shepherd01Luke 15

1. Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.

The word “then” here connects this verse back to what was going on in the previous chapter. In Luke 14:35, He spoke of men throwing out salt that they considered worthless. These words regarding being thrown out must have caught the ears of these tax collectors and sinners. As I have explained earlier, these people were all the outcasts of Israel. For some reason or other, they had caught the ire of the religious establishment in Israel. These men held all the power, and they had all the authority to cast a person out of the community, though it be but for the least offense against themselves. Once a person had been excommunicated by the religious leaders there was no hope of restoration. All such were labeled as “sinners” by the Pharisees and the other leaders, and all good citizens in Israel would have nothing to do with them.

Imagine what it would be like if no one would buy from you, no one would sell to you, and no one would even interact with you regarding anything. You would be ignored on the street as if you did not exist. That is what life became like for these outcasts. Life in Israel was hard enough, but at least the people would often pull together as much as they could. Being totally ostracized like this, however, would make conditions almost unbearable. Finding themselves in such dire straits, these sinners would have to resort to desperate measure. Thus, they often turned to disreputable or sinful occupations that no one who had not been cast out would dare to do, such as collecting taxes for the hated Roman overlords, or prostitution. Tax collecting would cause you to be considered a traitor to your own nation. Prostitution would make you a sinner before God. Yet for these people it was often a choice between this and starvation.

Now, the Lord’s words about throwing out catch the ears of these sinners, for this is exactly what men had done to them. They were like the refuse of society that had been cast off by all men. And this was not even necessarily for anything wrong they had done, but only because they dared to stand against the tyrannical rule of the Pharisees. Then, they heard His invitation for those who have ears to hear. These men took the Lord at His word and responded to this invitation. Thus, these sinners and tax collectors gathered eagerly around the Lord Jesus to hear Him speak His words of life.

2. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

As we might expect, some of the Pharisees and scribes are in the multitude to which the Lord was speaking. They see these tax collectors and sinners coming to Him, and it fills them with indignation. Remember, they were the ones who were responsible for these people being cast out. They considered their abiding by their decision. If the common people ceased to respect the decision of the Pharisees and scribes to cast a person out, then one of the primary sources of their power over the people would soon be gone. Thus any acceptance of or companionship with such people was considered by them to be almost a direct attack on their authority. Therefore they respond in anger to Christ’s actions in allowing these men near to hear Him.

Now the religious leaders offered no way back for those they had cast out and labeled as sinners. They were not interested in restoring a penitent one to the community. They preferred that those they thus labeled remain forever as object lessons to the rest of the people as to what would happen should anyone defy them. Yet these men in doing this did not reflect the heart of God, Who is always ready to seek and to save that which is lost.

As Otis Q. Sellers points out in his audio series on Luke, “They had assumed all the rights of kings and priests in Israel, but in no way did they accept the responsibilities toward others that were set forth in the shepherd and mediator character of kings and priests.” They were only interested in power. They had no desire to help the people who were under their rule, as God demanded of rulers under Him. Their heartless attitude was one they not only clung to, but justified by their teaching. They taught that God was harsh, and they must be, too. Moreover, they claimed God had given them their position, and only He could take it away from them. Thus, they maintained a great gulf between themselves and the common people. This produced a caste system that benefited only the rulers and hurt the people they ruled over.

The Pharisees accused Christ of receiving sinners and eating with them. Now of course He was not eating with them here, but they were just drawing near to hear Him. But what they meant was that eating together was a sign of the closest possible fellowship, and so the Pharisees were claiming a kinship between Him and the sinner that most in Israel would have been shamed to admit to. Thus, they sought to discredit Him by these words. Of course, the Lord did eat with such men, and did not maintain this division that the religious leaders sought so hard to control.

Now the outcasts were probably used to deferring to the powerful and cruel Pharisees, and perhaps when they started to murmur like this, some of these tax collectors and sinners started to withdraw in deference to them. They would not have wanted to make problems for the Lord, either, or to lead Him into dishonor. Yet the Lord was not going to allow this. He loved these outcasts, and wanted to help them. Thus, He starts to rebuke the Pharisees, and to offer comfort to these outcasts at the same time. We will see how He does this throughout the remainder of the chapter.

3.  So He spoke this parable to them, saying:

Notice now that the Lord’s parable is directed two ways. First of all, it is directed at the Pharisees, and is meant to rebuke their attitude and expose their motivations. Secondly, it is directed at the tax collectors and sinners, and is meant to comfort them after the Pharisees’ rebuke and encourage them to come to Him.

The parable that the Lord now told is in three parts. The first part is the parable of the lost sheep.

4.  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

The Lord now speaks to the Pharisees and scribes, and asks what man of them would not do this? That is, having a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that is lost. Notice that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep alone in the wilderness to go and rescue the one sheep that has gone astray! This would be a foolish thing for a shepherd to do, as the ninety-nine would surely then wander off and get in trouble or lost themselves.

Otis Sellers points out that this is not only a parable, but it is also a satire. As we know, sheep were a common commodity in Israel, and were part of a man’s wealth at the time. These Pharisees, who had much wealth and were given to the love of it, would have had many of them. What the Lord pictures here is a man so greedy and so desirous to hang unto every last bit of wealth he has that he is willing to risk ninety-nine sheep in order to keep from losing even one. Such greed would border on the ridiculous, and yet it was a ridiculous greed that the Lord sought to satirize in this parable.

As for the sheep, the ninety-nine were alone in the wilderness, but they did not know that they were lost. Only the one sheep that had wandered off from the fold was aware of his perilous condition. And it was this sheep that the shepherd took great pains to rescue. While the parable as a whole was a rebuke of the Pharisees, it was also a comfort to the tax collectors and sinners who heard it, for they were the ones who well knew that they were lost, and they could know that the Lord would seek them out.

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

This man representing the Pharisees finds his lost sheep, and lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. This makes sense, and is a perfectly natural reaction when one has found something that is lost.

6.  “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

This, on the other hand, would seem to be an inappropriately exuberant response for such a small accomplishment as finding one lost sheep. A person might be glad about it, but it would hardly be a thing to tell the neighborhood, or to throw a party about. Yet the inappropriateness of this was a deliberate part of the story the Lord Jesus was telling. He was trying to teach those who heard Him something by this exaggerated story.

The truth was that the Pharisees and scribes were so in love with their own wealth that there was nothing that seemed to them too extreme or inappropriate when it came to hanging unto it. Their number one goal was to keep the wealth they had, and like a man throwing a party for such a small reason as this, they would go to extreme lengths to keep from ever having to give up even the smallest part of their wealth. With this kind of attitude, it was clear that to them obeying God’s commands regarding the rich in Israel taking care of the poor was completely out of the question. They would use every argument at their disposal and twist every truth in order to keep from having to fulfill this responsibility they had before God. Thus, the extreme and ridiculous actions of the shepherd in this story fit right in with the attitude these men had towards their wealth.

7.  “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Here we get the punch line of the story. Of course the ninety-nine sheep needed help. They were lost out in the wilderness while the shepherd went off to find the one lone sheep, and were still lost when he went home and called a party to celebrate his finding it. Yet these sheep were too stubborn and foolhardy to see their need.

This was the point the Lord was making to the Pharisees. Of course there is no such thing as a just person who needs no repentance. These Pharisees and scribes were lost and desperately in need of His help, yet they would never admit it. These tax collectors and “sinners,” however, knew that they needed help, and would gladly receive it from their loving Shepherd. Thus, although the shepherd’s joy would seem misplaced and exaggerated, the truth is that God does rejoice to see even one of these lost sheep restored to Him. These sinners were precious in God’s sight, and He would gladly help them. Let the blind Pharisees stagger about in the wilderness if they wished. God would save these lost outcasts and bring them home with great rejoicing.

The word “repentance” here is the Greek word metanoias, and has to do with having the after-mind, as we have discussed. This really has to do with submission. The fact is that the Pharisees and scribes did not believe that they needed to submit to God. Yet of course they did. There is no one who does not need to submit to Him. Yet these men in their arrogance and pride seemed to believe that they were so righteous in and of themselves that they had no need to submit to God. What a travesty that anyone could believe such a thing! Yet there are still those today who carry the same attitude.

We should not mix this parable up with that found in Matthew 18:12-14, though it is very similar. There, we read:

12. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13. And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Many people think these parables are the same, and tend to mix them together.  Notice, however, that that parable was told at a different occasion and for a far different purpose. In this parable in Matthew, we read of a man who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go to the mountains and seek the one that is straying. Yet he does not leave the ninety-nine sheep alone in the wilderness, nor does he call a party when he gets back home. The point of this parable was to show how much God cares for each individual sinner. Though it is very similar to the one in Luke in some ways, we must not mix them up or we may miss the point of both.

8.  “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

This parable is really one parable in three parts. The first part was the parable of the lost sheep. The second part here is that of the lost coin. It regards a woman who loses one of ten silver coins. She then lights a lamp and sweeps the house, diligently searching carefully everywhere until she finds it.

We can see the value of silver coins, but some have suggested that these coins had even more significance than mere money. They say these were similar to a wedding ring in our day, and were given as a symbol of marriage. They were usually worn on a ten-piece garland. Thus this woman’s concern at losing one of the ten and her diligence in finding it can be understood by anyone who has almost lost her wedding ring. Yet it is a bit different, for there were ten such coins and only one was lost. Even if this had such significance, it is clear that this woman set great store by this one coin, perhaps greater than was warranted.

9.  “And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’

This woman again, like the Pharisees and scribes, shows an inordinate amount of joy at the finding of a mere coin. Though one could certainly see congratulating someone over finding a coin that was lost, it would seem totally out of proportion for the person to throw a celebration for it. Yet such was the greed of the Pharisees and their delight in their own wealth. It would even seem that they expected everyone to be as enthusiastic about their own riches as they were.

If these coins did have some significance similar to our wedding rings today, we can say that, though a wedding ring is valuable and any woman would be greatly upset if she lost it, this would not come near to the grief she would feel if her husband was actually dead. For while the ring is a symbol of a relationship, what good is that symbol if the relationship is brought to an end through death? So it would seem inappropriate to throw a party over finding lost wealth, even if that wealth was something with symbolic meaning like a wedding ring.

10.  “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Lord again comes to the point of this parable. By adding this part about the lost coin to that of the lost sheep, the Lord shows that the Pharisee’s search for his lost sheep in the first parable was not motivated by a love for dumb animals, for he would search just as hard for a lost coin. Rather, therefore, it was motivated by his love for money. To these men, their greed was everything. They would search high and low for any lost wealth. And yet the sad fact was that these men would not lift a finger to search for a lost man. To them, their money was far more important than the poor and destitute in Israel.

This woman’s actions regarding this lost piece of money were absurd, yet it is only through such an absurd story that absurd actions can be satirized. The woman’s joy does seem exaggerated and too great for the occasion. Yet so great and so inappropriate was the love of the Pharisees for every bit of wealth they acquired.

Yet too we learn that God’s joy is great, not over wealth, but over a sinner who submits. So this parable both rebukes the religious leaders and encourages the outcast tax collectors and sinners. Their rulers may not have cared about them, but God did. Their society might not give them any way to get back into its good graces, but God was searching for these men, and would receive them back again with open arms if only they would submit to Him.