(From a message given October 24, 2021 at Beatty Baptist Church)

Have you ever lost something important, spent a lot of time searching for it, and after reaching your frustration limit, finally pray about it? …then you find it almost right away?

That’s happened to me multiple times. Whenever I lose my keys, they usually remain lost until I pray about them. For example, once I lost my keys and couldn’t find them. They’re important, because they included my work keys. After a disappointing two week search, it occurred to me I hadn’t prayed about them. So, I asked God to show me where they were. Less than three minutes later, my mind on something else, I went into the closet to get some clothes. I looked down and saw them. The keys were dangling from my safe door. I usually don’t look down when I go into the closet. God answered my prayer immediately!

Another time I forgot the combination to a safe I was responsible for at work. No one else could remember the combination either. I spent weeks trying hundreds of combinations, none of which worked. I was worried they’d have to call in a locksmith, which would be expensive. Then I prayed about it, and got in on the second try.

Every time God helped me find something essential I had lost, I experienced a great sense of relief and joy. My God is the Finder of Lost Things. Every time I’ve lost something important, I always find it soon after praying about it! And every time, I feel joy!

Once my oldest step-son called to tell us he had lost his wallet. He was living in the city and didn’t own a vehicle. Having to take public transportation, he had left his wallet on a bus. The most important thing in that wallet was an ID card. He needed that card. He thought it was lost for good. Knowing God is the Finder of Lost Things, I told Sean to pray about it and I confidently said God would return it to him. Normally I would not be so bold… I don’t like to presume upon God…, but in this case, God had somehow assured me the ID would be returned. So Sean prayed about it, and soon after he received it in the mail. (The wallet itself was not returned, but it wasn’t important.) Excitedly, he told me this “blew his socks off!” He had never known God to answer prayer like that before. Sean also had great joy when God returned something valuable to him.

We’re about to look at a parable about joy, the joy of finding someone who was lost. It’s introduced by two shorter stories about lost and found things, so we’ll read them as well.

The Context—Luke 15:1-2

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming close to him to hear him.

By this time in Jesus’ ministry, everyone was coming to hear Him speak, especially the sinners and tax collectors. This was ample evidence of a movement of repentance among them.

The Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”

The scribes and Pharisees were also present. They avoided tax collectors and sinners, and they had their reasons:

  • Tax collectors worked for the hated Roman government, and they usually made their money by over-taxing their own people, which made them even more hated.
  • “Sinners” was a label they applied, not only to the openly immoral, but to those who had ‘unclean’ occupations, or who just didn’t follow their traditions.

But these people the Pharisees openly rejected were the ones Jesus openly chose to associate with. The tax collectors and sinners came close to Jesus, and He welcomed them. The Pharisees only came close enough to criticize. They thought Jesus was wrong to associate with such people, and they were appalled that He taught them the word of God. But the fault was theirs, and Jesus told His parable to show them their error. 1

The Lost Sheep—Luke 15:3-7

He told them this parable. “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

Jesus began the parable by asking the Pharisees a question. If you’re a shepherd with a hundred sheep and you lose one, wouldn’t you go out and try to find it? Wouldn’t that be part of your job description: to search for lost sheep?

Pharisees did not keep sheep. Shepherding was one of the occupations they looked down on, fit only for ‘sinners’. However, the spiritual leaders of Israel were described as shepherds in Ezekiel 34. In that chapter God said those shepherds had avoided their responsibilities. He said, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves and don’t feed the flock…” Those spiritual shepherds didn’t strengthen the weak. They didn’t heal the sick. They didn’t bind up the broken or search for the lost. The Pharisees, as spiritual leaders, should have been searching for sinners and bringing them back to God. That was part of their job description as spiritual shepherds. Real shepherds did their jobs better than the Pharisees did theirs. And so the Pharisees never knew joy that a shepherd felt when he found his lost sheep.

Actually, the joy of finding a lost sheep pales in comparison to the joy in heaven when one sinner repents. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to have that same joy. It was the joy He had when sinners and tax collectors came to Him in repentance.

Let’s move on to the next story…

The Lost Coin—Luke 15:8-10

Or what woman, if she had ten drachma coins, if she lost one drachma coin, wouldn’t light a lamp, sweep the house, and seek diligently until she found it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost.’ Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting.”

Here we have a woman who had ten silver coins, ten drachmas. Each coin was a typical day’s wage for a worker or soldier. For this woman, it was possibly her dowry and if so, it would be worn around her neck or on a headdress. A missing coin in that case would be conspicuous.

Just as the shepherd valued all 100 sheep, this woman valued all 10 drachmas. So when one was lost, she didn’t say, “Oh well, I still have nine others.” No, she invested all her time and effort to search for that one lost coin that she valued as much as the others. She lit a lamp. This indicates she likely was poor, because poorer houses didn’t have windows to let in natural light for her to search by. She swept her house. She was determined to find that lost coin. She persisted, just like the shepherd. She didn’t search a little and then say, “I tried. Time to move on.” No. She kept at it and eventually her persistence paid off.

When she found her lost coin, she rejoiced over that one coin. It was no more valuable than the others, but she rejoiced over this one because all of her worry, time, and effort were rewarded.

She had so much joy, she had to share it with others. She had a party. It wasn’t a party for the nine coins she hadn’t lost, just as the shepherd didn’t have a party for the ninety-nine sheep that didn’t wander off. She had a party for the one.

Jesus told these stories to try to stir up the emotions in the Pharisees. If they had an ounce of feeling in them, they might be able to imagine what the woman felt: what she felt upon discovering one coin was lost. The frantic urgency she felt as she searched for the missing coin. And the joy she felt when she found it.

This feeling of joy over finding something that was lost on earth is just a shadow of the joy experienced in heaven when one sinner repents. When a lost sinner returns to God, God rejoices, and it’s like He calls to all the heavenly host, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost child!” God’s joy is so great, He wants everyone to share it.

This was entirely foreign to the Pharisees. The religious Jews of the day had a saying: “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God. 2” So imagine the scandal Jesus caused when He spoke of the joy in heaven over one repenting sinner? Do you have the same joy? Do you have the same desire to see lost people return to the Lord?

These first two stories are not so much parables as they are questions preparing the Pharisees for the main parable. Jesus basically asked them, “Wouldn’t you rejoice if you found your lost sheep or lost coin? How much more a lost sinner! Is your heart to hard to rejoice in that?

The Lost Son—Luke 15:11-24

The real lost-and-found story is what follows. It’s the story Matthew referred to in verse 3, where he used the singular word ‘parable’. 3 Let’s read it beginning in verse 11.

He said, “A certain man had two sons.

Notice the progression. We started with one out of a hundred sheep, then moved to one out of ten coins. Now we’re at one out of two sons. The value is going up. And a son is definitely of more value than a sheep or coin.

The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property.’ He divided his livelihood between them.

When a father divided the inheritance, the oldest got double. So in this case the older son would get two-thirds and the younger would get one-third. But usually this would be around the time of the father’s death, and the father would have the say when this would happen. To have a son demand his share of the estate was unheard of. One commentator said it implied a desire for the father’s death. 4

But the father did what his son demanded. He gave the younger son his share, and, what you may not have noticed before, he also gave the remaining inheritance to his oldest son. He divided the inheritance among them both. With the younger son leaving, and all the remaining wealth in the older son’s hands, the older son would have to support his father for the rest of his life.

The father could have denied this impertinent request. But his love for his younger son allowed that son to express his rebellious will. It saddened him greatly, but he respected the request. 5

Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living.

The property the younger son received from his father was not just money because he had to gather it all together. Wealth at that time was typically held in the form of cattle, servants, lands, and so on. When this son left, there was a visible entourage, a parade, that left. Think of the shame his father felt to see him go in such a manner, in full view of the neighbors.

The amount this son received was a lot. It appeared that he was well equipped to go out on his own and be a success. He was probably very confident of his future. But that confidence was an illusion. He did not spend what he had wisely for he spent it all on himself. It was bad enough that he asked for his inheritance early. He also sinned against his father by effectively making his father pay for all this wasteful, lavish spending. His father had earned that wealth through a lifetime of hard work. And it ran out too quickly.

When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any.

Of course, when you’re focused on your own pleasures, you don’t think about the unexpected events that will happen in the future. That would be “negative thinking.” In this case, there came a severe famine. Having no money, his standard of living suddenly collapsed. He went from living the high life to struggling to survive. When you get to that point, never having planned for it, you’ll do anything to live. This son looked for work and he found it, feeding pigs on a farm. It was a repulsive job for a Jew, but what was more humiliating was that he still couldn’t earn enough to live on. He was still hungry… hungry enough to eat the pigs food, but he wasn’t even allowed to eat that. And it wouldn’t have satisfied him anyway.

This may have seemed like hard luck, but it was all a series of fortunate events, for it brought back thoughts of home and the kind of life he had left. If someone had had pity on him and fed him, this would have delayed his return to his father. The sooner he got back, the better.

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”’

When he came to himself…” I like those words. It implies he was living in a fantasy world before, a world of illusion. But his hard situation now brought him into a state of disillusionment, and disillusionment is a good thing. It means he got back to reality. It was now staring him in the face, and he was comparing it with the earlier reality he had when he lived with his father – when he, his father, his brother, and even the servants had lived and eaten very well. This thought led him to the decision to return to his father, to humbly confess his sin, and beg for a job as a hired worker.

This young man realized he had sinned not only against his father but against heaven, which is a way of saying he had wronged his father and had wronged God. He did not point the blame for his condition at anyone but himself, and he became keenly aware of his own unworthiness. His was true repentance.

“He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

The son abandoned the place of his broken dreams and returned home, not knowing how he would be received. At best, he could have expected a strong chewing-out. But more likely in his mind his father would disown him. So what happened was totally unexpected.

His father was looking for him, and while he was some distance away, he saw him and was “moved with compassion.” It’s a phrase the gospel writers use of Jesus at times, and it explains why Jesus welcomed the sinners and tax collectors in the beginning of the chapter.

This wasn’t a little twinge of compassion. This father ran to meet his wayward son, fell on his neck, and kissed him. I expect the father shed more tears than the son did. Then the son began to rehearse his little speech.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

In the beginning of the parable, this son made a rebellious demand. He wanted to be rich… he wanted his inheritance, and as a result he was now destitute. Now he expressed his utter unworthiness before heaven and his father, and as a result, he was about to become rich again. He never got to say, “make me as one of your hired servants” before his father interrupted him…

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found. 6’ They began to celebrate. 7

The father fully received his wayward son back. He did not get angry, rebuke him, or say what a fool he had been… the son knew that already. Instead, the father lavished his love on his son. (And this after the son had lavishly spent what his father had earned. Obviously he valued his son above his lost wealth.) He called for the best robe—a sign of position in the family. He called for a ring to be put on his finger—another sign of his restored position of authority in the family. And he called for sandals, a sign of a son, not a hired servant. Then he called for the fattened calf. This was more meat than the father and sons could eat. It meant others would be celebrating as well: the servants, even the whole community would be invited to the party. The father, whom the son had publicly shamed before the neighbors when he left, now publicly welcomed his son back before those same neighbors.

Everyone was happy… except for the older brother.

The Older Son—Luke 15:25-32

“Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’

The older son was in the field. He was a hard worker—more responsible than his brother had been. Upon inquiry about the music and dancing, he was told his brother had returned. There was no mention of his brother’s change of heart, but even if there were, that probably would not have made a difference.

But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him. But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’

The son was indignant, and I’m sure he felt justly so. At the beginning of this chapter, the Pharisees and scribes were angry with Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This was not a coincidence, for Jesus was using the older son as a picture of the Pharisees. 8 The older son’s shock at his father welcoming his brother reflected the Pharisees’ shock at Jesus welcoming sinners. So the father came out to reason with his older son, to plead with him, just as Jesus was reasoning with the Pharisees in His parable.

The son said, “Look, I’ve been slaving (literally) for you for years. I’ve always obeyed you, and you never gave me so much as one goat to celebrate with my friends.” While this son never blatantly rebelled, his relationship with his father left much to be desired. It was a relationship of slave to master, not son to father. He felt he had earned the love of his father. But he didn’t want to party with his dad – he wanted to party with his friends. He didn’t really love his father. With the sudden celebration for his younger brother who had been given no time to try to earn back his favor, he felt his father had been denying him all along. Henry Morris said, “The proud and the self-righteous always feel that they are not treated as well as they deserve.

Like the Pharisees, the older son also had no joy at the repentance of one sinner. This was a problem the father sought to rectify.

“He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’”

This father loved his older son, just as he loved the younger. And with the younger son’s inheritance gone, the older son had everything his father owned. He could have had a party with his friends whenever he wanted. But perhaps it irked that older son, now that the younger had returned, that he would also have to support his younger, irresponsible brother as well. After the father died, the younger would be at the mercy of the older.

So the father tried to stir up the heart of his heir to love his younger brother. He explained that it was appropriate to party and to rejoice at the prodigal’s return. He didn’t say, “Because my son was dead and is alive again.” He said because “your brother was dead and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.

When the younger son left, the older brother lost a brother, just as their father lost a son. The father felt his loss, and he wanted his older son to feel it too, and (more so) to rejoice at the return.


Most of us identify with the prodigal son in this parable. 9 But we need to identify with the experience of the father, because the parable is really about him. Jesus is telling us about the loss our heavenly Father experiences when we go astray, even when we willfully rebel against Him. And He is telling us about the joy He experiences when we return to Him. 10

Jesus Himself identifies with the father in this story. We can see this because He is the one who actively seeks the lost (Luke 19:10 “…the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.11). He suffers along with His Father when sinners go their own way, and He celebrates when they return to God. When Jesus described the father’s joy at the prodigal’s return, He was describing not just His Father’s joy, but His own as well.

When you read this parable, which perspective do you identify with? The prodigal? Maybe even the older son? Do you rejoice when a sinner repents, even if that someone greatly offended you? You should.

Be like your heavenly Father. Do what Jesus did. Seek the lost. Tell them God wants them back… that He is ready to forgive and fully restore that relationship with Him. Jesus already paid the price for their return. We see from the first two parables that all of heaven celebrates when one sinner repents. Live for that. Do your part so there can be more parties in heaven.


  1. I imagine Jesus pulling an RC Sproul on these religious snobs: “What’s wrong with you people?!” The Pharisees and scribes had head knowledge, but no heart knowledge. Head knowledge by itself puffs up. Jesus is about heart knowledge, which is why He taught in parables.
  2. William Barclay on Luke 15:1-7
  3. The stories of the lost sheep and lost coin are not so much parables as ways of getting the Pharisees to identify with the feeling of finding something valuable that was lost… of preparing their hearts for the main parable.
  4. Bob Utley’s commentary on Luke 15:12.
  5. Unlike previous stories, the father did not take effort to find the lost son. The son wanted to leave the father. It was not the father’s choice. The father respected the son’s decision.
  6. Speaking not only of his return, but also of his change of heart.
  7. The feast in the parable symbolizes the feast all those Jesus has saved will share in heaven.
  8. The religious self-righteous were only concerned about themselves, not anyone else. The Pharisees were hired hands (John 10:11-13) who had no love for the people, but only their pay. They would have had more love for literal lost sheep than for lost sinners. This is what happens when we take “separation from the world” in the wrong sense.
  9. If you’re a prodigal, you need to come home. Your heavenly Father wants you back. If you’re the older son, you need to renew your relationship with your heavenly Father.
  10. The joy in the parable was shared, illustrating God’s joy in heaven being shared.
  11. See also Matthew 18:10-14 (“See that you don’t despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost. “What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which has gone astray? If he finds it, most certainly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”)