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3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
The lost Sheep. -- Jesus said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." "The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
The religious and well-to-do classes of the nation generally had too good an opinion of themselves to regard themselves as the lost: and Jesus took them at their own valuation. They considered themselves the Lord's saved elect, like thousands in the present day. Therefore he did not go after them, but after those whom they despised. "I came not," said he, "to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
To the publicans and sinners he addressed himself: and this class paid attention to him. At this the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, "This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." This gives the key to the parable he spoke: "What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which was 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 neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost" (Luke xv. 4-6).
He spoke this parable in answer to their cavils. Therefore, it applies to those to whose association on the part of Christ the Pharisees were objecting -- the sinners. They are the lost sheep -- (all were, in fact, for all had sinned, but all did not recognise the fact) -- Jesus had come to seek and save them.
It was with this view he humbled himself to their society. He did not associate with them as sinners, but as sinners willing to be saved, which is a very different class of sinners from those of whom David speaks when he says: "Blessed is the man that standeth not in the way of sinners" (Psa. i. 1). Jesus did not associate with sinners to entertain them, or to take part with them in their pleasures or their sins. He humbled himself to them that he might teach them the way of righteousness: and if they would not listen to this, he turned away from them, and they from him.
If they listened to him, and conformed to the Father's requirements as made known by him, then he received them gladly, and could say of such to the Pharisees, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." Nay, he not only thus received them: what said he in finishing his parables? "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." "More than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance."
If a Pharisee was glad at the recovery of living mutton, why should he be envious at a spiritual recovery which caused joy among the angels? This was the argument of the parable. The lesson it conveys, it is easy to see; but how flat the lesson falls in our worse than Laodicean age, when the gladness of the angels is esteemed a myth, and interest on behalf of the fallen is pitied as an enthusiasts' craze. Yet there are those who as in Peter's day will "save themselves from this untoward generation."
Let such be very courageous, and go in the face of the sublime complacency of a generation of shallow wiseacres who think themselves profound and learned and great and excellent, when the state of the case is tremendously the reverse when estimated in the light of divine common sense. "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."
Nazareth Revisited Ch 30.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
It is probable, and even certain, that we do not rejoice enough in the truth that we have been permitted to believe.
There are many reasons for this. We are weak, and the impressions of the moment have naturally more power than those that come through the discernment of wisdom. And the impressions of the moment are all the reverse of joy-inspiring.
Then there are many causes of dissatisfactions in ourselves and others even in the favoured circle of enlightenment. In the world, we walk through a great and terrible wilderness where chafe and fatigue and pain are natural. We love Christ, and we think of Christ, but we cannot see him yet. And the great world of unbelief around us says, "Where is this Christ of yours?" Many and powerful indeed are the causes of that inward pain which, in a certain sense, is the normal experience of godliness in the present evil world.
All the more reason for pressing home upon our jaded minds the reasons we have for pure gladness in God. We are commanded to remember these. "Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous: and sing aloud for joy, all ye upright in heart."
Let us spend a few moments together in the contemplation of these causes of joy. First of all, look back at our baptism: what did it do for us? It brought us the remission of our sins. Whatever our lives were before we knew Christ, we stood purged and clean on the day that, with the docility of little children, we took upon ourselves "the only name given among men" for that purpose. Oh yes, we know that, say some; and they say it in a manner that seems to say they see no particular reason for gladness in it. It is questionable if the privilege belong to such.
The privilege is for those only to whom sin is a burden and a grief: who "are broken and contrite in heart," to use God's own words; and repent and turn to God with full and earnest purpose. This class feel the misery of alienation. Others may have very little sensibility in the matter. There is such a thing spoken of as "a conscience seared as with a hot iron." It is better to be too much distressed than to be in this state of imperviousness to the dread-fulness of sin against God.
I have known some too much distressed. They have looked back upon their past lives almost with a feeling of despair. They have said "There is scarcely a sin that I have not committed: I can scarcely feel that mercy is for me."
The answer is, it is not a question of feeling: it is a question of what God offers.
His offer is an offer of pardon to all without distinction who conform to His requirements:
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thought: let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."
Jesus, said, "I come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The prodigal son is never to be forgotten in this connection. The father ran and met him half-way, and made a feast on his return. Christ's declaration is that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth."
Exhort 280. TC 10/1896.
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
The Lost Money.
A woman has lost money, and makes diligent search and finds it, and is so glad that she convenes her neighbours to rejoice with her. This parable was spoken on the same occasion as the parable of the lost sheep, and has the same meaning, -- the figure merely being changed.
27 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.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
There have been many fanciful interpretations of this. There is no need for special ingenuity. The meaning of it is evidently very simple. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost money, and was spoken in the same connection, and is therefore to be read in the light of the cavils and feelings that suggested them. The Pharisees and the Scribes murmured at Christ's reception of publicans and sinners. Christ aims by parable to exhibit the true meaning of his attitude, which on the surface appeared ambiguous. This he could not have more effectively done than by supposing the case of a man with two sons, one of whom, having received the portion his father had set aside for him, should emigrate and squander his substance in riotous living, and afterwards rue his course of life, and resolve to return home and throw himself upon his father's mercy.
That a father should compassionately receive a son under such circumstances must have seemed natural even to the fossilised Scribes and Pharisees. How much more was Divine clemency to be shown to the fallen classes of Israel, who listened gladly to Christ, with an earnest resolution to walk in the ways of righteousness? There was a power in this argument which must have gone home even to the perceptions of the "blind Pharisee." But Jesus did not stop his parable there. He introduced a picture of the odious part the Pharisees themselves were playing. This he did in the case of the second son who stayed at home and behaved correctly, so far as outward decorum was concerned; and who, finding his vagrant brother received, in his own temporary absence, with joy and festivity, "was (on his arrival) angry, and would not go in."
His father went out to him, and expostulated with him. The son complained that the father had never made him a feast, although he had faithfully served him so many years. The father pointed out that he was always at home, and that the whole establishment was at his command, and that it was reasonable they should make merry at the return of a son who had been as good as lost and dead to them all. The whole parable was an answer to the cavils of the Pharisees at Christ consorting with sinners.
The record of it has been at the same time an encouragement, during all the ages that have since elapsed, to the erring who desire to return to the ways of right. It is, in a parabolic form, a reiteration of the comforting words of the Eternal Father, by Isaiah,
"Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Is. lv. 7);
or by Ezekiel,
"If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All the transgressions that he hath committed shall not be mentioned unto him" (Ezek. xviii 21).