Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Redemption isn’t merely a matter of divine accounting. God feels intense sorrow for the lost and celebrates the saved. Jesus revealing that, “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 Peter reinforcing this characterization of God’s concern over lost souls by writing, “He (the Lord) is patient with (us), not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
The parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin and Son – found in Luke 15 – start out with a familiar ring; tax-gatherers and sinners were coming to Jesus, undesirables who – up until this point – had made no effort to hide their sin or lack of conformation to Jewish law and standards. And the Pharisees and scribes didn’t like it. Typically, Jesus used these parables to reach out to the needy around him, including those who were too self-righteous to realize they needed helping or offer it to others. (Which was their job!)
Jesus didn’t necessarily zero in on the Pharisees, but they continually made themselves easy targets by becoming offended by Jesus’ knack for relating to the marginalized of society and criticizing rabbinical tradition. All three of these parables make the same point: God doesn’t sit idly by while people go to hell. He doesn’t take pleasure in their destruction – even of the wicked – but pursues them in love and a desire to save; celebrating the redemption of everyone who turns to him in repentance.
The parable of the lost sheep describes the reaction of a shepherd who discovers one of his sheep missing. He diligently searches for it until it is at last discovered and joyfully carries it home. Then he calls for his friends to come celebrate with him over this one lost sheep – one of a hundred – because of its individual value to him. Jesus explaining that, “…in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7 (Probably a back-handed slap in the face to the Pharisees who considered themselves “righteous” and in no need of a savior. See also Matthew 9:12,13 & Luke 19:9,10) In other words, God is a shepherd who actively seeks to rescue lost “sheep.” As should we.
The parable of the lost coin makes the same point, merely using a different metaphor. A woman, the owner of the coins – each probably equivalent to a day’s wage – finds one missing. She dutifully lights a lamp and sweeps the floor, carefully searching until it is found. Her response likewise being a joyful celebration with friends and neighbors. Jesus ending this parable by assuring us that, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (Note how the rejoicing is in the “presence of the angels.” Who was leading them in the celebrating? God.)
The Old Testament, which the Pharisees claimed to know so well gives ample proof of this aspect of God’s character. For example, Ezekiel 33:11 depicts God as saying, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather they turn from their ways and live.” Isaiah 62:5 characterizing God’s joy in us by comparing it to the pleasure a bridegroom feels in the embrace of his bride. Unconditional, unrestrained, uncontainable rejoicing.
The last of the three parables Jesus told here is of a lost son, one of Jesus’ most familiar “application stories,” The Prodigal Son. The first half of this parable focuses on the contemptible behavior of a younger son, who demanded an inheritance from his father who was still alive. The father replying by giving both son’s their “due.” The difference in their response being that the eldest son remained with his father, working the family “farm” while the younger son took off and lived profligately, wasting what he had been given on riotous living; ending up destitute and nearly starving. Finally taking a job feeding pigs – something no self-respecting Jew would ever do – and fending off starvation by eating the “slop” the pigs were fed.
Sensing the desperation of his situation, he became sorrowful, which led him to repentance. (See 2 Corinthians 7:10) In doing so, he decided to go and admit his guilt before God and his father; asking for forgiveness and prepared to suffer the consequences for his actions. (Which he assumed would be his being relegated to working the fields beside his father’s hired help.) Note the unqualified compliance he now intended to offer his father, the unassuming humility and absolute willingness to do whatever his father might ask. His was a complete turn-around in attitude, displaying a graphic portrait of repentant faith through a resignation of self and submission to his Father.
What follows is a beautiful picture of how God actively seeks us out. While still a ways from home, the young man’s father saw him headed his way and ran to meet and greet him; replacing his ragged clothing with rich robes and placing a ring on his finger, signifying his redemption back into the family. But he didn’t stop there, he called for a celebration, exclaiming “…this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:24 The issue no longer one of a wasted inheritance or a squandered life, now it’s all about salvation and redemption!
The older son, unsurprisingly, didn’t understand and became offended. He had faithfully remained at home, doing his father’s will. He had received his inheritance as well but had not squandered it in “wild living.” How could his father reward his brother for bad behavior and poor choices? And of course, that wasn’t the case. His father explaining, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31,32
The older son didn’t believe his brother deserved his father’s compassionate love because of his admitted failures; highlighting the fact that it is often easier for the most flagrantly irreligious, even repugnant sinners to realize their depravity than people who are steeped in religiosity and proper living. Both boys were lost, the father went seeking out both of them (the older refusing to join the welcome home party), attempting to bring them both back into his embrace.
John MacArthur writing, “God (seeks) the lost. Those who acknowledge their sin and turn from it will find him running to them with open arms. Those who think they are good enough to deserve his favor will find themselves excluded from the celebration, unable to share the eternal joy of a loving Father.”1
1From The Gospel According to Jesus , Zondervan Publishing.
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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