By Larry Ray Hafley
Luke 15 (please read it before you read this essay) is Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and scribes. They attempted to smear Christ’s character by insinuating that the reason “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them” was because He Himself was a sinner. In other words, “Birds of a feather flock together.” The Lord could not permit this slanderous innuendo to .remain unanswered. It would adversely affect His mission and ministry. If people thought He was a sinner, His words would fall on sealed ears and seared hearts. Therefore, Jesus justified His fellowship with sinners. He did it with three pointed parables.
(1) The Lost Sheep; Of course, one would seek a lost sheep rather than remain with 99 which needed no care. So, Jesus infers that His communion with sinners was the logical and proper course. He did not associate to participate in their sins but to help them. A shepherd does not go to get lost; he goes to retrieve that which is lost. Jesus received sinners for the same purpose, i.e., to bring them out of the wilderness of sin back into the fold of forgiveness.
(2) The Lost Coin: Obviously, one would search for a lost coin. Therefore, Jesus abode with sinners for the same end. Much effort is vividly described-“light a candle, sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it.” Again, Jesus vindicates His reception of sinners. As one would search for a lost coin, so He would “seek diligently” for a lost sinner.
(3) The Lost Son: The wandering, squandering son has a similar thrust, but there is more. The younger son came to his senses and returned in remorse, regret and repentance. The elder son balked and murmured. He refused to welcome his lost brother and was envious of the rejoicing over him. The elder brother represents the Pharisees and scribes. The younger one is equal to the sinners. Instead of rejoicing over the sinner’s return, they were murmuring against Jesus. The story is tender, but the point is keen. They could not help but see the parallel which cast them in a disgusting light as the elder son. It was what they deserved for their snide aspersion against .Jesus.
There are a number of diverse elements in Luke 15. The three items that were lost were different in nature. One was an animal; one was an object; one was a human being. Though they differed in certain respects, this much was true of all: they were lost. Jesus solemnly set all three on the stage of His captivating narrative. We are bound by the simple truth of His words and are made happy, for as all were lost, so were all found.
The shepherd rejoiced; the woman rejoiced; the Father said, “Let us eat, and be merry.” Despair was transformed to joy; fear became merriment. The shepherd searched amid thickets and boulders; the woman looked high and low, and over and under; the Father stood many days on the porch of his plantation and scanned the crimson horizon for the return of his wayward boy. Then one day he saw the familiar outline, the form of his son silhouetted against the sky. Quickly he ran to embrace him with tears of forgiveness and happiness.
The Father knew his boy as fathers alone can. He was aware that his son was given to wasteful habits. As a man of means, he was in touch with the commerce and industry of other areas. He learned of the famine of that far away land whither his beloved boy had gone. His anxious heart ached for news, for some word, but it never came. He waited in vain, or so it seemed. Still, there was an undaunted gleam and glimmer of hope, and when he saw his son (“when he was yet a great way off” — that tells us how oft he had looked and longed for his return) he received him with open arms and a forgiving heart. Shoes were given to the bare feet, now weary from the many miles of trudging home. A ring, the family signet, was given to replace the one he had doubtless pawned in his destitution and desperation. This told him that he was accepted in the family. He need not plead as a slave but as a son. The fatted calf, the prized one, the one that was being groomed for a significant occasion was killed for food to provide nourishment to the starving frame of the boy who just a few weeks earlier was crying for “the husks that the swine did eat.” The best robe was brought forth and draped around his nearly naked body. There were hugs and kisses, “and they began to be merry.”
Luke 15 is always new, touching and true. All were lost; all were found. Our Father waits for our coming-to Him when we stray and stumble into sin. The robe, ring, and shoes of grace await our flight to the porch of the old home place where “we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb.4:16).
Truth Magazine XXI: 48, pp. 765-766
December 8, 1977