Skip to content
Aug 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 21, 2011

Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2 (read entire chapter)

INTRO: We are going to enter this chapter at an unusual point

I want to begin with you . . . and  your most sincere honesty

  1. Do you believe people accept you unconditionally as you are?
    – think of the attention we give to our appearance before going out
  2. Do you accept yourself unconditionally as you are?
    – I don’t mean, that you can’t think of any more improvements to make, but your core self

A few years ago, I realized that if I met with Jesus alone,
– he would fully accept me – my core self
– he would know the essence of who I am, and understand
– in a word, if I met with Jesus I would experience his mercy

God’s mercy is where salvation, healing, and transformation begin
– so why is mercy one of the most neglected attributes of Christian churches?
– why are Christians known for being judgmental? unloving?

Let’s see what Jesus has to say

Verses 1-2, The incident that launched this chapter

It is essential to keep this scene in mind to understand what follows
– Jesus is surrounded by two groups of people

  • Group 1 is made up of tax collectors and sinners
    – they were getting close to Jesus to listen to him
  • Group 2 is made up of Pharisees and scribes
    – they lodge a complaint regarding Jesus (but they do not refer to him as Jesus, but as “this man”–a way of depersonalizing him and creating distance from him)
    – it has to do with his relationship to Group 1

In 13:28-30, Jesus had described a similar scene
– religious people who assumed heaven was their would find themselves on the outside
– while people from every point on the compass would be at the feast inside
But in that scene the religious people who felt entitled, were not complaining, they were weeping

The Pharisees and scribes assumed Jesus belonged to them
– to the same social class and religious commitments
– their circle excluded people who weren’t as committed, involved
– people who were, in their eyes, moral failures
Their perception was that Jesus’ association with sinners was degrading to him
– his acceptance of that Group meant that he was one of them
– this was extremely offensive to them – a scandal

The other Group is voiceless – Jesus speaks up for them
– he is the voice for those who cannot speak

Jesus responded to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes with three parables

Verses 3-10, We’ll take first two together because of their identical structures

  1. A shepherd who lost one sheep and a woman who lost one coin
    – everyone present would feel the pain of those losses
  2. Both went searching for what was lost
  3. When they found it, they invited their friends and neighbors to celebrate
    – both said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found . . .”
  4. Both provide an analogy for heaven’s joy over the sinner who repents

In the two main points of these parables, Jesus:

  1. Shows the Pharisees and scribes the right response to the recovery of a lost person is to rejoice
    – he gives them God’s point of view (“angels” and “heaven”)
  2. He is inviting them to rejoice with him (like the shepherd and the woman inviting friends and neighbors)

He also makes it clear, the ninety-nine need less attention than the one that was lost
– we need to take this really seriously
– do we want to be safely sheltered with the ninety-nine?
– or do we want to be with Jesus, embracing the one that’s lost?

Notice from the first parable to the second, Jesus stepped up the value of what had been lost
– one out of one hundred sheep, then one out of ten coins
– the value of what is lost increases for the one who lost it
In the next parable, it will be one of two sons that is lost
– this intensifying of value was meant to open the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes regarding to the worth of a lost person to God

Verses 11-32, The best-loved parable

Jesus doesn’t say anything about the motives of the younger son
– but we can probably come pretty close by guessing
He felt cramped living at home – planted in too small a pot
– he was living his father’s life, not his own
– he wanted freedom to live his own life, make his own decisions

We can also guess why he went to a “distant country”
– there’s a definite sense of freedom in a place where we are unknown
– he did not want word to get back to his father
– he knew his dad would not approve

Three conditions ruined him – two were his own fault:
– “squandered,” “loose living,” and “a severe famine”
– that’s how he wound up envying the pigs he was hired to feed

Jesus does not emphasize this point, but it is obvious enough: the pursuit of freedom often ends in a worse condition of slavery
– giving full reign to our desires does not lead to freedom

Helmut Thielicke, “In the place of the fatherly lord came other lords, who made him a slave, whereas before he was the child in the house.”

In the next chapter Jesus will say, “No servant can serve two masters” (16:13)
– but at first, we don’t know those are our only two choices
– our desires become the more controlling and cruel master

What happened when the younger son was out in the fields with the pigs?
– he had time to think – to look at himself where he was now and the choices he made that got him here
– time to rethink his need to be free, and what freedom is
– he also saw his father and his father’s house in a new light
He “came to his senses”

We know that unlimited wealth will not bring us happiness
– nor will having everything we want or doing everything we have ever dreamed of doing
– still, we would like to try the experiment and find out for ourselves
We are unaware of our deepest thoughts, insecurities, and capabilities (for good and bad)
– it’s helpful to have an experience that brings us to our senses
Jesus always takes people below the surface – behind the mask
– he is never fooled by what a person pretends to be
– that’s why an honest sinner is more interesting to him than a dishonest saint
Jesus brings to awareness what has been there, but unconscious

Aware, the young man forms a prayer
– he doesn’t look like the same son on road home – his loose living has taken its toll
– he’s lost his identity, “I am no longer worthy” (the father confirms this, “for this son of mine was dead”)
– but the father immediately recognizes him – the father is the one who gives him his identity
– that is why, in returning to his father, he found himself

Why did the shepherd go after the lost sheep and the woman search for her lost coin?
– they could still see the value of what was lost
– “lost” did not define the sheep, the coin, or the son — it only described a temporary situation

Shift to the older son – the parable is really about him and for his benefit
– both sons are self-centered: one turns to loose living and the other to “virtuous legalism”
– the older brother also lived in a world that revolved around himself

  • a life of self-discipline as he worked his way to the top
  • he had his father’s love, but that’s not what he was after
  • in fact, there was no room in his heart for love
    – not even for his lost brother, who he distances himself from and depersonalizes, “this son of yours” (v. 30)

Helmut Thielicke, “The guilt of this brother is that he cannot love. Apart from this he is morally blameless.”

By the end of the story, one son has turned from his self-centeredness and the other has not
– one has come to recognize the generosity and goodness of his father
– he has no claim on the father, so he must throw himself on the father’s mercy and depend on it
The older son also grew up knowing the power and control of their father
– but he put his effort into working within that power and control
– it made no difference to him that his father was generous and good
– in fact, he would have preferred that his father was not, but only that he was  just, that he could be counted on to pay a day’s wages for a day’s work (Mt. 20:14-15)
– he was blind to how much his life depended on his father’s grace
– he, too, was a servant (v. 29), but he did not get liberated like his brother — he never discovered the freedom of the heart that is moved spontaneously by love

CONC: Jesus does not tell us the end of the story — he leaves it to us to write the ending

Where do I find myself? Among the Pharisees? the sinners? Jesus and the disciples?
– where do I find myself in general when it comes to my attitude about God’s lost children?
– where do I find myself when it comes to particular individuals who on my worst days I could prefer to have them remain lost?

To follow Jesus is to receive mercy, to show mercy, to be merciful

May he help us to do a better job of it

Leave a comment