Luke 15:1-10

Lost Coin - Lost Sheep Lost Sheep Detail
"Lost Sheep - Lost Coin" by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.


"Hear" ties the first verse with the last verse of the preceding chapter. The outcasts were doing precisely what Jesus tells all people to do. It should be translated "to hear," and not "to listen." "Hearing" in the Scriptures is much more than mere "listening."

Arndt: The fifteenth chapter of Luke is perhaps the most admired and the most loved section of his two books . . . . the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.
Morris: This is one of the best-known and best-loved chapters in the whole Bible. Three parables bring out the joy of God when the lost sinner is found.
Fahling: Now we come to a jewel in the gospel account in which God's love and grace shown a penitent sinner is beautifully portrayed . . . The love of God embraces every, even the greatest, sinner.
Ylvisaker: In his Gospel, Luke emphasizes throughout the universality of salvation and the truth that the love of God embraces every sinner with equal earnestness.

When and where did this take place?

Arndt: There is nothing to oppose the opinion that these parables, too, were spoken in Perea, when Jesus before the Feast of Dedication was traveling toward Jerusalem.
Lenski: Time, place, and other circumstances are immaterial.

We do not know for sure.

The parable of the lost sheep is found also in Matthew 18:12-14.

Fahling: The first of these parables had been previously told by Jesus at the close of His Galilean ministry and before His journey to the Feast of the Tabernacles. But at that time His object was to warn against offending the little ones and His earnest concern to restore the erring sinner. Here the point He wishes to emphasize is the joy of God and the holy angels over the conversion of a sinner as opposed to pharisaic ill will.

Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.

Arndt: Wherever He went, all the publicans and sinners gathered about Him. This may have been particularly marked in Perea, where He was a comparative stranger.
Lenski: They drew near to him IN NUMBERS and did this continuously.
Morris: These people were not highly regarded, for they both helped the hated Romans in their administration of conquered territory and enriched themselves at the expense of their fellow-countrymen. They were ostracized by many and regarded as outcasts by the religious.
Morris: They were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the Law. . . . And old rule stated 'One must not associate with an ungodly man,' and they point out that this was taken so seriously that the rabbis would not associated with such a person even to teach him the Law, see Acts 10:28.

Luke 15:2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The words here denote continued and repeated actions. Their grumbling was audible. That shows its severity. "This man" could be translated "this guy," or "this fella." It is derogatory.

To eat with the social outcasts was the epitome of irreligion.

Marshall: The Pharisees were unable to share table-fellowship with those whom they considered sinful.
Arndt: The desire to preserve ritual purity excluded from their hearts love toward their erring countrymen.
Fahling: It seems that it was this last particular, fraternizing with them at table and thus winning their confidence, which was especially loathsome to them.
Ylvisaker: To eat with a person is a proof of intimate intercourse.
Stoeckhardt: That which was mockery in the mouth of the Pharisees and all work-righteous people, is praise to Jesus on the lips of all true Christians, and they rejoice and comfort themselves that 'Jesus receives sinners.'
Ylvisaker: In their grumbling disapproval, they unwittingly give expression to one of the most glorious truths in the Bible: 'Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.'

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

We actually have three parables. Some say two: 4-10 and 11-32. It makes little difference. All three, or all two, have "the lost" or its equivalent, in common.

The whole chapter is a massive ad hominem argument. The Pharisees and Scribes will have to agree, like it or not, that people will spare no pains in recovering that which is precious when it is lost.

Luke 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

It makes no difference who, for every person will react in the same way. Notice that Jesus does not use the word "shepherd." His hearers were not shepherds. But anyone, shepherd or not, would do as this man did. The point is compassion, not mere loss of property.

The rhetorical question must be answers by "yes."

The person does not give up until he finds it. This is important, in application, for the monergism of repentance. Jesus sought the publicans and sinners, not vice versa. Look at Luke 19:10.

Luke 15:5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

Arndt: The sheep is not given a beating; the shepherd is compassionate, he rejoices. He does not even compel the animal to walk, but he carries it on his shoulders.

Luke 15:6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'

Note the triple use of the possessive article: his house, his friends, his neighbors. The rejoicing is to be equally great among owner, friends, and neighbors. Why? Because property has been recovered? No. But because the lost has been found.

Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

"I tell you" denotes the divine authority of Jesus. Here Jesus' divinity begins to shine. The application is now made. The stress lies on the participle: "over one sinner repenting." Jesus means not just conversion but constant repentance. Recall the first of Luther's 95 thesis: "When our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, said, 'Repent ye,' He meant that the whole life of a Christian is one of repentance."

And now we come to a problem which is not easy of solution. If the conjunction means "more than" and "righteous" means those who are justified by faith, and "repentance" means initial repentance (conversion) than Jesus means that all 99 are Christians. Thus Luther, Lenski, Arndt, Morris, and Marshall.

But if the conjunction means "rather than" or "instead of", and if "righteous" means "self-righteous" and the remainder of the sentence means that they feel no need for repentance, then Jesus is contrasting the repentant sinners with the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes. Thus Fahling, Stoeckhardt, and Ylvisaker.

A word of warning from Ylvisaker is in place: "These various interpretations would indicate that EXTREME CAUTION SHOULD BE EXERCISED, SO AS NOT TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE PURPOSE OF THE PARABLE. That's right. If the preacher takes one point of view and emphasizes it, some of his hearers, who tacitly disagree with him, may hear nothing further but be silently criticizing the preacher and, worst of all, be led away from the real point: Heaven reverberates with joy over repentance, ie, contrition over sin and faith in the Gospel.

After much deliberation , the writer of these notes considers the last part of verse 7 as Law, words which would make the Pharisees and Scribes examine themselves. Jesus loved them equally as much as He did the publicans and sinners. Read Matthew 23:37, Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 9:12-13. Also Revelation 3:17. Jesus loved all equally, but the self-righteous were in need of Law and verse 7b is Law in the estimation of this writer. But don't lose sight of heaven's joy over repentance.

By the way, the angels sang at creation, Job 38:7, when Christ was born, Luke 2:13-14, and still do when one sinner repents, Luke 15:7 and 10. If the preacher cannot preach repentance, he can preach nothing.

Luke 15:8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

This is a continuation. This time a woman, any woman. And again the rhetorical question needs a "yes, of course she will." Note the symmetry between verses 3-7 and 8-10. Both stress great loss, intense search, happy finding, and great joy.

In Palestine houses had low roofs and no windows. She had to light a candle and sweep the house. By the way, she lost it right in her own house.

Fahling: This is a point which the Pharisees and scribes might incidentally remember. He means: 'People are lost right here in Israel.'

"Silver coin" was the Greek equivalent of the Roman denarius, an average day's wage for a laborer.

We appear to seek Jesus, but it is really Jesus who seeks the sinner. Compare the account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. He was seeking Jesus but look what Jesus says in verse 10. And He does it "very carefully." He does this through Law and Gospel. And He does not give up "until He finds." Though man repents, it is monergistic, God's work in man.

Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'

In each example they all rejoice equally because the loss has been overcome.

The verse is essentially the same as 7a.

Luke 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Ylvisaker: A soul is not prized highly in the market of the world, but it is more precious in the sight of God than all the gold on the earth; He has purchased it with His very blood.
Lenski: 'Over one sinner repenting' is repeated unchanged, for this is the vital point and needs emphasis. . . . The Pharisees murmured at the very thing that made the angels rejoice. . . . Repentance rings out in this parable; it is that which causes this astounding joy. . . In this very parable Jesus was using Law and Gospel, seeking to save both Pharisee and open sinner.

Lenski is of the opinion that the "man" in verse 4 represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and "woman" in verse 8 represents the Church. But Ylvisaker rightly rejects that as carrying the parable beyond its point of comparison It is a massive argumentum ad hominem to which Jesus' hearers would have to say: "Every man and every women would act in this way."

That leads us to our final thought.

1) This text contains an argument from the lesser to the greater: If the average man has such sympathy for a sheep and if the average woman searches so diligently for a cheap coin, how much greater is not God's compassion for a lost soul.

2) It also contains an argument from the greater to the lesser; If the Lord and His angels rejoice so over the sinner's repentance, should not people do likewise rather than grumble?

Morris:The rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner. But it is a new idea the God is a SEEKING God, a God who takes the initiative. . . Edersheim quotes a Jewish saying 'There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.' But Jesus has a very different concept of God. . . . Among the rabbinic writings there is the lost coin motif, but it is used very differently. If a man keeps seeking for a lost coin much more should he seek for the Law, said the rabbis. There is no rabbinic equivalent to God' seeking of sinners.



Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 50-53. Used with permission.

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