I shared this past Easter Sunday a message from Luke 15, “Accept being Found.” As believers, we typically view repentance as our self-effort to change our attitude and behavior to follow Christ. But is this how Jesus communicated repentance?
To answer this question, we need to examine God’s initiative toward fallen humanity. Paul stated clearly in Romans,
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Rom. 5:8 NLT
Paul indicates that while we were “unrepentant” and in sin, God sent his son Jesus to die for us. God takes the initiative to restore us in right relationship with him. Our human effort to repent or turn to God would be impossible without God first reaching toward us—as a loving father trying to restore a son or daughter in right relationship. Why is this so important?
Two reasons. First, those who have never experienced the saving grace of God through Jesus need to know that God wants to restore them in relationship to him in love—not judgment or condemnation—they simply need to receive what God has done in Christ and “accept being found.” Secondly, even the most dedicated follower of Jesus strays in thought, attitude or behavior at times in their life. Yes, we can grow in Christ to where temptation and sin have little influence in our lives, but most believers stumble at some point in their journey with Jesus. Therefore, it’s vital that we recognize in those moments that he is already searching for us and we need to simply surrender and “accept being found,” restored in right relationship once again. It’s a marvelous grace!
Let’s look at Jesus’ perspective of this subject from Luke 15.
In Luke 15:1-2, we observe the Pharisees and scribes complaining to Jesus for his eating with those in the margins of society:
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” NKJV
Notice that the audience is tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and Scribes.
In the Gospels, tax collectors were often linked with sinners, or adulterers, and with non-Jews—Gentiles. Tax collectors were despised; they were primarily Gentile “tax farmers,” people who paid Roman authorities the right to collect taxes—setting their own rates!
But notice, these people, despised by the Pharisees and Scribes, are drawing near to Jesus to “hear Him.” Jesus alone has the words of life—and Jesus welcomes them! He didn’t compromise truth, but loved people, and was safe for people to be near. John tells us that Jesus came to us full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus didn’t condone sin, but his love and compassion for people opened their hearts to receive truth—which then effects change to hearts and behavior.
The English phrase “receives sinners” is from the Greek word prosdechomai, which means “to welcome into fellowship.” Jesus was doing more than merely sitting down and talking with these people in the margins, he was welcoming them as friends! Paul uses the same word, prosdechomai, for welcoming a person as a sister or brother in the Lord (Rom. 16:2; Phil. 2:29). Not only does Jesus welcome them as friends, but he eats with them!
To the Pharisees and Scribes, the religious elite, this is unacceptable. Why?
First, in their eyes, Jesus was now defiled by contact; he was unclean! By the way, an indicator of unhealthy faith is to look condescendingly upon people in the margins of society as unclean.
Secondly, in Middle-Eastern culture, to eat with a person is accepting them on a very deep level of relationship. If the person was a Rabbi or teacher, to eat with such a guest, imparts a “blessing” by mere presence. In their minds, “How could Jesus bless these people and their lifestyle!?”
By the way, the disagreement Paul had with Peter in Gal. 2:11-12 was over the question of eating with the uncircumcised. Paul tells his side, and how he challenged peter’s hypocrisy:
But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.” NLT
Jesus responds to their question with three parables (stories) answering why he eats with sinners.
These stories illustrate how God views and feels about each of us. They represent the depths of God’s love toward fallen humanity. In each of the stories, that which is lost must accept being found. The stories also rebuke the religious who value practice over presence, image over authenticity, and rules over relationship.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 NKJV
Most of the Pharisees were bi-vocational. They worked secular jobs in addition to teaching. We see this with others of the time: for example, Jesus was a carpenter and Paul was a tentmaker. However, the Pharisees viewed shepherds as “common people” and avoided them. Jesus, however, does not view shepherding as an unclean profession. The Pharisees would hire shepherds to tend their flocks, as shepherding was menial and considered beneath them.
The phrase “having 100 sheep” can refer to ownership and 100 sheep represented considerable wealth. The Pharisees would not have expected Jesus to infer they were the ones to go look for a lost sheep—that would have been someone else’s job.
This story most likely was a reference back to the Shepherd Psalms (Psalm 22-24). Jesus is at the center of this story—he is the great shepherd who looks for lost sheep!
Jesus continues, “…if he loses one of them…” but Arabic translations of the past would have turned this statement into a passive to read, “If one of them is lost…”
According to Middle-Eastern New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey, in Arabic or Spanish, “I dropped the dish” would be stated, “the dish fell from my hand.” Not, “I lost my pen,” but rather, “the pen went from me.” It took over 1000 years for Arabic translators to overcome this idiomatic phrase, “If he loses one of them.” 
Jesus broke common speech patterns of his day by placing responsibility on the shepherd, “…if he loses one of them…” Why is this important?
Jesus, identifying himself as the great shepherd, is saying to the Pharisees, “You lost your sheep (Pharisees were the spiritual shepherds of Israel), but I went after it and brought it home and you have the nerve to complain and criticize me?” Remember, God initiates the search for us:
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Rom. 5:8 NLT
The Pharisees and Scribes were not operating in God’s love. They were judging others for their sins, while ignorant of their own sins and broken relationship with God.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love never fails. 1 Cor. 13:4-8 NLT
Love has patience with imperfect people and is kind toward them. Pride inhibits a person from operating in sincere love. Faultfinding is an indication of pride—keeping score of failures is not love, but pride. Love releases the offender, and operates in grace, not the justice level of the law. If you want justice, you are not walking in God’s love and grace. Live in grace and drop the rocks! Love and forgiveness are inseparable!
In the parable, the shepherd returns to the community with the lost sheep and says, “rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” This an image of Jesus leaving the 99 to go after the 1. Jesus finds the lost sheep, lays it on his shoulders and rejoices—this is how he feels about each of us!
God’s love never fails, never gives up, he pursues you with his love across the rocky terrain of your life. Your “mess” is no trouble for Jesus!
In ancient Israel, a large flock like this might have been jointly owned by members of the village. The loss of one sheep is a concern for the entire community!
When an individual is lost, or wanders from the faith, it should be a concern for the Church.
The Pharisees, the scribes, and the Church today must see with God’s heart of love toward broken humanity. If the “religious” can’t love as God loves, what hope is there for humanity? If the Church is quick to condemn the behavior of humanity, aren’t we pointing the finger of judgment at ourselves? Jesus, in our midst as his body, wants to eat with them!
Jesus says in Luke 15:7 that there is “no such thing as ninety-nine who need no repentance!” Why? The righteous who need no repentance do not exist:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Rom. 3:23 NKJV
The sheep in this story clearly represents a repentant sinner. But how can this sheep represent repentance? We often define repentance as “turning from ungodly thinking and behavior toward God and his way.” True, but repentance, as illustrated by Jesus in this story is also, “acceptance of being found.” Did you catch this? The sheep didn’t pray a prayer and commit to changing its ways, it simply “accepted being found.” It’s in the arms of the loving shepherd that behavior begins to change!
The Parable of the Lost Coin
Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10 NKJV
In this short parable, a woman is wearing a type of ten-piece drachma (silver coin) necklace. Suddenly, she discovers that one of the silver drachmas, or coins, is lost. Notice the woman initiates the search for the coin, and when she finds it, she tells everyone to rejoice with her. What does Jesus say about this? There is joy over one sinner who repents—or who accepts being found. Remember, the coin didn’t find her! Repentance, as we shall see vividly portrayed in the third parable about the lost son, begins with accepting being found.
The Parable of the Lost Son
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.” Luke 15:11-12 NKJV
The characters in this parable are the younger son, the older son, and the father.
The Younger Son
The younger son is asking for the unthinkable in Middle-Eastern (or any) culture. Even further, his request indicates he is impatient for his father’s death. To request his portion of family wealth while his father was still alive would have been deeply insulting to the father and family.
This son is driven by self-centered pride and is thinking only of himself. He breaks relationship with his father, but not Levitical Law. Deut. 21:17 states the younger son’s portion is one-third, but does not specify that the son had to wait for the father’s death. However, it wasn’t the cultural norm and to take one-third of the family’s wealth in animals, land, and houses would have been hard on the family.
He is ungrateful, rejecting his father’s love. He has no trust in his father, implying the father can’t be trusted to direct his affairs and takes his destiny into his own hands.
The prodigal demands privilege without responsibility. He avoids the word inheritance, which involves acceptance of leadership responsibility in the family. Instead, he asks for the “portion of goods that belong to me.” He just wants the money! By breaking fellowship with his father, he cuts himself off from his real wealth—his family—his security in the village.
The Older Son
In Middle-Eastern culture, the older brother would receive most of the inheritance and responsibility for the family. The older brother was arrogant, which most likely contributed to the younger brother’s broken relationship with the father.
He knows the whole story, as does everyone in the village (see Eccl. 10:20). The older brother refuses to be the mediator, which is customary for an older brother. For the father’s sake, the older brother was expected to try and reconcile a wayward sibling, but he refuses. This omission reveals that the older son has a broken relationship with the father.
When the younger son leaves, the older brother should have pleaded with him to be reconciled and to stay, but he remains silent. He should have said, “My brother, your father is an old man, you may not see him again, and his heart is broken for you! Don’t leave us, your mother will weep night and day for you!” Then, if he refuses, the older brother would be expected to pray a blessing over him. The father couldn’t say these things because of the estrangement.
No village father would do what this father is doing (the Pharisees and scribes, as well as anyone hearing Luke’s gospel at the time would know this). The expected reaction of the father is to refuse and punish the dishonoring son. But the father grants freedom to the son, allowing the son to reject and turn away from him.
God grants us the freedom to reject his love and to freely walk away.
By the way, we often view the heavenly father from our earthly experience of natural fathers or father figures. For example, we may view God as distant because we had an absentee father. Or we may view God as a harsh disciplinarian because we had an authoritative or performance-oriented father. God is none of these, or other distorted models of fatherhood we may have experienced. He is a loving, compassionate father who wants to restore us to him through his son Jesus!
In this story, the father is still his father; he doesn’t sever relationship with him. The relationship is broken because of the son’s act; the father suffers, but hopes for restoration.
Jesus is breaking cultural norms with this story, presenting God the Father as loving and compassionate—even when humanity rejects him.
We next read in Luke’s narrative:
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions withprodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with thepods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ Luke 15:13-19 NKJV
The phrase, “gathered all,” literally means he “turned everything into cash.” The entire community would have known he was quickly liquidating the family assets—it would have been scorned upon by the community.
First-century Jewish custom was such that if a Jewish son lost inheritance among the Gentiles and later returned home, the community would break a large pot in front of him and cry out “so-in-so is cut off from his people!” This ceremony was called the Kezazah, meaning the “cutting-off.” After it was performed, the community would have nothing to do with the wayward person. 
The son traveled far away from his people, where he “wasted his possessions” or “squandered or scattered” his property. The Arabic translations have read, “extravagant living,” not “prodigal.” It seems that he was using the money to establish new friendships and a reputation for generosity. He was most likely holding large banquets and giving out gifts. He was trying to gain status with new friends in a foreign land.
He spends everything and then a great famine arose, and he is wanting! But he is not yet in a hurry to go home. First, he would face his brother’s scorn, blamed for his past and forced to live off his brother’s inheritance—being indebted to both his father and brother. Second, he would have to face the village. He has not only broken relationship with his father and brother, but the entire community. The Kezazah ceremony now threatens him, and the village would be merciless toward him.
Next, he joins himself to one of the citizens. To “join himself to” literally means to “to cling” or “attach himself to.” So, the man tries to get rid of him by offering this Jewish young man a job he would certainly refuse—feeding unclean swine! But the prodigal accepts. He is so desperate, he desires to eat the pig’s pods, but doesn’t. Then he tries begging, but no one helps. Now he is desperate, and he is ready to return home after all other means are exhausted.
The son “came to himself” and decides to return home. Is he repentant? He expresses little remorse, only a desire to eat. He didn’t say, “I broke my father’s heart, shamed him and my family, I must return home and beg for his mercy.” He doesn’t even express guilt for the loss of money. No, he is simply scheming, trying to survive.
He knows that if he goes home, the Kezazah ceremony awaits him. To be restored to his family and the community, he would have to repay all the money lost. But he has no job skills. So, his plan is to have his father back him for an apprenticeship to obtain skills to work as a craftsman and repay the money. His scheme: a humble plea to his father for a recommendation for a job!
The prodigal doesn’t understand the issue isn’t the lost money (sin), it’s the broken relationship with the father. It’s not a broken law, but a broken relationship that needs restored. His plan is to manipulate his father into trusting him enough to help him get a job. He anticipates a servant-master relationship with his father. He isn’t looking for restoration, but for relief. The prodigal in the deepest sense isn’t going home, but back to servanthood. He’s still lost!
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” Luke 15: 20-24 NKJV
Notice the prodigal son arose and came to his father. The father sees him in the distance and runs to him! As the son returns to the village, the father acts unexpectedly. The father, per custom, should remain aloof in the house. The son would then face the scorn of the community and the Kezazah ceremony. But the father acts contrary to the cultural norm!
The word run in the Greek is dramon and is the word used for foot races in a stadium. The father raced toward the wayward son! A man over 25 wouldn’t run like this—undignified in the ancient Middle-East. Picture him “hoisting his robe” between his knees and racing to the son—what a spectacle in the village! But it’s his compassion that leads the father to race to his son. He takes upon himself the shame and humiliation due the son.
This parable depicts what God did in sending his son Jesus to wayward humanity—he humbled himself and came to earth to restore us in love!
The father has compassion on the prodigal son. Middle-Eastern men greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. The father kisses him again and again, signifying his deep love and compassion for his son. Can you visualize the prodigal? He is shocked! He is expecting village shaming and rejection by his father and family. Instead, he receives an unexpected costly demonstration of his father’s love. The love that has always been there, but the son never saw it.
The suffering of the cross was horrific for Jesus. But a greater agony was the rejected love by humanity. Every parent who has suffered rejection by a child understands the depth of hurt and suffering portrayed here.
When we are hurt by evil, we have two choices. One option is to forgive. To do so means we carry the very sufferings of Christ. Option two is to seek revenge. Vengeance avoids forgiveness and the associated suffering, but the pain remains.
In our story, the prodigal experiences a depth of love and forgiveness that is healing. Costly grace paves a path for reconciliation. This is exactly how God deals with humanity’s sin on Calvary.
You and I need our sins forgiven, but our greater need is reconciliation of relationship with God—only through Jesus are both possible. Jesus is the way; the destination is the Father.
How does the prodigal respond? ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (vs. 21) Notice he doesn’t ask for a job? The prodigal is shocked by this demonstration of love and responds to his love in true repentance and brokenness. He is accepting being found. His repentance occurs in his father’s embrace, as he realizes the depth of his love and forgiveness.
The prodigal surrenders to his father’s will (reconciliation), and his scheme to be a craftsman and servant for his father leave. For the prodigal to refuse this grace or indulge in false humility, would keep him as a servant and in a spiritually far country.
When the father observes his son’s repentance and acceptance of his love and grace, he orders a party to celebrate the reconciliation. He gives him his best robe to wear. The restored son will wear his father’s best robe to the banquet, all the guests will recognize the robe and treat him with respect—knowing he is fully restored as a son.
Through faith in Jesus, we are clothed with his very righteousness! Paul states:
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 1 Cor. 1:30 NKJV
The ring was likely the family signet ring, meaning the prodigal is now trusted with the family seal to do business in the family name. This would have angered the older brother! He is given shoes, for slaves go barefoot but sons wear shoes.
The father carefully re-establishes the prodigal in relationships, family, servants, community and village elders. Through self-emptying love, the son is restored! No effort on his part, he brought nothing home but his own brokenness and filthy rags! Only the father can restore, and restoration is through grace alone.
Jesus accepts sinners and eats with them; the Pharisees are now challenged by this. He tells them through the parable, “it’s our duty to accept people, restore them, and give them fellowship.”
Jesus concludes the parable about the older brother:
Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-32 NKJV
The elder brother leaves the fields, comes near the house and hears music and dancing. There is a band of singers and dancing; it’s a big event. So, he calls one of the young boys and asks what is going on. The servant boy replies (my paraphrase), “Your brother has returned, and your father has received him with peace (shalom: to reconcile). He is now celebrating this reconciliation with a banquet for him.” By the way, this is the very complaint of the Pharisees in Luke 15:2!
The older son is angry and refuses to go in. Why? The father has restored the younger son without consulting with the older son. The older son would have wanted the younger son to get a job, work, and repay all that he lost to the estate (legalist). Everything in the house now belongs to the older son, as the father divided everything with the two sons. But the father still had the right to spend funds as he desired because he is still alive.
Further, it was customary for an older son to act as head waiter and serve the guests their meal as an act of honor. But he can’t bring himself to serve his brother! The younger son is reinstated through costly grace, but the older brother feels the father has dishonored the family in the eyes of the community. He refuses to go into the banquet, dishonoring his father.
The older son’s refusal to enter is an insult to the guests and to his father. It is an intentional public insult to his father—now he has sinned. His rebellion is as serious as that of the earlier rebellion of the younger son.
The father, for the second time that day, responds with costly love and grace. He goes out to try and reconcile with the older son, entreating him to come join them in the celebration. Imagine the shock of the guests, the father, shamed by this older son, goes out to him in love?! The father loves both sons indiscriminately! He gives of himself equally for both sons, irrespective of their actions. And so it is for you and me!
The older son refuses to participate in reconciling his brother to the village. He rebels against the father and insults him. He’s not broken a law but has broken relationship with his father—and he proudly attests to his fulfilling the letter of the law all these years. He falsifies the purpose of the banquet—it’s primarily in honor of the father for reconciling the brother, not just celebrating the return of the younger brother.
He accuses his father of favoritism—he gets a calf; I don’t even get a goat! He despises his brother, accuses his brother of living with harlots (not true), and he needs to be forgiven by his father and younger brother. He is a servant, a legalist, and not acting as a son. A son responds to love, a servant obeys the law.
The older brother is consumed with envy, pride, bitterness, sarcasm, bitterness, anger, resentment, and deception, to name a few!
The father responds with tender love and affection, “Son, you are always with me …” He only corrects one point in the older brother’s rant, “he is your brother,” not just my son. The rest of the father’s speech is a defense of God’s joy over one who is reconciled to him!
Notice, the older brother doesn’t respond to the father’s love. The younger brother, in response to the father’s love, responds in humility and repentance—and he is restored. The older son doesn’t respond to the love and grace extended to him. He is still lost but is in the house.
Jesus deliberately leaves this story “hanging!” In other words, Pharisees, how will you respond to my love extended to you?!
Luke 15 challenges you and me to accept being found. Whether we identify with the younger son or older brother, both were lost and needed the father’s love to reconcile them.
Repentance is not a work which now earns rescue, but rather accepting being found by Jesus. You are not working for his love, acceptance, and righteousness—it is freely given, but you must respond to this costly love! The fruit of repentance is a surrendered heart.
To be his disciple, we must follow him daily. Jesus said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” I submit to you that most of us, even after giving our lives to Christ, have strayed from God at some point. Perhaps you’ve wandered far like the younger son, or perhaps you stayed in the “house” like the older brother only to discover your heart grew cold toward God and others over time. Perhaps you have become critical and judgmental of others, maybe toward those in the margins of society. A heart devoid of God’s love is bankrupt of true faith.
If you will permit me, we must daily accept being found. Paul said, “I die daily…” in other words, our will and desire must be surrendered in the arms of Father God’s love and grace each day.
Understand that just as the older son (or the religious leaders of Jesus day) had a choice to accept God’s gift of love through Jesus, so does humanity today. God’s love and grace are beyond our comprehension; no sin is too great, no attitude to bankrupt for God—but you must respond to his costly love and accept being found.
But to be clear, only those who respond by accepting his love and reconciliation through Jesus will be restored or saved. Through Jesus, all of humanity has the potential to be reconciled to God, but only those who through faith and surrender to Jesus will be saved. Will you accept being found today by the great shepherd?!
 Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross & the Prodigal, (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 30-31. Note: Bailey’s insights on Luke 15 were drawn upon for this article, I highly recommend his commentary.
 https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kezazah;Kenneth E. Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 102, n. 8.