“I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 HCSB
In Luke chapter 15, we read three parables of Jesus, which reveal God’s concern for this lost world. In each story, something or someone was lost, and then found, to the great rejoicing of many. Despite the similarities in the parables, there are significant differences, both in terms of relationships and responses.
A woman loses one of her ten silver coins. The coin, of course does not ‘know’ that it is lost or feel the slightest need to be found and put back with the other nine coins into the woman’s purse. The woman feels differently. She had worked hard to earn this coin, and it is something of great value and usefulness to her. So she lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house, and seeks diligently till she finds it. Then she has a little party to celebrate.
So there are many souls who know nothing of their lost condition or feel the need to find God. They probably don’t know that God exists and don’t care, or else have set up substitutes – idols – to fill the God space in their lives; and spend their days living for things of no eternal value. They lack spiritual awareness. Yet God feels differently about them – He yearns to have them in His safekeeping. He longs to bring them home, and their restoration gives Him great joy.
Now coming to the lost sheep – it knew its place was in the sheepfold and close to the shepherd, but it had lost its way. Perhaps it was distracted by something and did not notice that its master and the other sheep had moved on. Or perhaps, it had been in the habit of straying in the past, and this time it had strayed too far. Unlike the coin, it was aware of its lost condition, and perhaps frightened to find itself all alone in a strange place. It knew the danger it was in, and longed to be back with the shepherd and its mates, but it could not find its way home.
How does the shepherd respond? “Does [he] not leave the ninety- nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. ’ (Luke 15:4-6 ESV)
The shepherd knew his sheep could not never return home on its own, but he was faithful. He did not say to himself, “She is more trouble than it’s worth. I still have my ninety-nine good strong sheep.” Leaving them behind in the sheep pen, he braved the dangers of the night, to go in search of the wandering one. At last he found it, cowering in fright, whimpering, hiding from the wolves around, bruised and perhaps with a broken leg. So great was the shepherd’s joy at finding it, that he lifted it tenderly on his shoulder and carried it safely home. How happy, how grateful and relieved the sheep was at seeing the shepherd.
This shows the Lord’s perseverance with each soul that knows of Him, but does not truly know Him. These lost ones cannot make up their minds whether it is best to follow the Shepherd or to go after the world. The Lord allows them to wander for a while, and learn their lessons, but at the very hour when they desperately need Him, and cry out to Him in pain, He turns up to rescue them.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The prodigal son had broken his father’s heart. His wandering was not a sort of careless or thoughtless straying, but a deliberate act of ingratitude and rebellion. He gave no thought to the sorrow or shame he caused his family. His sense of entitlement was such that he saw nothing wrong with claiming his inheritance while his father was still alive. He chose to leave the safety and abundance of the family home and to throw away the fruits of his father’s hard work on his own pleasure. If his father had been tempted to disown him, who could blame him?
But what was the father’s response? He let the prodigal have his way. His response was very different to the woman who had lost the coin or the man with the lost sheep. Despite his pain and concern for his son’s safety, he did not go in search of him or sent emissaries to plead with him to return home. Rather, he waited – knowing fully well how his son would fare in the world. Sure enough, the son having spent all his inheritance on riotous living, found himself penniless, and friendless. Reduced to doing the most menial job available – feeding pigs – on the lowest wages, his transformation from prince to beggar was complete. Yet, his father does not go seeking him.
This story of the prodigal son reflects God’s attitude and response to the backslidden Christian, as opposed to a lost sinner. Not a day goes by when the Father does not think about and long for the rebellious child. His love remains undiminished, yet He lets the rebel learn painful lessons and take the initiative to return home. And finally, the point arrives when the son, ragged and hungry, begins to think of home, and what he has lost by his wilful rebellion. He comes to his senses –
‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands. ’ So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:17-19 HCSB)
The restraint shown by the father was not an act of indifference, but the deepest love and wisdom. He might have forbidden the son to leave home or refused him the money, but then no lesson would be learnt. The father’s patient waiting finally bore fruit when his son comes to his senses. His foolishness, rebellion and self-deception having run their course, the young man turns his steps home, sadder and wiser. He remembers his father’s charity to the least of his servants, and where he had once spurned his rightful place as son and heir, he was now willing to earn his keep as a hired hand. The wisdom thus gained – was of greater value than the money lost – and would serve him well, after his father was no longer around to protect him.
So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. ’ “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! ’ So they began to celebrate… (Luke 15:20-24 HCSB)
The celebration reflects God’s feeling for the returning prodigal. There is not a word of reproach or condemnation, and there is no desire to punish. There is instead, a tremendous sense of relief and overflowing joy, as the father gathers the son into his embrace. The occasion is celebrated like the triumphant homecoming of a victor, not the sad return of a loser. Indeed, the son’s inner self had been transformed the minute he realised that his true place was by his father’s side, and not in the company of prostitutes or near a pig sty. That realisation helped him walk away from the path of ruin, to life and victory.
Father, thank You for bringing us home.