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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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Verses 1-2

The Lord Receives Sinners

While the religious leaders have rejected Him, for tax collectors and sinners the Lord is Someone Who attracts them by His words of grace which are “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). They are the people who are compelled to go in (Luke 14:23). The attitude of the Pharisees and scribes is completely foreign to grace. They feel far exalted above this kind of low sunken people and look down upon them. Such people don’t deserve to deal with them and do them good. That is what the Lord does, and they grumble about it.

People who have no sense of grace can only criticize others who do prove grace or live by grace in a spirit of acidification. It is the attitude of the eldest son in the third part of the parable. The grace of the Lord goes far beyond what they grumble about. The Lord does not just receive them; He seeks them explicitly, as the following parable shows. God finds His good pleasure in proving grace. What an answer to the terrible attitude of the Pharisees who object against it!

The reason for the parable is the grumbling of the Pharisees and the scribes because the Lord Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. By doing so they unintentionally give him a big compliment. He is indeed just came for them .

Verse 3

Introduction to the Parable

The following three parables are essentially one parable. Therefore it says that He spoke to them “this parable” and not “these parables. It is a parable in three parts. Each of the three histories is about love for what is lost. It is a love that seeks (sheep and coin) and receives (son).

The sheep and the coin are passive. The sheep is too weak to do anything, the coin can do nothing at all. With the sheep and the coin we see what is happening for the lost sinner, with the youngest son we see what is happening in the lost sinner.

In each of the histories, one Person from the Godhead is highlighted in particular. In the sheep we see the Lord Jesus as the good Shepherd Who bears the whole burden; in the coin we see the Holy Spirit with His light in the effort He makes; in the son we see the waiting and receiving Father.

Verses 4-7

The Lost Sheep

The ninety-nine represent the class of Pharisees and scribes. They are left behind in the desert, not in a fenced meadow. They are, as it were, left to themselves. For the shepherd it is about that one sheep that is lost, not the ninety-nine, for they are not lost. The Pharisees and scribes do not see themselves as lost. The shepherd is not committed to them, but to that one sheep that is lost. He’s willing to do anything to find it and he continues searching until he finds it. If he hadn’t followed it, it would have got lost further and further and finally died. The shepherd follows the sheep because it has an enormous value for him. This aspect is also seen in the coin and the son.

It is about the loss that the owner experiences and his desire to get it back. It is about a God Who, full of grace and mercy, is looking for people who have been estranged from Him by sin in order to make His pleasure known to them and to bring them back to His heart. God finds man at the moment man repents.

When the shepherd has found the sheep, he lifts it up and lays it on his shoulders. It is nice to remember that the power and strength of the Lord Jesus in relation to the creation is expressed in the words “and the government shall be upon his shoulder“ (Isaiah 9:6, Darby Translation), while here it says that He lays the lost and found sheep on His shoulders. One shoulder is enough to rule the world. To bring a lost sheep back to the herd, He uses both shoulders. He also lays om His shoulders “rejoicing” on His shoulders. It is a cause of joy for the Shepherd that He has His sheep back.

And where does the shepherd bring the sheep? He does not bring it back to the open pasture, to the herd he has left behind, but he takes it to his home, he brings it “home”. The lost sheep has ‘come home’. The shepherd also wants others to share in his joy about the found sheep. He calls his friends and neighbors together to rejoice with him about finding “my” sheep. A man who is happy to find something belonging to him can understand to some extent how God finds his joy in the salvation of the lost. In any case, Christ appeals to this human joy to justify God’s joy.

The Lord assures us here that a sinner who repents is prominent in the joy on high. There is no one who grumbles, everyone rejoices in the shown love. Is that the case with us? Heaven is not rejoicing about all those people who think they are righteous and therefore do not think they need repentance. Real joy is the result of the searching love of the Lord Jesus.

Verses 8-10

The Lost Coin

In the second part of the parable the Lord represents a woman who loves a silver coin. The silver coin – literally drachma – was a Greek currency and therefore not legal tender in Israel. Therefore it seems that the ‘silver coins’ were used for personal decoration of head, neck or arm. This decoration is very much appreciated by the women and that is why she would like to keep it intact, possibly more out of emotional value than because of its monetary value. The silver coin is worth a lot to the woman. Maybe it belonged to a piece of jewelry with ten silver coins that lost all its shine because of the loss of that one silver coin. Hence the loss of one of the ten coins gives rise to a diligent search by the owner. That is why finding it leads her to call her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her.

The woman represents more the personal work of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts than the work of Christ that is seen in previous history. In accordance with the position of the woman according to God’s thoughts, the Spirit has taken a position of submission, of activity in the background or in the hidden.

A lost coin is a lifeless thing. That is a suitable example to express what a lost sinner is according to the thoughts of the Spirit of God. It represents a human being who is spiritually a dead thing with just as little strength to go back as the missing coin. Therefore the silver coin gives us a fitting picture of the sinner, who does not have the least power to return to God (Ephesians 2:1). The sinner is utterly hopeless. Only the Holy Spirit can do something here. He lights a lamp in the dark heart of the sinner. In the work of the woman we see the work of the Spirit.

The woman does not reconcile herself with losing her coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds the silver coin. The lamp represents the testimony of the Word of God. The Spirit is especially characterized by activity and in His work He uses the Word. Therefore it says here that the lamp is lit.

But that’s not all. The woman sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds the silver coin. There is love that goes to great lengths, that takes away obstacles and works carefully and searches thoroughly. If she had not searched so thoroughly and persistently, the silver coin would never have been found. Thus, the Spirit of God is tirelessly busy to find and bring to life a lost and dead sinner. By finding the lost coin the collection of coins is complete again.

In addition to the possibility, already mentioned, that it is about a decoration, it can also be an heirloom or a wedding gift. In any case, the intention is to make it clear that the lost silver coin has a special value in the eyes of the woman. We also see this in the joy that the finding of the silver coin causes in the woman. She wants to share that joy with her friends and neighbors.

It depicts the joy of the Holy Spirit when a sinner comes to conversion. This joy that arises when a sinner repents is the joy of God. It is joy “in the presence of” the angels, not “with” the angels. What is their presence, what do they see? They see the joy of God over a converted sinner.

Verse 11

Two Sons

After a hundred sheep, of which goes astray, and ten silver coins, of which someone loses one, now we see two sons, of whom one leaves. In this history we see in the youngest son the depths in which the sinner has ended up and the height to which he is brought when he comes to repentance. The eldest son represents the spirit of the Pharisees and the scribes. In these two sons we have the two extreme cases of being lost which therefore include all other cases. In the youngest son we see the tax collectors and sinners, in the oldest son the Pharisees and the scribes.

Although this parable is applicable to all people, the Lord speaks primarily of Israelites. They are in a special relationship with God. They are called “sons of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1). In the application, this especially concerns all those who occupy a position of privilege, such as children of believing parents. In the two sons we see the two ways that children who have been raised in a privileged position can go.

Verses 12-16

The Youngest Son Leaves His Father

The youngest son is the picture of the sinner who claims his share of life to live it the way he wants. By asking his share of the estate from his father while the father is still living, the youngest son essentially declares his father dead. The father does not try to change his son’s mind, but gives each of his two sons their share.

Thus God has given every human being the responsibility to do with his life what he wants. Then it will become clear how someone wants to live his life. There is no clearer way to deny God than to give preference to one’s own will over that of God. This own will makes it clear that someone wants to live separately from God. It reveals the desire to follow one’s own way at a great distance from God. This is without doubt the root of all sins. Sin against men will surely follow, but sin against God is the primary cause.

Man is put to the test. He is responsible, but in fact he is not prevented from doing his own will. God only holds the upper hand to carry out His own gracious plans. Yet it seems as if God allows man to do what he wants. Only then will it become clear what sin means, what the heart seeks, what man with all his pretentions is.

The youngest son is as guilty when he asks the share of his father’s estate as when he sits with the swine. He has already said goodbye to his father in his heart before he actually leaves. Then we see in him, that at the moment man leaves God, he sells himself to satan. Not only do we get a description of a sinful way of life, but we also see the bitter end. Giving in to sin brings misery and distress with it. A void is created that nothing and nobody can fill. The selfish waste of all his wealth only makes him feel this emptiness all the more.

When in extreme despair he goes to one of the citizens of the land to ask for help, we see the degeneration of the sinner. There is no love, but selfishness. The citizen does not treat him as a fellow citizen, but as a slave. There is no slavery as deep and humiliating as being a slave to our own lusts. He will be treated accordingly. How must it have sounded in the ears of a Jew that this youngest son was sent to the field to feed the swine? He sinks to the low point of want and misery. Yet nobody gives him anything.

The lack does not yet drive him back, but leads him to seek resources in the land of satan, in what that land can give. How many souls feel the famine in which they have brought themselves, the emptiness of all that surrounds them, without any desire for God or holiness. There is a desire in them to degrading things in sin. Satan, however, gives nothing, but takes everything. Only God is the Giver. He has proven this in the greatest Gift, which is the gift of His own Son.

Verses 17-19

The Youngest Son Comes to His Senses

At the bottom of his misery he comes to himself. This is the beginning of the return. Around him everything is gone. He only has himself. Now that he no longer has any distractions, he starts thinking about home. He remembers what he has turned his back on. He left his father’s house as a son and now sits with the swine in the greatest misery, while his father’s slaves have no shortage of anything.

Where the Spirit of God works, we always find two things: the conscience is convinced of sin and the heart is attracted by God’s love. This is the revelation of God to the heart. God is light and God is love. As light He works in the heart the conviction of his lost condition. As love there is the attraction of His goodness. The result is true confession.

The prodigal son makes a decision: he will go back to his father. He does more than just decide to go back. He sees that he has sinned, both against heaven and Him Who dwells therein and against his father. The life of a sinner is contrary to the life lived in heaven by angels who only do what God says. In his inner being the son is convinced of his sins and is prepared to confess them openly. By his willingness to stand up, he has already acknowledged before God that he has sinned.

He also realizes that he has lost all rights to be still accepted as a son. This is the work of God’s Spirit. He is truly broken and contrite spirit. He wants to take the place of a slave. If he could take it, he would be satisfied with it. The wish was good, but legalistic by ignorance of grace. That is how many Christians live. They are only concerned with themselves and still have so little awareness of what lives in the Father’s heart. It is not about what we want, but about what the Father wants. That is so impressive in this part of the parable. It is not about what the son wants, but about what the father does.

The Father proceeds to the fullness of grace that is in His heart for lost sons. God’s desire is not satisfied by giving lost sons the place of a hired man at the doorstep of His house. He wants sons in the area and atmosphere of His house. Many Christians have no awareness of what sonship is to the pleasure of the Father’s will (Ephesians 1:5). There is no peace by return alone. True peace comes when we get to know the Father’s thoughts about us.

Verses 20-24

Return and Acceptance

The youngest son adds his deed to his word. He gets up and comes to his father. Many Christians say they have sinned. They also sincerely see that they are not worthy of being accepted by God. However, there is no getting up, but a lingering in the misery. That is a dishonor for the Father. Then there is no confidence that the Father is ready to receive. There may still be so much doubt, but thinking of the Father’s goodness will make someone rise up to go to the Father.

The father does not act with his son according to what he deserved, but according to his father heart. The father has never let go of him in his heart. His heart has gone with his son. He stood on the lookout. The word “a long way in Luke 15:20 is the same word as “distant country” in Luke 15:13. The father saw his son there and waited until he returned.

When the father sees his son approaching in the distance, he is moved with compassion. Then he runs to go to his son. In the picture we see here that God is in a hurry in a positive sense, which is the only time in the Bible. Without any reproach the father embraces him and kisses him, he covers him with kisses. The father never did that with one of his hired men. This is a welcome that suits a son! Thus is God for every sinner who repents and comes to Him.

The son starts to say what he had intended, but does not go beyond the first words. Further speaking is made impossible by the father because he does not let him speak further. Before the son can say “make me one of your hired men”, the father acts with him according to his father heart. The position of the father decides that of the son. The love that has received him as a son, also wants him to enter the house as a son and in a way as the son of such a father must be. The father has slaves. The son is not one of them. The father makes his slaves his son’s servants.

The son stands there in his dirty, torn clothes. It is not clothing that suits a son and it is not clothing that fits in the father’s house. The father has a robe hanging ready that suits his house. The slaves are ready to put this robe on the prodigal son. The father only has to instruct his slaves to get the best robe and put it on him. The slaves do not have to ask where it hangs. It’s ready for the son.

When we came to God, we also came in our clothes tainted by sin, but God has provided new clothes. For us it was already hanging ready before the foundation of the world. He has clothed us with Christ. He has made us acceptable in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). Clothed with Christ we enter the Father’s House as righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is the best robe, the robe of heaven.

The son also receives a ring on his hand as a sign of a special honor and dignity, as we see with Joseph (Genesis 41:42). He also gets sandals on his feet. His feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). He is in the Father’s house with the complete peace in his heart that has been brought to him in the gospel to remain there forever as a son (John 8:35). Sandals characterize our walk as sons of God.

The son receives much more than he had before he left. Thus the New Testament slaves of God tell the converted sinner what he has received in Christ. We see that with Paul who wants to present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). He not only preached repentance, but also taught the Word of God to all who repented.

Finally, the father orders to get the fattened calf to kill it and then eat it and celebrate. He does not say: Let him eat, but: “Let us eat”. A meal is prepared to eat together, to share in all the blessings that the son is now allowed to share with the father. That happens in joy.

The fattened calf is a picture of the Lord Jesus Who was slain for our sins. In this Gospel we see Him as the peace offering. He is the slain Lamb and around Him all believers, all the sons of the Father, may rejoice together with the Father about the blessings of the Father. The Lamb has given the Father the opportunity to show all His benefits, all His pleasures in man, to man. The joy consists of having a common part in the sacrifice of Christ. That gives the bond of fellowship with the Father and the Son and with each other.

The father speaks of his son as “this son of mine”. He does have another son, but “this” son was “dead and has come to live again”. That is presented in the history of the lost and found silver coin. It shows that something has happened in him. “This son” was also “lost and has been found”. That is presented in the history of the lost and found sheep. That shows that something has happened to him. Both aspects are always present at a conversion.

The result is a celebration without end. What gives peace and characterizes our position according to grace are not the feelings that have worked in our hearts, although they are truly present, but the feelings of God Himself. Nor is it written now, as in the other two cases, that there is joy in heaven, but we see what the effect is on earth, both in that one person and in the hearts of others.

Verses 25-30

The Older Son

The father also has another son. While his brother comes home and is warmly welcomed by his father, that son is busy in the field. When his work is done, he goes home. When he is close to the house, he hears music and dance. The house is a place of joy.

When we come together as an assembly, we experience what it is like to be in the ‘house of God’. There the Word of God is served by slaves of God. What we hear in the house when we hear God’s Word sounds like the melodious music of grace. The reaction to this will be the joyous dance of the members of the household. The Lord has reproached His contemporaries for not having responded to the tones of the music of His grace with expressions of joy in a dance (Luke 7:32). He brought heavenly music to earth in the melodious words of grace, but there was no answer. The house of God is a place where servants play the flute and where those present react with joy. How often, however, is there only criticism.

That resembles the comment of the eldest son. The eldest son needs to know what is going on. Instead of going inside, to his father, he asks one of the servants outside what that music and dance can mean. He understands nothing of the manifestations of grace. He is a tightened man who knows no joy in the Lord. He abhors cheerfulness. That is the mind of the Pharisees and the scribes who see how the Lord Jesus eats with sinners. The servant knows exactly what the reason of the joy is. His brother has come back safe and sound. His father is so happy about this that he has killed the fattened calf. The servant draws attention to the fattened calf as the center of the feast.

The youngest son is inside, the oldest son is outside. There he stays because he doesn’t want to go inside. He is outside and stays outside because his heart is outside his father’s house. The eldest son is a type of religious man who does not grant the grace to others. The eldest son becomes angry, while the father celebrates. There was and is no relationship between the father and this son. He does not breathe the spirit of love shown to the returned prodigal son. Grace is something strange to him and so he does not share in its joy. He pursued his own interests.

He was undoubtedly zealous and intelligent ‘in the field’, in the world, far away from the scene of Divine mercy and spiritual joy. Yet the father, in his love for him, goes outside to encourage him to also come inside. The father’s love also goes out to him. But the eldest son repulses his father and his love for him with heavy accusations. He is brutal enough to condemn his father, just as the self-righteous man does not hesitate to judge God.

In the thoughts of the unbelieving, but oh so religious, legal man, God is hard and demanding. He is completely blind to all the favors of God; his heart and conscience are totally insensitive. With all was joy, except for man in his own righteousness, the Jew, of whom the eldest son is a picture. People who live in their own righteousness, legal people, can’t take the fact that God is good for sinners, for if God is good for sinners, what then benefits their righteousness?

The eldest son accuses his father of never giving him a young goat to be celebrate with his friends, even though he has served his father for so long and flawlessly. With these statements, the eldest son shows that he has no affection for his father. He has only acted out of duty, as a servant. He has lived according to the rules, so that he comes to judge himself that he has done so impeccably. The self-righteousness is obvious.

The fact that he has no affection for his father is also evident from his accusation that he would have liked to celebrate with his friends at times, but that his father never provided him with a young goat for that. He wanted to celebrate with his friends, but without his father. He has no eye for the fact that a young goat can only be enjoyed in the father’s house and together with the father.

It is clear what an aversion he has to grace and the way grace works. He does not call the prodigal son his brother, as the servant he had addressed did, but speaks scornful of “this son of yours”. He also makes it seem as if his brother has devoured all his father’s wealth, while it was the part that the father had given him. He also knows how that ability was devoured, namely with prostitutes. The father’s conduct in grace for his younger brother brings out the worst side in the eldest brother in every respect.

Verses 31-32

An Urgent Appeal

The father does not defend himself against the reproaches of his eldest son. He also does not defend his youngest son against the charges of his eldest son. He also has patience with his eldest son and acts in grace. The Lord Jesus addresses the Pharisees and the scribes. He also wants to have them inside, in the house of the Father. That is why He tells how the father reacts.

The father shows to his eldest son what he has. What the father says also applies to the whole people of Israel in relation to God. The father calls him ‘son’ to emphasize the intimate relationship. He also points out to him the place of blessing close to him, a place that has always been his share. Finally, the father reminds him that everything he owns, also belongs to him. This is the place that the Jew took under the law.

It is also the same position taken by every unconverted person in Christianity who tries to lead a religious life and walks according to the flesh. That is exactly how the natural men in our continent think and speak. The Jews undoubtedly had the most important place, yes, the only place God claimed on earth. All other lands God had given to the children of men, but He had reserved His land for Israel. He had brought them to Himself by an external redemption and put them under the law.

The same is true in principle of every human being who is full of his own righteousness. He tries in his own way to do good and serve God, while he is insensitive to the truth that he needs mercy and redemptive grace.

The father tells his eldest son that there is reason for joy and celebration, namely the return of his brother. He wishes his eldest son to share in it. But only those who have become the object of God’s searching and receiving love share in that joy. Such a person sees that God Himself rejoices in the joy of grace and shares it with others. “And indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The father, like the servant before him, speaks about his youngest son as “brother” of his eldest son. He emphasizes it by saying “this brother of yours”.

The eldest son has neither an eye nor a heart for the fact that it’s about someone who is in the same relationship with his father as he is. God does not tolerate that the real relationships between them are denied. Therefore, the final judgment on Jews comes not only because of their gross ingratitude to God, but also because of their aversion to the grace he has shown to poor Gentiles in their misery and sin. This is powerfully expressed by the apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:16). They could not bear that others, those dogs from the nations, would hear the gospel of grace. They were so proud of the law that they despised grace for themselves.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 15". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/luke-15.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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