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Three lessons on the lost – Luke 15

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773), by Pompei Batoni

Here’s a sermon I recently wrote, based on Luke 15’s lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons.

Some speak of Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor.” But I wonder if that isn’t too narrow a reading of Scripture? I would argue that Jesus had a “preferential option for the lost,” regardless of their socio-economic status; for him, that was irrelevant. Jesus sought out lost people from all walks of life.

In gratefulness for God’s grace toward us, do we do the same?



“Jesus responded: ‘Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost.’ ”

– re-tell briefly the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons (Luke 15)



It’s hard to admit you’re lost. More than once, I’ve said to my wife when driving:

We’re not really lost. I just don’t know where we are.

Jesus, on the other hand, was not afraid to speak the truth. He cared enough about the lost to label them as such. That wasn’t hateful; that was loving. He understood that only when we acknowledge that people are lost will we do whatever it takes to rescue them.

Do we really believe that people without Jesus are hopelessly and finally lost?

I believe it because Jesus believed it.

When Zaccheus the tax collector repented of his sin, paying back up to four times as much as he had cheated from his victims, Jesus declared:

“Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and to save those like him who are lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 (NLT)

Four chapters earlier, in Luke 15, Jesus spoke to a crowd of tax collectors and “sinners,” plus some Pharisees and teachers of the law. In that context, in no uncertain terms, Jesus spoke of the lost. From the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, we can learn three lessons about the lost:

1. The lost matter greatly to God;

2. The lost can be found;

3. God calls us to join in searching for the lost.


First, let’s reflect on this truth: The lost matter greatly to God.

In the first story found in Luke 15, God is like a shepherd, caring for the sheep.

We know that shepherds in ancient Israel were both male and female, and would begin watching over the flock around age 12. A flock of between twenty and two hundred sheep was normal size, so having one hundred sheep indicates modest wealth. At the end of the day, the shepherd boy or girl would count the sheep, before enclosing them safely in the fold for the night. Yet if even one was missing, the shepherd would leave the 99 behind and go searching for the missing lamb. Otherwise, the lamb could be torn apart by wild animals, or fall into a ditch.

Can you picture the shepherd as she carries the lamb on her shoulders? “Rejoice with me!” she says. “I have found my lost lamb.”

The lost matter greatly to God.

Or imagine, Jesus says, that a woman has ten coins, but loses one. The word for “coin” in the original Greek of the New Testament is drachmas. One drachma represents a whole day’s wages, quite a loss for anyone.

Does the woman say: “Oh, well, at least I still have nine coins”?

NO! Luke 15:8 tells us that she lit a candle and swept “every nook and cranny” (NLT) until she found it.

The lost matter greatly to God.

Last week one night, I lost my glasses. I knew they were somewhere in my car. My glasses are precious to me! Without them, I cannot read. So what did I do? It turned on the flashlight on my cell phone, and began to search. Like the woman who said:

“Rejoice with me! I’ve found my lost coin!”

…so when I found my lost reading glasses, I said to my wife, Amy:

“Look! I found them!”

One commentator noted about the story of the lost coin:

When a sinner turns to God, heaven throws a party.

Why? Because the lost matter greatly to God.

As if Jesus wanted to make really sure that his listeners understood just how much God loves the lost, he told them one more story.

The New Living Translation calls this the story of the lost son, but really it is the story of the lost sons (plural), for Jesus was talking to more than tax collectors and sinners that day. He as also addressing some Pharisees and teachers of the law. The former were symbolized by the younger brother, but the latter appear as the older brother. One was lost in a faraway country, while the other was lost in his self-righteous attitude and bitterness toward his wayward sibling.

And what is crystal clear in the story is that the father loved them both!

When the wandering son returns home, the father runs to meet him. Later, when the older son refused to join in the party, the father went out to meet him and urged him to join in the celebration.

Why? Because the lost matter greatly to God.


But there is a second lesson in Luke 15. Not only do the lost matter greatly to God. We also learn that the lost can be found.

– A lost sheep comes home on the shepherd’s shoulders;

– A lost coin goes back in the change purse of a hard-working woman;

– A lost and rebellious son comes home to his father’s embrace

John Newton (1725-1807)

John Newton served for a time aboard an 18th century British slave ship. Later, he confessed his great evil to God, and received God’s forgiveness. He abandoned his evil ways, and later became a pastor.

Newton is best known for the lyrics to the hymn, “Amazing Grace”-

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see.

The lost can be found!

The younger son had demanded his inheritance and squandered it in a far-off country. Only when he was reduced to tending pigs – a most detestable trade for a Jewish man – did his hunger make him come to his senses.

But first he had to admit that he had sinned. Look at v. 18 –

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

This is the key to being found: We must be willing to admit our sin, that we have done wrong.

Note as well the language that Jesus used in the two earlier stories. At the end of the story of the lost sheep, in Luke 15:7, Jesus says:

“In the same way, heaven will be happier over the lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away.” (NLT)

And the conclusion of the story of the lost coin (v. 10) tells us:

“In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

To repent – as one commentator puts it – is to “turn in true sorrow from sin to God” (E. Earle Ellis, New Century Bible Commentary, on Luke 15:7).

The lost can be found!

The overjoyed father exclaims in Luke 15:32:

“Your brother was dead and how has returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.”

And what about you today?

Are you the lost sheep? The lost coin? One of the lost sons?

There is mercy and forgiveness for you today. With God’s help, are you ready to forsake your evil ways?

No matter how impossibly lost that you think you are, you can find your way back home. Our heavenly father waits for you, with outstretched arms! He will put a ring on your finger, sandals on your feet, a robe on your back. He will kill the fatted calf, and throw you a celebration party. God loves you that much.

Come on in!

Or maybe you’re the grumpy older son, refusing to join the party. The father joins you on the veranda and says to you in love: “The party is on. Come on in!”

The lost can be found.


Not only do the lost matter greatly to God;

Not only does God invite those who are lost to repent and be found;

Finally, God calls us to join in searching for the lost.

This final lesson doesn’t appear in Luke 15, but becomes clear in other New Testament passages. The risen Christ appears to the disciples in John 20. There, Jesus commands:

“Peace be with you! As the father sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21, NIV).

To Saul on the road to Damascus, Jesus said:

“I am sending you to them (the Gentiles), to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18, NIV).

We who were once lost, are found! Now that we’re found, God is sending us out.

Jesus calls us to join in searching for the lost, and the first step is praying for the lost.

When I was a boy, I vividly remember times of prayer in my church. My pastor would ask if there were any requests. Often, people asked for prayer for family who were looking for a job, or loved ones who were sick. Just as often, people brought up spiritual needs:

– “Pray for my husband. He doesn’t know the Lord.”

– “Pray for my son. He’s not living for Jesus, even though he knows the right way.”

– “Please remember my daughter in prayer. She needs to be saved.”

Prayers were fervent, frequent, and from the heart.

Nazarenes knew how to pray for the lost!

I wonder: Do we still believe that people without Jesus are hopelessly and finally lost?

Yes, God still cares about our physical needs as much now as back then, but do we remember to pray for the spiritual needs of our friends and loved ones?

If Jesus is calling us to join in the search for the lost, then wouldn’t a good place to start be praying for the lost like Nazarenes used to, fervently, frequently, and from the heart? Who specifically do you and I know right now who – if they passed suddenly from this world – it’s not clear whether they would be ready for the last judgment before the throne of God? Those are the ones for whom God would have us pray.


The three stories in Luke 15 give us lessons about the lost:

– The lost matter greatly to God;

– The lost can be found;

The New Testament elsewhere picks-up on the theme, sending us out to make disciples.

– Jesus calls us to join in searching for the lost.

How about you? Are you lost? God loves you more than you will ever know. Today, you can be found. Maybe God already found you. God’s not finished with you yet. Jesus wants to send you out, praying and searching for those God loves so much. Let’s get busy!


Photo credits

Prodigal Son:  Wikkipedia

Shepherd:  Nostalgeria

Glasses:  Recipe to Save

John Newton : Anointed Links

Older brother:

Congolese couple praying: The Why Files


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

3 thoughts on “Three lessons on the lost – Luke 15

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