The next three parables we are going to explore I am collectively calling “The Lost Parables”. I title these three parables this way because they are all about finding something that is lost. We are going to look at the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost or (prodigal) son. These three parables share a common theme and it is only fair to look at them with the theme they express. Let’s first look at the parable of the lost sheep.
The Lost Sheep
This parable occurs in 2 places, Matthew 18 and Luke 15. Matthew’s version is much simpler, more straightforward than Luke’s version, however, Luke records much detail that is important in understanding God in this parable. Let’s read Luke’s account in Luke 15:1-7,
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.”
In the context of this parable, Luke records these parables as coming after a comment from the Pharisees and teachers of the law about welcoming sinners. Matthew records this parable when Jesus is talking about the “little ones” of Israel. In both parables, Jesus is referring to those who are lost and do not know him.
Jesus decides to make this teaching parable personal to those making accusations against him and puts them in the center of this parable. He tells them that if they had a hundred sheep and they lose one, they would go after the one that is lost and bring it home. This parable is often perceived as God brings those who are lost to him. While that may be true, the depth of this parable is completely lost in such a simple answer. The relationship Jesus is portraying runs much deeper than just searching for something that is lost. Let’s dig in.
Jesus was well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and so this parable might have come from Ezekiel 34, where God talks about bringing his sheep back to Him. It seems to be a direct link to this parable here. God has always wanted his sheep to be found and found in Him. He has never wanted them to wander away and be scattered from Him. Jesus reflects this yearning for His people in this parable.
We must decide who is who in this parable. The shepherd is God and the sheep are us. Sometimes in life, we fall away or we become lost. Then God brings us back to him. Let’s look at what happens in this parable. First, the shepherd leaves the 99 others to go find the lost one. This means that God put all effort in going after those who are lost. It is not that God does not love those who are already with Him, but He knows the one who is lost needs Him and so he goes in search. He then finds the sheep and puts in on shoulders and goes home. He could have just walked it home but instead it goes on his shoulders showing complete support. This is the way God carries us. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us home. He is in complete support as He does the carrying. Then the shepherd rejoices with others in the found sheep. There is an absolute joy in finding the sheep, and there is an absolute joy when God brings us to Him. Jesus then tells us that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one who repents than all those who do not. It is a powerful image of the meaning we hold in the eyes of God and how precious we are to Him.
In this parable, the Pharisees thought of themselves as the highest valued people in the eyes of God, but Jesus flips that view upside down. Jesus says that those who mean the most to God, are the ones sitting next to him, those who are lost. Though the Pharisees and teachers had their issues, they were the ones who were actually further from God and those eating with Jesus, were the ones he came to save and seek after.
The Lost Coin
The parable of the lost coin is similar in theme to the previous parable. Let’s look at Luke 15:8-10,
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In this parable we have a woman, who has ten coins and she loses one. This happened often in homes that fell through the floors of stone. The woman lights a lamp and sweeps the floor until she finds it. Then there is a gathering in celebration of finding the coin. Then Jesus tells us that there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents.
This parable shows that God is active in His kingdom to save the lost. There was also careful planning on the part of the woman to find the coin. She lit a lamp to provide light and she swept the floor and looked carefully for it. If the woman is to be portrayed as God, then we can say that God looks for us in darkness, which is why she needed the light to look in the darkness. God doesn’t always wait for us to come to Him into the light. He brings us into the light. Often times we are lost in the darkness as this coin was. God lights the way and searches for us in the darkness and when He finds us, He brings us into His light. This is a powerful image of how God cares and loves us so much.
The Lost/Prodigal Son
This parable takes place in Luke 15:11-32. Here’s a quick summary to understand the context. There was a father and he had two sons. The youngest son set off for another land but lost everything he had and became starved. When he realized what he had done, he went back to his father and pleaded with him to make him like one of his father’s servants. But the father embraced him and rejoiced, for his lost son was now found. However, after hearing the special treatment the youngest son had received, the older brother became angry. But the father reminded him that he was always loved by him, but because the youngest was lost and now found, it called for great celebration.
There are many lessons we can learn from this parable. One of the most common lessons we learn is that God always accepts those who turn away and come back to Him. Just a few verses before this story takes, Jesus describes this celebration on a spiritual level in Luke 15:7 which says, “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.” This verse is saying that when a person repents of their sins and turns back to God, there is more rejoicing over that one person than over, say ninety-nine that don’t need to repent. It is not to say that God does not love the ones who need no repentance less, but that because they are already found, there is more rejoicing over one who becomes found. The father in the parable, who represents God, displays this kind of rejoicing. He gives him a robe and sandals and a ring. He kills a fattened calf and has a feast to celebrate his son coming back to him. It is also important to note that when a person is living in sin they are “lost” or “dead” to sin, but when they repent, they become “found” or “alive” in Christ who saved us. Romans 6:11 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” When a person repents, or is baptized, there is great rejoicing even in heaven. What a wonderful thing to think about that when one repents, there is a celebration in heaven. What a glorious occasion to imagine.
Another lesson we see in this parable is the humbleness of the youngest son. After experiencing starvation and having lost everything, he realized his mistake. He left his father and now has nothing. So when he came back he humbled himself admitting his sin and asked for mercy. This is how we should be when we approach God. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”. When we humble ourselves before God, God will exalt us at the right time. That is a promise. Humbleness is another key aspect from this story we can learn.
God’s grace and mercy show so prominently in this parable. Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When we draw near to God, we receive his blessings. The youngest son was starving and lost, and when he came to his father, he received grace and mercy from him. Just as the son received grace and mercy in his time of need, God shows us grace and mercy in our time of need. The blessings of God flow from His throne when we draw near to it.
An aspect that might be talked about less often is the point of the older brother in the parable. The older brother becomes angry upon hearing about the “special treatment” his younger brother is receiving from his father and cannot understand why there is such a big celebration. Many compare the older brother to the Pharisees of that day who rejected Jesus and did not understand his teachings. The older brother’s pride in himself restricted him from appearing at the celebration. He compared himself to the mistakes his younger brother had made to make himself look better, but he did not understand God’s love and compassion. If we are not careful, we too can become prideful and think we are better than others. We must be aware of this warning given to us in this parable.
It is also worth mentioning that in Luke 15:19 it says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him”. It’s almost as if the father was waiting for his son to return, watching and waiting for his appearance in the distance. This idea paints a beautiful picture of how God is always willing and ready to take us back. He is watching and waiting for us to come to our senses and come back to Him and He is waiting for the day of our return, just as we are awaiting Christ’s return.
So in conclusion, there are many lessons we can pull from this parable. God’s grace, mercy, and love shine through, the compassion of God is immeasurable, and we must be humble and aware of our pride when we approach God. This parable is a beautiful depiction of God’s love for us.