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“Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And He spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance”—Luke 15:1-7.
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All through the years of our Lord’s gracious ministry here on earth there were those of legalistic mind who failed to understand His interest in lost, sinful men and women. They fancied they were not lost; they professed to be among the righteous. They were punctilious about obeying the commandments of the law, not only that which was divinely given, but also many other commandments which had been added. So many had been added that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “Ye have made the commandments of God of none effect by your tradition.” They were even more particular about keeping the traditions of the elders than they were about obeying the commandments of God. They trusted in their own righteousness, and they did not realize how far short they came.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was always interested in sinners. He came down from the glory of His Father’s house to save sinners. These legalists could not understand it. We are told here that a great company of publicans and sinners drew near to Jesus, but the self-righteous and haughty scribes and Pharisees looked on with contempt, for they could not comprehend why Jesus did not withdraw Himself from these wretched and wicked people, and why He did not rather seek out such respectable individuals as they thought themselves to be. They murmured among themselves, saying, “This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” They did not know they were declaring a wonderful truth when they said that. Jesus does receive sinners, and He takes them into fellowship and communion with Himself. Thank God, this has been true all through the centuries since. Is it not wonderful grace that He receives all who will come, and He delivers them from their sins?
“Sing it o’er and o’er again;
Christ receiveth sinful men.”
If these words come before any who have been in doubt as to whether or not the Lord Jesus Christ will accept you, oh, let me tell you, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!” He is interested in you; He is interested in me. I came as a sinner, and He did not turn me away. He received me and saved me, and He will do the same for you if you will come to Him.
In answer to the murmuring of the scribes and Pharisees, the Lord Jesus related the threefold parable which we have in this chapter. We need not think of three separate parables. It is the story of the grace of God pictured in three ways. The first part deals with a lost sheep in which the shepherd was interested. The second deals with a lost coin, and shows the woman’s interest as she shed the light into the corners and swept the house in order that she might find it. The last part has to do with a lost son whom the father gladly welcomed home when he returned confessing his sin and failure and was ready to accept his father’s forgiveness.
Jesus said, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” You are all familiar with this story as it is portrayed in that beautiful old gospel hymn which Ira D. Sankey made so popular, and which we all love. You remember what it says,
“There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.”
But this is not what Jesus said. He said, “Doth he not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness”— not “safe in the fold” but “in the wilderness”— “and go after that which is lost until he find it?” The ninety and nine were like the legalists who imagined they were righteous. They did not consider that they were lost, and so they did not think they needed to be sought and found. The lost sheep is the poor sinner who knew he was lost, who knew he needed a Saviour. The Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness, in their self-complacency, and goes out for that which is lost, and He does not give up until He finds it.
Years ago I was staying with friends who had a great sheep ranch, and one evening we were awaiting supper until the husband came home. We expected him to arrive about six o’clock, but he was late. When he came into the house he said to his wife, “My dear, I shall have to drink a cup of coffee and eat only a snack tonight, for as I came from the station I heard the bleating of a lost lamb, and I must hurry and find it before the coyotes or rattlesnakes get it.” I asked if I might go with him, and he consented. I was amazed to see that man’s interest in one lost lamb. He and a friend had more than five thousand sheep, and literally thousands of lambs; and yet that one lost lamb had such a place in his heart that he could not resist going out in the night to find it. I said, as we went along a narrow trail, “You have so many sheep and lambs, I wonder why you are so much concerned about one.” He said, “I would not be able to sleep tonight for thinking about that little lamb out in the wilderness, and perhaps torn into pieces by the coyotes or bitten by a rattler.” He called out as we went along the trail, “Bah-h-h, bah-h-h, bah-h-h, bah.” He listened eagerly for an answer. At last we heard, from far down in the canyon among the thick brush, a little voice crying, “Baa… baa… baa.” My friend answered with a loud “Bah-h-h, bah-h-h, bah-h-h, bah.” He said, “There it is. You stay here; I’ll go down and get it.” And down he went, holding on to his flashlight; and when he got to the bottom he shouted back, “I have it; it is all right!” We went home rejoicing together. I thought what a perfect picture of our Lord Jesus Christ searching for poor lost sinners! He knew men had wandered from God, and needed finding, and so He came from heaven down into this dark world, and He went about seeking those who were lost. Here we read that “When he had found it he laid it on his shoulders rejoicing.” He did not find it to leave it and let it make its way home as best it could. Just as in the case of that little lamb of which I spoke, the shepherd did not put it down until it was back in the fold. “He put it on his shoulders.” So our Lord does not save us, and then tell us to follow and keep up with Him if we can. He carries us home rejoicing. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Whatever else our friends in heaven may know or may not know in regard to what is going on here on earth, there is one thing they do know: they always know when the Good Shepherd finds a lost sheep, for He gathers them about Him and says: “Rejoice with Me; for I have found My sheep which was lost.”
In the second part of the parable the Lord presents the matter in a different way, in order to illustrate our utter helplessness and the need of divine enablement.
“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost”—vers. 8-10.
This is a beautiful picture. One of ten pieces of silver is lost. These pieces of silver were joined together in a chain and given by the husband to seal the marriage ceremony. They were worn across the wife’s forehead and valued as a wedding-ring is among us. If one coin should be lost it was thought to indicate the wife’s unfaithfulness to the husband. Naturally, when one of the coins had disappeared the woman would say, “What will my husband say if he should come home and find I have lost one of these pieces?” In her trouble and distress she lighted a candle and swept the floor carefully, and finally she found the coin which perhaps had rolled into a corner. She went to the door and called her neighbors, saying, “Oh, you will be glad to hear that I have found my coin which was lost!” Then carefully she put it back into the place where it belonged. It was necessary that she be active in order to discover the coin. It could not find its way back to her. In this we see the activity of the Spirit of God working through His people. We have our part in seeking for the lost. It is the light of the Word that reveals their true condition and enables us to find them. The Lord Jesus said, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” “Joy in the presence of the angels.” Notice He does not say what some people seem to think He says. He does not say, “There is joy among the angels,” although I am sure they do rejoice; but that is not what He says; He says, “In the presence of the angels.” Who then are in the presence of the angels? All the redeemed who are absent from the body and present with the Lord—they are in the presence of the angels. Our Lord Jesus says to them, “Rejoice with Me; for I have found that which was lost.” In heaven, where they know so well the worth of a soul, all rejoice when one is saved.
“And He said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”—vers. 11-32.
In this third part we have perhaps the tenderest story that our Lord Jesus ever related while here on earth. It is a story which we all know well, and yet it never seems to lose its sweetness and preciousness. In the first part one sheep was lost; next, one coin was lost; and now, a son is lost! There were two sons, and one was lost. These two sons are typical of all mankind. Here we think of God as the Father of spirits, the Creator of all men. While the Word of God gives no support of the modern theory of the universal fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of man; nevertheless in chapter three of this gospel we find that in tracing the genealogy of our Lord Jesus back to Adam, we are told that Adam was the son of God. In this sense God is the Father of all mankind.
“And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” Without being content to await the time when the father would die, the younger son asked for his part of the estate at once in order that he might enjoy it beforehand. The father yielded to him and counted out to him that which was to be his. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” There he could live as he liked, in independence of his father’s will. So he had “his fling” as we say, until all was gone. “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.” I am sure that every repentant soul can say, “I too have wandered away from God, and I too have squandered the good things which He has bestowed upon me. I have lived in the far country, and I know all that is involved in these experiences.” It is not a question of the amount of sin one commits that makes him a prodigal. This young man was just as truly a sinner against his father’s love the moment he crossed the threshold of the door as he was in the far country. He did not want to be subject to his father; he desired to get away where he could live as he pleased. The father did not follow him. He did not insist that the son return, but allowed him to go and learn some lessons which he never could learn in any other way.
The day came when he had spent everything and found himself in dire distress. The friends he had made—where were they? They were his friends only as long as he had money. When at last everything was gone, when his fortune was spent, these fair-weather friends were not to be found; they left him in his deep need, and no one gave unto him. In his distress, in order to keep from starvation, he was obliged to do something which to a Jew of ordinary good breeding or conscience would be most revolting. “And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” It was there among these unclean beasts, himself unclean, that he began to realize his folly and ingratitude. He could not feed upon the swine’s food; he would have done so if he could. But he was a man created in the image of God who had put in him something which only God could satisfy. It is absolutely impossible for us who were created for eternity, ever to find anything in the things of this world to satisfy our souls. The day came when this young man was in such distress that he did not know where to turn. It was then that “he came to himself.” That is a significant expression! Sin is a terrible thing; it is an insanity. This young man had been suffering from a mental abberation. Now he regained his right mind. He began to realize for the first time the fool he had been in turning away from the father’s house, in trying to find satisfaction in the far country. Have you ever come to that place? Am I addressing anyone who has tried for years to find satisfaction in the things of this world and has never been able to do it? Oh, that you might come to yourself and face conditions as they really are, and turn to the God from whom you have wandered for so long!
This young man came to himself; he began to think. If you can get people to think then something will happen. The devil is doing his best to keep people from thinking. Some people wonder why we as Christians object to worldly amusements. They think we are very narrow and bigotted because we disapprove of them. Well, we know they are designed of Satan to keep men and women from facing the realities of life and recognizing their true condition before God. He wants to keep people from thinking, to forget they are lost sinners going on to destruction. When men begin to think they are well on the way to salvation. This young man came to that place. He said practically, “What a fool I have been, leaving my father’s house and my home.” “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” Oh, if any who read these lines are unsaved, would God you might come to the same decision, that you might say with the same purpose of heart, “I will arise; I will go to my Father. I will go back to God, and I will tell Him I have sinned!” The Scriptures say, “He looked upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going down to the pit, and his life shall see the light.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That young man, feeling his unworthiness, had determined in his heart all he was going to say. He was going to tell his father he was unworthy to be called a son, and ask him to make him as one of his hired servants. But you will note when he reached his father he had to leave out a lot .of that. The father did not wait to hear it. “He arose and came to his father.” I have seen many pictures of the prodigal son being welcomed by the father, but I have not seen one which seems to be fully in accord with the story. I have seen pictures of the father standing in the doorway gorgeously robed and reaching out his arms to the son, but that is not what Jesus tells us. He said, “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” He did not wait for the boy to get to the doorstep; he did not wait for him to reach the house, but he saw him coming down the road, and he said, “There is my boy! I have been waiting for him all these months!” What an affecting scene as Jesus pictures it. It is the picture of God the Father. When the sinner returns to Him, He is there to meet and welcome him. The poor boy began to speak out, “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son…” That is as far as he got; he did not say any more. He did not ask to become as one of the hired servants. The father had servants enough. It was a son he was welcoming home. He cried out in his joy, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him”—for us that robe is Christ’s perfection. “Put a ring on his hand”—the ring tells of undying affection. “And shoes on his feet”— slaves went barefooted, but sons wore shoes. “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” And that merriment has never ended. Oh, in that home, of course, the time came when the feast was finished. But when the Father wins a poor sinner to Himself and says, “This My son was lost and is found,” and they enter into communion together, the merriment which begins goes on for all eternity.
But now there is an added and a jarring note. His elder brother was in the field. He is just a Pharisee, who would not dare say he was saved but did not imagine he was lost. In his heart there is no more real love for the father than there had been in the heart of the younger boy. “Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.” Now this brother, instead of rejoicing and saying, “Oh, let me meet him; let me have part in that merriment,” “was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out and intreated him.” He was like those scribes and Pharisees who said, “This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” He considered that his father was degrading himself in treating this prodigal boy like that; one who had misbehaved as he had done! He was angry and would not go in. His father came and intreated him, but he said, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” It was just the same spirit that had led the younger son to leave the house and go into the far country. This son remained at home and was more respectful, but he was no better than the younger. He actually upbraided the father for his kindness. He does not say, “My brother, for whom I have prayed so long,” not “my brother,” but “your son.” The father said to him, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” It was for him to appropriate and enjoy it all if he desired. The father reminds the elder brother of that which he had overlooked: “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” The legalist can never understand the grace of God. It is utterly foreign to him.
God grant we may not fail to understand and appreciate the grace of God, as this poor disgruntled elder brother did!