The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Luke 15

Luk 15:1

Luk 15: "The Master is harshly criticised for associating with publicans. Significantly, Luk 14 concluded with the statement: 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,' and now Luk 15:1 records that the publicans and sinners came to 'hear him.' It was an encouragement when the leaders of the ecclesia ignored him. The word 'sinners' seems to apply to irreligious people who lived like Gentiles. In their contempt of God they could be guilty of immorality, having thrown off the restraints of religion. But now, they came to hearken to the voice of wisdom, and heard the parable of the lost sheep (vv 3-7), then the lost silver (vv 8-10), and the lost son (vv 11-32). It is in reality only one parable: a parable of restoration. It taught that the Shepherd (Christ) tended the straying sheep; the Woman (Ecclesia) sought the lost coin; and the Father (Yahweh) restored the wayward son. Christ was extending mercy to those who the leaders of Israel considered as 'sinners' (Gentile-minded) (v 1). The attitude of the leaders ultimately caused them to exclude themselves (Luk 11:52), and opened the way to Gentiles (Rom 1:16). The way to restoration -- even for the elder son -- is the way of humility, for in refusing to enter the house, he repeated in a different way, the error of the younger son" (GEM).

Luke's interest in tax-collectors: Luk 3:12; 5:27; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10; 19:2.

Luk 15:2

MUTTERED: Making excuses for not coming (Luk 14:18-20).

THIS MAN: "Receives sinners" (Luk 15:2). "Never man spoke like..." (Joh 7:46). "No fault in..." (Luk 23:4,14,41). "Has somewhat to offer" (Heb 8:3). "Through this man... forgiveness" (Act 13:38). "Is worthy of more honor than Moses" (Heb 3:3). "Sat down" (Heb 10:12). "Continues forever" (Heb 7:24). "Was Son of God" (Mar 15:39).

THIS MAN WELCOMES SINNERS: "Observe the condescension of this fact. This Man, who towers above all other men, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners -- this Man receiveth sinners... Not, however, that they may remain sinners, but he receives them that he may pardon their sins, justify their persons, cleanse their hearts by his purifying word... and enable them to serve him, to show forth his praise, and to have communion with him. Into his heart's love he receives sinners, takes them from the dunghill, and wears them as jewels in his crown; plucks them as brands from the burning, and preserves them as costly monuments of his mercy. None are so precious in Jesus' sight as the sinners for whom he died. When Jesus receives sinners, he has not some out-of-doors reception place, no casual ward where he charitably entertains them as rich men do passing beggars, but he opens the golden gates of his royal heart, and receives the sinner right into himself -- yea, he admits the humble penitent into personal union and makes him a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. There was never such a reception as this! This fact is still most sure this evening: he is still receiving sinners: would to God sinners would receive him" (CHS).

"The key to Luke 15 hangs at the front door" -- ie, the purpose of the parables in Luk 15 is to be found at the beginning: to counteract the attitude of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Luk 15:4

Vv 4-7: Christ's work in finding the lost: 1% lost, away from flock.

DOES HE NOT LEAVE THE NINETY-NINE...?: It is not necessary to assume that he left them unattended; they could have put in the care of another shepherd temporarily.

Luk 15:5

ON HIS SHOULDERS: The shepherd puts the little lamb on his shoulders, and so Christ put the cross upon his shoulders! Christ the bearer of our sins (Isa 53:6; cp Exo 28:12).

Luk 15:7

REJOICING IN HEAVEN: As in Rev 5:7-14.

RIGHTEOUS PERSONS: The "just" or "righteous ones" of Luk 5:32. Of course, there are -- in reality -- no such persons. The point: those who think themselves to be "righteous" and in no need of repentance or salvation... -- so long as they retained that attitude -- could not be saved by the Good Shepherd anyway!

Luk 15:8

Vv 8-10: Spirit's work in finding the lost. 10% lost, still in "house". Cp Luk 19:20: the pound hidden in a napkin.

TEN SILVER COINS: A bride's dowry, 10 pieces silver sown into headdress of married woman, very precious (cp modern wedding ring): HVM 128. Here, sym the devotion of the woman (the ecclesia?) to her husband (Christ?).

Luk 15:9

The shepherd (Christ) loses and finds "MY sheep". The woman (ecclesia) loses and finds "THE coin".

Luk 15:11

Vv 11-32: Father's work in finding the lost. 50% lost, by straying from "home". But really, both sons are "lost". It is a solemn thought that God has given us the power to grieve him (Eph 4:30; Isa 63:9).

OT background of parable: Jer 31:18-21: setting up waymarks for son to return. Hos 5:11-115, 6:1; 7:8-10: Ephraim went to Assyria: 'Come, let us return.' Pro 29:21-23: lives wantonly (LXX), brought low by pride (HAW, Xd 119:95).

See Lesson, Lost sons (Luk 15).

Luk 15:12

GIVE ME: One kind of prayer; cp with v 19: "Make me", the other kind of prayer.

SO HE DIVIDED HIS PROPERTY BETWEEN THEM: Why did the father give this to him? He wasn't required to do it. Because this parable teaches the doctrine of free-will!

Luk 15:13

The younger son, in 7 stages: careless (v 13), awakened (v 14), convicted (v 17), confession (v 18), conversion (v 19), acceptance (v 22), and rejoicing (v 23).

GOT TOGETHER: A technical term signifying "to realize", ie to convert to ready cash.

SQUANDERED HIS WEALTH IN WILD LIVING: Cp the steward in Luk 16:1: "accused of wasting his [his rich master's] possessions". Anything not directed toward seeking the Father is "squandered". "Blessed are the poor, for their circumstances restrict their capacity to indulge in the natural, universal, fleshly tendency to make unfaithful fools of themselves. But, alas, with 'easy' (!) credit, even the poor can play this fatal game. And waste of our (God's) time can be even more wicked than waste of our (God's) money" (GVG). The son had impulses and desires to pursue things far from the Father's house; he needed freedom and money, and once he had them -- off he went!

Luk 15:14

It is no coincidence that the famine arrived as soon as the young man had spent all his money: the father allows for freewill (v 12), but there is also scope for God's providence.

Luk 15:15

HIRED HIMSELF OUT: "Joined himself" -- as the righteous Jehoshaphat joined Ahaziah (2Ch 20:36).

TO FEED PIGS: How far could this young Jewish boy fall! He craved pleasure, but he ends up in hunger. He sought freedom, but he only found bondage!

Luk 15:16

PODS: Fleshy husks or pods of kharub tree, lined with a gelatinous substance (LB 19).

PIGS: The son had strayed very far, to be in a land of swine!

BUT NO ONE GAVE HIM ANYTHING: The poor are shunned: Pro 14:20.

Luk 15:17

HE CAME TO HIS SENSES: Living in sin, a stranger to sanity. Physically living can be spiritually dead (Rev 3:1; 1Ti 5:6). Suffering is not punishment if it brings us back home!

Luk 15:18

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontented with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero.

Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture -- taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn't too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.

It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home." She did (Max Lucado).

I HAVE SINNED: There is a radical distinction between natural regret and God-given repentance. The flesh can feel remorse, acknowledge its evil deeds, and be ashamed of itself. However, this sort of disgust with past actions can be quickly shrugged off, and the individual can soon go back to his old wicked ways. None of the marks of true repentance described in 2Co 7:11 are found in his behavior. Out of a list of 11 men in the Bible who said, "I have sinned," poss only five actually repented. They were David (2Sa 12:13; 24:10; 1Ch 21:8; Psa 41:4), Nehemiah (Neh 1:6), Job (Job 42:5,6), Micah (Mic 7:9), and the prodigal son (Luk 15:18). The other (poss less sincere) instances? Pharaoh in Exo 9:27; 10:16; Balaam in Num 22:34; Achan in Jos 7:20; Saul in 1Sa 15:24,30; 26:21; Shimei in 2Sa 19:20; Judas in Mat 27:4.

Luk 15:19

MAKE ME: One kind of prayer, in ct to v 19: "Give me", the other kind of prayer.

Luk 15:20

HIS FATHER... RAN... AND KISSED HIM: There is a great urgency of love and reconciliation in Christ's picture of the waiting and watching father, as he daily and even hourly stares down the road, looking for the familiar figure. There is not one shred of formality or legality in his reception of his returning son. Even while he is a great way off, his father sees him, and with compassion, runs and falls upon his neck and kisses him.

He did not stand upon his dignity, or remain coldly aloof -- demanding some formal or elaborate proof of repentance. He did not coerce an apology. He loved him and he wanted him back and he was willing to forget the past and hope for the future. He showered every display of affection and attention upon him, in his intense joy at reconciliation.

Here is the divine example for the ecclesial attitude toward any sinning brother who makes the first, faltering steps toward repentance. The members should never question the sincerity of those who seek to return (for they would not like their own sincerity to be questioned), nor should they make the barriers to fellowship more difficult for such than for new converts. The ecclesia should rejoice in that the withdrawal of fellowship collectively administered has by God's grace achieved its hoped-for outcome: the reclamation of the one who has strayed.

HIS FATHER SAW HIM: Probably his appearance was considerably altered!

Luk 15:22

BRING THE BEST ROBE: God provides us the best garment to cover our sins!

Bible robes: the long robe of pretension (Luk 20:46); the torn robe of sorrow (Job 1:20); the scarlet robe of mockery (Mat 27:28); the best robe of righteousness (Luk 15:22); and the white robe of the redeemed (Rev 7:9).

SANDALS: Only the family members wore shoes in the house; the servants in the house were barefooted.

Luk 15:24

Note contrast: "MY son" and "YOUR brother" (v 32), ct with "YOUR son" (v 30).

AND IS FOUND: As with Luk 15:4,8, the Father too had SEARCHED for the lost son!

Luk 15:28

ANGRY: A cold, settled anger of policy -- instead of one of emotion -- ie "thumos".

REFUSED TO GO IN: Absenting himself from the assembly of brethren, but also unwittingly placing himself outside the Father's house. Cp the Pharisees' disinterest in associating with those who were "lost" (Luk 15:2).

"The elder brother is the dark contrast which heightens the glowing picture of the repentant prodigal. When we look at sin, not in its theological aspects but in its everyday clothes, we find that it divides itself into two kinds. We find there are sins of the body and sins of the disposition; or, more narrowly, sins of the passions, including all forms of lust and selfishness, and sins of the temper. The prodigal is the instance in the NT of sins of passion; the elder brother of sins of temper... Let us carefully read our hearts, lest there be any trace of this spirit in us when others are pressing into the kingdom with joy."

Luk 15:29

ALL THESE YEARS I'VE BEEN SLAVING FOR YOU: Exaggeration; Pharisaical reliance upon amount of works. The meticulous obedience of a legal system. Note also: he has not served a father; he has slaved for a master! The terrible hypocrisy of legalism, that men can discharge duty and at the same time abhor it.

NEVER DISOBEYED YOUR ORDERS: How can he claim perfect obedience when at this very moment he is going against his father's wishes?

SO I COULD CELEBRATE WITH MY FRIENDS: Jealousy at inclusion of others in his previously-exclusive benefits.

Luk 15:30

...WITH PROSTITUTES: A gratuitous assumption.

FATTENED CALF: Sym Christ's sacrifice, given on behalf of repentant rather than self-righteous.

Luk 15:31

YOU ARE ALWAYS WITH ME, AND EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS: Life with the father could have been one long continuous feast. Nothing prevented the older son from enjoying the love and fellowship of family life, except his own attitude.

Luk 15:32

...Cp continuation of theme of parable in Luk 16:13,15; 17:3-5,10.

WE: That is, "you and I".

The great unanswered question of the parable: Did the older brother go back in?

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