In an effort to help self-righteous people be less condemning of “notorious sinners,” Jesus told three stories, recorded in Luke 15. The first two stories are about people who have lost something and search until they find it. The man who has lost his sheep and the woman who lost her coin illustrate the passion and determination of our Father to rescue his wayward children. The third story, however, is about a wayward son who “comes to his senses” and returns home.
As with all parables, we don’t want to read too much into the details, but we can observe that:
— Sheep are capable of wandering off on their own. That’s why they need a shepherd.
— Lost coins generally don’t lose themselves. (This is where you hold back from getting too literal.)
— Wayward sons don’t come home just because fathers figure out where they are. (Again, don’t get a death grip on the truth here.)
Simply note that two of the stories involve a character becoming lost. Two of them involve an actor who searches with great determination until the lost is found. And one involves a father who proclaims his son “found” when the son decides to return home.
All three are intended to teach us that heaven rejoices when a single lost sinner repents — and repentance is not something the lost sinner can do all by himself.
The Greek word translated ‘repentance’ (metanoia) means a change of mind, but in the same profound sense that ‘metamorphosis’ means a change of physical form. In one sense, a lost son chooses to repent. He comes to his senses and decides to return home. In another sense, a lost sheep or coin has no sense to which it can return. They depend on someone of much greater ability to find them.
Call on the sinner to repent. Jesus did. And, like Jesus, don’t forget to include the religious sinners who think they need no repentance. We all need to come to our senses and return home.
But never forget there is more to repentance than realizing our need. Apart from God’s finding us, we would remain lost. There is more to salvation than realizing we need to experience metanoia. We are at the mercy of a holy God who has the mind-boggling power to bring the dead to life.
Praise God, he is full of love for his wayward children, even the religious ones. Rejoice that he chooses to search with determination and be merciful and gracious to those who have made themselves his enemies.
And, unlike the elder brother in the third story, don’t sit at home and congratulate yourself on how blessed you are to enjoy a good life in the Father’s house. Get out there in the “distant country” and search with determination for your wayward brothers and sisters who are desperate to be found.
That is, after all, how your Father found you.