Paul A Gray
Luke 15: 1-32
I would like, with the Lord’s help, to say something about the spirit of the glad tidings. The gospel according to Luke is the priestly gospel, as we have been taught, and it also has in mind, in a particular way, the securing of praise to God. In Psalm 22 there is an ascription to God, “And thou art holy, thou that dwellest amid the praises of Israel” (v 3), and Luke’s gospel brings out that while Israel had departed from God, there was nevertheless a remnant who became available in whom God could secure the praises of Israel. And these praises are secured in persons who are brought in as the fruit of the gospel in view of God being served. So, at the end of Luke’s gospel, it says, “they … were continually in the temple praising and blessing God”, chap 24: 52, 53. The outgoing of the glad tidings has in mind that persons should be secured for God’s glory in time and in eternity.
But the spirit of the gospel is, I believe, to imbue us in our dealings with one another as well as with unbelievers. It is not something that we put on when we are speaking to unbelievers and take off again when we are dealing with one another. The spirit of the glad tidings is intrinsic, I suggest, to the service of priesthood as it comes out in Luke’s gospel. Mr Darby says in his poem ‘The Man of Sorrows’, speaking of the Lord:
Priests, that should plead for weakness,
Must Thine accusers be!
It is not the task of the priest to be an accuser: Satan has taken that for himself. It is the task of the priest to intercede in things relating to God, putting God first, putting God’s rights first, but “being able to exercise forbearance towards the ignorant and erring”, Heb 5: 2. So in our dealings with one another, as with men generally, the spirit of the gospel ought to be intrinsic to what we do.
Now, this chapter, Luke 15, is often used in the preaching of the gospel and rightly so. However, it would remind us, in looking at it, that each of these three examples, the sheep and the coin and the younger son, were already within the boundaries of the house of God. They really speak of persons who were saved and then got away. So you find in Leviticus 14 “the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing”, v 2. Now, the leper was someone who was in the camp, an Israelite, upon whom leprosy came, and then he was to be cleansed. I say this because if we identify something in a believer that needs to be taken up and dealt with, they are still a believer. That is their place and that is not lost to them. I say this also, beloved brethren: if I identify a problem in someone else, the first thing I need to do is to look at myself. The first thing I must do is to judge in myself whatever it may be I see in another because - I speak from my own experience - it is likely that there is more amiss with me than there is with my brother. Indeed, I have heard it said in the preaching: if you can look round the room at the gospel preaching and see a worse sinner than yourself, you do not know what your own heart is capable of. So we approach these things from the standpoint of self-judgment.
“The Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them”. Well, they were sinners too. “And all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near to him to hear him”, and what a blessing to come near to Christ to hear Him! And He did not turn round and say, ‘Well, you are a tax-gatherer and you are a sinner’. He spoke to them of the grace of God. You think of this, “the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared” (Tit 2: 11), and how did it appear? It appeared in Christ in all its glory, and He spoke to them of the grace of God. Think of grace carrying with it salvation! Grace does not overlook the deficiency; grace does not turn aside in respect of evil; but grace meets the need. It identifies it and it meets it.
If you look at the man on the Jericho road spoken of in Luke 10, whose fault was it that he was there? It was his own! He was to blame. He “descended from Jerusalem to Jericho”, Luke 10: 30. He made that choice; as far as Scripture records nobody made him do it; he did it himself; it was his own will. And the priest came along, and in that setting, I suppose, the priest was the one who would know the law, and he looked at that man and said, ‘There is nothing in the law that can help this man’, and he “passed on on the opposite side”, v 31. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh”, Rom 8: 3. But the priest could not do that. He said, ‘This case is too difficult for the law to meet’. Our hymn, ‘Rock of Ages!’, confesses:
Not the labour of my hands
Could fulfil the law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
Nought for sins could e’er atone
But Thy blood, and Thine alone.
The priest passed by.
And then the Levite - now in that setting I suppose we could think of the Levite as someone who was used to carrying things. I know that at the time the parable was given the literal movements of the ark of the testimony were no longer, but the task of the Levite was to carry certain burdens, and he looked at this man and he said, ‘I cannot carry this burden’ and he “passed on on the opposite side”, v 32.
“But a certain Samaritan journeying came up to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine”, v 34. Where was the Samaritan going? Scripture does not tell us. It just says he was “journeying”, but he had oil and he had wine. Perhaps he was going to sell them. But, ‘No’, he said, ‘I am not going to use them for my own good. I will use them for this man’. Each of us, beloved brethren, who has the Spirit has something that we can use in the service of others, and that is the spirit of the gospel, that which we can use in the service of others. The Samaritan “bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine”. It does not say he took out a little measure and dropped it on the wound; he poured it; and then he put the man on his own beast. He said, ‘I will walk so that you can be comfortable’, and he “took him to the inn and took care of him”, and then he gave the innkeeper two denarii and asked him to look after him and he said, “whatsoever thou shalt expend more, I will render to thee on my coming back”. He did everything for that man who had nothing to offer, and nothing to give, and had got himself into the place of difficulty as a result of the exercise of his own will.
The Lord did that for me; and for each one here who has trusted in Him, He did that for you; and if you have not trusted in Him, He has done it for you if you will but put your faith and trust in Him. The Lord says, through the psalmist, “then I restored that which I took not away”, Ps 69: 4. If exercises come up amongst us, and they do, remember this: “then I restored that which I took not away”. No, beloved brother, beloved sister, you did not cause the exercise; it was not your fault; but do not dwell on that: “then I restored that which I took not away”. What can you do? What can you bring? What can you offer?
So these three incidents are brought before us in chapter 15. “What man of you having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” One of the things about divine calculation is that it is not the same as natural calculation. In natural calculation, if one per cent of what you had was gone, why would you put yourself at risk when you still had ninety-nine per cent of it? I do not know how far this sheep had gone. I do not know the difficulties of the terrain that had to be crossed in order to find it. “Having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost”. Some things might not be said on the face of the page here, but they strike me. It says he went after it. Perhaps it was still running away, but he goes after it anyway. And then He says, “until he find it”. He does not give up until he found it. And then He says, “and having found it, he lays it upon his own shoulders, rejoicing”; not complaining about how far the sheep had gone, or how many rocks he had had to climb over to reach it. Perhaps the sheep, having run away, was quite satisfied with where it was. Sometimes we speak about how sad the sheep must have been, and certain circumstances are implied, for example that it was raining and it was cold. But it is also possible that the sheep was quite happy where it was, but he picked it up anyway and he brought it back, and he was rejoicing. He is so glad to have this sheep back that he makes no comment about the distance he had had to travel or the weight of the sheep that he had to carry back. He just brings it back, rejoicing. And then when he arrives home he “calls together the friends and the neighbours, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep”. The Lord would say, beloved, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep”. There is no account given of what it cost to find this lost sheep; the account is given elsewhere. “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him” (2 Cor 5: 21): that is sin. “Who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2: 24): that is sins. Sin condemned and sins accounted for and borne, and the Lord does not say, ‘Look at what I did’; He says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep. I say unto you, that thus there shall be joy in heaven for one repenting sinner, more than for ninety and nine righteous who have no need of repentance”. I say this in passing: I have never met anyone who had no need of repentance. I know I do, daily. I know I do. And if we approach one another on the basis that I have need of repentance, how much simpler things become.
And then we come down to a smaller compass: “Or, what woman having ten drachmas, if she lose one drachma,” - one in ten - “does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek carefully till she find it?” She is diligent. You think of the diligence of the Holy Spirit which is suggested here. This drachma is not even out of the house, but it is out of circulation, and she lights a lamp. The truth has its own power. She lights a lamp and she sweeps the house. Something has come in that has overshadowed this drachma. How easy it is to become covered over with something else, but if we see a brother or a sister who is out of circulation, covered over with something else, can we light a lamp and “seek carefully”? That is to say, she does not just look superficially, but she is careful, careful not to cause more disturbance, careful not to lose any of the other drachmas while she is looking for this one. She seeks carefully. Perhaps the drachma is in quite an obscure place. Do you ever find that when you have lost something, that it has ended up somewhere quite obscure, and you do not know how it got there? It may be that you are not sure where somebody is in their soul. Seek carefully! Do not assume that a thing is so or not so. Seeking carefully involves that we do not make assumptions. Many things could be resolved, beloved brethren, if we did not make assumptions. This brother thinks one thing and that brother thinks another thing. Do they? Do you know? Have you spoken to them? Seek carefully!
Mostly brethren agree about most things. We agree about Christ. We agree about the place that God has given Him. We agree that we needed a Saviour. We agree that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, Eph 1: 4. We agree that the Lord asked us to remember Him in the breaking of bread. We agree about these things. Well, we can speak about these things. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil 4: 8): we can speak about these things. But if someone is out of circulation, seek carefully.
“And having found it she calls together the friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost”. This reminds us of what is complete. The hundred sheep and the ten drachmas speak of what is complete. I say, in passing, to everyone here, you are needed in order that what is for God might be complete. You are not too insignificant to matter. The Lord Jesus died for you, not for a group of people, not for a mass of persons. He died for you, and you matter, and there is a place for you. There is a place for you, and it is your place, and nobody else can fill it. It is for you. “Thus, I say unto you, there is joy before the angels of God for one repenting sinner”. You think of the angels looking on. This is part of “the all-various wisdom of God” (Eph 3: 10) that the angels can take account of. “The all-various wisdom of God” comes into the matter of recovery and restoration.
And then there is the man who had two sons. Now this, I am sure, is one of the best-known passages of Scripture, speaking of the younger son, the prodigal, the one who went away. But what about the man who had the two sons? What did he do? Well, he gave the younger son what he asked for. Remember the scripture as to Israel of old. It says, God “gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul”, Psalm 106: 15. Sometimes God will give you what you ask for in order to teach you that it is not what you should have. Have you ever thought of that, because God wants you for Himself? He does not want you for your will. He wants you for His.
So the father gives the younger son what he asks for, and he goes away and squanders it. He just spends it on his own pleasure, and then it all runs out. Now, what arose was a violent famine and, if you have time, and I think if you can you should make time, read the series of readings in Mr Taylor’s ministry called ‘Famines and their Lessons’, vol 16. You might think that famines are not very interesting, but it is very interesting and well worth reading. Here we have “a violent famine”. What does that mean? It means that it was sudden and it had a high impact. Perhaps something happens in your life that is sudden and has a high impact. That is God speaking to you. It is not just an accident. But it says, “coming to himself”. How does that happen? Well, he realised, of course, that the circumstances he was in were unpleasant. There was a land of famine, and he was feeding swine, which were unclean animals, and the only thing that he might have eaten were the husks that the swine ate, and no-one would even offer him these. The world will take everything you have got and it will not offer you anything in return. Just be clear about that! But he came to himself. That is really the result of divine power working. He came to himself. “And coming to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have abundance of bread, and I perish here by famine? I will rise up and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am no longer worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants”. Even when we are far away, sometimes we would like to come back on our own terms. We only come back on God’s terms, and they are better than ours. One of the things about the spirit of the gospel is this: it does not dilute the requirements of God’s righteousness, because they have been met on the cross by Christ. The requirements of God’s righteousness were met in the shed blood of Christ, and the requirements of His holiness were met in His sufferings on the cross, and, therefore, the spirit of the glad tidings does not dilute the rights of God. There is no need to, because they have been met entirely. The spirit of the gospel is not the dilution of divine principles; the spirit of the gospel involves the maintenance of them.
So this young man came to himself, and he wanted to set the terms on which he would come back, but then he rose up. Now, there is an interesting word in this first sentence of verse 20: “And he rose up and went to his own father” - his own father. If you have got away from God, he is still your own Father and I say this, brethren: if a brother or a sister gets away or does something wrong, the love of God for them has not changed and neither has ours. “He rose up and went to his own father.” That love remained the same. Now, his father did not go into the far country, into the place of wickedness, “But while he was yet a long way off”. You know, beloved brethren, if one rises up to turn round, that is enough for God. The distance, and the far country, and all the wickedness connected with it, none of these things are ever mentioned again. He rose up to turn round, and his father ran.
If you look at the times when haste comes into Scripture, sometimes it is negative, but there are positive ones too, and if the father ran, we can be sure that he was not going to let this opportunity pass. Look at the end of Numbers 16, “And the whole assembly of the children of Israel murmured on the morrow against Moses and Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of Jehovah”, v 41. Now, Moses and Aaron had done what was right. They had dealt with wickedness, and yet there was an objection to it. “And it came to pass, when the assembly was gathered together against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of Jehovah appeared”, v 42. God endorsed what they had done. “And Moses and Aaron went before the tent of meeting. And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Get you up from the midst of this assembly, and I will consume them in a moment”, v 43-45. They had objected to Moses and Aaron upholding the rights of God, and God said, ‘I will deal with them’. “And they [Moses and Aaron] fell on their faces”, v 45. Did they say, ‘Judgment is going to come on these people - so we will take ourselves out of the way’? No! “And Moses said to Aaron, Take the censer, and put fire thereon from off the altar, and lay on incense, and carry it quickly to the assembly, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from Jehovah: the plague is begun. And Aaron took as Moses had said, and ran into the midst of the congregation”, v 46, 47. It was the fault of the congregation; they had murmured; wrath went out righteously; and Aaron “ran”. Think of that! One could say that it would be undignified for such a man as the high priest to run. But no! He ran. He said, ‘I know that the wrath of God is righteous, but the most must be saved, and, for the most to be saved, I am going to run’. That is in the Old Testament, but it is still the spirit of the glad tidings.
So the father ran. Think of that! “His father saw him, and was moved with compassion,” - “moved with compassion” for this naughty young man who had spent all his money, squandered it - “and ran, and fell upon his neck, and covered him with kisses”. He gave him that assurance that his love was still the same.
“And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee”. That is important too. If something has been done that is wrong, it needs to be confessed to, but the confession does not need to be long. “I am no longer worthy to be called thy son”. Well, who of us is? But we do not come into sonship because of our worthiness; it is because of God’s desire for us to have that place. And his father, if I may put it simply, interrupted him gently before he said, “make me as one of thy hired servants”. “But the father said to his bondmen, Bring out the best robe and clothe him in it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it”. The fatted calf was not produced in an instant; it was there; it was ready; and the answer to every matter is ready and waiting in Christ. “And let us eat and make merry: for this my son was dead and has come to life, was lost and has been found. And they began to make merry”. Others have said the merriment has not ceased, and I do not suppose it will until the Lord comes and then the rejoicing will be carried on in a fuller way in glory.
I just want to touch on the elder son because we are very critical of the elder son, speaking as he does of Israel who had rejected the overtures of grace. But look at the end of verse 28: “And his father went out and besought him”. I would just like to draw your attention to what Peter says of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles: “him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and slain”, chap 2: 23. That is a word to the elder son. Israel did that. And then further in verse 32: “This Jesus has God raised up, whereof all we are witnesses. Having therefore been exalted by the right hand of God …”; and then in verses 36-38: “Let the whole house of Israel” - this is still addressed to the elder son - “therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. And having heard it they were pricked in heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Do not think that the fact that the father went out and besought the elder son was without result. There was a result. The father did not get him in Luke 15, but he got him in the Acts. “What shall we do, brethren? … Repent, and be baptised”. You know, the love of God never fails. When we say, “Love never fails” (1 Cor 13: 8), do we mean it?
O the love of God is boundless,
Perfect, causeless, full and free!
And it goes on and it persists: “Love has long patience, is kind”, 1 Cor 13: 4. It does not overlook evil. That house of Israel, those of that house who were to be saved, of “the whole house of Israel”, they had to repent; they had to acknowledge that what they had done was wrong; but when they did, they received exactly the same blessing as the nations: they were baptised and received the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If a person is recovered, he is brought back to the fulness of what God has in mind for them. Indeed, if we mention Leviticus 14, “the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing”, the leper is anointed after he is cleansed in the way that the priest is anointed. He actually gets a greater place after he is cleansed than he had before it: that is the grace of God. Well, he said to the elder son, “Child, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was right to make merry and rejoice, because this thy brother was dead and has come to life again, and was lost and has been found”.
Well, there you are, the spirit of the glad tidings, without reproach, without condemnation. If I may quote something else I heard in the gospel when I was young: reference was made to the Lord’s ‘unrebuking gaze’, JT vol 56 p27. How can that be so? - because He bore your sins and mine. He does not hold reproach or condemnation; He holds out the boundless love of God.
May we know something of it, for His Name’s sake!
31st May 20