 sheep, which I read is a medium sized flock. One wanders off from the flock. It's probably the stupid one, the one that always gets lost. Regardless, the shepherd leaves the flock to go find the lost sheep. When he finds it, he carries it back on his shoulders. Upon arriving home he calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate the recovery of his lost sheep. In verse 7 Jesus concludes there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 who don't. The phase "need no repentance" is interesting because the word for need is echo, which means to go with or accompany. So instead of "need no repentance" I would say "have no repentance". As you recall in the story of David and Bathsheba, sometimes sinners don't repent until their sin is revealed. But the sinners eating with Jesus were notorious sinners, who could not hide their guilt.]
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
[Here a woman has 10 silver coins, probably 10 days wages, for you Dave Ramsey fans this is her $1,000 emergency fund. And she misses one coin and searches the house with a light until she finds it. When she finds it she celebrates with her neighbors. Verse 10 has a similar conclusion to first parable, "there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents".]
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
[This is the most familiar of the 3 parables, the prodigal son. Prodigal means "wasteful or extravagant". So in the story a younger son demands his father give him an early inheritance. To a Jewish father this would be an insult, as though his son wished he were dead, valuing his possessions more than their relationship. Nevertheless, the father relents, and gives him a younger son's inheritance, probably one third of his wealth. The son goes on vacation and stays in Magaritaville, until all the money is gone. I think the King James has it right calling this riotous living. It was the kind of party where you would call the cops, when it was too loud for too long. If news of this reached home, there would be more dishonor for his family. We see this behavior today in lottery winners. Most burn through the money very quickly, a natural consequence when you give someone a lifetime of wealth, without the necessary experience in stewardship. They become wasteful, because the only value of money is in the fun it can buy, not the sense of the work that would normally be required to earn it. Proverbs 21:5 says "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty."]
14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
[As soon as the money was gone, the economy went south, there arose a famine in the land. The only job he could find was feeding pods to pigs. The commentary said the pods were the fruit of the carob tree, which look like locust and for that reason are called "John's bread", after John the Baptist, who's diet was locust and wild honey. They used the cheep food to fatten hogs. Of course we know that swine are "unclean" under the Levitical law and Jews would not eat them and probably would not touch them, but this kids was so hungry, he wanted to crawl into the hog trough and eat.]
17 "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'
[So the son recovers his senses and makes a plan to beg his father for a job, because even his father's servants have plenty to eat.]
20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
22 "But the father said to his servants, '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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.
[The son traveling home, is seen by his father when he is still a long way off. Regardless of how the son left, he is welcomed home with love and joy. The son had true repentance as revealed by his humility "I am no longer worthy to be called your son". The father's forgiveness is immediate. The robe indicated an honored guest, the ring indicates a family member with the full authority of his father, and the sandals mean he was a free man, not a servant. So the father restores him, then makes a celebration to welcome him home.]
25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'
31 "And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"
[Verses 25 through 32 make this parable different from the first two parables, yet the conclusion of all 3. Here the righteous older son who stayed with his father, finds the party, and is offended. He says his younger brother has "devoured your livelihood with harlots". This is one detail of the younger son's lifestyle, we did not know before. It seems somehow the old brother discovered his sibling's folly, and was ashamed of his brother. Too ashamed, to forgive him, too ashamed to welcome him, too ashamed to celebrate with the father, in fact he is mad at his father for making a fuss over a fool. You see this story was not just about the "prodigal" son who is indentified by his sin. It's about the brother who could not see the humility and change that repentance had brought. The Pharisees are the older brother. All 3 parables are answering the Pharisees complaint regarding Jesus dinner companions (publicans and sinners) in verse 2. These 3 parables are really just one. Rough paraphrase: You seek after lost sheep and lost coins, but these lost souls from the children of Israel you have shunned. The question is not why do I eat with them, but rather why have you discarded them? No matter how shameful their past, they are still counted as a valuable treasure to be redeemed by the Father.
Most of us know people whom we don't hang out with, because we don't want to be tainted by association. But when these people came to Jesus, he received them with joy, growing the kingdom of God with grace, and forgiveness, believing the truth, that anyone in Christ Jesus is a new creation. Their shame is gone, and they have the inheritance of God's only Son, just like us. We should always rejoice with heaven over all who repent, and not be like the Pharisees, the older brother, who just stayed on the porch, missing the joy of his father and newly restored brother.]