2013 8-25 ‘Lost and Found’ Luke 15 11-32

“LOST AND FOUND”
LUKE 15:11-32

I. Introduction
It has been said that a parable is single story with a double meaning. That’s a pretty good description of Jesus’ parables. First, they had a literal meaning, that is, a plain meaning that was immediately obvious to anyone who had experience with the subject matter. But beyond the plain meaning was the second meaning, a deeper one, a beneath-the-surface lesson about God, His truth, and his coming kingdom.

Virtually everyone, believer or unbeliever, gets the plain meaning of the story, but only a few comprehend the deeper meaning of the story, and what it conveys about God and eternal truth. What makes Jesus’ stories, His parables, so remarkable is that they reveal spiritual truth to all who have the spiritual ears to hear them, while at the very same time they conceal spiritual truth from all who do not have the spiritual ears to hear it.

Why did Jesus teach that way? Well, in the beginning of His ministry, He didn’t. He spoke openly and plainly. He revealed God’s truth clearly. But His words were not received by the masses. Rather, He and His teachings were constantly ridiculed and rejected. So the day came when Jesus changed the way He conveyed truth to the multi-tudes. He began to teach God’s truths in parables.

The first parable Jesus told was the Parable of the Soils, but most of us know it as the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds. It prompted His disciples to ask Him a question.
*Matthew 13:10-13
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 And He answered them and said to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
12 “For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abun-dance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

The Lord is saying that the literal truth of His parables is clear to all who hear them. But the spiritual truth is only clear to those whose ears have been opened by the Holy Spirit. They are the ones who want to know God’s truth. J. Vernon McGee explains it this way:
“If you know a little truth and want to know more, the Lord will add to it. If you don’t want to know the truth, the Lord will see to it that you won’t get it. You see, the Lord will never shut the door to one who wants to hear.
He makes it very clear that this is His reason for speaking in parables. Those who don’t want to hear will not understand them.”
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II. Review
Last week we looked at the first two in this series of three parables that Jesus told. In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin all those who heard Jesus understood that when someone loses an object of great value they search for it until they find it. And when they find it they rejoice. But Jesus’ spiritual point wasn’t about sheep and coins at all. It was about souls, lost souls whom God finds, recovers, and saves.

But there’s another truth found in those parables. It’s that when someone is spiritually lost, they can do nothing to find themselves, that is, they can do nothing to save them- selves and find their way home. That’s because they’re incapable of finding their own way. In their lost condition they have neither the desire nor the ability to find their own way. Therefore, God must find them and bring them home. And when He does, He rejoices over them.

The third parable, the Parable of the Lost Son, teaches these truths again. It does so in a much deeper way because it isn’t about lost sheep or coins. It’s about lost people, it’s about family, and it’s about God’s love and what it cost Him to save a lost soul.
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III. Text
The Parable of the Lost Son is not as simple a story as it first appears to be. The truths it teaches are as simple as they are profound. In fact, the basic elements of the story are simple enough for a child to grasp. But they convey some of the richest truths that Jesus ever gave us in His parables. The story itself is about a father who has two rebellious sons. In the beginning we are led to believe that only one is rebellious, but we will come to see that is not the case at all.
*Luke 15:11-24 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
11 And (Jesus) said, “A certain man had two sons;
12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And 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.
14 “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need.
15 “And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 “And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!
18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;
19 “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’
20 “And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.
21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
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 be merry.
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 be merry.” (Let’s stop there.)

Why is Jesus telling this parable? In order to answer that question we have to put it in the context of Luke 14-15. This, along with the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin are in response to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ continual accusations against Jesus. They keep accusing Him because they hate everything He has told them about themselves. He has repeatedly exposed their hypocrisy, their self-righteousness, their religious pride, and their utter disregard for the people whom God had placed under their spiritual care. They had even gone so far as to accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan.

So these three parables are Jesus’ response to the unbelief of the scribes and Pharisees. Have they understood the first two, and will they understand this one? They will certain-ly understand the literal meaning of Jesus’ words. But they will be totally deaf to the spiritual meaning of His words. And in that spiritual deafness, they will condemn them-selves. Let me repeat part of J. Vernon McGee’s quote.
“If you know a little truth and want to know more, the Lord will add to it. If you don’t want to know the truth, the Lord will see to it that you won’t get it…Those who don’t want to hear will not understand (the parables).”

Where the first two parables emphasized the fact that God seeks sinners, not the other way around, the Parable of the Lost Son emphasizes the sinner’s sin, the sinner’s rejec-tion of God’s grace, and the sinner’s return to God in brokenness and humble submission.

But there’s one more thing we need to understand before we proceed. Yes, we know the context in which Jesus told this parable, but we also need to know the culture. Only then will it all come to make sense to us. The Middle Eastern culture functioned on a set of ethical principles that have never been well-understood here in the West. (That’s still true.)
Seeking personal honor, while at the same time, avoiding personal shame was paramount. (repeat) This parable had such a great impact on the religious leaders because they saw themselves as the guardians of those principles. (“honor killings?”)

So you and I, products of Western culture, hear this parable and react to the three men described in it, in a certain way. However, the scribes and Pharisees – products of a cul-ture where personal honor and personal shame control virtually everything – when they hear this parable, they react to it in a completely different way.

The first time you read this story most of us would say that the young son is rebellious and deserves to be punished. The father is loving, forgiving, and overly gracious. And the older son has a right to be angry and righteously indignant over what has taken place. Our individual opinions and descriptions may vary a bit, but that’s probably how most of us would initially see it. But remember, you and I are products of Western culture.

As we go through the passage we will need to understand who these three men represent. Only as we do that, will we begin to comprehend the full meaning of this parable.
• The younger son represents lost sinners.
• The father represents God in the Person of Christ.
• The older son represents the religious, the prideful, and the hypocrites. In this case, the older son represents unbelief as it is seen in the scribes and the Pharisees.

We’ll need to keep all of that in mind as we go through this passage.
*Luke 15:11-20a (focus on the younger son)
11 And (Jesus) said, “A certain man had two sons;
12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And 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.
14 “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need.
15 “And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 “And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!
18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;
19 “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’
20a “And he got up and came to his father…”

This is the part of the story that focuses on the younger son. It’s the part with which most of us are quite familiar. In v. 11 we’re told there are two sons, but we won’t meet the older one until later. The younger son’s request in v. 12 is outrageous because it demon-strates a completely lack of love, gratitude, and respect for his father. It’s a violation of the fifth commandment, “(You shall) honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12a).”

Therefore the people of the village would expect the father to disinherit or even shun him and consider him dead to the family. But instead, the father honors the son’s request, and gives in, and turns the son’s portion of the inheritance over to the boy. This is unheard of among these people and, in the minds of the villagers, shames the father even more than the son has shamed himself.

But there’s a larger spiritual truth here. When sinners insist on sinning, enjoying the so-called fruits that are available in this life, God will give them the freedom to do so. This is what is commonly called the sinner’s exercise of his “freewill.” But of course, it is no such thing because the sinner’s so-called freewill is merely slavery to sin and to Satan.

In v. 13 the son travels to another country to live among the Gentiles. This too is a mark of shame for the Jews of that day. But the son has deliberately removed himself as far as he can from any accountability to his father. The underlying truth here is a picture of the sinner trying to flee and hide from God and what he knows is both honorable and right.
So in v. 14 we see the inevitable outcome.

We’re not surprised that this son’s lifestyle can’t last. When his money is gone the pleas-ures of this world can no longer be had, and he finds himself physically destitute, hungry, and homeless. But the great spiritual truths here are obvious as can be, aren’t they? He has come to a point where he is also spiritually destitute, hungry, and homeless. Only he doesn’t yet know that. He’ll need to “hit bottom” first. And the young son is about to do just that!

It will take what happens in vv. 15-16 before God gets his attention. These two verses tell us that even his begging fails to provide enough food for him to survive. He has to eat and find some semblance of shelter, but there’s no welfare program available for homeless Jews in this Gentile country. So he manages to find someone who will allow him to go live with pigs. He literally has to fight the pigs for their food.

This is the bottom, the end of the line for anyone, but especially for a Jew. The rabbinic laws levied a curse on any Jew who was even involved with pigs, let alone a Jew who found himself in the situation this young man was in. No Jew could imagine anything more degrading than living in a Gentile nation with pigs – and actually eating with them!
But this is the condition of the lost sinner. It cannot get any worse.
Of course, few lost sinners realize their desperate situation. They’re living in this world and enjoying its physical pleasures and they have no inkling of the inevitable. But sooner or later they will find themselves in the pig sty trying to survive on garbage. Why? Because just like this young son, all they want, and all they think they need, is what the world has to offer.

They want nothing to do with God, just as this young man wanted nothing to do with his father. They want no responsibility and no accountability. They take God’s gifts, but hate and dishonor Him in return. They refuse to repent and they live lives that are moral-ly bankrupt and spiritually dead.

They try everything, but after all the money, power, fame, sex, drugs, alcohol, entertain-ment, and anything else that might be available, they are still morally bankrupt and spirit-ually dead. Tragically, that is where the majority of people end their lives. But by God’s grace, some, like the young man in Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Son, eventually looks up.

Here is where an old cliché comes into view. I’m sure many of you have heard it. It goes like this: “Sometimes God has to put you on your back before you’ll look up.” I like that. Can anyone here relate to that? I can!

Look again with me at Luke 15:17. The young man “…came to his senses.” Lying in that pig sty he finally “looks up,” as it were. He realizes that he deserves to be punished for what he has done, but he also remembers that his father is a compassionate and merci-ful man. He’ll take his chances with his father’s discipline and go home. Whatever may happen to him couldn’t be as bad as what was already happening to him in the pig sty.

Look at vv. 18-19. “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” In his repent-ance he gets his priorities right. Do you remember what David said when he confessed his sins? Even though his sins had massive effects on others (adultery and murder), he confessed to God and said…
Psalm 51:3-4
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge.

Remember who the people in Jesus’ parable represent. The younger son is a picture of the human race in its sinful and lost condition, and the father is a picture of God. When the younger son confesses that he’s sinned against heaven and in his father’s sight, he’s saying what David said. If I might paraphrase – “My sin is against God and I know it!”

When the young son asks to be hired and treated not as a son but as any employee would be treated, he is acknowledging that such treatment would be the best he could expect.
Can you see how such repentance leads to salvation? It led to yours, didn’t it? This rebellious son knows what he deserves and he will seek mercy. That is, He hopes he doesn’t get what he deserves. That is mercy, you know – not getting what you deserve.

So the young man heads for home. But this repentant sinner is going to get something he doesn’t expect at all, and in that we’re going to learn a lot more about the father.
*Luke 15:20b-24 (focus on the father)
20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt com-passion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.
21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
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 be merry.
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 be merry.”

The picture in v. 20 is that of a father who has been watching for his rebellious son to return. The father sees him, runs to him, has compassion on him, and kisses him. Wait a minute! That’s not what is supposed to happen. To the scribes and Pharisees listening to Jesus, this foolish father is not only dishonoring himself, he is publicly shaming himself.
In the culture and tradition of these religious leaders, such behavior on the part of the fa-ther is even more unacceptable than the shameful behavior of the young son.

The spiritual lesson for us here is clear, is it not? The father is publicly taking on himself the shame and ultimate punishment that the son deserves.

So while the son hopes for mercy – not getting the punishment he rightly deserves – his father gives him something he doesn’t deserve. The rebellious son receives grace. The son is amazed and tries to deliver the speech he has rehearsed. But in v. 21 he can’t even get it all out. The father is overwhelming the young son with love and gifts and grace.

The “best robe” in v. 22 signifies the righteousness that belongs to the patriarch. The ring signifies his authority. Sandals were rarely worn by slaves, so they signify the son’s exalted place in the father’s family. In v. 23 the preparing of the fattened calf signifies “party-time.”

Listen, in these verses the father pours out honor on a son who by all rights should be dishonored. This is unmerited favor. This is grace! But in the eyes of those watching (the scribes, the Pharisees, and all who think like them), the father is bringing massive dishonor upon himself. They want to see justice done. They want the laws to be obeyed and severe punishment handed out to all who would break their laws. They are legalists of the first order. And if there is anything legalists hate, it is grace.
And don’t miss this – the way the scribes and Pharisees view things, the father is also dis-honoring the third person in Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Son. In the eyes of a culture that embraces salvation by works and obedience to an infinite number of laws, rites, rules, and regulations, the father is dishonoring his entire family.

After all, in their way of thinking, the young son has sinned grievously, but the older son hasn’t sinned at all. What’s wrong with this father? Doesn’t he know that the older son is the one who deserves all that the younger son has just received?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to look once more at Luke 15:24. The father says, “‘…this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ And they began to be merry.” Lost, found, joy!
Luke 15:7, 10
7 “I tell you that…there will be more joy in heaven one over sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
10 “…I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Isn’t that a wonderful parable and a wonderful lesson about God receiving those who turn to Him in repentance? Isn’t that a great ending? “‘…this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ And they began to be merry.” And they lived happily ever after. The end!
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IV. Conclusion
But of course, that’s not the end. There’s more. We’ve seen quite a bit about the rebel-lious son and his gracious father, but there is someone else who is a part of this parable and we haven’t yet heard from him. Remember the older son, the so-called “good” son?
*Luke 15:25-32 (focus on the older son)
25 “Now the older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be.
27 “And (the servant) said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’
28 “But (the older brother) became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him.
29 “But (the older brother) 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 kid, that I might be merry with my friends;
30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with har-lots, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
31 “And (the father) said to (the older brother), ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 “But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

Let me say again who the three main characters in the parable represent. The young son is a picture of those lost sinners who have come to repentance and been saved, the father is God in the Person of Christ, and the older brother – the one who refuses to rejoice with his father and younger brother – represents the legalism, the hypocrisy, and the self-righteousness of the scribes, the Pharisees, and all who think like them.

In v. 28 the older brother’s true colors come out as he vents his anger and resentment. He can’t stand what his younger brother has done, but his hatred overflows against his father whom he sees as honoring one who deserves punishment, and at the same time punishing the older son by not giving him all the “goodies” he so richly deserves. That’s clear in vv. 29-30, isn’t it? The older brother is livid, and he essentially says, and I paraphrase…
“Hey, I’ve been good, I’ve obeyed your laws, I’ve got my rights, I deserve it all! What right do you have to honor sinners? You shame me and you shame yourself!”

But Jesus’ parable ends with the father’s response to the older son. It’s warm, it’s loving, and it’s gracious. He says, “My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” And they lived happily ever after. The end! But wait – there’s an epilogue to this story.
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V. Epilogue
We’ve seen resolution between the father and the young son, but where is the resolution between the father and the older son? Here’s the rest of the story. The older brother was so infuriated with his father, and bent on restoring his family’s honor, that he fashioned a club out of wood, and with it, he mercilessly beat his loving father to death.

“Wait a minute,” you say, “That’s not part of the story!” Well, that’s right. That part of the story isn’t revealed in the Parable of the Lost Son, but it is most certainly revealed elsewhere in Scripture. In fact, in their hatred and rage, premeditated murder was exactly what those represented by the older brother did to the One represented by the father in Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Son.

The younger son was lost and found and everywhere (even in heaven) there was great joy. And why not? The grace of God was on full display.

But there was no joy among the legalists, the hypocrites, and the self-righteous because, like the older son, such people hate God’s grace. Rather, they love their religion. They want to earn their salvation and make a great show of how much they deserve it. And they want others to see it, and to be impressed by it. This is why it is so hard for religious people to be saved. They take pride in their religion and refuse to humble themselves before God or men.

If you tell them that their good works and their religious observances will not save them, they do not like it. And if you tell them often enough, they will eventually come to hate you for it. But isn’t that what Jesus said would happen?
John 15:18-19
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”
19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

And so, when you preach the gospel of grace and reject the gospel of works, you offend all those who are pridefully working for their salvation. The response is usually some-thing like, “How dare you say such a thing? Who are you to judge? Aren’t they good Catholics, aren’t they good Protestants, aren’t they good Jews, aren’t they good… what-ever. I mean, look at how religious they are, and look at all the good things they do.”

So again, if you try to take peoples’ religions away from them, and replace them with God’s grace, they will hate you for it, just as they hated Jesus for it when He told them that their religion was worthless, and that nothing but the grace of God could save them. Oh, how they hated Jesus!

So where does the story end? Well, it ends on a wooden cross on a hill just outside of the city of Jerusalem. The older brother, who was angry, filled with resentment, vengeful, and, in his own sight, dishonored and shamed, would have his revenge. So he schemed, plotted, planned, and carried out the murder of His loving and gracious father.

There is real the end of the parable, but it’s still not the end of the story, is it? There’s a sequel. We celebrate that sequel every Resurrection Sunday when we are reminded that we were once lost, but a loving and gracious father found us, dressed us in His best robe, put a ring on our fingers, sandals on our feet, and said, “Welcome home, my son.” The lost was found, and there was joy in heaven!

~ Pray ~

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