Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Check Your Attitude
If you were with us last time you may have thought that Jesus wasn’t interested in people coming into His kingdom. In Chapter 14 verses 25 – 35 Jesus told the crowds that unless you were ready to commit and leave behind those things that “possessed” you, you could not be one of His disciples. This, of course, is not actually true—Jesus came in order to draw people into His kingdom. At the end of Chapter 13 Jesus longed to gather the Children of Israel under His wings. In Chapter 19 of Luke’s gospel Jesus will make it crystal clear His intention: Luke 19:10 (HCSB) 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
And today as we look at Chapter 15, we see that God is anxiously searching for those that will be found.
He does so with 3 parables – some of the most famous in the gospels. But it starts with the religious leaders of Israel once again complaining that Jesus is not fitting into their mold.
1 – 2
Chapter 14 began with a meal at a leading Pharisee’s house and became an opportunity to teach humility. Chapter 15 begins with a meal among “tax collectors” and “sinners” who apparently don’t need that lesson—they are ready to repent as they are already humbled. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for Rome collecting Imperial taxes and often ripping the people off. They were rejected by the Jews for associating with Rome, yet were not accepted by Rome either. “Sinners” is an interesting concept. From consulting a number of commentaries on this, I conclude that “sinners” here doesn’t necessarily mean people who have sinned, but what some call “degraded social classes”. Basically it’s anyone the Pharisees looked down on.
The Pharisees and scribes “murmured”, probably openly (as the word means to murmur throughout a crowd) that Jesus was doing two things: 1) He “welcomed” or “admitted” those they would reject and 2) actually ate a meal with them. In that culture to eat a meal with someone meant you had a relationship with them and accepted them. I find it a little odd that Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house, yet clearly the Pharisees didn’t accept Him!
What may have been going on is that the Pharisees expected Jesus to play by their rules as a respected Rabbi. Instead of shunning the lower classes, though, He seeks them out. The parables He tells sort of act out that same idea. The ironic thing is that the very religious leaders who were so pure and holy were just as soiled and dirty as those “sinners”!
So let’s take a look at these three parables. What I want to point out as we look at these are some common elements:
- The attitude towards the lost
- The diligence with which they are sought
- The celebration that occurs when what was lost is found
- The attitude of those who should be like the shepherd, woman, and father, but are not.
3 – 7
Remember now, Jesus is reacting to the religious leaders’ disdain for Him accepting “sinners” – those “lower classes” that don’t match up to the holiness they think they have. Instead of pushing “sinners” away, the Father goes after them like a shepherd who has lost one of his valuable sheep. The focus here is the rejoicing that takes place when he finds that sheep—in contrast to the attitude of the religious leaders.
What this calls to mind is Ezekiel 34
Ezekiel 34:1-5 (HCSB) 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? 3 You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered.
So because of this, the Lord takes matters into His own hands later in the chapter:
Ezekiel 34:10 (HCSB) 10 “This is what the Lord GOD says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand My flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue My flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them.
We see example after example of this in the Scriptures like the sons of Eli in (1 Samuel 2:12-17). The focus in the parable is on the efforts the shepherd will go to in order to find that which was lost—something the religious leaders of Israel were not at all interested in doing (as Ezekiel points out). The idea of the leaving the 99 doesn’t mean that God does not care about the sheep already in His fold, but He, and us, should focus on bringing in those that are not a part of the sheepfold, no matter how “sinful” they may appear to be.
8 – 10
We move from a relatively wealthy shepherd to a poor woman who has lost 1/10th of her money—about a day’s wage. Most houses of that day did not have windows and had dirt floors, so she has to light a lamp and sweep at the dirt until she finds the coin. Here Jesus is going more in depth as to the process of searching. Diligent searching using any method available shows the lengths to which the Father goes searching for people who He wants to save.
As Jesus brings the parable home, He adds that not only the Father but the angels rejoice when someone turns from their sin and comes into relationship with God.
11 – 31
This parable is so familiar to us that we often don’t really think about it. Most of the time we focus on the prodigal son who wanted to get his share (1/3) of the estate and leave the family in order to “squander his estate in foolish living.” He, like us, doesn’t want to act in purity and so are lost in sin until we begin to suffer the consequences of our sin and realize that we are reaping what we sowed – corruption. In the depths of those consequences the son finds himself caring for unclean animals who are better off than he is. The son then returns in humility and repentance but finds the father welcoming him home not as a servant, but a son. That’s wonderful and true – but I want to focus primarily on two other people in this story: the father, and the older brother.
- The father didn’t chastise his son but let him go. God is a gentleman and will not force anyone to love or belong or stay with Him.
- The father sought and longed for the son’s return (verse 20) showing that the father habitually looked for his son to come back, just as God longs for any lost sinner to repent.
- Then he showed four important things to this lost son:
- compassion, 2) love, 3) celebration and 4) restoration
Even so too, this is the attitude of our God when we return to Him, repent, confess that we have sinned and want back into the family not through our place or our behavior but through the mercy of the Father. We don’t have to slink in the back door and hang our head in shame. The cleansing we receive is so great that God can look at us like He looks at His own Son and rejoice openly.
The religious leaders in Israel were not that way. They were so interested in keeping their power by pushing others down below them that they missed the heart of Yahweh. So Jesus very craftily circles His stories back to the main point: that consorting with sinners is exactly the kind of attitude they should have, in order to bring everyone into a renewed relationship with God.
The Older Brother
Notice that the brother “summoned his servants” to find out what was going on. I think this is a not too veiled slight at the power and position the religious leaders felt they had.
The first response of the brother is anger, then disengagement. The religious leaders were angry that Jesus hung out with the lesser classes and they would have nothing to do with it.
The father missed him (as Yahweh wants the children of Israel in His kingdom) and so came to ask why the older brother wasn’t joining in, just as Jesus stands before them wondering why they are not wanting a part in what the Messiah is doing in their midst. The brother in the story focuses back on himself and his works and is angry at the father for celebrating the return of the repentant son, instead of celebrating the works of the obedient brother.
The ending here is priceless. Jesus is telling the religious leaders that they should have known the Messiah, known what God was doing and should have adopted His same love for the have-nots. Instead they are self-serving and off-putting to the very people Jesus came to save.
So honestly in looking at these parables and their context a couple of things come to mind for us.
- We are more like the Prodigal son than we’d like to admit
The son wanted to withdraw from the family business, and take advantage of all the world had to offer.
1 John 2:15-17 (HCSB) 15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.
The “Lust of the flesh” refers to independence from God – doing it your way, not Gods. The “Lust of the eyes” refers to all the glittery stuff in this world, from sexual immorality to greed to power. It’s going for the show on the outside, not the change on the inside. Finally, the “pride of one’s lifestyle” is the result of the first two—the arrogance that leads me to believe I have all I need.
In the case of the son, eventually he learned the bait and switch nature of following the flesh (the famine). Hebrews 11:25 calls it the “short-lived pleasure of sin”.
If that’s you, it is never too late to turn. The Father is watching out for you to “come to your senses” and return in repentance. Like the father in this parable, God will wrap you in the robe of the righteousness of Jesus and throw a party for you!
- We are more like the Pharisees than we’d like to admit
It’s sad to say, but we can be just as guilty of exclusionism as the religious leaders. We are attracted to people who act and talk and look like us. But the “unwashed” are not as attractive and I think though it can be subtle, we are not as accepting of them. I’ve seen it happen in many churches. I think the bottom line is for us to adopt the same attitude as the Father—actively seeking and actively rejoicing when someone comes into relationship with the Lord.
So in these parables Jesus encourages us to look at our mind-set when it comes to the lost. Next week He encourages us to look at our methods—are we doing everything we can to fill up His house?