Date: 21 Aug 2022
Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-32 Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Transcript I was at Vivo City last weekend when over the PA system, I heard this message:
“Attention all shoppers, a 5 year old girl by the name of Anna is missing. She is wearing a blue dress. If found, please return her to the customer service centre at located at lvl 1. Thank you.”
Imagine being Anna’s parents. The expectation of a pleasant family day out in a mall turns into anxiety because you discover that your little daughter is nowhere to be found. You back track to the places you have been, each step quicker than the next. Calling out her name every once in a while, straining your ears to hear her respond. After a while, you finally give in to the realisation that she’s lost. And you hurry to the customer service centre, you apologise to those in the queue and say, “sorry, its an emergency”, and you ask them to make a missing child announcement over the public address system. Every second you wait at the counter feels like an eternity. Your applewatch alerts you that you heartrate has exceeded the normal range, but you have been standing still.
Okay, maybe this isn’t anxiety inducing enough. After all, it happened in Vivocity. It’s a mall in Singapore. Your child is going to show up. It’s just a matter of time. I mean, it’s Singapore.
Imagine the same scenario, but this time it’s a mall in Bangkok. The same scenario, but you’re in a mall in Phnom Penh. As a parent to a missing child, how would you feel then?
And how would you feel, when, just at the moment when you feel like your heart couldn’t take the stress anymore, you child you spot your child in the distance, you run to towards her, you have her in your arms, you find your child again. How would you feel?
Would your heart not leap for joy? Would not anxiety be washed away by a wave of relief which in turns gives way to rejoicing? And if the next activity on the agenda that day was lunch, I am sure, regardless of what is placed on the table, it would be the best family meal you would have had in long time. Because your child was lost, and now is found. Whatever comes next would no doubt feel like a celebration.
This my friends, is what our text today is about.
In this chapter, Jesus tells a series of three parables, and each begins with an individual losing something.
The first opens with a man losing a sheep.
The second, with a woman losing a coin.
The third, a father losing a son.
There are three things I want us to note about this trilogy of lost-and-found parables.
First, the three-strand thread that runs across the three parables is that of “lost-found-celebration.”
Second, there is escalation in the preciousness of what is lost. The value of what is lost grows across the parables.
Third, in this series of parables, God is the seeker, We are the lost.
Let’s get into each of them.
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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 that was lost.’
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
These are the three repeated themes. They form the basic plot-line of the three parables. Introduction: something is lost,
Climax: that something is found
Resolution: we rejoice and celebrate.
It’s simple. It’s understandable. It’s relatable. It’s a storyline that resonates with our lived experience.
The second thing I want us to see is the escalation in the value of what was lost.
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them…”
In the first parable, what is lost is an animal, and it is one animal out of a hundred.
What is lost represents 1% of the total.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin…”
In the second parable, what is lost is a silver coin.
Now, you may think, it’s just a silver coin. One drachma, a day’s wages. A sheep is worth far more. How is this an escalation in value?
It is, because this woman has only 10 silver coins, which was likely her dowry, which she wears around her head in a chain, as was the custom at the time. And this represents her life savings, her financial security, her insurance policy in the event that something happens to the family.
And she has lost one coin of the ten. That is 10% of your life savings lost. Comparatively speaking, it is far more precious than a shepherd losing one of his sheep out of a hundred.
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons
And in the final parable, what is lost is a son, one son out of two. That’s 50% of what you have, what is lost is not animal, nor is it just money, it is your own flesh and blood. It is a son, your beloved child.
And so, the intended effect of this trilogy of parables is to heighten the tension when we discover that which is missing, and increase the rejoicing when it is found again, by raising the stakes, the worth, the preciousness of the object.
That is why the shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the one. Because the one is valuable.
Side note: As I read, I notice a lot of talk about the 99. I just want to say, don’t worry about the 99. The 99 are not lost. They are not in danger. They are not abandoned.
The shepherd has to leave them to find the lost, how else to do the finding? You can’t bring the whole flock through dangerous terrain in search of the missing. So a good shepherd leaves the 99 in safe place, in safe hands, before setting out on his search for the one. I just want to put it out there. Focusing on the 99 misses the point. They’re there to indicate the proportion of what is lost, that’s the function.
The point is that the lost sheep is valuable to the shepherd. So the shepherd goes out of his way to look for it. And why he calls his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him when he finally finds it.
This is also why the woman lights a lamp and overturns the whole house to find her lost coin. It is just that precious to her. And again, why she’s so overjoyed to find it that she calls together her friends and neighbours to celebrate with her. It’s a joyous occasion.
At this point, we ask: okay, what’s the moral of the story? Who’s the one doing the finding? And who is the lost?
The sinners are the lost, God is the seeker.
The preamble to the parables clarifies this.
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
The trilogy was not told for the sake of story-telling. They were told in response to a particular situation. The situation is this: sinners are drawing near to Jesus and Jesus is happily fellowshipping with them. The Pharisees and the scribes are indignant at this.
The bible says, “So he told them this parable,” These parables are an answer to the question, “Why is Jesus, a religious teacher with messianic claims, so apparently content to have sinners in his presence?”
Because he delights in finding the lost. So, who is doing the finding? Who is celebrating when the lost is found? It’s Jesus, it’s God.
It’s an echo of Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
God is the Seeker in the parables.
Notice how the first two parables sets us up to experience the anxiety of losing something valuable and to experience the joy of finding it, by asking us to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who has lost-and-found the object.
4 “What man of you,
8 “Or what woman,
In other words, imagine if you were the man who lost his sheep, or imagine if were the woman who lost her coin. Picture yourselves as the person who has lost the object in the story. Experience the pain of losing, feel the joy of finding.
But in the final concluding parable, Jesus simply goes:
“There was a man who had two sons…”
He does not say, “what father among you…”. “There was a man” – it opens in the third person. Because you are not supposed to be the father in the ultimate lost and found story. God is. God is the ultimate seeker in this trilogy of parables.
I was driving with the radio on one day, and a popular song came on. It’s the theme song to a Tony Award winning Broadway Musical, and the lyrics go like this:
Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall, and no one would hear?
And it’s award-winning song and it’s played on the radio not just because its catchy, but because it resonates with us. It echoes the language and the yearning of the human heart.
Because which of us has never felt like nobody was there? That we are forgotten in the middle of nowhere? That we could just disappear? That that we could fall, and no one would hear?
Perhaps that is how you are feeling at this very moment.
And you want to hear the chorus that goes like this: Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you And when you're broken on the ground You will be found.
So let the sun come streaming in 'Cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again If you only look around You will be found.
Very nice, very comforting, Tony Award winning. But it raises the question:
By whom? You will be found by whom exactly? Who is that friend that will find you?
See, unless you are guaranteed a someone to find you, this song, however comforting, is simply wishful thinking. It’s false hope, it’s airy-fairy propaganda with no connection to reality.
The reality is this, that we do feel lost from time to time, and do want to be found, but we are not quite sure who it is, in this world, that can promise to always find us. Who is that someone? Do you have a name, a someone that will never let you down, that will ensure you will be found?
Friends, Christianity provides you and I with that someone. Christianity provides us with that friend. His name is Jesus Christ. He has come to seek us, he longs to find us. In him, we will be lost. By him, we will always be found.
But the third parable compels us to ask: If Jesus, if God, is the ultimate seeker of mankind. If the Father’s desire is to seek the lost child, then why, in parable of the lost son, is there no indication of the Father going out to search for his son?
Friends, because the road home is a two way street. Calvinism notwithstanding, the road home for sinners requires initiative and effort from both parties.
Notice how the first two parables conclude:
Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Repenting denotes a changing of mind that leads to a turning around of your life.
On surface reading, it doesn’t make sense. A shepherd finds a lost sheep. What has it got to do with repentance? A sheep is a creature of instinct. It doesn’t make rational, moral choices. How does repentance feature in this parable?
And it gets more confusing. A woman sweeps the house and finds a coin. What has that got to do with repentance? A coin can’t turn around if it tried, it’s an inanimate object!
It is not until the final parable that it all comes together. When we read about the prodigal son. Who went missing wilfully, he went astray by choice, he cannot be found unless it turns around.
You see, it was always about the wilful, sinful, prodigal son. In this trilogy, God is ultimate seeker, and sinners are the ultimate lost.
The first two parables have established that God desires to seek the lost, he rejoices in the finding of the lost, it delights his heart. In Christ, we will be found.
But not without repentance.
Remember Luke 5:32,“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
God the father is seeking the lost, the broken, the sinner. You and I. But we will not be dragged home against our will. We will not come home short of a decision to return; we will not be found without repentance.
God the Father is seeking sinners, so repent and be found.
But what does repentance mean? What does it look like, what does it sound like?
Let’s recap the parable of the lost son.
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
That is how the son became lost. He was lost to his father because he decided he wanted nothing to do with him. His father, as far as he was concerned, was dead to him. That’s what asking for your inheritance means, you only obtain your inheritance from the deceased. And henceforth, the younger son is living his way, by his rules, for himself, with to reference or regard to the Father. That’s what means to be lost.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father
This is what repentance looks like: It looks like coming to yourself, coming to your senses, and realising that if you pursue your current path in life, if you carrying on living the way you’re living, pursuing a self-made, self-centred lifestyle, without regard for the reality or existence of God, then it can only leave you high and dry, it will leave you in the gutter and the dirt, it will lead to unquenchable hunger in your soul, you will eat, but still feel empty inside, you will drink, but not be satisfied. And you realise that there must be a better way to truly live and that is to go to the Father. This is what repentance looks like.
This is what is sounds like.
and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father.
This is the language of repentance. It’s acknowledging your sin, it’s owning your guilt, it’s recognising that you are unworthy, that you are not good enough. That if you enter the house of God, it will only be by grace, it will only be because there is a loving mercy greater your shame, there is a forgiveness that wipes away your sin.
And friends, there is indeed such a love, there is indeed such a grace, there is a heavenly father who yearns for the lost, and delights in forgiving and receiving and honoring the prodigal son.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
What a father. What a father, with open arms, he receives his repentant son. There is no condemnation, there is not retribution, there is no resentment. There is only love, and honor and celebration.
Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.
This is the kind of Father our God is. He embraces and honors and rejoices at the return of each repentant sinner. And if you think the prodigal son in this story had it good, you don’t know the half of it. In the real-life story of salvation, we have it better. Way better.
The father in this parable killed a fattened calf to celebrate the return of the lost son. In the real story, our heavenly father gave up the life of his own son, Jesus Christ, to secure the return of sinners like you and I.
It was the atoning death of the son of God on the cross that won our reconciliation to God, so that we might enter into the kingdom as sons of the heavenly father.
There is no price to be paid for our sins, Jesus has paid it all. There is no shame to be borne for our guilt, Jesus has borne it on our behalf. There is no reason to hesitate to repent, the Father is waiting to celebrate your return.
The Father is seeking sinners, so repent!
And rejoice! This is our final point.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 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.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
It's a misnomer to call this the parable the prodigal son, because it fixes the point of the story squarely on the younger son. This is a tale of two sons, both of whom are lost in their own way. The other two parables conclude with the celebration of the lost that has been found.
This parable continues after the celebration has taken place. Why? Because the main point is to celebrate the return of the sinner, but someone isn’t celebrating.
Someone is grumbling. The pharisees, the older brother, are grumbling. They have not heeded the call to celebrate the reception of the sinner. Why?
Because the older brother is not concerned about the younger lost brother. He is merely concerned about himself, and what he can get out of the Father.
Could that be the reason why Hermon hasn’t seen a lot of growth by way of evangelism? Because you come to church and the goal in coming to church is getting to heaven. The concern is my standing before God, not so much about the others.
Or to put it differently, do you feel anguish and anxiety over the non-Christians that you know? Is there a worry in your heart for them, a constant hoping and praying that they would repent and be found in Christ?
And do you really rejoice, do you really celebrate, does your heart leap for joy, at our baptismal services? Do you long to see people there? Or is it just another formality that affects you only by way of prolonging a worship service?
Do you wish we could baptismal Sunday every Sunday? Because the Father does. Heaven rejoices, the angels are glad, the Father celebrates the return of each sinner.
See how each of the parable concludes! That’s what everything points to – celebration!
What this means friends, minimally speaking – that is to say, this is the bare minimum application of the sermon today – the least you can do, is to think of a non-believer in your life, to pray for that person, and to create the opportunity to evangelise him or her. Invite them to church, share the gospel with them, read the bible with them, bring them to Christianity Explored. There are so many ways to do it, but do something.
God is calling us to share his heart for the lost, to celebrate with him the return of the lost, to do something to find them. Because God the Father is seeking them, and he is seeking them through you and I.
My friends, rejoice. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength in this task, let God’s heart move your hands to reach out to the lost. That in the growing communion of the saints, we might celebrate, in ever increasing measure, before the table of our King.