The wonderful chapter of Luke 15 brings before us the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in bringing the lost souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. Many who read this chapter think that it is three parables, but in reality, it is only one parable, but in three sections, or parts, or settings.
We have this in verse 3 that the Lord Jesus spoke to them this parable. Who was He speaking to? When we read the start of the chapter, there were different types of people – tax collectors and sinners coming to the Lord, and Pharisees and scribes who thought they were righteous because they live according to the law of God. The Pharisees complained that the Lord was receiving sinners and eating with them. The Lord then in grace spoke one parable pointing out that He seeks sinners and that heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents than 99 people who think they have no need of repentance.
What is the setting of this chapter? It is actually a gospel setting, where the Lord shows that there is rejoicing as a result of sinners who are saved. The gospel is also the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. How the work is done is up to God, and we must not interfere and tell Him how to do this, but we can pray to Him and ask for the salvation of souls, and how He does it is in His own way.
Let us take a look at the first setting, remembering that this is just one parable in the whole chapter. The setting is that of sheep. Now sheep in nature do not know their way back to the fold, or to their home if they wander, and they can naturally easily wander away from the shepherd. There is also the shepherd, and who is that? The true and Good Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ. So, when one of the 100 sheep in the illustration wanders and gets lost, who goes after it? The rest of the sheep? No way! It is the shepherd. Is it any shepherd? Only the one who cares for the sheep and does not do it as a job or for money or gains. The One that fits the description of that Shepherd is God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10). He gave His life for the sheep, us, and it is His work that brings us to Him. What happens when the shepherd brings back the sheep that was lost? Does he put it in the fold with the other sheep? No, he carries the sheep and brings it home (Luke 15: 6) and rejoices.
The next setting is that of a coin. Now a coin lost may be insignificant, but to God any soul lost is very significant. We have here a woman lighting a lamp and sweeping the whole house until she finds the lost coin, then she rejoices and calls the friends and neighbours, just like the shepherd who found the sheep that was lost. The idea is that when we were lost and God sought us, we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, there is joy in heaven because of that, and this is a great blessing to hear that when we come to Christ, there is joy before the angels of God for one repenting sinner. In the setting of the coin, we see the work of the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit that sweeps our hearts and searches our hearts, and does the good work in us to come to Christ.
The last setting is that of two brothers and their father in a house. We often refer to the lost son, but in fact, it should be the lost sons, because they were both lost. We know the story so well, but the younger son wanted his inheritance before the father died, which was unheard of at that time. However, the father allowed this and allowed the younger son to go away, maybe for the younger son to learn that life away from home with the father was absolutely worthless. Well, the son learned this the hard way after spending all his money with so-called friends. These ‘friends’ used him for the fact that he had money, and when he spent all, the ‘friends’ did not want to know him. Is this not what happens in our day and age? When we are successful, a lot of people want to know us, bur when we go down, no one wants to even acknowledge us, and this is what happened to the younger son.
After a while, the younger son came to his senses and went back to his father. He rehearsed what he was going to say, but after saying that he has sinned and is no longer worthy to be called his son, the father stopped the son from saying that he wished he would be his servant. The father was waiting daily for the son. We get a glimpse of this in verse 20, because the father noticed the son from a far off and welcomed him back with open arms. Is this not what God the Father does with us? He sees us from a far off as it were, and welcomes us as sons, but in grace we are also His servants, serving Him and one another with love and great joy.
Let us look at the older son, because he too is lost. He thought that he was righteous because he did not spend his money like the younger brother. The older son was living at his father’s house, that is true, but did he know the father’s thoughts or heart? Did he not reflect and see the sadness of the father when his younger brother went away? Did he not sit once with his father and ask why he is so sad and grieved? No, none of that. He only thought of himself, and we see this in verses 28-30, especially when he refused to call the younger son his brother, but said ‘this son of yours’. What sadness to hear this! However, this is the attitude of those who think they are righteous and have no need of repentance, and think that they deserve everything. The older son made it clear that he deserved far more, and that he accused his father of not giving him one goat to have a party with his friends.
The father reassured him that all the father has, belongs to the older brother, but he just did not understand it. The older son went so far to even be bold and say that he had not transgressed even one of the father’s commandments. Was it out of love to the father that he did this, or was it another motive? I will not judge here, but will leave it for you to think about it.
The scene closes and we do not know whether the older son went back in the house with the father to rejoice. Before that, the older son was in the field doing his job (verse 25) and it would seem from his attitude that he refused to go in the house. The scene started with two brothers in the house, but they were both lost in the spiritual and gospel sense. The younger brother went away, but came back into the house. He was lost and is found, was dead and is alive (verse 32). We can say in today’s terms that the younger son came back to the father and was saved. However, the older son, though he was in the house, his mind, heart and thoughts were not with the father, and at the end by his attitude, it seems that he did not go in the house, so he was still lost in the sense of the gospel. He was lost while he was in the house, and outside. This was the attitude of the Pharisees at that time, while they were outwardly religious and were in the temple daily, their souls were spiritually lost, and it was the tax collectors and sinners that were coming to the Lord acknowledging their sin.
Now this setting of the lost son can APPLY to both as believers in their attitude to listening to the Word of God and its teaching, and can apply to one who strays from the local church and the other Christian people look down on him/her for straying away, but come to their senses and acknowledge that it is the work of God to bring the straying believer back to the local church. However, the intention is clearly that of a lost soul, being lost spiritually and in the sense of the gospel, and that heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents and gives their life to Christ.
When we know the actual setting, meaning and intention of passages like this, and what it is designed for, we can then make an APPLICATION to our lives as individuals or people in our local church, but if we do this straight away without reading the context and intention of what is meant, we lose out on wonderful blessings that we can enjoy.