In Luke 15:2, the Pharisees and scribes "murmured." They saw sinners come to Jesus and they grumbled in soft indistinguishable hateful words between themselves against Jesus because He received sinners drawing near to hear Him. These Pharisees and scribes opposed what Jesus did. They disapproved of Him because He received sinners. If He received sinners, then all that they did and all that they were counted for nothing with Him. That was not their view of God. They imagined God would accept them because of what He found in them, or because of what they did, or because of what they could do, or for their potential, or for their experience, or for whatever. But the god they imagined is not the God of scripture. Here's the first lesson: The reason God accepts sinners is for nothing found in them. He justifies freely because of His grace alone, on the basis of the redeeming work of Christ alone (Romans 3:24). God accepts and approves and is pleased with sinners who come to the Lord Jesus Christ, because coming to Him is the only way to come to God. Jesus said, John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by me." Salvation is by grace alone, on the foundation of what Christ did alone. It is for sinners alone, sinners whom God brings to the Lord Jesus Christ, brings near to Him for this reason: to hear Him, to be saved by Him, to know God in Him, and to find acceptance with God because of Him, and because of Him only. If Jesus receives sinners, God receives sinners. If Christ rejects the self-righteous, God rejects the self-righteous. If Christ received these sinners, then He can receive this sinner. Pauls the apostle spoke this truth when he said about himself, 1 Timothy 1:15, "This is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
Luke 15 is one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture. In it, the Lord gives three parables to teach repentance as His work and its effect on those to whom He gives it. If you read through it, you'll notice that the first case is a lost sheep. The second is a lost coin. The third is a lost son.
In the case of the lost sheep, the Shepherd (Christ, John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20) does all the work. He discovers that the wayward sheep is not in the fold. He goes after it. He searches for it. He finds it. He puts it on His shoulders. He carries it. And He brings it home. And then, when He has found and brought His sheep, the Shepherd calls His friends to rejoice with Him because He found His one sheep that was lost. Sheep are stupid. They are incapable of faithful attachment to the Shepherd who cares for them. They go their own way, their own unique way, which they must confess is peculiarly their own. They have to be sought. They have to be brought. They have to be carried. They have to be returned. They have to be fed and protected and kept. This describes us, but mostly it describes our Shepherd. This shows the greatness of the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will never leave one of His lost sheep (John 6:37-39). He will go after them, seek them, find them, carry them, bring them and rejoice over every sheep that is His. All of Christ’s sheep are lost until He finds them. They were given to Him in the eternal covenant of grace (John 6:37-39; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). He went after them when He came from heaven, lived and died, obtained their eternal redemption and rose again to obtain their justification. He seeks them by His call in Gospel preaching, sending His Spirit to give them life and faith in Him, persuading them that He is all, and keeping them in this faith by which they live and feed on His word to gain comfort and all things from God in Him. It's not the goodness of the sheep but the goodness of the Shepherd that brings and keeps the sheep.
In the case of the coin, the woman lights a candle and sweeps the entire house until she finds that one lost coin. Like the Shepherd, she then calls for her friends to rejoice with her. Like the Shepherd, this reveals to us that God calls for all of heaven to rejoice with Him because He saves His own. Whether it's a sheep or a coin, not one in His treasure of eternal election and purpose of predestinating grace will be lost. The woman is the Spirit of God who holds forth the light of the Gospel and sweeps in the preaching of the Gospel to find sinners and bring them to God in Christ. O, great Shepherd of the sheep! O, great Light and Sweeper of the house, seek me, find me, carry and bring me, keep me, and hold me fast! Give me the comfort of the goodness and faithfulness and the power of the Shepherd to save sinners like me! And, let me know that in heaven itself -- from God who sits on the throne, to the lowest angel and with every sinner saved by His grace -- there is no greater rejoicing than in the salvation of one for whom Christ died!
Now, the last case is the lost son. This is the most touching case of all. In it, we see a father who does only good for his son. When the son asks his father to divide his entire living and give him his half, his father makes no objection but gives him his request. He lets him have what he wants even though in the short term it will be very bad for the son. The boy leaves his father. No doubt his father's heart was broken, though the son seemed to feel nothing. The boy wastes all that was his father's on riotous, profligate living. He spends all on all that his father taught him to reject. But in all this, we see the sovereign work of God still. The money runs out. The son spends it all on that which is not bread (Isaiah 55:1-ff). God sends famine. It comes to where the son lived. The son thought he would join himself to a citizen of that country. That country was not his father's country. The citizen did not know his father. He was a stranger, someone who did not have the father’s or the boy's best interests in view at all. The citizen raised pigs. He represents the worldly, self-righteous preacher and teacher who trust their own worth, their own deeds. Such a man could raise nothing but pigs. Pigs are filthy animals. Sheep are clean. The citizen of the far country raised pigs. Pigs live on food that sheep cannot live on. They digest and get fat on what is not fit for sheep. Sheep can live only on food that the Shepherd gives. Pigs can live and get fat on whatever the world and whatever false religion gives to them. False religion is what Pharisees and scribes lived on. The husks are the fruit of man’s will, man’s work. True religion is Christ and Him crucified, salvation by Him alone, and is all the Publicans and sinners lived on. True religion feeds sheep the doing and dying of Christ alone as all their righteousness. For this only, the sheep do hunger and thirst. Pigs can eat and get fat on anything but Christ. Sheep can live only if they have Christ, if they know that God accepts them because of what He finds in His Son.
The wayward son could not eat the husks of the swine. When he thought to do so, he "came to himself." This is the work of God's grace. He turns us. It starts when we are hungry and realize that our hunger is due to our sin. It's our fault alone. So the boy arises to return to his father. But his father sees him when he is "a long way off." Before the boy saw his father, the father saw the boy. The father runs to his son. Fathers don't usually run, but when the Father sees His sons, brought to Him by the gracious work of His Spirit in their hearts, making them poor and mourn and seek comfort in His house, making them know they deserve nothing from Him, then He runs. He comes quickly. He doesn’t wait. He is intent. He has a purpose of love. His heart is full of compassion. When the father comes to his son, he does not stand there and lecture him. He does not tell him, "I told you so." He throws His arms around his neck. But more. He kisses him. The boy is foul. His smell is really bad. His clothes are worn and his nakedness shows through. His feet are bare and filthy. He is dirty, filthy, shameful. But his father kisses him. He doesn't stop. He kisses him *much*.
The son speaks his rehearsed lines: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you..." It was only against His father that he sinned. He thought to add more, to tell his father that he was unworthy to be called his son. As if to say, "Dad, you don't have to own me as your your son anymore. I'll stay with the servants. If we’re in public, you don’t have to tell people that I am your son; you don’t have to recognize me. I have no claims on you and you owe me nothing. I’ve spent all that was yours." But his father stops him before his thoughts are formed to words. As soon as the boy confesses his sin, his father calls to his servants. He commands them, "Bring the best robe!!" What robe is this?! The “best” robe! "Put it on him!!" On the lost son, the erring, prodigal son?! Yes! Put the best robe that heaven can make on this son that was lost! This is the robe of the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ who yielded His body and soul to God, even in His obedience unto death, the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8; Romans 10:4; Jeremiah 23:6). His father calls again to His servants in a steady stream of blessings: "And put the ring on his hand!!" That ring that identifies the son as His own, and makes him His heir! He was His son before, but he did not have the heart of a son. Now he is a purchased son, a free son; now he is a found son; a returned son (Galatians 4:1-7). All that is his father's is his. He is therefore given all spiritual blessings in Christ. All things that pertain unto life and godliness are his through the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 1:3). Though he wasted all, he is restored with more. And his father commands that shoes be brought to cover his feet. His feet are shod with the Gospel (Ephesians 6:15; Romans 10:15) of God’s love and Christ’s work for chosen sinners. His father gives his son the Gospel of Christ, as shoes, to walk in. He now walks in the truth and comfort of knowing that Christ has obtained eternal life for His people by His death, which He accomplished by His one offering of Himself for all time. It always gets back to the Lord Jesus, doesn’t it? All back to His glory and the glory of the Father by Him! The father also calls for his servants to "kill the fatted calf" so that they could make merry. The fatted calf killed is the offering of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3; 10:14) who is rich in merit towards God. Only because Christ fulfilled all of the will of God, because He satisfied God's justice, because He fulfilled all righteousness, because He put away the sins of His people, because He perfected them forever, only because of Him can there be comfort and joy and rejoicing in the presence of God and in the hearts of sinners
The scene of the prodigal is the most comforting and endearing of the three parables. God receives sinners for Christ's sake. He adopts them to Himself as sons by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). He sends His servants to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified to these sinners, and to make them know their sonship (Romans 8:15-16). For these sinners, these lost sons brought back to the father, these sheep brought safely home, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only food and drink, and Christ is the only covering, His salvation is all their rejoicing, and He is all their hope (1 Timothy 1:1)!
Acts 4:12, There is salvation in none other but the Lord Jesus Christ. For chosen, redeemed, called sinners, this is cause for the greatest comfort and joy and thankfulness. Nothing on earth can touch this. This is salvation of the LORD, by the LORD and to the LORD (Romans 11:34-36). This is salvation from heaven. This is an eternal, effectual salvation!
Dear friend; Oh my dear brothers and sisters in Christ: look to Christ only! Go to God by Him alone. Tell him all your heart, your foulness, your filth, your rebellion, your sin. See what He has already done. See that He has already done all before you ever knew in your soul of your need of Him (Colossians 2:9-10; 3:11). Christ is all. Therefore, be persuaded that Christ is everything for you to God and that He is everything from God to you. Read Luke 15. Receive the comfort that only mourning, returning sinners can receive from the only Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ.