A New Testament Devotional
Luke 15:1-32 – Lost Opportunities…or Opportunities Lost?
Luke 15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:3 So Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.
Luke 15:8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? 9 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:11 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. 13 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. 14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. 21 Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:25 “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. 27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. 32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”
Historical and Character Background
Luke’s gospel was written to a highly respected individual, Theophilus. Luke’s gospel is a historic account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In this passage, Luke is providing the reader with a clear example of Christ’s love for the lost and the failure of certain religious leaders—the Pharisees. Luke does this by recording the parables Jesus taught when the Pharisees and experts of the law growled at His interaction with those considered impure—tax collectors and sinners. Each parable describes something that was once lost being found again.
In the time of Christ, tax collectors garnished taxes for the Herods who then paid tribute to Caesar. They were an identifiable social group and corruption was the norm in their daily operations. Usually tax collectors were looked down upon because they would garnish wages off of the top of taxes collected. Because the money passed through many hands it made stealing easy.
By the 3rd Century in Rome, a cadre of tax collectors was well established because of their keen ability to track down tax evasion and corruption. Josephus even mentions tax collectors in the account of the conquest of Antiochus Epiphanes. When Pompey conquered Judea in 63 BCE, the Jews ended up having to pay taxes to Rome…on top of their existing tithing and offering system. At the time of Julius Caesar, Jews paid a produce tax of 12.5% of the total crop!! With all other taxes combined, a Jewish farmer was taxed around 30-40% of his income. Jews also paid a tax called the angari which allowed Rome to use their human and animal labor for public works. Paying taxes to Caesar was viewed as treason by many Jews. Tax collectors were viewed as Jews that actually enabled Rome to rule over God’s people.
Pharisees viewed tax collectors as sinners who had no part in God’s kingdom. They were placed on the same level as the ‘unclean’ Gentiles.
“Sinners” was a word used to represent people incapable of being redeemed, and this word is almost always paired with tax collectors in the Gospels. Protestant tradition views the word as being used to describe those who fall far outside of the purity regulations enforced by the Pharisaic mind.
Jesus ate and spent time with sinners, who were viewed as genuinely wicked in the eyes of the general populace. Jesus seemed to accept sinners simply through the act of eating with them. There was a cultural and spiritual significance attached to with whom you ate.
Pharisees and experts of the Law
Sourced from the IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels:
“… a distinct party in Judaism of the late Second Temple period, with their own vision of what Israel’s standing as God’s covenant people entailed. Characteristic of the Pharisaic position was their adherence to a body of traditional material (Gk paradosis) handed down “from the fathers,” which defined correct behavior in a number of ways and which represented both an interpretation of and a supplement to Pentateuchal Law. In the Gospels Pharisees are generally (though not quite universally) depicted as opponents of Jesus, critical of his behavior, hostile in their questions, malicious in their deliberations. In turn, their piety is attacked as hypocritical, their spiritual leadership is declared bankrupt, and they are charged with leading the nation to its doom. Through all the polemic the significant role played by the Pharisees in Jewish life in first-century Palestine is apparent.”
Five Pains, Four Joys
The Lost Sheep – Luke 15:3-7
Our first pain is found within the heart of a shepherd, who having 100 sheep, noticed one had been lost. Out of his role and responsibility of being a shepherd, and his care for his flock, the shepherd left the 99 sheep in open pasture so that he could restore his lost sheep to the flock. The sheep was lost, without guidance, and possibly experiencing pain and anxiety in its lost state. The shepherd ultimately found his lost sheep and carried it back to the flock atop his own shoulders. His reaction can be understood as full of joy, and evident in his proclamation to all of his friends and neighbors that his lost sheep had been found, and in his invitation to come celebrate the good news with him.
The Lost Coin – Luke 15:8-10
The second pain is found in the heart of a woman, who having 1o silver coins lost one of them. She searched her home, every nook and cranny, until she found her lost coin. Like the shepherd, she invited all of her friends to celebrate what had been found.
While many might have viewed this small coin as something insignificant, she did not. It is also possible that this silver coin belonged to a headdress which would signify she was engaged. In losing one of these coins she could have been seen as careless or as not valuing her future husband.
The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32
The third pain is found in the heart of a father whose youngest son declares complete disinterest in remaining within the family. He asks his father to give him his inheritance early so that he may leave home. The fourth pain had to have been within the heart of his father when he realized that his son did not want him, but rather his possessions.
Pained, the father granted his rebellious son’s wish. His son left for a land of unclean sinners where he squandered his possessions. Once hitting rock bottom, the son found himself in painful, lonely despair. He then decided to return to his father to beg for forgiveness and to offer his labor as a hired servant so that he might pay his father back. In doing so, the son is not asking to be reinstated into the family.
But before the son reached home the father saw him on the road and ran out to greet him—something considered classless for a man to do. The father greeted his son with a kiss—a family greeting—and rejected his son’s offer of hired labor. Instead, he lavished his grace upon the son, placed a coat around him, a ring on his finger—probably signifying the family crest—and declared a party to celebrate the return of his prodigal son. The servants were commanded to prepare the fattened calf—a meal of a lifetime to which the whole town would have been invited. Imagine the joy in the hearts of this father and his prodigal son! What was lost had returned.
But the story does not end with the lost being found, as did the previous stories. Rather, we find our fifth pain within the bitter cold heart of an older brother. When the brother heard that his little brother had returned, and that there was a party, and that the fattened calf was to be cooked, he became disgruntled and refused to go into the home to celebrate. In doing so he disrespected his father—something punishable by beating. However, his father did not beat him. Rather, he went out from the party to ask his son to join them. The oldest son, who would receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance, questioned his father’s decision. He professed his unrelenting service for his father and wondered why he had received nothing while his brother had received such blessings. In doing so he revealed that he held the same desires his brother had held but in a different a way. This brother was not interested in the father either, he just wanted his father’s stuff and he was trying to gain this stuff by being the good son.
And this is where our stories end—With Jesus Christ accusing the Pharisees and experts in the law of behaving like the bitter-cold older son—in what must have been a crowd of furious Pharisees and religious leaders.
The purpose of these parables was to rebuke the religious leaders for failing to do what God had intended them to do. It was the job of the priest to shepherd God’s flock. The priests were to connect people to God. Rather, they became blinded by their own self-righteousness and lost their ability to love those who needed them most. The tax collectors and sinners were the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. A good shepherd searches for the lost sheep. A poor woman or a bride-to-be would search for a precious lost coin. And they celebrate when the lost is found, inviting others to join them in the celebration.
The Pharisees lost their opportunity to fulfill their calling. Why? Because they looked down their noses at those opportunities. A good brother would have gone out to search for his lost little brother. A good brother would have pleaded with his little brother to return home. It was his job, and one of the reasons he would receive the larger inheritance. He was to become the leader of the family. It was his job to reconcile differences between the father and his sons. But rather than performing his role as big brother he became angry at his father’s gracious reception of his little brother back into the family.
And this is where we find the Pharisees, the bitter, cold-hearted big brothers. But this is also where we find ourselves left with a desire for the perfect big brother—Jesus, the good shepherd. Jesus left His home to search for the lost brothers despite the cost He knew it would have on Him to restore the lost sheep to the fold of God. He is teaching us through the story of the prodigal son, not only that we should rejoice when the lost brother has been found, but also that he came to save not only those who have tried to gain his blessings by being very bad, but also by being very good. We must repent not only for the bad things we have done but also for the reason we ever did anything good in the first place. And we must trust in the work of our perfect big brother Jesus alone, for He came to save us, the lost.
Will you be a sensitive seeker of the lost and recognize “lost opportunities”? “Lost Opportunities” are the people around you that do not know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior (the lost) and your ability to demonstrate God’s love to them (the opportunities). Or will you end up with opportunities lost? Ask yourself:
1. Do you find yourself looking down upon sinners or do you find yourself full of compassion toward them?
2. In what ways have you been like the big brother? In what ways have you been like the little brother?
3. Are you willing to invite the lost into your home, dinner table, and community of believers? Will you go to them in their homes, dinner tables, and communities?
4. Specifically, will you find yourself so aware of what God has done for you that you are sensitive to the needs of sinners to experience God’s forgiveness and grace and…
5. Will you join in the search for the lost? No matter how wretched or self-righteous they may be?
from John Calvin (1509-1564)
…we pray, most gracious God and merciful Father, for all men generally. Since you desire all men to acknowledge You as Saviour of the world, through the redemption won by our Lord Jesus Christ, may those who do not know Him, being in darkness and captive to ignorance and error– may they by the light of Your Holy Spirit and the preaching of Your gospel, be led into the way of salvation, which is to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. May those whom You have already visited with Your grace, and enlightened by the knowledge of Your Word, grow in all goodness, enriched by Your spiritual blessing, so that together we may all worship You with heart and voice, giving honour and homage to Christ, our Master, King and Lawgiver.
*John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, trans. by Robert White (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1562/2006), p. 83-85.
Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Penguin Books, 2016.
Tunstall, Frank G., and Robert E. Coleman. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Advocate Press, 1990.
Wright, Nicholas Thomas. Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, Why It Matters. HarperOne, 2011.