Jesus Receives Sinners

Preface

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,’” Luke 15:1, 2.

 

The lost and found section of São Paulo’s subway system is located at the Sé station. The numbers pertaining to this section are impressive: two years ago, the industry collected 80,000 items forgotten in the system’s subway stations. This is an average of over 200 items per day. Of course, the most common items that are left behind are wallets, cell phones, books, and clothing items. But it is possible to find strollers (without the child, thankfully), typewriters, dentures, and even prosthetics of amputated limbs. It is hard to imagine how people can forget such personal items. The day-to-day rush and the cramming of the train cars can account for many such cases of forgetfulness. However, the worst tragedy is not losing personal belongings, but losing a child to violence or drugs, or losing one’s direction in life and living a meaningless or purpose-less life. Yet today there are many who live out this drama.

 

Lost lives touch God's heart as well. The Bible says that on one occasion “he saw a large crowd, [and] he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd,” Mark 6:34. One criticism that the religious leaders of the time had against Jesus could be considered a compliment. They complained that He was "a friend of sinners" (Matthew 11:19). Those devotees could not understand how someone who claimed to be God's Anointed could walk with people who were rejected by society.

 

In chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, we find the narration of three stories (parables) that can help us understand what God feels towards the lost. This chapter is known as the "Lost and Found" section of the Bible.

 

One of the most beautiful and comforting messages of the Holy Bible is found in that section. The three stories presented illustrate different types of sinners. All three parables have a "happy ending," revealing that the love of God is immeasurable, and that no sinner who desires to be saved is beyond the reach of divine grace and mercy. However, the very desire to be saved is placed in the human heart by the Holy Spirit. “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Timothy 2:4.

The initiative in the process of the salvation of sinners is always divine. No sinner can return to God by himself. If sinners depended on their own initiative and efforts to achieve salvation, they would be hopelessly lost.

 

Grace and mercy are employed by God to draw the sinner "with cords of love". No one is worthy of divine mercy and love. The sinner is totally incapable of performing any act worthy of the love of God, and thus his salvation depends entirely on divine grace.

 

The following stories, properly understood, reveal how much God is willing to do to recover His lost creatures. If the sinner does not interject his perverse will against the divine work of saving him, he will undoubtedly have everything he needs to be restored to the Father's home.

 

We are sure that the study of these parables will be highly beneficial to all sinners, be they stray sheep, lost drachmas, or prodigal children who have left the father's house in pursuit of a perceived "freedom," which is nothing more than a delusion produced by the prince of this world, leader of the powers of darkness.

 

On one occasion, the general theme of the Spiritual Conference at which I was to deliver a sermon based on Luke 15 was advertised as: "Jesus Receives Sinners”. One lady approached me and said, "I am very happy to know that Jesus receives sinners." I am also very happy to know and spread this fundamental truth that provides hope and comfort. I hope that you will also greatly benefit from knowing the great love of Jesus for each soul for whom He gave His precious life.

 

Davi P. Silva

Introduction

Introduction

Dr. Luke, the beloved physician, begins his introduction to the parables, with the words, “Now the [publicans] and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus,” Luke 15:1.

 

Who were the Publicans and Sinners?

Publicans were one of the social classes that the Jews hated the most. They were considered traitors of the nation because they worked for the Romans, charging taxes and extorting their own countrymen. In fact, many of them enriched themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens.

 

"The Romans (and local rulers like Herod Antipas) granted the right to levy taxes to those who collected more, allowing tax collectors to charge an additional tax on collected taxes. Publicans generally abused the practice and were considered dishonest, traitors, and 'sinners,'" (Bíblia de Estudo da Reforma [The Reformation Study Bible], p. 1551).

 

Not all tax collectors were unscrupulous and dishonest callous men. Many of them recognized their sinfulness and their hearts were open to a better life. They were greatly despised by the religious leaders. Many of these leaders were oftentimes more corrupt than the publicans, though they covered their corruption with a cloak of apparent holiness. Among the followers of Jesus, there were at least two well-known publicans: Levi Matthew and Zacchaeus.

 

Luke states that all publicans and sinners came to Him to hear Him. Why were these classes of sinners drawn to Jesus? Christ’s message, while disapproving of sin, revealed love and hope to every sinner who would accept it. Jesus had words of sympathy and mercy for them.

 

Divine grace offers hope to the most degraded sinner. No one must feel excluded from divine grace which, like the air around the globe, is within the reach of all.

 

Who were the "sinners" mentioned by Luke?

The Word of God states that " all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all human beings were born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and are under the law of sin (Romans 7:17, 20, 23, 24) while they do not wholly surrender to the control of God's Spirit.

 

“Sinners" in Luke 15:1 referred to people who lived in open sin and did not hide the spiritual misery that enveloped them. On the other hand, the Jewish leaders were also slaves of sin, though they practiced it in disguised form, hidden from the eyes of the people.

Sinners were "people who had an immoral conduct or dealt with things that the scribes considered incompatible with the observance of the law of God. One of the rabbinical rules was 'to not associate with sinners,' and the rabbis did not even teach such people," (Bíblia de Estudo de Genebra [Geneva Study Bible], p. 1348).

 

The Pharisees and scribes who were teachers of the law did not feel comfortable in the presence of Jesus because the pure, loving, and merciful character of Christ, by contrast, exposed their so-called "righteousness". They were annoyed to realize that those who were considered outcasts of society gathered around Jesus to learn from Him the words of life addressed to them. These outcasts felt that, even for them, open and avowed sinners, there was hope of redemption. How do you feel in Jesus' presence?

 

Scribes and Pharisees were extremely religious people. Imagine someone who wakes up in the morning and has no other purpose for that day other than to do God's will. This dedication to the divine was such that it impressed the people who lived with them and who did not have the willpower, dedication, and interest in the things of God that these individuals manifested. This concern could easily blind the devotee to the point of convincing him that he really was good and superior to other "sinners".

 

Jesus once told a story about how these people viewed “common mortals”: "The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector," Luke 18:11. In comparison with the people around us, we may feel the same kind of self-satisfaction and pride. Someone who does not believe in God can think that he lives better than many religious individuals he knows. And maybe he's right. Many Christians do not honor the name they claim to bear. It is possible that very spiritual people also feel superior in their way of living compared to their "brethren" in the faith. Two criminals entered a church to attend the service. The preacher was giving an exposition on the ten commandments. He would read and comment on each one of them. At the end, one criminal comments to his colleague: "At least I do not covet my neighbor's wife." Despite having lived a less than scrupulous life, he found something in himself that would guarantee him some amount of spiritual value.

 

If we compare our lives with that of other people, we can find several reasons why we feel superior to them. However, our standard of reference should not be people, but God. Who am I when I compare myself to the holiness of God? It was on this point that the contemporary scribes and Pharisees of Christ Jesus erred. They looked in the wrong place, their heart, not God's.

 

When the scribes and Pharisees noticed the words of the Divine Master were heard by the crowds of those who were considered "unclean", "sinners", and "publicans", they murmured the words, "this man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” Luke 15:2. Although the words uttered express the perfect truth about Christ (I thank God for that), what the leaders were trying to say was that Christ came down to the moral level of sinners and did not care about their sinful condition.

 

Jesus' attitude toward sin and sinners can be better understood when we look back on how He treated the woman who was caught in adultery and was brought to Him by the religious leaders. This wonderful story is recorded in chapter 8 of the gospel of John. Jesus stands at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem teaching the crowd. At a certain moment, he notices a group of agitated people approaching and talking loudly. They obtain passage through the listening crowd. When the crowd clears, a disheveled and crying woman is thrown into the presence of Jesus. Someone from the group who had approached took the floor. He was a prominent member of the Pharisees. In his voice was perceived the tone of indignation against the woman: "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery," John 8:4.

 

Three things need to be said about what was happening there. First, though the Law of Moses prescribes the death penalty by stoning for such kinds of sins (Deuteronomy 22:22), there are no records in the biblical text that this sentence has ever been performed. Secondly, where was the man who had fallen into sin with this woman? This was not the kind of sin that was committed by oneself. Finally, the Pharisee himself made clear his intention and that of his colleagues: they wanted to embarrass Jesus. They wanted to find some reason to accuse Him before the Roman government or before the people. How? Palestine, the land where Jesus lived, was under the control of the Roman empire in those days. The Jews could not execute anyone without the express authorization of the imperial government. If Jesus ordered the Law to be fulfilled, they could accuse Him of rebellion before the authorities. If He said to leave it alone and see what would happen, religious leaders could spread among the people the news that He did not respect the sacred principles of Judaism. He could not be the expected Messiah if He did not respect the Law of Moses. It would be the argument used to demoralize Him. It seemed to be a perfect situation to corner Jesus.

 

At that moment Jesus stoops down to write with His finger on the ground of the temple courtyard. The man demands a response from Christ. In his eyes can be seen the look of triumph. It seemed like the game was won. It is then that Jesus gives him a bewildering answer: " Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," John 8:7. He leans and continues to write on the ground.

 

Those words had the same effect as an atomic bomb. One by one the accusers leave the place and leave the woman alone with Jesus. He stands and asks the trembling soul, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" (Verse 10). She says there is no one left. Then there is a word of comfort for her: "neither do I condemn you...Go now and leave your life of sin," (Verse 11).

 

Jesus did not say that what she had done was right or that it did not matter. He knew it was an open transgression of the commandments of God, and, as such, it was something that hurt His heart. However, He knew how to separate the sin from the sinner.

 

Though His heart rejects evil, sin, transgression, He has a deep love for people who err. Like the Pharisees, we tend to do the opposite of what Christ did. We love sin, we identify with it, but we hate the sinner. How wonderful that God, who would have every right to throw stones at us, does not treat us as we deserve, but loves us. He loves us despite what we are and do. Loves, as He loved that woman that morning in the courtyard of the temple.

 

Christ's mission was to restore the divine image which has been degraded by sin. Rich in heavenly glory and majesty, Christ made Himself poor so that through His poverty we might become rich.

 

Paul expresses this profound truth in the following words: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross," Philippians 2:6-8.

Chapter 1 - The Lost Sheep

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” Luke 15: 4-7.

 

Have you ever experienced great loss? I am not talking about money or jewelry, but about someone who is really special to you. When my eldest son was young, he had the habit of running off without our permission to explore during family outings. One day, on a family trip to the biggest mall in São Paulo, this habit of his gave me a taste of this horrible feeling of loss. When my wife said she was going to the bathroom, the little one said he also wanted to go. While I waited for them, I decided I might as well use go too. When I returned to the agreed meeting place, the two had not yet returned. After a while, my wife arrived alone. She looked at me in surprise and was almost as quick as I was to ask, "Where is the boy?" She then explained that he had said that he would come to meet me. When he did not find me where he had left me, he decided to explore on his own. Imagine the desperation of two inexperienced parents looking for their son in a crowded mall on a Sunday afternoon. This story only had a happy ending because we remembered a play area where parents left the children while they shopped. How he had liked that place. We had passed in front of it a little before, so we decided to look for him there. Surprise, there he was. But the tightening in our hearts that we both felt is something I would never want to experience again. It was a terrible feeling until I found him safe. Needless to say, the joy of the outing was over and all that remained was to muster up the little emotional strength we had left and return home.

 

Jesus told a parable about a young man who also lost something of great value. It is the story of a shepherd who discovered that one of his flock animals had gone astray. If we were to draw a parallel with our lives today it would be like losing a beloved pet. You would have seen posters on the walls of your neighborhood stores with pictures of lost animals along with the promise of a cash reward for anyone who gave just a clue to the pet's whereabouts. Imagine the scene: After spending the day with his sheep, he decides to return home. He leads the sheep towards the corral and begins to check if any are missing. When the last one enters the fold, he realizes that he is missing one. He even knows which one it is. It is possible that he was accustomed to running after that mischievous sheep. And now, what would he do? It was late and predators were on the loose in search of prey. Was the little sheep hurt? Had he fallen into a pit? Had a dangerous animal found it first?

 

The shepherd does not think twice. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the safety of the fold and faces the night in an attempt to rescue the lost. It is late, and the only light he has to go by is the moon. He retraces all the steps he had walked throughout the day in the hope that the stray sheep might be around.

 

It is interesting to note that Jesus never used the parable of the lost dog, the stray ox, or the cat away from home. These animals have a keen sense of direction and know how to go home, which is not the case with sheep. These animals, when they are lost, are in fact lost, unless one finds them and takes them back to the fold. Ewes are animals with poor eyesight, their sense of smell is not very keen, and they have no claws or even strength and agility to escape. They are totally dependent on the care of their owner. Maybe that is why Christ told this story in which we are compared to a lost sheep. There is no better illustration for human beings who have gone astray from God. They cannot return on their own. They are in a hopeless condition.

 

When, still in Eden, Adam and Eve transgressed the commandments of God, they immediately fled from the divine presence and would not have returned were it not for the wonderful grace manifested in God's search for His lost children. The question that God asked Adam in the Garden of the Creator "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9) reveals the great interest that heaven manifests in favor of every human being lost as a result of sin.

 

The parable of the lost sheep applies to all sinners on this planet and also refers to the Earth itself, the only planet in the Universe that is separated from God through the transgression of the divine law.

 

In this parable, the guilt of loss is imputed to the sheep itself. It was not expelled from the fold, had no reason to go astray, found no fault in the shepherd to justify its departure. It was the only one to blame. As much as we have a bad habit of putting blame on others for the mistakes we make, the truth is that the source of our problems is our bad choices.

 

Blaming others for our misfortunes is a habit we form early in life, during childhood. If the child does something forbidden or breaks something expensive, it is quick to say, "It was my brother (or sister, as the case may be)." When a student acts up in the classroom and the teacher reprimands him, he says, "I didn’t start it, so-and-so did." When God questioned Adam if he had disobeyed the command to not eat the forbidden fruit, he promptly placed blame on God and not himself: "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it," (Genesis 3:12). We like to play the role of victim, to escape our responsibilities. One of the first signs that we are developing emotional maturity is when we take the blame for what we do wrong. Many live a lifetime and do not learn this lesson. So keep in mind: our problems, guilts, mistakes, and faults are our responsibility and no one else's.

 

However, the loving and dedicated shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the fold and undertakes a dangerous and risky pursuit of the lost.

 

This story portrays the great love and sacrifice of Jesus, who, being God, surrounded by glory and the center of the worship of the whole heavenly court, did not hesitate to leave the perfect and pure heavenly environment, to take human nature in its fallen state, and undertake the search for the lost sheep.

 

The American writer, Ellen G. White, comments on this story: “In the parable the shepherd goes out to search for one sheep—the very least that can be numbered. So if there had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for that one," (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 187).

 

Though he had no sinful tendency, Christ came to dwell with sinful humanity. For thirty-three years, He lived a life of absolute poverty and self-denial in order to reach human beings where they are. Although He did not partake of any sin, He personally witnessed all the moral miseries that afflict sinners.

 

Writing about what Christ did to rescue mankind, the writer of Hebrews uses strong words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin,” (Hebrews 4:15). There is no ordeal in which you can say: “Jesus does not know what I am going through.” He knows what it is to starve, for in the desert of temptation the Bible says that He felt hunger. He knows what it is to be thirsty, because while on the cross He said, "I thirst." He knows what it is to be betrayed and abandoned, for in the hour of His greatest trial His disciples forsook Him. He knows what it is to not be understood by family, for the Gospels tell us that His brethren did not accept His claim that He was the Messiah awaited by Israel and tried to make Him abandon His mission. He knows what it is to be rejected, for it is written that He “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). He is not a distant God who observes the suffering of His children. No, He became as one of us and journeyed the same path we all pass by. That is why Jesus can say to the sufferer: "I know what you are going through."

 

For love of you and me, Christ risked everything, including eternity. In taking on our nature, He was subjected to the temptations that beset every human being. He could fall as Adam fell. Though He still possessed Divinity—He was completely God even when He became man—He could not use it to overcome temptation as He came to become the Substitute and Example of the human being. His Divinity was used solely for the sake of others and the salvation of sinners.

 

His life of victory over sin depended entirely on constant communion with the heavenly Father and total submission to the control of the Holy Spirit.

 

Thank God, Christ finishes the parable with the shepherd’s success in reaching the lost sheep and taking it back to the fold to reunite it with the ninety-nine who never went astray.

 

The parable does not speak of failure but of success. In finding the sheep, the shepherd does not rebuke it, does not punish it, nor does he guide it back to the fold. In His great joy, He puts the sheep on His shoulders and takes it back home. In the parable, the shepherd's happiness seems much greater than that of the sheep itself. Coming home, he prepares a great feast, invites his friends and neighbors, and declares, "‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep," (Luke 15: 6). And Jesus concludes the parable, stating: "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent," (verse 7).

 

Have you ever thought, dear reader, what great joy you can cause in the heavenly courts by accepting Jesus' offer of full salvation? He presents the solemn appeal: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," (Revelation 3:20, 21). He, in fact, receives sinners and eats with them, with Zacchaeus, Levi Matthew, Simon the leper who was healed by Christ, and many others.

 

He invites us to open the door of our heart and allow Him to enter and dwell in us. He offers a seat on His throne to all who overcome. However, He also offers us the victory since we cannot overcome one temptation or one sin without His grace.

The apostle Paul declared: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

 

Ellen G. White wrote:

"Desponding soul, take courage, even though you have done wickedly. Do not think that perhaps God will pardon your transgressions and permit you to come into His presence. God has made the first advance. While you were in rebellion against Him, He went forth to seek you. With the tender heart of the shepherd He left the ninety and nine and went out into the wilderness to find that which was lost. The soul, bruised and wounded and ready to perish, He encircles in His arms of love and joyfully bears it to the fold of safety,” (Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 188, 189).

 

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Romans 8: 31-39).

Chapter 2 - The Lost Drachma

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” Luke 15:8-10.

 

The Greek drachma was a silver coin with a value equivalent to that of the Roman denarius. It was considered a good salary for a day's work.

 

It was customary in Palestine for a mother to give ten drachmas to her daughter as a dowry. She retained the dowry as a family treasure that would be passed on to her daughter at her wedding. And so it was that the same dowry was passed down from mother to daughter through generations. The women of that time wore above their eyebrows a tiara made of silver coins called a semedi. It indicated that the carrier was either engaged or married. If a coin were missing, the woman could be mistaken for a prostitute. The value of the coins was not monetary but sentimental. Its worth was above any amount they represented.

 

The loss of one of these coins was considered a serious calamity in the family. Therefore, all necessary sacrifices were made for the recovery of the lost drachma.

 

The houses of the lower class had no windows, so they were not illuminated except by a lamp. In those circumstances, to find something that was lost in the dust, it was necessary to light the lamp, sweep the whole house, and look for the object until it was found. It was indeed a long and painful work.

 

In my childhood, before electric light came to our house, we made use of the lantern, which consisted of a triangular kerosene deposit with a wick that, moistened with fuel, was lit and conveyed a dim light in the room. It was better to sleep than to depend on that precarious light to read or study something. In the time of Christ, the use of oil as fuel was common (see Matthew 25:1-8).

 

Blame for the loss of the coin was attributed to the mistress of the house. In the parable, the woman undertakes the quest by availing herself of all the resources available to recover the lost drachma.

 

This parable has two objective applications: it refers to people who are lost within the home and also to those who are lost within the church.

 

On one occasion, after delivering a sermon during the divine service, the preacher went to the door to greet the audience who left the chapel. When he returned to the pulpit to retrieve his books, the messenger found a lonely boy crying in the church. The pastor asked what was the matter. The boy replied, "Pastor, I'm lost." Strangely enough, his family had forgotten him at church. The preacher whispered to himself, "lost inside the church." This fact brings to mind the boy Jesus, only 12 years old, forgotten in the temple of Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary.

 

Being lost in the church or home environment is a complicated problem. One can attend worship services, fulfill their duties towards the church, be punctual for meetings, contribute to church maintenance, and still be lost because one does not know Jesus. According to all appearances, the person is a believer and fulfills his duties, yet because he is not in a relationship with Christ, he is undoubtedly lost. This was the case of Nicodemus, Saul, and many others. They believed they were children of Abraham, they did good works, they were teachers of religion, they held high positions within the church, but they were not converted. Everything they did was mere formality. In Saul's case, he was extremely zealous in defending Judaism against Christians and did not hesitate to commit barbarous crimes against the innocent followers of Christ. He believed he was doing God an excellent service. He was lost inside the church.

 

In the family, too, one or more children may appear to be Christians because they fulfill their parents' wishes by going to church, actively attending meetings, singing in some musical ensemble; however, because they do not know Jesus, they are also lost in the home.

 

Many parents show satisfaction with their child or youth because of their apparent religiosity, but they never speak to their children’s hearts about the saving grace of Christ. Maybe even the parents themselves are lost in the home.

 

On this point the American educator, Ellen G. White, commented:

"This parable has a lesson to families. In the household there is often great carelessness concerning the souls of its members. Among their number may be one who is estranged from God; but how little anxiety is felt lest in the family relationship there be lost one of God's entrusted gifts. The coin, though lying among dust and rubbish, is a piece of silver still. Its owner seeks it because it is of value. So every soul, however degraded by sin, is in God's sight accounted precious. As the coin bears the image and superscription of the reigning power, so man at his creation bore the image and superscription of God; and though now marred and dim through the influence of sin, the traces of this inscription remain upon every soul. God desires to recover that soul and to retrace upon it His own image in righteousness and holiness," Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 194.

 

What do you do to bring family members to the Savior's feet? Just follow the steps followed by the woman who lost her drachma in her house: 1. Light the lamp;  2. Carefully and thoroughly sweep the entire house; 3. Look for the lost coin until you find it.

 

1. Lighting the Lamp

We need to open the Word of God, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105), study it prayerfully to know Jesus and bring our family to the heart of our Lord. The lessons of the Word of God should not only be read or studied but also practiced.

 

2. Sweeping the house

The woman in the parable, after lighting the lamp, swept her whole house carefully and thoroughly, removing all the dust that possibly covered the drachma.

 

When lighting the lantern, seeking the Word of God with prayer and under the direction of Spirit of God, we will discover in the family everything that hinders the salvation of its members. All the rubbish and debris that obstructs the finding of the drachma must be decidedly removed. In many cases, parental behavior itself becomes a serious impediment to the conversion of children. Parents need to examine their own hearts to find if they are not the main obstacle in saving their children or young people. Of course, all this can only be accomplished by divine grace. No one has power in himself to carry out this indispensable reform in the home or in the church. Only Christ has the necessary power for this work, and He is more than willing to bestow it on His children.

 

Ellen G. White wrote:

"The enemy of souls will invent many things to lead the minds of our youth from firm faith in God to the idolatrous practices of the world. Let the cautions given to ancient Israel be carefully studied. Satan's efforts to spoil the thoughts and confuse the judgment are unceasing, and we must be on our guard. We must be careful to maintain our allegiance to God as His peculiar people...."

 

"We should endeavor to keep out of our homes every influence that is not productive of good. In this matter some parents have much to learn. To those who feel free to read story magazines and novels, I say: You are sowing seed, the harvest of which you will not care to gather. There is no spiritual strength to be gained from such reading. Rather it destroys the love for the pure truth of the Word. Through the agency of novels and story magazines Satan is working to fill with unreal and trivial thoughts the minds that should be diligently studying the Word of God. Thus he is robbing thousands upon thousands of the time and energy and self-discipline demanded by the stern problems of life," In Heavenly Places, p. 215.

 

Inappropriate use of media is currently corrupting the minds of millions of young people. Many videos watched today are loaded with immoral scenes and ideas and behaviors contrary to Christian ethics. Many books of philosophy, fiction, even religious fiction, are no more than serious obstacles to the salvation of young people. As soft drinks eliminate the pleasure of drinking pure water, the consumption of most videos and fiction books destroy the taste and desire to study the Word of God.

 

The same author continues:

"Let the youth be taught to give close study to the Word of God. Received into the soul, it will prove a mighty barricade against temptations. “Thy word,” the psalmist declares, “have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” “By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer,” (Psalm 119:11; 17:4).

 

"If the counsels of the Word of God are faithfully followed, the saving grace of Christ will be brought to our youth; for the children who are trained to love and obey God, and who yield themselves to the molding power of His Word, are the objects of God's special care and blessing," In Heavenly Places, p. 215.

 

3. Seek the drachma until you find it

Working for the salvation of the family is not limited to a time or place. Our whole life must be dedicated to the eternal salvation of those who are closest to us. We cannot set a time for this noble work. Many parents who have taken a serious interest in saving their children have in many cases died without seeing the outcome of their prayers and their appeals and efforts. Many children have been converted after the death of their parents. Therefore, we will not always have the joy of seeing our dear converts during our lifetime. But we must trust the promises of God.

 

On this effort, the previously cited writer, Ellen G. White, comments:

"The spirits of darkness will battle for the soul once under their dominion, but angels of God will contend for that soul with prevailing power. The Lord says, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? ... Thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.” Isaiah 49:24, 25," The Desire of Ages, p. 259.

 

In this work, parents can count on divine intervention through the work of the Holy Spirit and the collaboration of the holy angels. Although the loss of the drachma is, in many cases, the result of paternal neglect, parents should not despair or discourage. Heaven is much more interested in saving our loved ones than even we are. As much as we seek the lost drachma, God is even more interested in the salvation of our loved ones who have gone astray.

 

Finally, the coin was found. Happy because her efforts were not in vain, the woman invites her friends and neighbors to a party to commemorate the recovery of the lost drachma.

 

Said the Savior: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” Luke 15:10. Imagine, reader, the joy that is manifested in heaven when a drachma—a child or youth—who was estranged from God is brought to the feet of Christ. Also, imagine the eternal joy that will be felt when you arrive in the heavenly home with all our family members! It is worth every effort and every sacrifice for the recovery of each drachma. Do you agree?

 

How much is a life worth? Ellen G. White ponders:

“The value of a soul, who can estimate? Would you know its worth, go to Gethsemane, and there watch with Christ through those hours of anguish, when He sweat as it were great drops of blood. Look upon the Saviour uplifted on the cross. Hear that despairing cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34. Look upon the wounded head, the pierced side, the marred feet. Remember that Christ risked all. For our redemption, heaven itself was imperiled. At the foot of the cross, remembering that for one sinner Christ would have laid down His life, you may estimate the value of a soul,” Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 196.

Chapter 3 - The Prodigal Son

“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate,” Luke 15: 11-24.

 

Several suggestions have been put forward to change the title of this parable to, for example, "The Parable of the Waiting Father," "The Parable of the Insensitive Brother," "The Parable of the Lost Children." This last one would be my suggestion, because, in fact, both brothers were lost at home. As we shall notice during our reflection, the youngest left his home and returned converted, while the elder brother remained at home without a transformation of character despite the love of the Father.

 

Three main characters are mentioned in the parable: the father and the two sons. It seems to be a family of Jewish nobility.

 

The youngest son seems to be tired of living in an environment where his "freedom" was curtailed. His dream was to leave his father's house and go to a faraway place, perhaps Alexandria, Athens, Rome, or another great city, where he would do as he pleased and at the same time be free from advice or guidance from anyone. He was not content to leave the house and stay close by. He wanted to conquer the world. For this dream to come true, he needed money—a lot of money. With this idea in mind, he approached his father and demanded that he be given the part of the inheritance that would legally belong to him after his father’s death.

 

The parable states that the father "divided their goods" (Luke 15:12), meaning that a division was made between the two sons. According to the law recorded in Deuteronomy (chapter 21:27), the eldest son would receive two-thirds of the estate for being the firstborn and the youngest son only a third.

 

The young man considered himself worthy to receive in the present what was to be granted to him in the future. Although his father was not obliged to fulfill the imprudent demand, he divided the property and handed the third of his goods to the young man. That request must have broken the heart of that zealous father. The young man did not intend to but was with that request saying that his father was a hindrance to his happiness and success. He was saying that he had tired of waiting for the father's death to receive his inheritance. The old man was healthy, and it was possible that his son would already have grown old by the time he died. So, he asked for his inheritance to enjoy the life he thought he deserved as a young man.

 

Sin comes attached to a load of folly and madness. According to the apostle James, it "seduces" (James 1:14). It deceives its victim. When we sin, we make senseless decisions and hurt the people we love. Besides, the person we hurt the most is ourselves. A few days ago, I found myself in a hospital emergency room because of the pain that a gallstone was causing. In the same ward, there were other people receiving medical assistance. Next to me was a young woman who appeared to be about twenty. Wanting to distract myself from the pain, I began a conversation and asked her if she was there for the same reason. She told me she was having an IV because of a drinking binge. When I went back to the doctor's office to see if I was okay and to be discharged, I commented on the incident with her. It was almost midnight on a Saturday. She explained to me that this girl was possibly the first in a series of other young people who would be cared for that night at that hospital. She told me that some arrive so altered that they do not accept care and give extra work to the first responders. The doctor said that the worst nights are those in which shows take place at a well-known point in the city. Many young people are brought into the emergency room in a state of complete drunkenness or convulsing due to the use of drugs. Doesn’t that seem crazy? The best years of a person's life are wasted with the use of alcohol and drugs in the name of supposed “fun”. How can it be fun to jeopardize one's life?

 

A few days later, now in possession of the money, the young man in the parable gathered his belongings and traveled to a distant country (Luke 15:13). To do everything the young man wanted to do, he had to stay out of his father’s sight. When we want to plunge into sin, we must stay away from God. For this reason, Augustine taught that the "distant land" was the "forgetting of God". Paul refers to this condition as being "separated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18). We can imagine that young man without vision and with lots of money surrounded by many "friends". It appears that he had no economic vision or imagined that his money would never end. However, surrounded by other young people like him, he began to attend promiscuous parties and gatherings that only served to consume his money and destroy his health. The Bible states that he " squandered his wealth in wild living" (Luke 15:13). Not long after, he realized that his "fortune" had disappeared along with the "friends" who surrounded him while he still had resources.

 

Carlos[1] was a young man who had grown up in the church. However, by the time he reached adolescence his friendship with unbelieving colleagues led him to turn away from God. The youngest son in a family of four, he began attending nightclubs and attending parties. Soon he began to drink. It was not long before a friend offered him something "stronger": drugs. On one of those evenings, he drank so much that he fell unconscious on the lawn of the house where he was partying. His friends were so drunk they thought it was fun to kick the fallen boy like a soccer ball. A friend who was less drunk pitied him, put his friend in a taxi, and gave the driver the address of where he lived. At dawn, the suffering mother receives a dirty and drunk son at the door of the house. But the worst was yet to come. There are people who use drugs for a long time without suffering major health problems, but others are extremely sensitive and have a more fragile health. That was the case of that young man. One day, he developed a psychiatric disorder of bipolarity caused by drug abuse. He lay prostrate on the living room sofa for four days, alternating moments of intense joy with that of deep sadness. Now he laughed, and now he wept. And where were his party friends now? Gone. Carlos was admitted to a hospital for treatment, and the day after he was checked out his "friends" came around to take the boy to parties again. Of course, that mother put all these false friends to run.

 

In possession of money and health it is easy to be surrounded by "friends", but when the person needs help, these supposed friends are gone. That is what happened to the young man in the story that Christ told.

 

Being in a "distant region" he found himself without money, without friends, without food, and without a way back. What a tragedy! The young man who had thought of conquering "freedom" was in the most abject slavery. What to do now? To further complicate the situation, that great city faced an economic crisis with a very high level of unemployment. He had no professional experience, and the only skill he had shown up to that point was an ability to spend money. He who had once lived amidst great abundance of everything now began to literally starve.

 

He began to look for a job worthy of a young Jew, but he succeeded in finding nothing but an occupation degrading for one of his nation: to feed pigs. The profession of a shepherd was already a professional activity offered only to the less qualified people. Caring for pigs was even more humiliating, because to the Jew and to those who believe in the Bible, they are filthy animals.

 

According to Lockeyer, “The Jews listening to Jesus must have shuddered at these words, ‘to feed swine,’ for to a Jew, there could not be a greater depth of debasement,” All the Parables of the Bible, p. 330. A certain proverb from the Talmud states: “Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!” To increase his humiliation, he accepted this work without the promise of receiving a salary, just to kill his hunger with the locusts that the pigs ate.

 

Herodotus, a Greek historian, claimed that even outside of Israel's borders the profession of pig-caretaker was considered an extremely vile occupation. In Egypt, according to this researcher, the care-takers of pigs were not allowed to mingle with civil society, nor to attend public worship of the gods, as they were considered the most miserable classes of the Egyptians. Other classes in society did not want to have any marital bond with them.

 

Having reached "the bottom of the pit," the Bible states that the young man “came to his senses” (Luke 15:17), implying the idea that before he had been out of it. As we have seen, sin is madness, and repentance is the return to sanity. Unfortunately, many people only realize the seriousness of the situation they are in when they have no other alternatives in life. We are so proud that we believe we can get rid of the problem ourselves. We repeat to ourselves: I can, I can! In this condition, God cannot help or rescue us. We need to surrender to Jesus, to give up fighting with our own strength.

 

When a lifeguard at the beach or at the pool sees someone drowning, he does not try to grab the person immediately. He surrounds the person, and, when he realizes that the victim has tired, then he rescues the individual. Why doesn’t he do it at once? Why wait so long? He knows that embracing a person who is drowning while she is struggling can cause both to sink. You need to know the right time to help so as not to jeopardize the integrity of two lives by trying to save one.

 

In a society that values success and independence, it seems a sign of weakness to ask God for help. It seems humiliating to acknowledge that our case has no other exit and that we do not have the answers. As long as we persist in believing that we can live without depending on God, little can He do for us. Maybe that is why He allows us to be tried, to break that pride that drives us away from His love. The younger son only valued his father’s character when he reached this point of despair. What is your “bottom of the pit”?

 

The young man in our story had turned a beautiful dream into a terrible nightmare. Now he compared his present situation to that of his father's servants who enjoyed an atmosphere of comfort and plenty. What a fool he had turned out to be! He had exchanged true freedom in the Father's house for a mirage of liberty, which was nothing but the most degrading servitude.

 

After "coming to his senses" he made a wise decision: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:18, 19). And he did not leave it as just a decision. “So he got up and went to his father,” (verse 20).

 

What motivated him to return to his father's house? The certainty that his father was a fair and good man. He will only understand the depth of paternal love when the two are reunited. As we shall see, it is when the son returns home that he realizes how much he was loved by his father. Before leaving home, he considered himself worthy of the inheritance. Now, after coming to his senses, he declares himself unworthy. Recognition of our unworthiness is a fundamental step toward turning to God.

 

The one who had left home well-nourished, well-dressed, mounted on a camel loaded with riches, now returns on foot, thin, covered in rags, sick, and despicable in appearance.

 

After his prodigal son had left, his father would always look out to see if his unfortunate son had decided to return. Now, in the distance, he perceives a shape like that of his son. Though totally different from when he had departed, his father's love recognizes him. He would not allow strange eyes to see his son's miserable condition. He runs, embraces the sick son who returned, removes his own cloak, and covers the child's nakedness.

 

Now the son begins to recite the confession he had planned: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” Luke 15:21. The father did not wait for the penitent young man to finish the rehearsed confession but ordered his servants to bring the best robe, a ring, and sandals to put on him. The new clothes indicate that the father was worried, not only to protect his son but to make sure he understood that the past did not matter. He orders a ring to be given to him. By this act he wants to demonstrate that the boy’s position of honor and dignity was restored. Tell them to give him new sandals to wear. Only slaves walked barefoot. His dear son was not a servant; he was a dear member of the family who had returned home. He wanted to protect the wounded and dusty feet of the prodigal son who had returned.

 

Reflecting on this proof of love, Russell Norman Champlin comments:

“The afflicted son had rehearsed his brief speech well, hoping that he might somehow be able to move his father's heart sufficiently to secure for himself a place among his father's workers. But the father's immediate display of affection interrupted him when he began to make his speech, and he could not say to him: “make me like one of your hired servants.” These last words [...] ‘were muffled by the demonstrations of paternal love; the son is so shaken he cannot form the words in the face of so much affection shown by his father; a psychologically tender and delicate representation’ (Meyer, in loc.). We also notice that this humiliating confession did not have to be given, because the father, through his own actions, had already clearly shown that some form of restitution would result from all this. Nevertheless, the son delivered his confession, or at least part of it, and this after the kiss of reconciliation. This shows that his confession had not been prepared for self-profit but was shielded by genuine repentance,” The New Testament Interpreted, Vol. 2, p. 155.

 

The three objects mentioned in the father’s orders to the servants: the best robe, a ring, and a pair of sandals each had a special meaning.

 

The young man left the house well dressed, well nourished, and, we imagine, wearing the ring that resembled his status as a member of a noble family.

 

In his adventures and misadventures, his beautiful clothes were transformed into "rags of filth". He may have pawned his ring in exchange for some resources for his own survival. He returns dressed in rags, thin, undernourished, haggard, barefoot. He would be content with a position as a simple servant in the house where he had enjoyed the position of a son.

 

The best robe is a symbol of the righteousness of Christ that is freely offered to the repentant sinner. “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels," Isaiah 61:10.

 

In Zechariah 3, in the vision of Joshua and the Angel, the first appears before the divine presence " dressed in filthy clothes" (Verse 3). Then the Angel of the Lord, who is Christ Himself, commands those who stood before Him, " Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Verse 4).

 

When the sinner comes repentant to Christ's feet, his filthy rags are removed and he is covered with the fine garments of the righteousness of Christ, the pure and splendid linen. God does not look at our life of sin anymore but sees only the pure life that Jesus lived in our place. God accepts us as if we had never sinned, as if we were pure. He does all this because of the righteousness of Christ offered in our place. What a wonderful exchange!

 

Ellen G. White describes this demonstration of grace with poetic words:

"Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. “With His stripes we are healed," The Desire of Ages, p. 25.

 

The ring, as was mentioned, is a symbol of the family’s nobility. It was another proof that the young man was received, not as a slave or servant, but as a son with all the rights and privileges bestowed on him as a member of the nobility.

 

Slaves walked barefoot. Sandals were offered to the young man returning home and were also included in the package offered to the son. He feels that he has been fully forgiven, justified, and accepted as part of the family. This is how God treats every repentant sinner. The repentance itself that is necessary before one is forgiven or justified is a gift of God.

 

Another order from the father guides the servants as to the preparation for the welcome-back party for the son who had been lost: “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate,” Luke 15: 23, 24.

 

The sinner, far removed from God, is considered dead and lost (Ephesians 2:1). When recovered from the life of sin he is considered alive and found.

 

Well-known biblical commentator, Russel Norman Champlin, explains:

"The rags were taken from him and he was dressed in the best robe, which in the original Greek speaks of a very fine and princely garment that extends down to the feet, the type of garment worn by distinguished guests and people of importance for special occasions. For the children of God there are no secondary things, no matter how good these may be. The garment signifies honor, recognition, exaltation. We are reminded that the garment of righteousness that is provided through Christ, the attire of the saints, symbolizes holiness and exaltation. It is the same garment of praise (see Isaiah 61: 3); and the garment of righteousness, of the new life... participation in the life and glory of Christ, in which believers assume the position of kings and priests, sons of God led to glory. All this contrasts with the rags with which he arrived, symbols of his former state when he still represented lost humanity, just in its own eyes, which is man isolated from God, without redemption.

 

"The gold ring given to the son was a sign of favor or special affection from his father; and in this case indicates paternal love...The slaves did not wear such rings, much less gold rings. These gold rings were an indication of distinction and wealth. (See Genesis 41:42.)

 

"The young man had come home barefoot, as if he were a slave, for slaves ordinarily wore no shoes. But now he was recognized as a free man. Thus, we find here the threefold symbol of freedom and honor—the garments, the ring, and the sandals—all that was the fruit of perfect reconciliation," The New Testament Interpreted, Vol. 2, p. 155.

 

Jesus declared: “…a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” John 8:35-36.

 

On this the blessing of salvation, Ellen White wrote:

"Every soul that refuses to give himself to God is under the control of another power. He is not his own. He may talk of freedom, but he is in the most abject slavery. He is not allowed to see the beauty of truth, for his mind is under the control of Satan. While he flatters himself that he is following the dictates of his own judgment, he obeys the will of the prince of darkness. Christ came to break the shackles of sin-slavery from the soul. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” sets us “free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2.

 

"In the work of redemption, there is no compulsion. No external force is employed. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ, there is the highest sense of freedom. The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself. True, we have no power to free ourselves from Satan's control; but when we desire to be set free from sin, and in our great need cry out for a power out of and above ourselves, the powers of the soul are imbued with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and they obey the dictates of the will in fulfilling the will of God.

 

"The only condition upon which the freedom of man is possible is that of becoming one with Christ. “The truth shall make you free;” and Christ is the truth. Sin can triumph only by enfeebling the mind, and destroying the liberty of the soul. Subjection to God is restoration to one's self,—to the true glory and dignity of man. The divine law, to which we are brought into subjection, is “the law of liberty,” James 2:12. The Desire of Ages, pg. 466.

 

"Arise and go to your Father. He will meet you a great way off. If you take even one step toward Him in repentance, He will hasten to enfold you in His arms of infinite love. His ear is open to the cry of the contrite soul. The very first reaching out of the heart after God is known to Him. Never a prayer is offered, however faltering, never a tear is shed, however secret, never a sincere desire after God is cherished, however feeble, but the Spirit of God goes forth to meet it. Even before the prayer is uttered or the yearning of the heart made known, grace from Christ goes forth to meet the grace that is working upon the human soul.

 

"Your heavenly Father will take from you the garments defiled by sin. In the beautiful parabolic prophecy of Zechariah, the high priest Joshua, standing clothed in filthy garments before the angel of the Lord, represents the sinner. And the word is spoken by the Lord, “Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.... So they set a fair miter upon his head, and clothed him with garments.” Zechariah 3:4, 5. Even so God will clothe you with “the garments of salvation,” and cover you with “the robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10. “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” Psalm 68:13.

 

"He will bring you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you shall be love. (Song of Solomon 2:4) “If thou wilt walk in My ways,” He declares, “I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by”—even among the holy angels that surround His throne. (Zechariah 3:7.)

 

“As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” Isaiah 62:5. “He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17. And heaven and earth shall unite in the Father's song of rejoicing: “For this My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” Christ’s Object Lessons, pgs. 206, 207.

 

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:1, 2.

 
[1] 1Name changed to maintain privacy and identity

Chapter 4 - The Eldest Son

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found,’” Luke 15: 25-32.

 

In general, the relationship between siblings is very complicated. The Bible itself contains many accounts of conflict between siblings. As much as parents may intervene, it is difficult to maintain a calm and peaceful environment indoors when siblings are at home. The relationship between them is bipolar. In a moment they are laughing and talking amicably, and then the mood changes and the fighting starts.

 

When my two older children were young, they began a typical argument that illustrates that a logical cause is not always necessary for siblings to disagree. They were small at the time, and we were all in the car going grocery shopping when one of them commented, "Dad, I want a dog." The other, not to be left out, said, "Father, I would like to have a kitten." The brother then replied, "You cannot have a kitten, because my dog would quarrel with him." This was a start to an illogical argument. They were at war because of animals they did not even have.

 

However, siblings often form a united front against an external threat. At school, you see as much. At home, siblings may constantly bicker, but when someone else starts picking on one of them, the other takes offense and defends his or her sibling. It would appear that only members of the family have the right to argue or fight against said sibling. This is the case at the end of the story of the prodigal son when the elder brother appears. In the account, Jesus says that the relationship between the two was not good. There were deep emotional wounds that were not healed.

 

With many people I have talked to, I have noticed the idea that the youngest son of the parable went astray, corrupted himself, wasted his inheritance in a dissolute life. He is considered the villain of the story by many. When we speak of the eldest son, the general understanding is that this one who stayed at home, working, obeying, doing everything right, was the "good boy" of the parable. Unwitting mistake.

 

Let us consider the person and character of the eldest son.

 

We have already mentioned before that our suggestion is that the parable be entitled: The Parable of the Lost Children. Why?

At first, the two boys lived at home with their father, enjoying the rights and privileges of children of the house. The younger considered himself worthy to receive his inheritance in advance, left the house, squandered all resources, spoiled his health, and finally returned regretfully home.

 

The eldest son also received an inheritance, but double for he was the eldest son. Let us remember that the father "divided his property between them" (Luke 15:12).

 

It is true that the eldest son stayed home, worked regularly in the countryside, and, to a certain extent, performed the duties of the house. In his words: "[I’ve] never disobeyed your orders" (Luke 15:29).

 

This expression reminds us of the words of the rich young man who approached Christ, and asked him, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus replied, "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." The young man replied, “All these I have kept; What do I still lack?” Jesus tells him one thing is lacking (Matthew 19:16-21). Jesus then reveals a deep knowledge of the human soul by challenging the young man with a shocking proposition: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me," (Matthew 19:21). The sacred account states that "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth" (verse 22).

 

What was missing in the life and heart of the young man who questioned the Master? He lacked the love of God in his heart. On this,

Ellen G. White commented:

 

“'One thing thou lackest,' Jesus said. 'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.' Christ read the ruler's heart. Only one thing he lacked, but that was a vital principle. He needed the love of God in the soul. This lack, unless supplied, would prove fatal to him; his whole nature would become corrupted. By indulgence, selfishness would strengthen. That he might receive the love of God, his supreme love of self must be surrendered," The Desire of Ages, p. 519.

 

"His claim that he had kept the law of God was a deception. He showed that riches were his idol. He could not keep the commandments of God while the world was first in his affections," Ibid., P. 520.

 

 Let us consider the inspired words of the Apostle Paul to the Roman Christians:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law,” Romans 13:8-10.

 

Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands,” John 14:15. Should we keep the commandments to prove that we love Jesus? Or do we need to love Jesus to keep His commandments? In fact, we cannot produce true love for Jesus. We need to accept Jesus to have His love in our hearts. The apostle John states: “We love because he first loved us,” 1 John 4:19.

 

"Righteousness is holiness, likeness to God, and “God is love.” 1 John 4:16. It is conformity to the law of God, for “all Thy commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:172), and “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Righteousness is love, and love is the light and the life of God. The righteousness of God is embodied in Christ. We receive righteousness by receiving Him," Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, p. 17.

 

How many commandments of God's law were observed by the young man who sought Jesus? None. Without the love of God in our hearts we do not keep the law of God, and he who breaks one of the precepts becomes guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10).

Let us turn our attention back to the older brother of the parable.

 

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ Luke 15:25-30.

 

The eldest son was a hard worker. He had many good works of his own to present to his father. He was a cold duty-fulfiller calculating the reward he would receive for his hard work. He did not work out of love, but for the reward. His life was of continual labor. Being a hard worker is a virtue, especially when one works with dedication and love. Like the rich young man mentioned above, the older brother failed in this point as well. He did not have a loving relationship with his father. Just as the youngest son set out for a land far from his father's home, the eldest lived far from his father's heart. He throws this fact in the face of his old father: ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders’ (verse 29). He did not see himself as a son, but only as one more servant on his father's farm.

 

Religious leaders who were listening to this story could be found at fault of this as well. They did not have a relationship of love with God, but one of bondage. They were scandalized by the intimacy that Jesus held with God, for the Master addressed him as His Father. The Jews did not refer to God in this way. They were only servants and not children.

 

Despite the length of time that separates us from the facts we are analyzing, the truth is that this attitude permeates the relationship of many people with God today. They do not have the courage to approach Him to maintain a relationship of affection. They see religion and spirituality only as a list of duties and obligations. For this class, to be a spiritual person is to obey rules and principles. They are unable to open their hearts to the Father as they do to a friend. This person’s religion is arid and without joy.

 

What was the reaction of the elder son when he heard the party? He was indignant. Why? Because his father had put together a party of rejoicing over the recovery of his son who had been lost. "The older brother became angry and refused to go in,” Luke 15:28. He was not happy about his brother's return. Why? Perhaps because he feared that his inheritance would be jeopardized. After all, he was a cold and calculating. More likely, it was his difficulty in seeing the young man who had returned home as his brother. He does not refer to him as being his brother, but the account says that he treats him like a stranger. He refers to the younger man with words of indifference: “this son of yours” (verse 30). He seems to want to shout, "He's not my brother."

 

Lockyer points out that twice the happy father says, “your brother”. Brother, this harlot lover, my brother—never! Rudely and contemptuously he says to his father, “This son of yours.” Contempt, bitterness, and bitter sarcasm are contained within his act of bringing to remembrance the sins of his brother in their heaviest, darkest colors. Ellicott says: The very expression “this son of yours” shows a concentrated malignity, (paraphrased from All the Parables of the Bible, p. 333).

 

This was the difficulty of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They could not understand why Jesus was "a friend of sinners." How He could walk with those kinds of people? They did not do that. They only related to good and just people like them. Those kinds of people, society’s outcasts, were not "my brethren".

 

The spirit of self-righteousness has not disappeared in our day. When a person who was far from God decides to return home not all "Christians" are happy. They look down on the new redeemed soul and do not believe in his or her conversion. An evangelical church in Curitiba posted a video on YouTube in which ordinary people are questioned about what they understand being a Christian is about. That is the worldview concerning believers. Between praise and criticism, one thing was clear: many who are not part of a Christian community have complained about the prejudiced with which they were treated when they enter a church. Would Jesus do that? If He were a member of one of these churches, how would He treat visitors who did not fit the standard that society considers normal? How would Christ himself be treated because of the friendships he would cultivate with these "strange" people? If we want to be considered followers of Christ we should treat "sinners" as our Master treated them, with open arms and hearts.

 

The elder brother did not even consider the young man as his brother. He treated him as “His father’s son". Though his heart was utterly devoid of love for his brother and fellow man, he declared that he had never transgressed a commandment. The fact was, he had not kept any commandment. He also lacked one thing: love, which is the basic and essential principle of divine law. He compared his life working in his father’s house, though not out of love, with the life of his brother who had gone astray but had returned home in repentance.

 

Champlin comments:

"He was told the story in brief but understandable words, but he could not share the general joy, for he was haughty, insensitive, legalistic, hateful, contemptuous, righteous in his own eyes, totally devoid of common human sympathy. He performed his tasks well and punctually and prided himself on his superiority over others. No one could defile his reputation because of any statement or scandal because such things were below him; yet he knew nothing of love and grace, and his heart was filled with hatred. He had gone astray in his heart, though he did not know it, and he had never felt any need for self-examination or to come to repentance.

"He was outraged; the original Greek term used here indicates not merely a sudden outburst of anger, but a permanent, deeply rooted disposition. His attitude, of course, was an allusion to the attitude of the religious leaders of the Jews who objected to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ to the poor, to prostitutes, and to publicans or tax collectors, while at the same time He seemingly neglected them, who formed the elite class. Surely the adversaries of Jesus must have felt a strong sting in the face at these words of Jesus.

 

"'The eldest son put love aside, and as if by a just judgment he was set aside by love.' (Ellicott, in loc.) The father of the family continued to exhort him to soften so that he could attend the festivities, but he only pitied himself and thought that his faithful work had not been noticed or rewarded. Now the eldest son was the 'lost' son, for he had traveled that mile without sympathy, and had only come nearer to his grave. He had lost his filial feelings, and now he showed the hypocrisy he held in his chest,” The New Testament Interpreted, Vol. 2, p. 156.

 

The educator Ellen G. White has some important reflections on this point:

"Was the elder brother brought to see his own mean, ungrateful spirit? Did he come to see that though his brother had done wickedly, he was his brother still? Did the elder brother repent of his jealousy and hardheartedness? Concerning this, Christ was silent. For the parable was still enacting, and it rested with His hearers to determine what the outcome should be.

 

"By the elder son were represented the unrepenting Jews of Christ's day, and also the Pharisees in every age, who look with contempt upon those whom they regard as publicans and sinners. Because they themselves have not gone to great excesses in vice, they are filled with self-righteousness. Christ met these cavilers on their own ground. Like the elder son in the parable, they had enjoyed special privileges from God. They claimed to be sons in God's house, but they had the spirit of the hireling. They were working, not from love, but from hope of reward. In their eyes, God was an exacting taskmaster. They saw Christ inviting publicans and sinners to receive freely the gift of His grace—the gift which the rabbis hoped to secure only by toil and penance—and they were offended. The prodigal's return, which filled the Father's heart with joy, only stirred them to jealousy.

 

"In the parable the father's remonstrance with the elder son was Heaven's tender appeal to the Pharisees. “All that I have is thine”—not as wages, but as a gift. Like the prodigal, you can receive it only as the unmerited bestowal of the Father's love.

 

"Self-righteousness not only leads men to misrepresent God, but makes them coldhearted and critical toward their brethren. The elder son, in his selfishness and jealousy, stood ready to watch his brother, to criticize every action, and to accuse him for the least deficiency. He would detect every mistake, and make the most of every wrong act. Thus he would seek to justify his own unforgiving spirit. Many today are doing the same thing. While the soul is making its very first struggles against a flood of temptations, they stand by, stubborn, self-willed, complaining, accusing. They may claim to be children of God, but they are acting out the spirit of Satan. By their attitude toward their brethren, these accusers place themselves where God cannot give them the light of His countenance.

 

"Many are constantly questioning, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” But “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:6-8.

 

"This is the service that God has chosen—“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke, ... and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.” Isaiah 58:6, 7. When you see yourselves as sinners saved only by the love of your heavenly Father, you will have tender pity for others who are suffering in sin. You will no longer meet misery and repentance with jealousy and censure.

 

"When the ice of selfishness is melted from your hearts, you will be in sympathy with God, and will share His joy in the saving of the lost.

 

"It is true that you claim to be a child of God; but if this claim be true, it is “thy brother” that was “dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” He is bound to you by the closest ties; for God recognizes him as a son. Deny your relationship to him, and you show that you are but a hireling in the household, not a child in the family of God.

 

"Though you will not join in the greeting to the lost, the joy will go on, the restored one will have his place by the Father's side and in the Father's work. He that is forgiven much, the same loves much. But you will be in the darkness without. For “he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8." Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 209-211

 

What character in the parables do you identify with? Are you a Scribe or Pharisee? Or do you identify with the repentant publicans and sinners who felt comfortable in the presence of Christ? Are you a stray sheep or a lost drachma in the home or church? Have you been acting like the prodigal son who returned to his father's house or as the older brother who was angry with his brother's return?

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Matthew 11:28-30.

 

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away,” John 6:37.

 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time,” 1 Peter 5:6,7.

 

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3: 9.

 

“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain, For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2.

 

“…how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him,” Hebrews 2: 3.

Afterword

Have you ever stopped to think about what the word "Salvation" means? As far as we know, everyone wants to be saved. But what does that really mean? According to the Michaelis Dictionary, to save means a) rescue, deliver, free: he saved my life. b) protect, defend, screen, preserve. c) redeem. That is, for salvation to exist, it is necessary that a high-risk situation exist beforehand. Unfortunately, this is the condition in which we find ourselves after sin has taken hold of this world.

 

But that was never God's desire. When He created man, He did so for them live in harmony with heaven, with nature and his fellow men, without wickedness, without danger, without death. Even with the arrival and degradation of sin, God did not give up on us, but He loves us so much that He wants to restore His original plan, to rescue humanity and to save all.

 

The parables found in Luke 15 help us to understand this. Through simple illustrations bearing great significance, they make us reflect on our real spiritual situation. Do you identify with at least one of these stories? Not only with the parables themselves, but also with the reaction of the people who were with Jesus as He told them?

 

At some point in our life, these parables were or will be the illustration of our personal experience with Christ. And it may happen more than once as we can get lost in different ways. Sometimes we may not realize that we are lost, or it may be that we cannot remember the way back, or that, the recognition that we are not worthy to return home will leave us afraid and ashamed.

 

But the love of God is so great and so full of wisdom that He did not leave the parables just to show us our condition but also to present the solution. And you know what is the most beautiful part of these stories? It is that, however different the experiences and contexts are, there is always a pattern.

 

In all cases, there is someone eager to find and reclaim something valuable that has been lost. Someone who does not give up. And this One is Christ, who, despite Satan's countless efforts to draw us into sin, does not tire and does not give up seeking for us wherever we may be, always ready to offer His help, protection, and infinite love, as many times as necessary.

 

And what joy when the sheep is found! What happiness when the drachma is no longer lost! What a thrill when the child returns home! In all the parables, there are celebrations and festivities when what was lost is rescued. So it is also in heaven when a sinner accepts the invitation of our loving Savior. Do not wait any longer, seek the help and guidance of God, accept His invitation and let us all take part in this feast together.

 

Juliana Silva Mendes