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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

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This, one of the most beloved chapters of the word of God, is an account of what was probably a single discourse of Jesus Christ, the whole theme of which was "The Lost." First there was the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7), then the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and finally the two lost sons. It was the Saviour who rescued the lost sheep, the church (under the figure of a woman) who sought the lost coin, and the Father who patiently awaited the return of the prodigal, reinstated him with honor, and then went out and entreated the older brother. Since the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the activity of the entire Godhead appears here as engaged in the redemption of the lost.

There are four ways to become lost, and all of them are evident in this remarkable sermon. The sheep was lost by wandering away from the flock, the coin was lost through no fault of its own, but through the inability or carelessness of the woman. The prodigal was lost by overt and willful disobedience; and the elder brother was lost through pride, selfishness, and self-righteousness.

Verses 1-2

Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

"Jesus had already expounded the reasons for his moving "into the streets and lanes of the city" (Luke 14:21) to include the sinners and publicans as objects of the divine mercy; and, in this great chapter, the rationale behind his holy actions was revealed. Even a single sheep, or a single coin, was something of eternal value in the eyes of the Father. God loves every man.

This man receiveth sinners … Unconsciously, his enemies spoke in these words the Master’s highest praise. Intended by them as a slander, the words have been treasured by the church of all ages as glorious and eternal truth. Set to music, and sung in ten thousand congregations of worshipers, these words have blessed millions.

Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
Sing it o’er and o’er again:
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men!(F1)

And eateth with them … See under Luke 9:19 for an extended list of the slanders against Jesus. The attitude of those self-righteous leaders of the people who held themselves to be so far above the common class of sinners was in itself the worst of sins, and Jesus made it the climax of this sermon on the lost, as exemplified by the older brother in the third parable.

Verses 3-7

And he spake unto them this parable, saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.



The man with one hundred sheep = Christ the Good Shepherd

The sheep which wandered away = backsliders from the faith

Finding the lost sheep = Christ saving sinners

Elevating it to his shoulders = uplifting the fallen

The rejoicing of the shepherd = joy in heaven over the saved

The fact of there having been only a single sheep is not an indication of how few were lost, but of the Lord’s concern even for a single lost person. As a matter of fact, the lost sheep stands for countless millions of people.

Nothing is to be made of the wilderness except that the uninhabited country that surrounded Palestine was the place where the shepherds kept and pastured their flocks.

I. This parable may be viewed, first of all, as an argument. Jesus was being criticized by the Pharisees for associating with sinners; and Christ here showed that any of them would leave ninety and nine sheep safe in the fold and go seeking for a single lost sheep, thus demonstrating that they valued an animal more than they valued a man. Far from being critical of Jesus’ efforts to restore lost men, the Pharisees should have fully engaged themselves by cooperating with such efforts.

II. The parable also has utility as a warning. The lost sheep, separated from the flock and from the shepherd, is a warning of the state of any child of God who wanders away from the church and away from the Shepherd. Sheep, as used by Jesus, always meant followers of God, goats being the designation for the sinful and rebellious. Therefore, the lost sheep here is a type of the backsliding Christian.

But notice the following facts about a lost sheep: (1) it is absolutely defenseless, not even having the gift of swiftness in flight from danger, its very cries being but the signal for the closing in of its enemies. Let the backslider behold here his danger and helplessness.

The lost sheep is without any sense of direction. A carrier pigeon would find its way home, and a dog might do so; but a sheep never!

The lost sheep is surrounded by dangers. There are beasts of prey, poisonous shrubs and weeds, and even the elemental forces of nature are hostile to a lost sheep. Manifold and insurmountable are the dangers confronting the lost sheep; and it is no less true of the Christian who has forsaken the flock and the shepherd.

III. This parable may be looked upon as an outline of the work God expects of his church, the Good Shepherd appearing here as the example to be followed by every Christian.

(1) The shepherd’s emotions were aroused with reference to the lost. He did not merely say, "Oh well, I still have ninety-nine left!" It should be the work of every Christian to become aroused over the fate of the lost brother. It is a brother who is lost, a man made in God’s own image; to despise him, or set him at naught, is to despise oneself.

(2) The shepherd went himself; he did not merely send another. Men are wrong who suppose that they may merely send their minister or elder to seek out the lost. God has commanded: "Ye that are spiritual restore such a one" (Galatians 6:1).

(3) The shepherd stayed with the search until it was successfully concluded. Here is the divine pattern for perseverance in well-doing. The search can have only one desire, that of finding and recovering the lost; not till then did the shepherd give up the search.

IV. This parable is also an epitome of salvation. The whole doctrinal spectrum of the Christian religion is briefly but powerfully suggested here.

(4) Just as the shepherd left the fold and the ninety and nine to seek the lost sheep, Christ left heaven with its glory to seek the lost of humanity (John 3:16).

(5) It will be noted that there was no safety for the lone sheep. Its safety was in the flock and with the shepherd. There is safety for the Christian only in the church and with the Good Shepherd. It may be doubted that there is any such thing as a Christian who does not belong to the church, despite the fact that such a conceit is obviously deceiving millions. Of old, "The Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved," and he has never stopped doing so (Acts 2:47).

(6) Just as the lost sheep was elevated to the shoulders of the shepherd, so the lost soul is elevated to new heights of eminence and rejoicing in Christ Jesus. "He shall exalt you" (James 4:10) is the promise to Christians; and just as the sheep found rest on the shoulders of the shepherd, men find rest in Christ (Matthew 11:29-30).

(7) Heaven itself is concerned with the salvation of the lost. "Joy in heaven!" is a pledge that the unseen creation is interested in the rescue of fallen men. There is no one who confesses Christ that angels do not hear it; and there is none who enters the fold of Christ, but there goes forth on his behalf the angels of God, "to do service for them that shall inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).

Verses 8-10

Or what woman having ten pieces of silver; if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she hath found it, she calleth together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost. Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.



The woman = the church throughout all the ages

The lost coin = the "dropout" from church

The lighted lamp = the word of God

The broom = the church’s concern for true virtues and morality

The diligent search = the church’s urgent activity to save souls

The rejoicing = the joy in heaven over one who is saved

Which I had lost … This is a significant acceptance of blame on the part of the woman for having lost the coin, which inherently is incapable of losing itself. This stands for people in all ages who, in a sense, are lost from God’s service through sin or ineptitude within the church itself. Volumes could be written on the things which churches do or leave undone, causing the loss of precious souls.

I. Note the coin as the type of a man.

(1) Both are from the earth, silver being refined from earthly ore, and man having been created of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7).

(2) Both are valuable. Silver coins have ever been recognized as items of value, but sometimes men have been accounted as cheap in the eyes of their fellows. Earth’s warlords have ever looked upon men as mere pawns in the struggle for power; and historically, the rich and the powerful have often held human life as cheap indeed (Matthew 10:29-30).

(3) Both may be exchanged for something else. Man may exchange himself for eternal life (Luke 16:9). On the other hand, he may sell himself to do evil in God’s sight (1 Kings 21:20). Esau sold his birthright for one mess of pottage (Hebrews 12:16). A man, like a coin, may be exchanged for something else.

(4) Both are stamped with the image of the maker, the coin with the likeness of the emperor, and man in the likeness of God who created him (Genesis 1:27). The image of God in every man distinguishes him from the lower creations, and proves that he is not a mere brother to a beast.

II. The lost coin is very like a sinner, or backslider.

(5) Both were lost through no fault of their own. The woman lost the coin; and all men are in a condition of loss and death through the sin of Adam (Romans 5:14-15). Death reigns over all men, even over those who have not sinned as Adam sinned. We are using the term "lost" in this connection with regard to man’s mortal condition, and not as endorsing the speculation concerning original sin.

(6) The lost coin and the lost man are alike fallen. That the coin in the parable was upon a lower level is evident in the use of the broom; and the sinner too is said to be fallen. It is said of Judas that "he fell" (Acts 1:25); and the sinful church was declared to have "fallen" from its first love (Revelation 2:25).

(7) Both the lost coin and the lost man suffer increasing damage. The lost coin becomes tarnished, even chemically altered, losing eventually the superscription upon it; and likewise the lost man finds the image of God in his soul progressively effaced and tarnished by sin and shame.

(8) Both the lost coin and the lost man become increasingly difficult to recover. The longer each is lost the harder it is to find. Every child should be saved as soon as possible after the age of accountability (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Well does the Spirit of God teach that the earliest possible instant is none too soon to seek salvation in the name of the Lord.

III. This parable also reveals valuable lessons on how to find the lost.

(9) First, the woman lighted a lamp; and the church would do well to follow that example. Without a lighted lamp, one would never find a lost coin in a dark place; and unless the church shall hold aloft the lighted lamp of the word of God, the lost shall not be recovered. The only light is the Bible. Churches seek in vain to light up this world’s darkness by preaching human philosophies, legends, political convictions, social schemes, or anything else other than the holy word revealed in the New Testament. "Thy word is a lamp … and a light" (Psalms 119:105).

(10) The woman searched diligently for the lost coin. The church should be diligent in the program of evangelization, the same being the church’s most urgent business.

(11) The woman used a broom to sweep the whole place. Churches which have allowed the whole atmosphere within their fellowship to be polluted with unrebuked sin, open immorality, or any other defection from the path of duty should take a lesson from the broom. Both the lamp and the broom are necessary. The church cannot be effective in the saving of souls until it has lighted the lamp and employed the broom.

IV. This parable, like the preceding one, stresses the joy of the angels of heaven over the salvation of the lost.

Seeing that the angels of God are interested in the salvation of souls, how diligent all men ought to be in looking after the one thing needful, namely, the soul’s redemption.

Nor is the rejoicing over sinners saved restricted to the courts of heaven. The woman with her friends and neighbors rejoiced; and so will the church which works to save men. The saving church is a happy church.


Actually, this is the parable of two sons, the elder brother being no less lost than was the prodigal; but, by the consent of all mankind, it is known by the title above. This writer once delivered a sermon before four hundred men in prison; and, upon the announcement of this parable as the subject, a mighty groan went up from the four hundred vigorous masculine throats; and after the sermon, the chaplain revealed that upon four successive Sundays the guest speakers had based their remarks upon this parable!

There are two applications of it. First, the prodigal son represents the Gentiles who rebelled against God and departed from the Father’s house. The elder brother represents the Jewish religious establishment who remained, nominally, in the fold of God, but who nevertheless became proud, self-righteous, unfeeling recipients of the Father’s mercy, having lost all contact with the Father. Significantly, the older brother went to the servants, instead of to the Father, with questions about the joyful celebration. The love of God for both Jews and Gentiles is seen in the Father’s reception of both sons, his reinstatement of the prodigal, and his entreating of the older brother.

The second, and more general, application of the parable has regard to the men of every generation.

That this parable is an unqualified tragedy, first to last, may not be doubted, despite the rejoicing over the return of the prodigal; and, as is the case in many of Jesus’ teachings, the total unworthiness of the human race in the sight of God is plainly taught. To be sure, people are precious in God’s sight; God loves them; God offered His Son upon Calvary for their redemption; and one redeemed soul is valued above the world and everything in it (Mark 8:36-37); but Jesus was careful to use illustrations, such as this parable, in such a manner as to show beyond any shadow of doubt that no man DESERVES salvation through his own merit. The prodigal son did not merit the honorable reinstatement he received of the father; nor did the hard-hearted elder brother deserve the father’s entreaty at the end of it. In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-6), both those workers who came in the eleventh hour and received reward, and those who worked all day and complained against the householder, proved themselves to be without merit. The same situation is seen in the parable of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32); who would wish to have a son like either one of them? Likewise, in the parable of the marriage of the king’s son (Matthew 22:12-14), neither the nobility who scorned the invitation, nor the rabble that accepted it, had any quality of character that could have merited the invitation. See comment on those parables in my Commentary on Matthew.

This most beloved of the Master’s parables is here discussed line by line; and, after Luke 15:24, is a condensed sermon this writer has preached in forty states and several foreign countries.

Verses 11-12

And he said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

Jewish law did not require the father to honor such a request, but in keeping with the analogy that God allows men to choose their ways without coercion, this father honored the request. As the younger son received one-third of the estate and the older brother two-thirds, after the custom of the times, the father simplified things by giving to both sons their inheritance.

Verse 13

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living.

The undisciplined life of the younger son quickly resulted in the waste, extravagance, and sinful living recounted here. This scene of irresponsible youth wasting the inheritance assembled at such cost of tears and labor on the part of their ancestors is repeated again and again in every generation, by countless thousands of people.

Verse 14

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.

This was the intrusion of the unexpected. Such things as wars, disasters, pestilence, and famine were far away from the prodigal’s thoughts; but, alas, the unforeseen disaster laid him low and reduced him to want. The wisdom of the father which had seen the family through many similar perils was not in him, with the result of his being utterly unable to cope with the situation that came upon him.

Verse 15

And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

This acceptance by the prodigal of such a despised, menial position in the establishment of one of the citizens of that country shows the extent of his reduction and want. He who had found the benign government of a father so unbearable was reduced to submission as one of the lowest menials under that citizen. A Jewish prince in a swine pen! What a disastrous development that was!

Verse 16

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

The husks … These were the pods of the carob bean,(F2) a coarse, locust-like bean with a certain sugar content, still used in the East for feeding swine. The seeds of this bean are strangely uniform in size and weight, and they were used as the measure of a "Carat" by gem merchants, weight of one seed equaling one carat, that term being directly derived from "carob."(F3) It was only the pod, or husk, of the bean which was edible, the seeds being very hard and worthless as food. This product is still sold in Manhattan, New York City, the flour made of the pods having a sweet, chocolate-like taste, not being in any way very delicious, but it is supposed to be healthful.

No man gave unto him … Nothing disappears any more quickly than the friends who have drunk the liquor and helped waste the substance of a man like the prodigal. His plight was altogether pitiful.

Verse 17

But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare and I perish here with hunger.

The glory of this prodigal is that he told himself the truth. Instead of a false braggadocio by which he might have screwed up his courage to stick it out, he simply faced up to the facts of his hunger, loneliness, and hopelessness. The "life" which he no doubt expected when he left home had turned into "death" for him.

Verses 18-19

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

A good resolution is the beginning of a better life; and all of the ultimate restoration of this prodigal turned upon this resolution and his prompt execution of it.

I have sinned against heaven … There is a great depth of perception in this. Sin has a dreadful recoil against the sinner, being against himself, and also against his family, against society and against every good and beautiful thing on earth; but primarily sin is "against God." It was the perception of Joseph that the suggested sin with the wife of Potiphar was not so much against his master, or against the master’s wife, as it was against God. "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:10).

Verses 20-21

And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.

The inimitable Charles Hodge, distinguished preacher and author, has written a book on, "Will God Run?" giving the answer as "Yes! Yes! God will run! To save them who come unto him." The only one who came to meet the returning prodigal was his father.

God did not save him because he repented, nor because he walked all the way back home, but for one reason, and get this, people, He forgave him because he was his son! We are saved by grace, and don’t you forget it!(F4)

Verses 22-24

But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; and he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

It will be noted that the prodigal never came out with the intended request to be made as one of his father’s hired servants. It would appear that the father interrupted him before that part of his speech to the father could be made.

The ring, the robe, the shoes … All these were the signs of the sonship which the father restored to him, the signet ring, in particular, indicating that the father undertook to pay all of his debts. The new clothing and the status at the father’s table are fitting emblems of the salvation which God bestows upon his returning children,

And they began to be merry … signifies the joy in God’s house over the salvation of the lost.


Introduction: Most of those standing by when this prodigal took passage for the far country would probably have admired him. He was not only young and rich, but he was what many would have called "progressive"! Contrasted with this scene of his leaving home is the dark picture of the tragedy that befell him in the far country. Before moving to view that squalid scene in the swine pen, we should remember that the prodigals are still with us, still enraptured with that mysterious allure that the fire has for the moth. This tragedy is reenacted somewhere on earth every day.

I. The extent of this tragedy.

The whole episode was tragic. The rebellious son, the father’s grief, the waste of his inheritance, the type of companions he chose, the famine that fell upon that country, and the harsh bargain he made with the citizen — all these were tragic, but to behold the full extent of this tragedy, only one place supplies the proper vantage point, that of the swine pen. Note the following elements of the tragedy:

A. The prodigal is alone. Far from being the popular way which Satan always promises travelers who accept his suggestions, the route the prodigal traveled proved to be one of utter loneliness; and many a derelict whose body has been drawn from the river, or discovered under a bridge, has also tasted the loneliness of evil ways.

B. The prodigal had a shameful job. Citizens of Satan’s kingdom have swine to feed, and many a hapless prodigal has ended in a disgraceful, humiliating task of tending earth’s swine pens, its brothels, its low places of entertainment, and its saloons. This contrasts with what the prodigal doubtless imagined he would be doing in the far country.

Illustration: A man and his wife were in a Western city and stopped for a cup of coffee across the street from a noted gambling center. The place was crowded, and a young man came over from "The Golden Nugget" and sat at the same table. It turned out that he was a Christian; his father was an elder in a Tennessee church; and he was ashamed of his work; but he insisted he could not change it, saying, "I’m in too deep to change now!" He was only another prodigal sent into a task he despised.

C. He was hungry. Oddly, there was plenty for swine but nothing for the son of the loving father. For all who contemplate an excursion into the far country, it would be well for them to take into account the inevitable hunger of the soul engaged in employment under Satan. "Our souls, O Christ, were made for thee; and never shall they rest till they rest in thee!"(F5)

D. He was tortured by burning memories. Memory is not a thing which may be turned off and on like electricity. "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare." The swine pen itself was no refuge from the memories of that lost relationship. Many a soul today hardly dares to think of those memories of the days of faith and worship which graced their youth. Hell itself is no refuge from memory (Luke 16:27-28).

II. What was the cause of this tragedy?

The cause of every accident is investigated with a view to finding its cause and preventing a recurrence.

A. One root cause of this tragedy was the "give me" attitude of the prodigal. That soul which makes getting the goal of life is headed for disaster. Note the contrast between his attitude at first and that of the penitent prodigal who said, "Father, make me" instead of "Father, give me"!

B. The prodigal’s unwillingness to submit to the benign government of the father’s house was a second cause. Many who wish to lead the good life seem to be unaware that restraints are involved. The plane bound for London must go in that direction. Fellowship with God is possible only for the obedient. His attitude was "Don’t fence me in!" and apparently he did not realize that Esau’s life is the classical example of a life with no fence around it (Hebrews 12:16).

C. Then, there was the influence of the prodigal’s companions upon his life. The elder brother alleged that these included "harlots," and there is nothing in the parable to deny it. Without any doubt, one’s companions have a great deal to do with the life he leads.

D. Lack of vision was also a fundamental cause of this tragedy. The prodigal might have taken the privilege of the Psalmist who said, "I thought on my ways and turned unto thy testimonies" (Psalms 119:59); but thinking upon one’s way is difficult for the profligate. Swine pens are nothing new in this world, and a little serious forethought might have spared the hero of this story the tragedy that befell him; but, like many in all generations, he proved to be unaware of the swine pen until he could hear the grunting in both ears!

III. The cure of the tragedy.

A. The cure began when the prodigal told himself the truth. The unique utility of the Bible is that it reveals what men say to themselves (see more on this under Luke 16:3). Instead of lying to himself about how he would surely make a good recovery, or how something would surely "turn up," he simply faced up to the shame and disgrace of his life, and to the fact that he was "perishing." Countless thousands today should face up to the soul’s bankruptcy.

B. The second phase of the cure was a good resolution. He said, "I will arise and go to my father." But it should be noted that a good resolution did nothing except point the way home. He doubtless felt a lot better after such a noble resolve, but he was still in the swine pen.

C. He arose and came to his father. Men must come "unto" the Father in order to be saved. This is done by learning the truth (John 6:44), by believing in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:10), by repenting of their sins (Acts 11:18), and by confessing Christ (Romans 10:10). But this prodigal was still separated from the father until he came all the way home. Just so, the sinner is still in his sins even after coming "unto" the father by his learning, believing in Christ, repenting of his sins, and confessing the Lord. There was one more thing the prodigal had to do before he was restored; and there is yet another thing the sinner must do to receive the robes of forgiveness and the ring of sonship.

D. He came to the father and submitted to the father’s government which he had once spurned, he accepted the robe, the shoes, and the ring, and took his place once more at the father’s table. All of this corresponds to a sinner’s being baptized into Christ, whereupon he receives the robe of forgiveness, accepts his place at the father’s table by a faithful observance of the Lord’s supper. People who might fancy that the plan of salvation is not in the parables should look again.


This, of course, is the climax of the parable.

Verse 25

Now the elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.

The logical thing for the elder son to have done would have been to go at once to the father; but apparently something was missing from the rapport which he should have had with the father. He was living the life of a slave in the house of his father; and it is to be feared that many a child of God is doing the same thing.

Verses 26-27

And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

And he called to him one of the servants … The elder son was closer to the servants than to his father; and although this is not an outright break with the father, it is a small incident that shows the broken fellowship. Through the passage of time, the elder son had not maintained communication with the father; and, in this, he became a type of the Christian who, while attending to all of the outward duties of faith, nevertheless drifts away from the love of it. The vital prayer line becomes neglected; the heart grows cold, indifferent, and proud; and, at last, such a Christian becomes as much estranged from the heavenly Father as was this elder son from his father in the parable.

Thy brother is come, … etc. The servant, of course, anticipated that the older son would welcome the good news; but such was not the case. "The very kindness of the father to the returned prodigal was a wrong to HIM; for he was rightfully, so he thought, entitled to it all."(F6)

Verse 28

But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him.

The persons primarily in view, as represented by the elder son, were the scribes, Pharisees, and other religious leaders of Israel. It was their anger at the Lord’s inclusion of publicans and sinners as objects of heavenly grace which, in a large degree, motivated their hatred of Jesus. The fierce religious pride and exclusiveness of the leaders were but the metastasis of the cancer of selfishness within them; and their attitude toward others was an inherent contradiction of the purpose of God, whose love of all men Jesus had come to proclaim. The selfishness of the religious leaders manifested itself in their despising the Gentiles, but it did not stop there. Inherent in the nature of selfishness is the constant restriction and withdrawal flowing out of it; and the progression of selfishness in Israel’s leaders had, in the times of Jesus, reached a level in which most of the chosen people themselves were also despised by their leaders. On one pretext or another, they hated everybody but themselves. Even of the multitudes of their own people, the Pharisees said, "This multitude that knoweth not the law are accursed" (John 7:49).

And entreated him … This speaks of the tireless efforts of Jesus to persuade the Pharisees to believe in him. All of the gospels are eloquent in detailing the constant preaching of Jesus to this very class.

Verse 29

But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.

The distorted views of the selfish soul are evident in this verse. The older brother had received the double portion of the divided estate (Luke 15:12); and he was in fact the owner of the whole estate (Luke 15:31), therefore it was his duty to have given to the father, not the other way around. If this elder brother had wanted to share a banquet with his friends, it was surely within his power to have done so; but as a matter of obvious fact, he did not wish to share anything with anybody, even resenting the slaughter of the fatted calf for the return of his brother.

Verse 30

But when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killest for him the fatted calf.

The charge of immorality against the younger son is not denied by anything in the parable, but neither is it affirmed. Selfishness always alleges unworthiness against those who should have been the beneficiaries of charity. The big point in the older brother’s mind had nothing to do with a brother rescued, but with the relative value of a kid vs. that of the fatted calf!

Verse 31

And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine.

See under Luke 15:29. At the time Jesus spoke this parable, the issue of whether or not the Pharisees would give up their selfishness and enter, with the Gentiles, into the banquet prepared for all in the house of the Father, had not yet been determined; and fittingly, the parable closed with the elder son still outside, and the father still entreating. The dramatic scene is one of impending tragedy; for, in the last resolution of the problem, the elder son remained outside the house of joy and feasting.

Verse 32

But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again, and was lost, and is found.

Thy brother … In these words, the father brought the elder son back to the basic fact of his oneness with his brother, a unity denied by the contemptuous "thy son" (Luke 15:30), as the elder brother called him. All men are inherently sinful and unworthy of God’s blessings; and there is no greater sin than the self-righteousness which denies such a truth.

This marvelous story teaches eternal truth, including: (1) the fact that God is willing to forgive prodigals and self-righteous bigots alike, provided that they will receive his mercies and enter the feast of the kingdom. (2) It is easier to confess to God than to many a man. (3) The great joys of God’s kingdom are those of new life in those once dead to sin, and the finding of that which was lost.

Barclay made two observations from this parable which are worthy to be remembered. He said:

It should never have been called the parable of the prodigal son, for the son is not the hero … It should be called the parable of the loving father, for it tells us rather about a Father’s love than a son’s sin.(F7)

The other comment regards the nature of men.

"When he came to himself …" Jesus believed that so long as a man was away from God, and against God, he was not truly himself; he was only truly himself when he was on the way home.(F8)

The authenticity of this chapter is proclaimed inherently within it. God’s love for the lost, from whatever cause, the Father’s concern in sending his Son to save men, and the episode of the Father’s entreaty of the elder son, terminated while the entreaty was still in progress, together with philosophical and theological overtones of the greatest magnitude — all these things are utterly beyond the art of any forger. The early church, with its rising percentage of Gentile members, would never have concluded this parable (if any of them had invented it) with the father still entreating the elder brother. The issue of whether or not the elder brother would attend the feast was decided very quickly after the resurrection; and, therefore, this parable clearly goes back to the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke it.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/luke-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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