Lost and Found: Two Parables

Have you ever misplaced something important? Maybe car keys? A wallet? A wedding ring? If so, didn’t you do everything you could to find it? And when you found it, weren’t you happy?

Jesus drew on this sort of experience to teach about the value of lost people. Consider two parables about lost things in Luke 15.

The Lost Sheep

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” (Luke 15:4-6).

Even to many who deal with livestock today, losing one sheep out of 100 might not seem like a big deal. You might not spend much effort looking for it. But suppose that flock of 100 sheep represented your entire livelihood? In first-century Palestine, many people made their whole living from raising animals. If one lost sheep meant that one percent of your income had just wandered off, wouldn’t you go after it? And wouldn’t you rejoice when you found it?

“I tell you,” said Jesus, “that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (verse 7).

The Lost Coin

Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” (Luke 15:8-9).

Now, if you found a lost quarter under your couch and invited me to a party to celebrate…well, that would just be weird. But what if the misplaced coin you found was worth over $100? The “silver coin” in this parable is the Greek drachma, which was about a day’s wages for a common laborer. Wouldn’t you turn the house upside down to recover something that was worth a day’s income? And wouldn’t you rejoice when you found it?

“In the same way,” said Jesus, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10).

Lost People

Jesus told these two parables in response to the scribes and Pharisees, who criticized him for associating with tax collectors and sinners (verses 1-2). The point of the stories is simple: If we can comprehend the value of one lost thing (a sheep or a coin), if we can appreciate the sense of urgency in recovering it, and if we can understand the great joy of finding it, then we should be able to see God’s attitude toward people who are lost in sin. The sinful people those Jewish leaders viewed with such contempt were actually of immense value to the heavenly Father. He wants to bring such people back to Himself!

How is it that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (verse 7)? This is not to imply that there is anyone who does not need to repent and come to Jesus (see Romans 3:10). Yet that is exactly the way many scribes and Pharisees viewed themselves: righteous, with no need to repent (Luke 18:9). Some interpreters suggest that Jesus is merely accommodating the self-righteous conceit of his opponents for the sake of argument. A tax collector or sinner who repented certainly would be more cause for heavenly rejoicing than these men.

But perhaps it is better to take “those who are righteous” at face value. Such people “need no repentance” not because they are perfect, but because their hearts are penitent already. Jesus does not mean that there is no delight over those who are faithful to him. But he stresses the special joy of heaven when one who was lost is brought home through repentance—a joy in which the scribes and Pharisees were unwilling to share.

God values lost people. His Son came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Do you and I treasure the lost the way God does? Will we search for them high and low? Will we make every effort to rescue them? Will we rejoice when they come home?