The greatest barrier to what we should know is what we already know. And this barrier tends to play up when you read your Bible. Most times we interpret scriptures based on what we already knew of that particular scripture either from what our pastors taught, what other believers taught and what is generally the prevailing perception of that particular portion of the Bible! As good as this is, it's a barrier to receiving new revelations from God. Really, the admonition to read the Bible from an open mind is easier said than done. How can we interpret the messages of Luke 15 different from what we already knew? In this chapter, we have one of Christendom's most used stories, especially when it comes to portraying how the Lord loves the lost. We have the 'parable of the lost sheep, of the lost coin and of the prodigal son'!
How can we interpret this scripture outside of the common interpretation we have had over the years? But each time I read my Bible this is what I try to do, forgetting what I already knew in preparedness for what I should know! And by the help of the Holy Spirit, there has always been light from heaven. God has often challenged my theology and the things I knew before in order to present new lights! And this is what has happened with almost all that I have learned since the Luke challenge started! And especially with Luke 15.
Waking up and reading the Luke 15 chapter, I felt like almost not putting up any post on Luke 15. What else can we learn again from this scripture? I resolve today would be a free day, after all, I had to attend a service in the morning. So on my way to the service I just wanted to read again Luke 15 for the purpose of reading but with an open mind and then some simple truth came at me, a truth which seems to challenge all that I have been told before of this passage of scripture!
THESE ARE NO PARABLES!
It is on that controversial notes that I will start today. Much of this scripture has been categorized as the parable of the Lost Coin, Lost sheep, and the prodigal son! But I dare say to you that there is nothing like the parable of the lost sheep and coin! These two illustrations are just what they are, comparative illustrations! They are not parables!
The purpose of a parable is to conceal spiritual truths. Mark 4:11 tells us this much,
"And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables." Mark 4:11 KJV
Each time Jesus spoke in parables it was for the purpose of mystifying those that are without and enlightening those that are within. This is why the disciples when they are alone always asking for the meaning of parables that they don't understand and then the master with joy begins to show them what these mysteries mean!
The setting for this event here we found in Luke 15:1-7
"Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he finds it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoices with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise, joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance"
Jesus spoke this parable because the Pharisees and Sadducees as always are complaining of him always mingling with sinners and the low lives in the society. Luke did say he spoke a parable, but in the true sense of the word parable, this was not a parable because the master spoke with the intent to make the Pharisees understand the basis for his relationship with sinners!
The way the master spoke here is consistent with the way he always speaks especially to the Pharisees. Look up at other scriptures herein
"And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fell into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?"
Luke 14:3-5 KJV
The way Jesus spoke in the first instance was the same way he spoke here. In Luke 15:3 he asks, "what man of you", he was speaking to the lifestyle of the pharisee, he was using their lifestyle to illustrate the point he wants to drive home then at the end he uses this lifestyle to relate to what he has done. Like in Luke 14 he also started with the words, " Which of you shall have an ass...". He was pointing to the Pharisee's lifestyle if you people can rescue your dying or lost ass on Sabbath day I too can rescue one of my dying sons or daughters! It was straight to the point comparative analysis, the Pharisees understand each time he speaks like this and that's why often than not they don't argue with him! It was not a parable to conceal the truth but one to reveal the truth and 'shamified' the opposers of the son of God!
Each time Jesus wants to speak a parable, the real parable which conceals the truth, he always has two approaches because Jesus parables are in two categories: general parables and the kingdom related parables.
The general parables always start thus:
"And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead" Luke 10:30 KJV.
You would have read many of the parables beginning with a "certain man" or a certain thing. This is always the approach.
However, for kingdom related parables, the opening is always like this if you have read enough of this kind of parables you should know what to expect at this point,
"Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it." Luke 13:18-19 KJV
There are so many parables along this line: the parable of the great pearl, of the field and many others.
What I am trying to point out here is that the so-called parable in Luke 15 is not really a parable in the truest sense of the word parable because Jesus here was trying to catch the Pharisees on their own lifestyle and ways of living. He was telling them, now read the account all over again.
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he finds it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoices with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise, joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance"
Jesus began by directing His critics’ attention to their own attitudes and actions as it related to a lost sheep. Which one of them, if they owned 100 sheep, would not leave the 99 to search for but one lost sheep? After a diligent search, would they not rejoice greatly at finding the one lost sheep? Would they not tenderly put the sheep on their shoulders, lovingly carrying it back to the fold, rather than “kicking it back,” scolding it all the way? And would they not then let their friends know of their success and have them over to celebrate the finding of the one lost sheep?
The assumption is that every one of the Pharisees would have responded to the loss and finding of one sheep just as Jesus suggested. In a similar way, Jesus added, all of heaven rejoices over the repentance of one lost sinner. Heaven, too, rejoices more at the repentance of one lost sinner, more than over the 99 “righteous” who seemingly did not need to repent. The second so-called parable started off with a woman, Jesus maybe was trying to strike a balance, do gender equality thing, so he uses a woman for the second but the theme of the second parable was just like the first!
Just as the sheep rancher would be touched by the loss of but one sheep, the loss of part of the family finances would deeply touch the woman of the house. It would seem that the loss of that one coin was equal to one day’s wages. The woman would “turn the house upside-down” to find that one lost a coin. She would light a lamp to illuminate her search, and then she would sweep and clean until she found it. We get the impression that she would not stop until the lost coin was found.
When the coin is found, she, like the sheep rancher, would rejoice greatly at finding it. She, too, would call her friends and neighbors, so that they could rejoice with her. Once again, it is assumed by our Lord that all of His audience would be nodding their heads in agreement. They would search for the lost coin, just as they would rejoice in finding it.
Once again, heaven’s joy at the repentance of one sinner is like this too!
Now there are similarities between the two parables and here they are outlined
1) In both parables, sinfulness is not stressed (in going astray, getting lost), but lostness. This parable was not about people who sinned and lost, but about losing a precious possession
(2) In both parables, the owner takes the initiative, seeking the lost.
(3) In both cases, the owner seeks diligently and persistently.
(4) In both cases, the owner rejoices and invites and expects his neighbors to do likewise.
(5) In both cases, the rejoicing of the one who has found the lost item is likened to the rejoicing of heaven to the salvation of one sinner.
(6) In both cases, it is not men who are lost, but things, and it is man (generically speaking, for there is both a man and a woman) that seeks diligently to find what is lost.
(7) In both cases, I believe, the parable is not primarily intended as a picture of God’s seeking after lost men, but of men seeking after lost things.
This last observation is the most crucial one for us. Earlier, it was my understanding that the first two parables described God’s heart for the lost. This cannot be the case, for several reasons. First, Jesus begins the first parable with the words, “Which one of you, if… ” Jesus was not describing God’s response to that which is lost, but their own. The Pharisees could easily agree that if they lost one sheep or one coin, they would diligently seek to find it, and they would greatly rejoice in finding it. Second, the over-zealous attitude of the Pharisees toward finding that which was lost or the extreme joy at finding it is explained. Should one abandon the 99 sheep, leaving them vulnerable to getting lost or to attack by wild animals? Is it not abnormal to notify all of one’s neighbors as to the finding of but one sheep, and to expect them to celebrate this with him? This over-zealousness is not characteristic of God, but it is believable in men!
Thirdly, the first two parables speak of men’s zeal in searching for and finding lost possessions, not lost people. The Pharisees were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), and it is therefore not hard to see how they would leave 99 sheep to seek one lost sheep, or to turn the house upside-down to find one lost coin. A materialist would easily identify with the mental torment of losing even one out of 100 sheep or one out of 10 coins. A materialist can’t stand to lose anything, and he (or she) would rejoice in finding what was lost.
The only comparison the master was making in this parable is the last part, the part of the exuberant joy that burst forth when the lost sheep or lost coin is found. In the same manner, Jesus said there is joy in heaven over one soul that repenteth than the other 99 righteous who doesn't need repentance!
This is my point, much of this parable has been used to make the point that God is actively seeking for the lost to be saved! Yes, this is the partial truth but not the total truth! While Jesus was here he made this statement that his work was to seek and save those that were lost.
However, when the master was to leave the earth he gave that responsibility over to us so he said in Matthew 28:18-20 for us to go into the whole world and seek out those lost in sin and bring them to the kingdom! And that was what the apostles did they were so crazy about it that even when persecution sent them away from their original abode they still continue to actively seek the lost in their new place of abode.
Acts 11:19 tells us,
"Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only"
God wants the lost save but that will only happen to the extent that which we actively seek out the lost. The work of actively seeking the lost is not of God but for those of us that are saved! That's why Paul shouted out to the believer, "you that are saved rise up for the salvation of the unsaved". While God was here in human flesh, he went from town to town with a sense of urgency to seek and save the lost. He is not here, but we are here, we are to seek out the lost and preach Jesus to them until they are saved and there are joy and celebration in heaven over everyone that is redeemed!
The third parable, however, tells us what God is doing today when sinners are saved.
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. Luke 15:20 KJV
Like the father here, our father is eager, waiting, anticipating for every lost child to come back home and when they do come home he is waiting to receive them with open arms and a big celebration to boot! Our work is to bring sinners into the kingdom while the father's work is to receive them. Shall we get about our work seeking and saving those that are lost?