Luk 15:4 "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? Luk 15:5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luk 15:6 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.' Luk 15:7 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.
The other day someone asked me about this parable and in particular who the Pharisees were in the parable. As always we have to make sure we know why Jesus gives the parable before we try to worry about the details. Jesus gives all three of these parables in response to the Pharisee’s offense that he was spending time with “sinners”. Actually I don’t think the Pharisees are mentioned at all in the first two parables, at least not directly. The second one is very similar to the first with the woman looking for her lost coin and the third is often termed the “Prodigal Son” but actually it is more about the older son. This is where the Pharisees are clearly mentioned.
Often the third parable is used mostly to teach of the conversion of the prodigal and there is something to be said for that. Clearly the first two show things from God’s point of view by showing the love of God in seeking out the lost while the third is more from our point of view as we see the thought process of the prodigal. But these parables aren’t concerned so much with the conversion experience as with what our attitude should be towards the lost.
Jesus’s point in the parables is to expose the unloving spirit of the Pharisees who were to some degree the shepherds of Israel. He contrasts himself with them as the Good Shepherd who will spare no expense to find those who are truly lost. The Pharisees are unworthy shepherds because they don’t care for lost souls only that everyone gives them the glory they believe they deserved. They want to be served and not to serve.
In all three parables the main point is the rejoicing over a sinner who is found or returns to God. To God and all of heaven there is great joy when sinners repent but to these Pharisees that is of little consequence. They don’t care for the souls of men but for their own interests.
We can find application in that we must be careful that our Christianity doesn’t become so centered around everyone getting their theology right and everyone looking just like us that we forget what is of paramount importance. We are to minister to people; to call them back to God and to encourage each other to follow the Good Shepherd. Biblical, God-centered theology is extremely necessary but it is to get us to be like Christ and to be able to glorify the Father as he did. It isn’t to make us good little theologians so that we can correct everyone else.
In all three parables there is great joy over people who get right with God and by the third parable Jesus makes it clear that these Pharisees are like the older son who has made religion about himself and getting the recognition he deserves. Isn’t that amazing; can we not identify with this? God has saved us by his grace and brought unworthy sinners into fellowship with himself that we might know him and enjoy him forever and we turn around and try to impress him and others with how good we are so we can receive the praise of others. Or we lay out our list of what Christianity should look like and frown on those who don’t look like us.
But it is all about returning to God and serving him and a good shepherd and a loving saint is the one who encourages this in others with no thought of self.