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The hard-hearted, self-righteous Pharisees would have found it easy to identify with the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. They were all about working hard and finding their security in earning favor from their father. They imagined the fatted calf was reserved for their feasting. They should be in the place of privilege. They were offended by the concept of free grace – especially grace extended to obvious sinners. They could not understand how Jesus could tolerate the company of tax-gatherers and sinners. Jesus ties these 3 parables together in brilliant fashion to expose their self-righteousness. The Son of God came to call sinners to repentance and joy in the kingdom is focused on the salvation of sinners.


A. (:1) Curious Needy Sinners – The Context

“Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.”

Morris: We should not let the modern chapter division make us miss an important point. Jesus has just made an uncompromising demand for whole-heartedness as he showed what following him meant. He finished with ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’. Luke’s very next words tell us that these sinners came near to hear him. Whatever the case with the Pharisees and their like, these sinners had been challenged. They knew what discipleship meant. They were called on to hear. And they heard.

B. (:2) Critical Self-Righteous Scholars – The Complaint

“And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying,

‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

On the contrary, God seeks out sinners to show them His love and mercy once they repent.

Gary Inrig: Jesus didn’t merely tolerate their presence. “This man welcomes sinners.” They felt comfortable in His presence! “And eats with them.” In a culture where sharing a meal meant acceptance and even approval, how could a good man behave like this? How could He enjoy their company and have them enjoy His? “That tells us all we need to know about Jesus. You can tell a man by the company He keeps, and since He’s not with good people, He’s obviously not a good man.”


(:3) “And He told them this parable, saying,”

A. (:4) Story: Priority of Diligently Searching for the Lost Sheep

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them,

does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture,

and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?”

Donald Miller: Diligence of the search – If one is lost it cannot be because God has not found him, but because he has refused to be taken back.

Geldenhuys: the shepherd considers no trouble, sacrifice and suffering too great to find the lost sheep and bring it back. In spite of all hardships during the long search among forests, cliffs and gorges, the shepherd continues to seek until he has found the lost sheep. . . In no other religion in the whole world does one come to know God as the One who in His love seeks the lost person to save him through His grace.

Steven Cole: Sinners are lost until God finds them. The biblical description of those who do not know Jesus Christ is not “unsaved,” but lost. It’s an empty, hopeless word when used in reference to things or to animals, but it’s an especially bleak word when it is used in reference to people. Eph. 2:12 . . .

No, the glad fact is, you are not secure in your salvation because of your grip on the Good Shepherd, but rather because of His grip on you. He chose you as His own before time began. He sent His Son to secure your redemption by His blood. He sent the Holy Spirit to pursue you with the good news that Christ died for your sins. He sought after you until He found you and rescued you from your hopeless condition. Do you think that now He will let you go back into your sins and be lost again? Impossible! If the Good Shepherd has saved you, He will keep you from falling.

MacArthur: Lost sheep get the attention of the shepherd. Lost sheep, by the way, are in grave danger. Sheep are stupid. They are defenseless. Do you know a sheep has no self-defense mechanism? None, zero. If they fall over on their side, they can’t get up by themselves. They are hopeless and helpless. So the sheep that’s wandered off would be in danger from predators, in danger from a fall, from exhaustion, from dehydration. The land is rugged. It is demanding. Rocks are everywhere. All kinds of potential issues could beset that lost sheep. We’re told by people who work with sheep in the Middle East that when sheep become afraid — and they do, they get very nervous and very fearful — they lie down and die. That’s right. They can’t get up. They become so despondent and discouraged. The Pharisees knew all that. And they knew the shepherd had to go and do whatever was necessary. It wouldn’t be easy. Sheep look a lot like rocks. A dirty sheep is about the same color as rocks in the land of Israel and there are so many of those the rabbi said when God distributed the rocks He made a mistake and dumped them all in Israel. So the Pharisees and the scribes would buy into the story and they would understand the necessity of the action that the shepherd took.

B. (:5-6) Response: Joy on Earth Upon Finding the Lost Sheep

1. (:5) Personal Joy

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

Donald Miller: The tenderness of the shepherd – Is. 40:11

2. (:6) Shared Joy

“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 which was lost!’”

C. (:7) Application: Joy in Heaven Over the Sinner Who Repents

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner

who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

MacArthur: This is a very clear implication and a very clear application. Nobody could miss it. It was just too obvious. The whole story is about the joy of God when a lost sinner is sought and found and recovered. And the point is, how is it that God can be so eager, that God can be so desirous, that God can be so concerned to seek and save the lost, and you, who claim to be God’s representatives on earth only despise the lost? How can that be? Another way to say that was: You couldn’t be further from the heart of God. You despise the lost and God rejoices over them. You don’t want to go near the lost and God pursues and finds and carries them back. And how is it that you can respect the shepherd, an unclean shepherd, who goes out to find an unclean animal and bring it back? How is it that you can take the lofty, ethical posture on the fact that he did the right thing and condemn Me for rescuing eternal souls? How warped are you? You are far from the heart of God and you are caught up in superficiality and triviality while souls all around you are perishing.


A. (:8) Story: Priority of Diligently Searching for the Lost Coin

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin,

does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?”

MacArthur: Four little points: lost, sought, found, celebrated.

B. (:9) Response: Joy on Earth Upon Finding the Lost Coin

1. Shared Joy

“And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors,”

2. Personal Joy

“saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’”

C. (:10) Application: Joy in Heaven Over the Sinner Who Repents

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God

over one sinner who repents.”

MacArthur: The angels have a great interest in redemption. Why? Because they share in the joy of God. These Pharisees and these scribes and anybody else who has no interest in lost sinners being recovered don’t even understand the joy of God or the joy of the angels or the joy of the redeemed. The angels even have an interest in judgment according to Revelation 14:10. They’re going to be around when God does His judgment on those who refused His Son.


Donald Miller: really a story of a father who lost two sons. Both boys, the one who strayed and the one who stayed, were lost to his love. It is possible that the one who stayed was the more lost.

A. (:11-19) Story: Lost Son Broken to the Point of Repentance

1. (:11-12) Demands Premature Inheritance – Wants His Independence

“And He said, “A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them.”

Geldenhuys: The son lost no time going and enjoying his newly found freedom and goods in selfish indulgence. He tears himself away from the parental home and goes to a distant land in order to be as far away as possible from the watchful eye of his father so that he may be able to live as he likes without restraint. The result was that he soon wasted his substance in riotous living with others. He had fled in order to be outside the sphere of influence of his father and to be free and independent, but in the distant country he had come under influences that caused him to fall into the worst form of bondage – the fetters of sin had bound him in their deadly toils. He had exchanged the real freedom which consisted in obedience to his father’s loving will for the servitude of sinful profligacy, and together with the precious treasure which he had reeved as a gift from his father he lost his character too.

2. (:13a) Departs for Distant Country — Becomes the Lost Son

“And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together

and went on a journey into a distant country,”

3. (:13b) Drains His Wealth in Decadent Living – Becomes Destitute

“and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”

Deffinbaugh: there is no attempt to minimize the seriousness or the foolishness of the sins of the younger son.

4. (:14-16) Degrades His Living Conditions = Of Less Value Than Pigs

“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.”

Subsistence = just having enough food to stay alive

Morris: Two disasters struck him simultaneously – he an out of money and he ran into a famine. The first was entirely his fault. It does not need vast experience to know that when capital is expended without return it must eventually be dissipated. The famine was not his fault but it increased his difficulties. People who might have helped him would find their own circumstances more straitened. Food was short and consequently would be high priced. It gave people the perfect excuse for refusing to help. So the young man began to be in want. He lacked even the necessities of life.

For a Jew no occupation could have been more distasteful. A rabbinic saying runs, “Cursed be the man who would breed swine” (Baba Kamma 82b). The pig was unclean (Lv. 11:7) and the Jew under normal circumstances would have nothing to do with it at all. The young man must have been in desperate straits even to consider this job.

5. (:17-19) Determines to Return Home and Plead for Mercy

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’”

He finally comes to his senses

B. (:20-30) Response: Joy on Earth Upon Finding the Lost Sheep

1. (:20) Personal Joy

“And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”

2. (:21) Expression of Repentance

“And 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.’”

3. (:22-24) Shared Joy

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; or this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ And they began to be merry.”

Donald Miller: Forgiveness means not only the lifting of punishment and the setting aside of guilt; it means also full restoration to sonship (Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).

4. (:25-30) Bitterness of Older Son

“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.’”

Morris: the proud and the self-righteous always feel that they are not treated as well as they deserve. He cannot even refer to the prodigal as his brother but as this son of yours. . . It is a common human failing to think that we are not appreciated as we should be, that people do not give us credit for what we have done. And whether we be religious or irreligious, we are usually somewhat censorious towards those we see as having failed to live up to our standards, even if our standards are not theirs.

MacArthur: What do you see in the story? Two kinds of sinners. The profligate, debauched, open, immoral, irreligious sinner and the hypocrite in the house, around the church, religious, superficially moral, and both are extreme sinners. And a father who entreats both, who offers both everything he has. And the point is this – young people, listen to me. The extreme sinner falls within the purview of God’s grace. Not everybody is that extreme on either end, but that’s good news for all of us in between.

C. (:31-32) Application: Priority of Rejoicing Over the Sinner Who Repents

“And he said to him, ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

Steven Cole: Each of the three parables illustrates God’s abundant mercy toward repentant sinners and His great joy when they are reconciled to Him. But while they all illustrate the same truth, there are different emphases. The first two parables focus on God’s seeking lost sinners and rescuing them and on His great joy in saving them. The emphasis in the parable of the prodigal son is on God’s great love and mercy, but also on the necessary human response to experience His mercy, namely, repentance. Each of the three main characters reflects different lessons. The prodigal shows us the devastating effects of sin and the nature of true repentance. The father shows us God’s great mercy toward repentant sinners. The older brother shows us the ugliness and danger of the self-righteous pride that lurks in every human heart. The entire parable teaches us that …

There’s a supreme irony in this story. The brother who was outside comes home and is welcomed inside to a feast. The brother who had never strayed, but who is probably hungry after working all day, remains outside, sulking. Everything that he needed was inside the house, but his anger and self-righteous pride kept him from the bounty and joy of the father’s table. So, the first has become last and the last, first.

God welcomes repentant sinners with abundant mercy, but the self-righteous exclude themselves from His mercy.