CELEBRATE WHEN PEOPLE COME TO CHRIST

 

Week of March 19, 2006

 

Bible Passage:Luke 15: 1-7, 11-13, 22-24, 28-32.

 

Biblical Truth:Jesus taught that His followers should welcome and receive people who come to Christ.

 

Manifest Compassion: 15:1-7

 

[1] Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. [2] Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ďThis man receives sinners and eats with them.Ē [3] So He told them this parable, saying, [4] ďWhat 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] 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! [7] 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. [NASU]

 

[1] Sinners were perceived as forfeiting their relationship to God because of a lifestyle unfaithful to Godís law. Tax collectors were among those who were ostracized because their work was considered dishonest or immoral. Jesusí popularity is highlighted by the exaggerated note that all the tax collectors and sinners are drawing near to him. They sense that Jesus cares for them and has something to say to them.

 

[2] In Old Testament times it was taken for granted that Godís people did not consort with sinners, but the Pharisees extended this beyond the biblical intent. To go so far as to welcome them and especially to eat with them, implying table fellowship, was unthinkable to the Pharisees. Jesus does not share the separatist mentality of the scribes and Pharisees. He is interested in befriending such undesirables, regardless of what others may think. His rationale is simple: he wishes to draw them to God.

 

[3] Jesus responds to the criticism with a multifaceted picture told in three parallel parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. An inherent unity exists in what Jesus will say in these parables. The point of Lukeís introduction is that the parables are an apologetic for Jesusí unusual relationship.

 

[4] The picture is of a shepherd who is trying to account for all his sheep and finds that one is missing. The parable pictures a shepherd of modest means, since a flock might have up to two hundred sheep. In Jewish tradition, three hundred sheep was considered a large herd. It appears that the owner looks after the flock himself, since he does not have a guard, another sign of modest means. A shepherd usually counted his flock before putting them up for the night. The point is that the lost sheep receives special attention over those that are safe and sound.

 

[5] The search proves fruitful. The imagery clearly alludes to Godís tender and protective care. The rejoicing over the lost sheep being found is the focus in the rest of the story. The point of comparison is that God rejoices at a sinner who is led back to him by Jesusí ministry or by his disciplesí ministry. Even the discovery of one such person is a cause for joy. Such is Godís heart for the lost. This attitude stands in contrast to the complaint by the Pharisees and the scribes.

 

[6] The shepherd does not rejoice privately. The picture is a simple one: a great celebration at the recovery of a lost sinner. This point reappears in 15:9 and 15:23-24 and links the three parables together. Here is Godís heart for sinners as he works through Jesus. Those who claim to serve God should be aware that this is part of their mandate. The total separation of the Pharisees and their grumbling about associating with sinners stand in stark contrast to Jesusí approach.

 

[7] Jesusí application of the parable emphasizes the shared joy and heavenís perspective: the repentance of one sinner is a cause for joy in heaven. Heaven is compared to the shepherd and his neighbors who rejoice at the recovery of the lost sheep. In fact, the discovery of the lost sinner is the cause of even greater joy than the ďrighteousnessĒ of the ninety-nine. The so-called righteous Pharisees and Scribes also need to repent, but their failure to recognize that makes them unreachable. Those who recognize where they stand before God and respond accordingly are the cause of great joy in heaven. The possibility for such a reversal is why Jesus reaches out to tax collectors and sinners.

 

SUMMARY. Jesusí associations and his lack of separation from the unrighteous were a constant irritation to the Jewish leadership. Jesus did not share in the sinnersí activity, but he did befriend them, encourage them to come to know God, and challenge them to repent. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin picture Godís heart for sinners and his initiative toward them. He has not abandoned them, but wishes for them to be drawn to him. The passage is not just about God. There is a contrast between Jesusí approach to humans and that of the grumbling leadership. Jesus is the model for the disciple, just as his activity reflects the heart of God himself. Jesus reflects the way to God and the way of God. People are to hear his message of repentance, and disciples are to reflect his concern. Lukeís readers are to learn from Jesusí example that they are to seek out sinners and point the way to God. Disciples are to look for lost sheep and missing coins and to celebrate finding what was lost. Evangelism is grounded in the joy of recovery.

 

Celebrate Forgiveness: 15:11-13, 22-24.

 

[11] And He said, ďA man had two sons. [12] The younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me. So he divided his wealth between them. [13] 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. [22] 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 celebrate; [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 celebrate.Ē [NASU]

The third parable in Luke 15 is designed to illustrate heavenís receptivity toward a sinnerís repentance, as well as to condemn the protest of those who react against such divine generosity. Basically, there are three points of contact: the prodigal pictures the sinner, the older son is the self-righteous leadership (or anyone who claims to serve God), and the father pictures God. It is the fatherís reaction to the sons that is at the center of the parable. His response, in turn, instructs people on how they should respond. The parable shows that God is pleased to have the penitent at his table.

[11] A brief introduction simply names the three characters: a father and two sons. The two sons control the literary action, but it is the fatherís response to the sons that provides the parableís lessons by showing how the father views each sonís reaction.

[12] The story begins with the younger son, probably in his late teens, requesting to receive the assets that will eventually be his so he can go his own way. According to the law of Deut. 21:17, the younger son would get one half of what the older son received in the estate; so one-third of his fatherís assets. Entirely aside from the fact that in all probability this meant that the entire estate had to be broken up Ė a considerable portion of the holdings sold and converted into cash Ė and that as a result whatever was left would be seriously affected, did he at all consider how what he was doing would grieve his father? What an insult it was to him? As if the young manís ďfreedomĒ would actually be better for him than the loving care and advice he was constantly receiving from his father at home! Nonetheless, the key element is that the sonís request is graciously granted.

[13] The young son has fled in order to be outside the sphere of influence of his father and to be free and independent, but in the distant country he had come under influences that caused him to fall into the worst form of bondage Ė the fetters of sin had bound him in their deadly toils. He had exchanged the real freedom which consisted in obedience to his fatherís loving will for the servitude of sinful extravagance, and together with the precious treasures which he had received as a gift from his father he lost his character too. Thus a life of sin and error, our Lord teaches in this parable, is in its deepest and innermost nature the rebellious breaking away of manís life from God. Under a deceptive yearning for so-called freedom such a person enters the distant country of sin, there to waste in selfishness and dissipation the precious gifts which he has received from God. All those things which a man wastes and destroys when he lives in sin he has received from God as gifts wherewith to glorify God and to experience real happiness in life; for who but the Creator gives to man his physical, intellectual and spiritual capacity and power; and who else is the Maker of everything in nature that is intended to redound to manís highest well-being.

[22-24] Note these brisk commands. So boundless is the fatherís joy and so all-out his forgiveness that he wishes to have his son treated as an important person. In synonymous images laid out in parallelism, the father gives the reason for the celebration. The son has been ďresurrected.Ē The father has regained a lost son; the son he expected never to see again has returned. Regaining the lost and the subsequent joy are images that recall the first two parables of this chapter. There is nothing that makes one realize so clearly the sinfulness of oneís sin and oneís utter unworthiness as the personal experience of the love with which the Heavenly Father welcomes the repentant sinner. When the sinner returns to the Heavenly Father, He does not reproach and punish him, neither does He humiliate him to the position of a hired servant or a slave, but He accepts him in Christ as His beloved child Ė and gives to him the full status and all the privileges of real childship. And when a sinner has come to repentance, there is joy not only in his own heart but also in heaven with the Father.

 

Reject Self-Righteousness: 15:28-32.

 

[28] ďBut he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. [29] 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 young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; [30] but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him. [31] And he said to him, Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. [32] But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.Ē [NASU]

 

[28] The elder brother is not pleased with the festivities and is angry. The father again takes the initiative, coming out and pleading with the son to join the celebration. The elder son focuses on himself in opposition to his brother. He demands justice, making comparisons with his fatherís treatment of him. The fatherís joy contrasts with the elder brotherís anger. It is all a matter of perspective.

 

[29] The elder brother explains his position, reflecting the parableís deep irony, which works at two levels and allows the parable to be called a ďparable of reversalĒ. First, the son who was lost and outside is now inside, while the inside elder brother complains from outside. In addition, the son who was faithful and obedient has no reward or celebration, while the son who wandered and squandered is given a huge celebration. What the younger son felt fortunate to become (a mere servant) the older brother resents. The complaint is like Matthew 20:11. The self-righteous, inward focus displayed here by the elder brother is probably intended as a rebuke. The reference is to anyone who disdains repentance, including especially the Pharisees and scribes. The brother is seen only in relationship to the fatherís treatment of him. However, it does not seem that all the details should be pressed. The father does not condemn or reject the elder son. This son has the same access to the father as his brother does. The imagery does not suggest a necessary estrangement with the Pharisees and scribes or others who do not include sinners. The elder brotherís concern for justice is natural. But the point is that Godís action is gracious, not deserved. Repentance yields Godís kindness, which wipes the slate clean and is a reason to rejoice. A proper response is not to compare how you are treated in relationship to the penitent, but to remember that repentance yields the same gracious fruit for all, so it is just. Repentance also represents a new direction in life, and one might share in the joy of a changed direction. The brother is so consumed by the issue of fairness that he cannot rejoice at the beneficial transformation that has come to his brother. Irony abounds: the ďobedientĒ son is disobedient here, and the gracious father is made to look unfaithful and unfair. The ďfaithfulĒ sonís feelings are hurt, and the fatherís integrity and evenhandedness are called into question. He separates himself from his brother entirely and faults his father for being so kind to the reprobate family member.

 

[30] The complaint continues. The elder son now turns from the fatherís lack of support for him to his gracious treatment of his brother. The elder sonís attitude is clear: his brother is the rebellious son who should be disowned, not honored. How can his father give such a celebration, including a precious fattened calf, for such a despicable character? In effect, the brother is complaining that immorality holds more merit with the father than faithfulness. Where is justice? If ever a complaint should put one on the defensive, it is this one.

 

[31] But look at how the father replies. He speaks to the sonís concerns first and then to the issue of the brother in 15:32. The fatherís reply is as gentle as the sonís complaint was harsh. He addresses his son tenderly. He affirms the faithfulness of the elder brother and his special place in his heart. He accepts that this son has always been at his side. He reminds the son that all he owns belongs to him; neither the fatherís activity nor the brotherís return in any way diminishes the elderís status.

 

[32] The second issue is the brother. The father will not allow the sonís complaint to stand nor will he allow the elder to separate himself from his brother. Note what the father calls the younger brother, this brother of yours, in comparison to the words that the elder brother had used, this son of yours [15:30]. In other words, the father is saying, ďHe is not just my son; he is your brother!Ē The father affirms the necessity of celebration, not just its appropriateness. It was morally right to rejoice, given the circumstances of the return. A resurrection of sorts has occurred. A dead brother is now alive. That which was lost has been found. Such circumstances should result in joy, not questions about fairness. Jesusí listeners are left with an implied question: what will the elder son do now?

 

SUMMARY. Jesus teaches two major truths in this parable. first, an absolute reversal results from repentance, in that not only is the repentant one restored, but also welcomed by the heavenly Father with joy and total acceptance. Second, there is a call to respond to the repentant one, not with comparison or jealousy, but with joy that reflects the Fatherís response. If God can be gracious and forgiving, so can people. The story leaves us hanging, for we are not told what the elder son does. The parable is left so that Lukeís readers may reflect on the proper response. Would they, if they were in the brotherís shoes, go inside? Will they share in the joy? Will they join in the opportunity to help the lost find God? One must choose how to respond to Jesusí challenge to seek out sinners. This detailed parable complements the two earlier parables of Luke 15 and adds one additional lesson: the response of those who see the Fatherís gracious generosity is also to be joy. They are not to act like the elder brother. They are to share in the mission and the joy. It is the hope of restoring the lost and leading people back to the joy of the Father that causes Jesus to receive sinners and dine with tax collectors.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††† Describe the self-righteous attitude you find displayed in these verses. How is seeking the lost and rejoicing in their repentance the opposite of self-righteousness?

 

2.††††† How do you react when a believer in your church who has gone off into the ďfar countryĒ comes back in true repentance? Do you respond to the repentant believer like the father or like the older brother? What does the way you respond tell you about the condition of your own heart?

 

3.††††† Make a list of what these parables tell us about God, about what it is to be lost, and about salvation. What is the response that Jesus wants us to make to His teaching in these parables? What can you do this week to incorporate this response into your lifestyle?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell L. Bock, Baker.

Gospel of Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, Eerdmans.

Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker.

Luke, Walter L. Liefeld, EPC, Zondervan.