Luke 15 – Lost, But Now Found

Luke 15 – Lost, But Now Found


Sunday, April 10, 2022  Brad Barrett

Luke 15

Lost, But Now Found

Open your Bibles to Luke 15.

I hope for each of you that this becomes one of the more refreshing sections of the Bible you’ve read in a long time. 

Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

Vs. 1-3

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.

2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable:

Let’s pause here.  These first 3 verses lay the groundwork for the entire chapter, so it’s crucial we remember this as we read the rest of the chapter. 

Vs. 1 tells us that all these undesirable people, the unholy and dirty people, the people who should be ashamed of themselves—these are the people who were drawing near to Jesus.  Surprisingly, they sought after Jesus. 

Let me ask:  How many of us here have felt like these people at times?  And perhaps we do even today?  Unholy.  Dirty.  Ashamed of ourselves.  I have.  And I suspect many of us have.  This chapter is going to be for us.

But then vs. 2 tells us that the religious leaders were angry about this, saying, “How could this so-called holy man tolerate and befriend such unholy people?”  It’s disgusting.  It’s evil.  Something is wrong with this man Jesus.

This is not a new accusation.  Five times this accusation is made in Luke’s Gospel.

Let me ask another question:  How many of us here today have felt like these religious leaders?  We see these dirty, unholy people who should be ashamed of themselves.  And we are critical of them.  We think, “They’re not worthy to come to God.”

I’ve felt that way before.  And I suspect many of us—though we may be reluctant  to admit it—have been like them…and maybe even our today.  This chapter today is for us. 

So these first 3 verses set the stage for the three parables Jesus is going to give.  Let’s read the first two parables together since their messages are identical. 

Remember:  A parables is an earthly story with heavenly meaning. 

Vs. 4-7

First, the Parable of the Lost Sheep

4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

7 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.

Now the parable of the Lost Coin.

Vs. 8-10

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?

9 And 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 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

So what is Jesus saying in these two parables?

First, we remember why Jesus gave this parable.  Many tax collectors and sinners found Jesus to be their friend.  But the religious elite hated Jesus for it. 

It reminds of Luke 7 when a sinful woman is kneeling over Jesus’ feet and wiping her tears on his feet with her hair.

And Simon the Pharisees mutters to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

So we have a man who is shepherding 100 sheep.  One of them gets lost.  So the man leaves the 99 sheep who are safe and travels out to find this one, solitary, lost lamb.

And when he finds it, he is overjoyed!  He lifts it over his shoulders and safely carries it back.  Then he calls all his neighbors and friends and tells them to celebrate with him, for this one sheep was lost but now it is found.

The second parable is very similar.  A woman has 10 silver coins.  She loses one of them, so she turns the house upside down to find it.  And when she finds it, she is overjoyed.  So she celebrates like the shepherd does.  She can’t wait to tell her friends. 

The point of the parables are in vs. 7 and 10:

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.”

“More joy in heaven” is a way to say that God has more joy over one sinner.

As a brief aside, when Jesus says, “99 righteous who don’t need repentance,” I believe he is speaking to the Pharisees who THINK they are righteous and need no repentance.  In reality as is clear throughout Scriptures, everyone sins and needs to repent.


Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Being good students of the Bible, we notice it doesn’t actually say that angels are rejoicing.  It says there is more joy before the angels.  I think that means that God is rejoicing in the presence of angels.  But I suspect the angels are also rejoicing over what God rejoices in, too. 

The point of both parables is that God has great joy, and all of heaven rejoices with him, when one sinner—one lost sheep, one lost coin—is found and brought safely home.  When one sinner is saved. 

The tax collectors and sinners understood this.  That’s why they wanted to be with Jesus.  But the religious leaders didn’t get.  That’s why they were so harsh.

So at least three things are important:

  1.  God actively seeks out lost souls.  He is not passive.
  2. He is thrilled, overjoyed when just one soul is saved.
  3. Repentance is vital

Let’s talk about all of them.

First, God is very active, not passive as he searches to save lost souls.

This is amazing.  The shepherd goes on a hunt for just one lost lamb.  The woman searches all over the house for just one lost coin.  Neither are satisfied to lose even just one.  Both diligently pursue and hunt.

And it’s significant how Jesus illustrated this.  He could have had the parable read, “The shepherd lost all 100, so he went looking.”  But he emphasized the smallest amount.  Just one little lamb.  I mean, he still has 99.  That’s only a 1% business loss.  He could write it off on his taxes.  But even just with one lost sheep, the shepherd is not content.  So he goes hunting.

And the same with the woman.  She didn’t lose all her money.  Just one.

Jesus wants us to grasp this in a personal way:  even if you are the only one lost, he will come after you.  He will not rest until it happens.  This places great significance on our lives.

God is not a passive Savior, sitting back inattentively. 

God is not a lazy Savior, unwilling to go to all the trouble to find you.

The gospel message shouts to us of this active Savior:

Romans 5:8  “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were at our worst, in love God gave his best. 

The worst sinners in Israel knew this about Jesus.  They followed him and trusted him as a willing, active, friendly Savior who was more than eager to save them from their sins and the wrath of God.

The second thing that’s important in these two parables:

God is thrilled… overjoyed… when a lost soul is found… when someone who is dead spiritually is given new life in Jesus Christ.  When they believe in him and are born again.

He is not a reluctant Savior, debating whether you’re worth the trouble.

He is not a utilitarian Savior, wondering if you’re useful enough.

Together these two parables shout to us of the gracious, joyful love of God.

1 John 3:1 NIV  See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Whenever we are searching for significance in life…Whenever we are feeling worthless and dirty…Whenever we are wondering if we are loved…these two parables point us to find the answers in Jesus Christ, the loving and joyful Savior.

There is also a third important point in these two parables:  Repentance.  But we’ll talk more about that after the next parable.

Parable of the Prodigal Son

Vs. 11-32

Now let’s read the third parable.  Remember why Jesus is giving us all three.  Tax collectors and sinners are hanging out with him.  And the religious leaders despise him for it.

This may be the best known of all of Jesus’ parables.  Generally, we call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

What does “prodigal” mean?  That word comes from vs. 13, where the son lived in reckless living.  Wild, foolish living.  Elsewhere this word in the NT is translated as “debauchery.”  A wild, prodigal life. 

We will read of three characters in this story:

  1. The younger son, who went wild and rebellious
  2. The father of two sons
  3. The older son, who was dutiful.

Let’s pay careful attention to all three people in the story.

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.

12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.

13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. [He was a prodigal.]

14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’

20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.

27 And he 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 he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,

29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.

30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

The story addresses both groups of people around Jesus:   The younger son represents the humble sinners.  The older son represents the proud, religious leaders.  And then the father represents God. 

So I wonder if we should change the name of this parable.

We could call it the Parable of the Lost Son.

We could call it the Parable of the Gracious Father.

We could call it the Parable of the Angry Older Brother.

OR…maybe we should call it the Parable of the Dysfunctional Family.  J

Let’s talk about all three characters.

First, the younger son.

For whatever reason, he wants to get his inheritance now.  He doesn’t want to wait years until the father dies.  To do this was not common in those days, but it was also not unfamiliar.

So with all this money, he runs off and spends all this wealth on evil behavior.  He wastes it all in a short time.  Then he is left with absolutely nothing.  The economy then crashes, and he is hungry and desperate.

So he hires himself out to take care of pigs.  Pigs, according to the Law of Moses, were ritually unclean animals.  And a Jew would never own a pig.  So for Jesus’ listeners to hear that this young man stooped so low to care for pigs would have caught their attention.  He was desperate.  And he was now ceremonially unclean, considered dirty and unable to worship God.

We might say, this young man got what he deserved.  He was stupid.  He was lustful.  He disrespected his father.  And we would be right. 

But after some time he finally comes to his senses.  He realizes, “What am I doing here?  My father’s servants are better off than me!”  He humbles himself and determines to go back to his father and plead for mercy.  He plans out his words:  “Father, because of the evil I’ve done, I’m not worthy to be called your son.  Would you take me back as a lowly servant?”

I mentioned that repentance is a theme in all three parables.

If you wonder what repentance looks like, the son magnificently shows us.

First, he humbled himself.  He ceased with his arrogant, independent pride.

Second, he acknowledged his sin.  He sinned against heaven, i.e., against God first, and against his father.  He admitted that.

Third, he knew he was unworthy.  He didn’t deserve to be called a son.  He could never right all the wrongs.  To be a simple, humble servant would suffice.

Fourth, he took action.  He went back to confess to his father.

Fifth, he was going to ask for mercy.  In this case, he never had the chance to ask because the father was so overjoyed he began to immediately celebrate. 

The tax collectors and sinners (found in vs. 1) had repentant hearts just like the younger son.  And they found mercy in Jesus.  That’s why they were always around him.

And another point:   The importance of repentance in all three parables shows us implicitly that sin matters.  Sin is not insignificant.  And it somehow must be dealt with.  The Prodigal Son knew that.  And anyone in his family would know that. 

Sin makes us lost.  And we can’t find our own way.  Someone must find us.  Sin makes us dead.  And we can’t come back to life on our own.  Someone must resurrect us. 

The second character is the father.

We’re not told what he thought when the younger son took off to a distant country with all his money.   We can imagine sadness or anger.  Or both.  But Jesus doesn’t give us that detail.

But look at vs. 20.  While the son was still a long way off, the father saw him, felt compassion, and ran out to greet him.  He embraced and kissed his son.  Before he hears one word from his son, he is ecstatic the son is coming home.

Then the son starts to confess to him.  Begins to acknowledge his heart of repentance.  But the father hardly waits.  He immediately begins to celebrate.  He tells his servants to prepare a big party.  His son was dead but was now alive.  He was lost but now was found.

The word “rejoice” and “joy” are used 5 times in the first two parables.  Now the synonym, “celebrate” is used 3 times.  We clearly get the point again:  “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” 

In this graphic and emotional story, Jesus drives home the point:  God loves to save sinners.  And it seems, the worse they are, the more joy he has.  The more lost they are, the greater his celebration.

The father in our story represents our merciful, gracious Father in heaven.

Now we come to third character. 

The often forgotten player in this story.  The older son.  We almost always focus only on the young, rebellious, wild son and the gracious father.  And for good reasons.  Their story is so powerful.

But the older son is a powerful part of the story, too.  And given the context of this whole chapter, the older son represents the Pharisees and scribes in vs. 2 who were so angry with Jesus that he befriended such evil and lowly people.

The older son is angry.  And his anger isn’t pointed directly toward his brother.  It’s pointed to the father.    He wouldn’t even go in to talk to his father about it.

But notice the father comes out to him.  Once again, we see an active, not passive God represented here.  He graciously appeals to his son to understand the situation.  “All that I have has always been yours.  And your brother was dead, but now he is alive.  Let’s celebrate this newfound life.

Let’s step back and consider all three characters in this beautiful story.

First, don’t many of us relate to the younger son?

We’ve made a mess of our lives.  Hurt people.  Wasted time and money and health and family.  We wonder if there is any recovery?  Any hope?  Where can we find solace?  Where can we find relief from our guilt and shame?  Don’t many of us relate to him?

Second, don’t many of us relate to the older son?

Someone close to us has made a mess of life.  They ruined their lives.  They’ve hurt our family and friends.  And importantly, they’ve hurt us.  And we’re angry.  Honestly, and maybe even secretly, we WANT them to suffer.  They deserve their pain.

And to think that God might forgive them for all of that??  Well, that’s hard to take.  Like the older son is angry with his father…we are angry with God.  We don’t want mercy from him.  We want vengeance.  We want payback for all the wrongs that our stupid, evil kid brother has done. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been like BOTH sons.  In my left hand, sometimes I’ve felt like the pleasure-seeking, foolish younger son.  In my right hand, sometimes I’ve felt like the angry, self-righteous older son.  I guess I could say I’m ambidextrous!

What is shocking to both the left and the right hands is the gracious heart of God shown by this father.

In this father we see an overjoyed, happy, celebratory man who throws a party when his lost and dead  but now humble son comes home.  It’s shocking.  And we see a father who is kind and gracious even to this bitter, angry older son who chides him for celebrating. 

The worst sinners of Jesus’ day knew they had nothing to offer him.  They knew they were unworthy to even be a slave to Jesus.  But they came humbly, seeking mercy.  And Jesus joyfully….JOYFULLY…received them.  That’s why they wanted to be with him.

This is why the author of Hebrews tells us:

Hebrews 4:16 ESV Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In sharp contrast, the most religious of Jesus’ day felt they had something to offer to God.  They saw themselves in self-righteousness.  They were persuaded they had successfully impressed God with their religious works.  They came to Jesus in pride and arrogance.  And even in this parable through the gracious words of the father to the angry older son, Jesus is showing kindness to the Pharisees.  He is pleading with them to gladly and humbly receive what God offers them.


So we’ve looked at three remarkable parables.  What can we take away from Jesus’ words?

First, let me ask a deep question: 

When you think of your sin…your worst, sinful days…your most shameful days….Do you believe God is like the father in Jesus’ story?

Do you believe that when you humble yourself and acknowledge you’re unworthy for anything, but you start walking home….Do you believe God your Father runs out on the road to greet you, embrace you, kiss you, and joyfully throw a party for you?

This is one of the more important questions you can ever ask yourself. 

We may not all be there yet.  But my prayer for every one of us—including myself—is that we would get there.  We would, with simple, childlike faith, believe that our God is a God of indescribable mercy and kindness.

With that end goal in mind,  let me offer two things for us.

Take heart

We may be in a position where we sense we are too dirty for God.  We feel worthless and beyond help.

But Jesus offers these parables so that we would take heart.  That we would humble ourselves before him like the younger, lost son.  That we would believe that God loves the brokenhearted.  He loves weak and the sick.  He joyfully and aggressively seeks out the outcasts.  Those who feel dirty, guilty, and ashamed. 

God was not content to sit back and wait to see how you could manage to find forgiveness and eternal life on your own.

Instead, he came after you.  And he did it by sending his Son, Jesus, to the cross to die.  And then he raised him from the dead so that we might live.

Consider this:

Ephesians 1:4 NIV For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  

God has sought you since before the world was created!

And this:

Acts 17:26–27 ESV And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…

Every Sunday morning at Stonebrook, we have people from more than a dozen nations represented.  Do you think it’s an accident your nation even exists?  Do you believe it’s random chance you were even born?

With wisdom and power that should blow our minds, God has orchestrated nations and people to be born in the times and places they were for a clear purpose:  That they would seek after him and perhaps find him.  But he is not hard to find.  He is not far.

Some have called him the Hound Dog of Heaven.  When he is on the scent of finding a lost sheep, he will not give up.  He is tenacious.

All of you tax collectors and sinners out there…all of you outcasts—take heart.  God is actively after you to save you, forgive you, adopt you into his family, and to throw a party for you. 


Be joyful, for you are loved!

We who are younger sons decide to head back home.  And we are shocked and overwhelmed that the father wants us!  And he loves us!  God is so gracious.  The younger son could hardly get his words of repentance out of his mouth before the father commanded that a party be set out immediately. 

Consider the Scriptures:

Ephesians 2:3–6 NIV “…we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

We were dead.  But now in Christ, we are alive.  And not only are we alive forever, but we have been exalted to a high, high place in heaven with Jesus Christ.  The Father has clothed us with the best robe, put a ring on our finger, and killed the fatten calf to celebrate our salvation!

Why are we not grateful and joyful?

One reason is that we have amnesia.  We have a gospel amnesia.  We simply have forgotten how lost we once were.

And we have forgotten how gracious our God is.  We have forgotten our salvation.

Why else are we not grateful and joyful?

We are proud.  The humility we once had when we came to Jesus is gone.  And we have returned to a self-righteous attitude.

When we think we’re doing well and we can impress God with our spirituality, we become like the Pharisees and the older son:  critical and harsh toward others.

But when we think we’re doing badly like the tax collectors and the younger son, we are crushed.  We feel hopeless and we despair.

May I give us all some homework?

Read Luke 15 three times in the next few days.  And before you read it, pray something like this:  “Lord, help me to understand and believe your gracious, active, joyful heart to save a sinner like me.”

Pray that each time we read the chapter.  The Lord will hear and answer our prayer.  And he will make us like the tax collectors and sinners who loved being with Jesus. 

And for extra credit, read Ephesians 2:1-10.

Peter expresses so well our goal: 

1 Peter 1:8–9 NIV Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.