Remember the context of Jesus’ first coming? His contemporaries viewed the coming kingdom as a national deliverance from foreign oppression and personal deliverance for the righteous. Jesus turned that idea on its head and proclaimed deliverance for the needy; the sick, the oppressed, the sinner. The Jewish leaders expected judgment for the sinners, not redemption. When Jesus ate with those considered “sinners,” it meant acceptance and recognition in their culture. This coupled with His announcement that the kingdom had come to “sinners” led to many a protest from the religious leaders. (See The Parables of Jesus by David Wenham for a longer explanation of the comparison between the self-righteousness of the religious leaders and the self-recognized spiritual poverty of the “sinners.”)
Jesus’ three parables of the lost things, from Luke 15, are given in this context. “Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ And He told them this parable, saying,…” (Lk 15:1-3). In Luke chapter 15, Jesus answers the protest of the religious leaders with three stories about lost things which illustrate that the very thing they were accusing Jesus of is exactly why He came; to rescue the needy.
In the story of the lost sheep (Lk 15:3-7), the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and looks diligently for the one lost sheep until it is found. He then “calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I [Jesus] tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:6-7). Notice the words “sinner who repents.” Coming to Christ is an act of faith and repentance that starts with recognizing our need. There is no repentance in the righteous ninety-nine, not because they are righteous in the justified sense, but because they think themselves righteous and in no need of repentance. There is no rejoicing because they are not coming. They do not recognize their need. Not only is Christ’s message good news to the needy, but it brings joy to the shepherd, Jesus, when the lost are found.
The short story of the lost coin (Lk 15:8-10) again highlights the joy of finding that which was lost. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:9-10). The point of this story, as in the one above, is the joy that results when the lost have been found, when the sinner repents. The focus of these two parables is less on the lost and more on the one doing the looking. The concern and action by the shepherd and the woman demonstrate that the lost are a priority in Jesus’ ministry.
Finally, we come to the last story in Luke chapter 15. And as with the others, it is an answer to the Pharisees charge in Luke 15:2 that Jesus welcomes “sinners.” This is the parable of the lost son and continues the “lost things” theme of the chapter. However, due to its length and incredible detail about the love of the Father for the lost, we will save our discussion for next time.