Most people have heard of and may have even read the story of the prodigal son as told by Jesus in Luke 15. But what most people fail to realise is that the backdrop for this story, and the filter through which we interpret this story, is a lost sheep and a lost coin and the joyful search that took place for both.
Luke 15:1-3 provides the context, Jesus is responding to the grumbling of the pharisee’s who cannot comprehend how or why Jesus, the God-Man, can ‘accept and eat with’ sinners and tax collectors. They have an understanding about sin, sinners, God and salvation that is wrong and Jesus wants to reframe their perspective and he does so with parables.
1. YOUR VALUES
Jesus brings the values of those he is speaking to into the light and onto the table by saying, ‘what man among you… [or] and what woman…’. He says, even one of you would search for a lost sheep or coin right? You value those things, so even you would search for them! You would cross the country to find a sheep and you would light a lamp and search your dark house looking for a coin and when you find it have a big party with your friends! That is how you would behave concerning the things you value. It’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘How is it you don’t understand just how far God is willing to go in search of that which he values? These sinners…
2. INTERPRETING SINNERS AS LOST
A sheep by nature is dumb. By nature they are not overly smart nor are they intelligent, it’s simply not in them to be anything other than dumb! Sheep have no natural defence mechanism, they can’t run fast, they can’t fight real well so they need a shepherd to look after them. The best a sheep can do is bleat. So when a sheep gets itself lost, it’s just a case of nature. ‘By nature we too were once children of wrath’ and before we came to Christ we only had one nature; sin. Don’t blame a sinner for being sinful, don’t blame a sheep for being dumb, don’t blame a fish for being wet, it’s in it’s nature! This is why we need a new nature and must be born… again.
A coin has no role to play in being lost, it is lost due to being mishandled, poorly stewarded, abused, neglected… Situations, circumstances and sinful decisions that we have no control over happen to us all the time. It’s not the coins fault it got lost. Don’t blame those in the dark for not having any light. If by nature people are sinful, how much more are we, like a coin, plunged into darkness because of the way we are mishandled, abused, neglected, mistreated and not loved. Jesus is saying to the Pharisee’s, stop grumbling at these lost children of God for being lost for like a sheep they were born into sin and like a coin, life has caused them to be plunged into deep darkness where unless someone lights a lamp and goes looking for them they will stay in the darkness forever because everybody knows, a coin has no capacity within itself to make itself found. The only reason the sheep is found is because the Shepherd went looking, the only reason a coin is recovered is because someone lit a lamp and went searching.
Jesus is the light of the world and he came not to judge the world but to seek and to save that which is lost.
Jesus is reframing the Pharisee’s opinion of sin and sinners, they are not just sinners, they are lost, and that perspective changes everything.
3. YOU CAN’T SAVE YOURSELF
Salvation is the result of God searching for us, not us searching for God. You didn’t find him, he found you. You weren’t searching for him, he came searching for you for no-one comes to me, [said Jesus], unless the father draws him. Stop judging lost people for being lost as if by your own piety and hard searching you found God and got yourself saved. The you and I could ever do for ourselves is bleat and wait in the dark until a light dawned upon us and a savior came searching to bring us home.
THAT’S JUST THE BACKDROP
The sheep and the coin are just the backdrop, the setting, the tone, the stage that Jesus needed to create before he could talk about a Father and his two sons, often referred to as the story of the prodigal son. Here Jesus is about to add another dimension to sin; wilful disobedience & self-righteous sabotage.
4. THE TWO SONS AND THEIR FATHER
The younger son is going to try and become his own Lord. He does not want to live under or submit to the Father’s rules or authority. He simply wants to live his own life, by his own rules, making his own decisions and believes that as he does so he will find and experience the satisfaction in life he desires. The elder brother is going to try and become his own Savior. He is going to work so hard at following the rules and conforming to his fathers will that everything the Father has to give will belong to him because of his merits and obedience. He wants to earn and own his salvation. One rebels and takes the lordship of his life into his own hands, the other stays and obeys and takes the position of savior in his own life. Both, are lost. Both want the fathers things, but not the father. Both need to repent. Both need to allow the Father to be both their Lord and their Savior. But remember, this story has the backdrop of the sheep and the coin and the context of response towards grumbling Pharisees.
I have much to say for point number 4, you can listen to or download the whole message below.
Special thanks to Timothy Keller for his book ‘Prodigal God‘ was instrumental in preparing this message.