Although representing just ten per cent of the total verses, this story is an integral component of Luke chapter 15 and therefore, to understand it correctly, it is necessary to see it within the wider context of the chapter and also its setting within the book.
Chapter 15 falls within a large section of the Gospel that is book-ended by two references to the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem. The first is in chapter 13 verse 22 and the second in chapter 17 verse 11. Throughout this subsection, Luke weaves four narratives that carry a very solemn message.1 In each there are those who grasped the opportunities offered to them and enter a sphere of joy and blessing; sadly, there are others who rejected those opportunities. In parabolic language, chapter 15 highlights heaven’s delight when individuals respond positively to God’s kindness and grace, but it also contains an indictment of the Pharisees, who are representative of the many who reject God’s blessings.
Chapter 15 flows out of the closing phrase in chapter 14. At the end of that chapter, the Lord says, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’, v. 35, and chapter 15 opens, ‘Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him’. In verse 2, Luke draws attention to the negative reaction of the Pharisees and scribes as they observed the Lord’s willingness to receive these groups. What really rankled with them was not so much that the tax gatherers and sinners drew near to hear Jesus but that He was willing to receive them and eat with them. Observing their murmuring, Jesus spoke a parable to them, i.e., the Pharisees and scribes.
Although many see the chapter as being three separate parables, verse 3 indicates that it is one parable, but in three segments. In each there is something lost; there is a lost sheep, lost silver, and a lost son. These three lost things portray the condition of the tax gatherers and sinners, whereas the ninety-nine sheep not lost, the nine pieces of silver not missing and the son who did not leave the father all represent the self-righteous Pharisees. These religious bigots did not draw near to Jesus to hear Him, they did not believe they had any need to repent, nor did they have any sense of being lost.
In addition to the three lost items, we read of a shepherd, a woman with a lamp, and a father. Taken together these represent the activity of the Godhead in the seeking for, and salvation of, the lost. The parallels between the shepherd and the Lord Jesus are very easy to see and require no amplification here. Similarly, the father in the third segment of the parable presents to us the readiness of God the Father to receive the repentant sinner and to bestow upon such the full blessings of salvation. Those blessings depicted in the ring, shoes and the robe include a new relationship with God, a new standing before God and a new nature from God.
Our focus centres on the middle section of the parable and the first thing to note is the difference between the way the coin was lost and the way the sheep and son were lost. The sheep and the son were responsible for the condition they were in, but that cannot be said of the coin. The coin could not lose itself; it was lost due to the failure of another. That state is true of all mankind for we could not help being born with a sinful nature. Romans chapter 5 verses 12 to 14 teach that when Adam fell, all mankind fell with him; he became the fallen head of a fallen race.
Another distinction between the coin and the other two lost things is that, unlike them, it could do nothing to effect its own recovery. Just as it could not lose itself neither could it find itself; it was totally dependent on the efforts of the woman and the lamp. In this lady and the light she lit, we have depicted for us the work of the Spirit of God acting through the word of God to bring light and life for the lost sinner. We often think of sanctification as being a requisite feature of the life of a Christian but there are at least two verses which teach that the Spirit of God works in the lives of unbelievers, bringing them to a point of acceptance of the gospel.2In addition, the Lord Jesus informed Nicodemus that it is the Spirit of God who imparts the new birth, John 3. 5.
Chapter 15 opens with murmuring but the central theme that runs throughout is that of joy and rejoicing. The shepherd rejoiced, the woman rejoiced, and so did the father, together with all the household apart from the older brother who epitomised the Pharisaic attitude. The Pharisees and scribes may have been churlish, but there is joy in heaven when lost sinners are found.