LOST AND FOUND
TEXT: Luke 15:11-24 - Jesus continued: "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.' So he divided unto them his livelihood.
"And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions 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 gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine did eat, but no one gave him anything.
"And when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants 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 I am no longer 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 longer 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 sandals 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."
In the Name of Jesus, who became a prodigal on the cross so that we could be found in Him, and who never gives up His search for the lost, dear Christian friends,
How frustrating it is to lose something! I'm sure all of us have had the experience of putting something down just for a few minutes, and then forgetting where we put it! That's called misplacing something! But most of us, as human beings, are quite willing to accept a certain amount of loss. If we lose an inexpensive pen it might be a temporary headache, but we figure, "Big deal. I can get another one anywhere." If we lose a penny, that's an acceptable loss. We don't think much of it. If we're playing a sport like tennis, it doesn't matter if we lose one or two games, just so we win the set. Acceptable losses. We're used to imperfection. We're used to coping with a little loss.
However, if you lose something of great monetary or sentimental value, you better believe you're going to eventually turn the whole house upside down until you find it! If something really means something to a person, that person's behavior can become almost obsessive!
And we can see the same attitudes coming into play in Jesus' day. To a hired hand, losing one sheep out of a hundred might seem like an acceptable loss, if finding the sheep would put the shepherd in imminent danger. But to the owner of the flock, that one sheep is precious, and the owner will seek until he finds it. Likewise, one silver coin in Jesus' day, one drachma, was only worth about 17 cents. If a woman had ten such coins and lost one, this might seem like an acceptable loss. But if that coin were part of her dowry, it would have tremendous value for her, and she would search and search until she found the one coin.
You may recognize these examples as being parables which our Lord Jesus told. Indeed, in the 15th chapter of Luke our Lord tells parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. And the last parable is, of course, our text for today.
Now it's important for us to understand the context in which Jesus tells them, dear Christian friends. Jesus tells these parables to a group of scribes and Pharisees who were murmuring against Him because He ate and associated with tax collectors and sinners. You see, unfortunately, most of the scribes and Pharisees considered certain groups of people to be "acceptable losses." They considered the spiritual and social outcasts that were flocking to Jesus, hungering and thirsting for His Word, to be the scum of the earth -- damned and lost forever. And really, if the truth be known, the Pharisees preferred it that way. "Good riddance to them," they might have said, "We don't want them dirtying up the Kingdom of God anyway!" Acceptable losses -- that's what these people were to the Pharisees. "Write them off and get on with life," that was their philosophy! "And," they might have said, "if this Jesus associates with these low-life outcasts, then He's someone we better write off as well!"
But Jesus shocks the Pharisees' sensibilities by saying in these three parables that in God's eyes NO human being is an acceptable loss! Unlike most of the religious leaders of the day, there's not one person on earth whom God doesn't want to be in heaven with Him. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth! God will search and search in order to find just one lost sinner, and the angels rejoice when the sinner is found! So the question Jesus puts to the Pharisees is, "If the angels are rejoicing that these lost sinners have found me, why are your faces so sour?"
You see, fellow-redeemed, by way of gentle, but powerful parables, Jesus is encouraging the Pharisees to break down the concrete casing around their hearts, and accept these repentant sinners who believe on Him as their brothers. And He also reproves you and me, when our self-righteous, sinful natures kick in and puff us up.
Of course the grand finale of all these parables is our text for today, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Even a hard-hearted Pharisee should have been moved by this illustration of God's boundless love and grace -- a love that far surpasses any kind of human love! And in this beautiful parable, you and I are also reminded, in a very powerful way, that our heavenly Father loves us with an everlasting love, and is more than eager to shower His forgiveness on us through the blood of His Son!
Jesus sets the scene for us: "A man had two sons." He loved his sons. He'd no doubt raised them with a proper and loving balance of discipline and tenderness. And when they got older, everything he had on the home place, the ranch, so to speak, was theirs to use. This man was obviously quite wealthy, and his sons were blessed to be part of the family.
Now here we pause, dear friends, to see how this first part of the parable applies to all the human race, including you and me. You see, the man in Christ's parable represents God the Father. His sons represent two different types of human beings. And just as the sons were blessed by simply being their father's sons, even so, you and I and all mankind are blessed to be God's creations. Anyone who's ever lived has received some blessing from God the Father. They've received the gift of life itself, first of all. They've received faculties of mind and body, health, and daily bread. Some even receive earthly wealth. And there are a thousand other blessings and advantages that we tend to take for granted from day to day. Whether we're sick or well in this life, functioning within "normal" parameters or challenged in some way, God always blesses us somehow.
But the biggest blessing that comes from the Father to all His human creations, no matter who we are, or what our station is in life, is the offer of free salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ the Savior, who lived perfectly, died, and rose again to take away the sin of the world. This offer has been and is being given to every member of the human race. Salvation has been purchased, won, and declared for all people. So you see, just as the father in Jesus' parable gave all good things to his sons, so God the Father offers and gives all good things to His creatures!
And now let's examine the next plot point in the parable. What does the younger son think about his position as a son in his father's house? How does he react to the kindness of his father? Well we can see from our text that he's champing at the bit to get out of there! He doesn't want to live in his father's house and live by his father's rules anymore, even though, as he's gotten older, his father has given him more and more independence. He wants to do what he wants to do, with nobody looking over his shoulder! And most importantly, he wants to do it RIGHT NOW!
And so he asks his father for his share of the estate. Now since he was the younger son, he was legally entitled to a third of the inheritance in the form of money. Now it was extremely impudent, of course, for the younger son to demand his share before his father was even dead, but the practice wasn't without precedent, and his father, seeing that his son was set on leaving him, gave him what he was entitled to. And so, one sad day, the younger son quit his father's house, went as far away as he could, and started to throw his money away on wild living.
And isn't that exactly what sinful human beings have always done to their Heavenly Father by nature, ever since the Fall? As we've already seen, God the Father causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on everyone's field! He gives every man, woman, and child the gift of life and daily bread, as well as many other blessings from His hand. He gives to all the offer of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus. But by nature we walk away from our Father's house and use His gifts sinfully. By nature, human beings turn their backs on blood-bought salvation -- they run away from the ponderosa of God's grace in Christ. They take the good blessings God gives and use them for their own selfish and sinful purposes. And all of us at one time, even if it was when we were tiny babies before baptism, all of us were running away from grace -- running toward a lost eternity as prodigals!
Well, living out there in the world was fun for awhile. The prodigal son had plenty of wine, plenty of women, lots of friends and dancing and singing. Everybody seemed to like the guy while he had money! He was living like there was no tomorrow, fellow-redeemed! But then tomorrow came, and guess what? No money! He'd spent it all. And then like the early morning mist disappearing in the morning sun, the young man's good times vanished, the women who'd used him instead of loved him moved on, and the friends he thought he had just faded away! And to top it all off, a famine hit the country!
But he didn't go home -- oh no! Instead he tried to get help from a citizen of that forlorn and worldly country. He went to work feeding some man's pigs; that's all the help he got in his plight. And we should note here that to a Jew, the pig was the most ceremonially unclean of animals -- this was indeed rock bottom for this kid! He wasn't even making ends meet! He longed to eat even the seed pods that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. There was no sympathy in the hard, cold place the younger son had chosen!
That's the world, dear Christian friends, and that's how many and most people are in the world. You see, when human beings live for themselves instead of living in and for God, they may seem to enjoy themselves for awhile. But in the meantime their souls are being depleted more and more, just like the younger son's money. And pretty soon they find out that none of the things they're doing truly satisfies, and there's a hole in their heart longing to be filled. But instead of going to God, they go back to the same world that's been draining their souls to try to find help. Some may plunge deeper into a pleasure-oriented lifestyle than they were before. Others may try a self-fulfillment type of philosophy, boosting their egos, and centering themselves even more on themselves. Still others might try to feed their spiritual emptiness with more materialism. Some may turn to crime. And some may turn to non-Christian religions: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, new age, or whatever. But still, none of these things satisfies! And it may dawn on a few, by the grace and power of God, through His Word, that no matter what they try, it's still not feeding the hunger.
Well the kid in our Lord's parable was one of the blessed few who responded, by the Spirit's power, not only to the Law, but also to the Gospel. Jesus said that he "came to his senses." He felt the sting of the Law. He saw the emptiness and wrong of his sinful life. He was sorrowful over it and contrite. He could see that the dead ends he was pinning his hopes of rescue to weren't getting him out of the mess one little bit. He finally realized that life on the ponderosa with his father was better than the life he'd chosen. But he still felt that, after all he'd done, he'd have to beg his father to even be taken back as low man on the ladder. He still figured he'd have to work for a place on the ranch.
But what happens next in our Lord's parable gives us a clear window into the very heart of God, fellow-redeemed! You see, the father was waiting all along for his son to return. The younger son didn't have to work or beg for his father's forgiving love at all! And when he saw his son trudging up the path to the ponderosa, all muddy and bedraggled and half-starved, the father didn't even wait for him to get to the house! He ran out to meet his son, and fell on his neck, and showered him with kisses! And even though the son felt he had to confess his sins out loud, before he could finish speaking, his father had already ordered that he be brought into the house, dressed in royal robes, sandals put on his bare feet, and the ring of sonship put back on his finger! Then the prodigal realized his salvation was a free gift of his father's grace. And everyone joined together in a real and satisfying feast and celebration -- a foretaste of the everlasting joy of heaven -- not at all like those sham and shallow celebrations out in the world that had left the younger son so empty!
The same thing happened to you and me, dear brothers and sisters. We came to our senses, too. We were rescued from endless torment and hopelessness in hell. But it wasn't our effort or strength that did it. When we were baptized, or later on for some, when you felt the weight of the Law, but then heard the comfort of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit came into our hearts and brought us to our senses. He caused us to repent of our sins, and then to trust that our sins were completely forgiven in the blood of Jesus. With Spirit-created faith burning in our hearts, we too went back to our Father in heaven. And my friends, the same thing has been happening to people since the first Gospel promise was given in Genesis, and it's happening to people today. And the angels rejoice every time it happens!
Oh the love of God for lost sinners, dear Christian friends! Do you feel like you've committed the "biggie" -- the sin that God can't forgive, or won't forgive? Or do you feel, from time to time, that you've just committed the same sin too many times, over and over again, and God is tired of forgiving you -- He's drawn the line and said, "enough is enough?" Well fellow-redeemed, let me tell you -- this parable right here should dispel any doubts in any of our minds about God's eagerness and willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive anyone who trusts in the blood and merits of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit which He sends to us. Dear Christian friends, we see the message of this parable proven out on the hardwood of the cross -- in the saving torments of our Redeemer!
No matter what you or I may have done, and even if we catch ourselves struggling against the same sin day after day, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! The father in the parable proclaims that his son was dead but is alive again. He was lost, but now is found. How true that is for all of us as well. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that by nature we're dead in trespasses and sin. But when faith in Jesus is planted in our hearts, we become spiritually alive in Christ, and heirs of eternal life!
Our Heavenly Father put the royal robe of Jesus' righteousness on us. He put His ring on our finger and declared us to be His children! And the angels celebrated at our baptisms, dear brothers and sisters! They rejoice every time a lost sinner is found by God in Christ!
But wait! There's still an ending to the parable that comes after our text, dear friends. The older brother wasn't rejoicing, was he? You see, even though his father had given him his love and all his possessions as a free gift, the older son wasn't satisfied. He felt that because, in his eyes, he'd done a much better job of following the rules and being a model son, he deserved more of his father's love. And when he saw that the younger son was receiving just as much of his father's love and, in this case, more of his attention, without earning it or deserving it, he was jealous and angry! He didn't want to have anything to do with his younger brother, or with the celebration.
And that hit the Pharisees right where they lived, didn't it? The tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus in repentance and Spirit-created faith didn't deserve heaven, and yet Jesus was proclaiming that they were beloved children of God by grace through faith in Him! Whereas the Pharisees had lived outwardly righteous lives since their youth, and yet Jesus said they were nowhere near the Kingdom of God! This made the Pharisees jealous and angry like the older son. They'd lived much better lives than the "refuse" following Jesus, and yet this Jesus said all that didn't count went it came to getting into heaven!
But Jesus isn't quite finished yet, fellow-redeemed! Notice what happens at the very end of the parable! The father gently and insistently pleads with the older son to take his place with the family and join in the celebration. He shows his great fatherly love even for this son.
Does the older son come around? Jesus leaves us to wonder, just as He left the Pharisees to think about their own self-righteous condition, and hopefully repent of it, put their trust in Him, and join in celebrating what God was doing through Him!
There's a lot of Pharisee lurking still in all of us, dear friends. We've been forgiven by an extravagantly loving Heavenly Father in the blood of Jesus Christ, brought back onto His ranch and into His house by grace through faith. Will we turn away from grace, and try to get to heaven by our obedience and good works? Will we begrudge forgiveness to the brother or sister who sins against us? Will we be reticent to rejoice over one who's lived an outwardly more sinful life than we have, but who's been taken back into the fold by God?
God forbid that any of us should do so, fellow-redeemed! Instead, may He fill us with the joy and confidence of the younger son as we rejoice in our salvation and keep on trusting the promises of the Gospel. May He bring us back to our senses every day, in daily repentance and faith in His forgiveness. And may he cause us to rejoice, along with the angels, over every sinner who's saved. May God grant us His great and wondrous joy and peace in our salvation, and His extravagant love for the lost. Amen.