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Luke Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin
“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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!’ 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. “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? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:1-10 NASB1995
Luke 15 is essentially made up of three wonderful parables told by Jesus. Two are included in this devotional and the last in that chapter will be explored in the next devotional. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about the company He is attracting (sinners and tax collectors; I assume the tax collectors are also sinners, but have the additional onus of being the bad guys for the government). Jesus answers their rancor with the stories of a lost sheep and a lost coin (and in the next devotional, the prodigal son).
I was a lost sheep in my life. I grew up attending an American Lutheran church in Aurora, Colorado, and was quite active in the church, being one of the youngest people to gain a seat on the church council. Then I went off to college (engineering) and was caught up in the secular and liberal culture of university life. God seemed outdated and misogynistic, so I drifted away. After Steve and I married, we pursued a secular life in earnest, even going so far as to be members of a Secular Humanist organization and supporting political groups that fought against those “narrow-minded and parochial Christians”. But God seeks us - He pursued us earnestly in the wilderness of unbelief. I’ll probably write a few devotionals at some time in the future about the supernatural events and “God things” that happened around the illnesses and deaths of my parents in 2007 and 2008. All I know is that we came to faith again through those experiences and have since found our right church home (leaving a Lutheran church that could now be considered among the lost). I get teary-eyed just thinking about how the angels rejoiced when this miserable sinner was found, repented and returned to the safe, green pastures carried on the shoulders of our Good Shepherd. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want!
Jesus also compares the search to finding a lost coin. The value of one coin if you have thousands is trivial. The value of that same coin when it is one of 10 coins that are all you have saved up makes that coin priceless and you will search diligently to find it if it is lost, putting aside all other tasks. And when that lost coin is found, your friends and the angels in Heaven rejoice. What is interesting to note is that the first parable is about a shepherd and his lost sheep (sheep herding was considered a very lowly task) and the second parable involves a woman who loses the coin (another lowly person, according to the arrogant Pharisees who certainly looked down on women). My research also found that women in Biblical times were often given 10 coins (silver or gold) at their wedding as a dowry and wore these coins in a headdress, so the loss of the coin was noticeable to others and very distressing in a personal way to the woman who lost the coin.
David Guzik has some excellent commentary on these two parables from his Enduring Word Biblical commentary site (these commentaries can also be found on the Blue Letter Bible resource):
a. If he loses one of them [sheep]: It isn’t strange that a sheep would be lost or that a shepherd would seek the sheep. It does seem strange that a shepherd would endanger 99% of his flock for the sake of 1%. Either the safety of the 99% was assumed, or the point of this parable is in the rejoicing, not in the neglect of 99% for the sake of 1%.
i. “No creature strays more easily than a sheep; none is more heedless; and none so incapable of finding its way back to the flock, when once gone astray: it will bleat for the flock, and still run on in an opposite direction to the place where the flock is: this I have often noticed.” (Adam Clarke)
b. Go after the one which is lost until he finds it: The lost sheep would never save himself, or find the shepherd himself. If the shepherd did not take action, the sheep was doomed.
i. Many rabbis of that time believed that God received the sinner who came to Him the right way. But in the parable of the shepherd and the sheep, Jesus taught that God actively seeks out the lost. He does not grudgingly receive the lost; instead, He searches after them. God finds the sinner more than the sinner does find God.
ii. “A great Jewish scholar has admitted that this is the one absolutely new thing which Jesus taught men about God – that he actually searched for men.” (William Barclay)
c. He lays it on His shoulders: When Jesus finds His people He also carries them. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
d. Rejoicing… Rejoice with me… more joy in heaven: The emphasis in this parable is not on the proportion, but on the joy of finding the lost. This was the error of the Pharisees and scribes who complained. They were not joyful when tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus.
e. Over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance: Though the sheep does nothing to rescue himself or repent, Jesus mentioned the need for repentance in the last few words of this brief story. It’s almost as if He said, “the sheep doesn’t repent, but you need to when God finds you.”
b. Light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully: The woman in the story first brought light; then swept and cleaned the house, all along searching for the coin carefully and with deliberate intent. She kept looking until she found the coin.
i. This is how the church, led by the Holy Spirit, will search for lost souls. First they will put forth the light of God’s word, then sweep and clean their own place, then search carefully for the lost.
ii. “One of the first things to arrest us powerfully is the worth of single souls. It was one sheep the shepherd went to find. It was for one coin the woman searched the house.” (James Morrison)
In this vast Universe that God created and on this planet with 7 billion people, God goes after the one soul! We are worth that much to Him!
My next devotional will examine one of the most famous parables in Luke and the third parable in Luke 15, The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
Commentary by David Guzik on Enduring Word is used with written permission.