Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Sons
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” (Luke 15:6)
Many Sunday sermons have been based on Luke 15, which contains one of Jesus’ best-known parables, the story of the Prodigal Son. But this chapter also contains two lesser-known parables: the tale of a lost sheep and a story about a lost coin. Let’s take a look at each of these three messages meant to teach us something about the lost and found.
The Lost Sheep
As this chapter opens, Jesus is surrounded by sinners who are drawing near to hear what He has to teach them. Meanwhile, some Pharisees and scribes stand back and complain that this so-called man of God consorts with sinners. So Jesus presents them with a hypothetical situation: A shepherd has a hundred sheep, but one of them goes missing. So what does he do? He leaves the ninety-nine to find the missing one. And then he throws a party to celebrate.
This parable raises a couple of questions. Is the shepherd to blame—did he actually lose one of his precious lambs? Or did the stray sheep defy the shepherd and run off to the dark side of the valley? More than likely, the sheep had simply gone astray, maybe out of ignorant curiosity, or maybe it simply wasn’t paying attention and wandered off. In a sense, the sheep lost itself.
The shepherd was probably good at his work and carefully watched his flock, counting them several times a day to make sure none had wandered off, intentionally or unintentionally. This is how he noticed one was missing. Was this particular lamb a repeat offender? Some sheep do tend to find themselves in bad situations more easily and more often than others.
Regardless, the shepherd didn’t hesitate to leave the ninety-nine in order to search for the one that was missing. He clearly was glad to find the fluffy ball of wool and bring him safely back into the fold where he could keep a close eye on all one hundred.
The Lost Coin
Jesus then presents His listeners with another hypothetical situation: A woman has ten silver coins but finds that one of them is missing. So what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches diligently until she finds the missing coin. And then she throws a party to celebrate.
Unlike the sheep, I think it’s safe to say that the coin didn’t wander off on its own. No, this one is on its owner, and she didn’t shy away from taking responsibility.
This woman clearly kept a close eye on her finances, which is how she realized one of the coins was missing. Maybe she counted the coins on a regular basis, but once she noticed the coin was gone, she lept into action and searched her home high and low. The coin was obviously worth a great deal to her.
Once she found it, then she called her friends and neighbors and invited them to join her in celebration. No one does that if they just happen upon some loose change while sorting the laundry. This coin must have been worth much more than a pretty penny. This coin was valuable!
The Lost Sons
Finally, Jesus tells “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Some accounts credit the priest and theologian Jerome (AD 347-420) with giving the story its famous title. Most Bibles today use it as a heading. So as modern-day readers, we first assume there is only one lost son in the lesson, namely the younger one who demands his inheritance early.
You probably know how the story goes. His father gives him his inheritance, and the young man goes to a distant land and wastes the money, quickly spending every last shekel on reckless living. Now destitute and starving, he takes a lowly job feeding swine and is so hungry that the pigs’ food begins to look good to him. Finally, he comes to his senses and decides to return home and beg his father to hire him as a servant. But as he comes within sight of the family home, his father, who has been waiting and watching for his return, runs out to greet his son, flings his arms around him, and kisses him. And then he throws a party to celebrate.
Whereas in the previous stories the sheep and coin didn’t get lost on purpose, in this parable the young man intentionally packs his bags and leaves home. And unlike the shepherd or the woman who lost her coin, in this lesson the father doesn’t go searching the countryside for his son. Instead, the father patiently waits, hoping, longing, praying for his son’s return.
What else is different about this parable? After greeting his son with hugs and tears of joy, the father showers the wasteful young man with gifts. He calls his servants to bring out his best robe and put it on his son, along with a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Then he orders the servants to kill a fatted calf and prepare a grand feast, complete with music and dancing.
Enter the father’s other son, the older of the two brothers. He is working out in the field when he hears a commotion back at the house. A servant tells him his brother has come home and that their father is throwing a party to celebrate his return. The older son refuses to attend the party but confronts his father, indignant that he stayed home and obediently served the father, yet he’s never been given so much as a young goat so that he might celebrate with his friends.
The older son may not be a prodigal, but he is also lost. He just doesn’t know it. He is a little like the Pharisees, who do all the right things and know all the right answers to Old Testament Trivia, but their hearts are far from God. The father pleads with him to join the festivities because his brother who was lost is now found; he once was dead but now lives.
And that’s where Jesus ends the parable.
We know the Prodigal Son was lost and then found. We can only hope that the older brother, who was also lost, found his way home too.
Heavenly Father, I once was lost but now am found. I was blind, but now I see. Thank you for being the Good Shepherd and coming to find me when I wandered from the safety of your flock. Thank you that you think me so valuable that you searched for me when I was lost. And thank you for welcoming me home with open arms even after I rebelled and wasted the resources you trusted to my care. Keep me safe in your arms, now and forever. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Walking by faith and enjoying the homeschooling adventure of a lifetime!
Davis is the president of Apologia Educational Ministries, the #1 publisher of Creation-based science and Bible curriculum. He is the author of five illustrated children’s books designed to help parents instill a biblical worldview in the hearts and minds of their preschoolers. He believes that if there was ever a time to homeschool, it is now!