The Lost Coin

My wife and I were going home for Christmas. I was mid-way through my internship with Northside church of Christ is Wichita, KS and we were leaving (for a few weeks anyway) the bleak and snowy winter of Kansas to enjoy a Fresno, CA Christmas at home. We decided that driving would take too long and we were not up for a long car trip, so we booked our flight witha layover in Dallas. Everything went…well, they went.

We were late leaving Wichita because the plane was having some issues. It is a little unsettling stepping onto a plane that is having problems, but somehow we did it. But because we were late leaving Wichita, it meant we would miss our connecting flight. So we were able to arrange a later flight (same day fortunately). We made it to Dallas (finally) and had some extra time on our hands. We walked around the airport in no particular hurry, watching everyone bustle around. We found the gate our plane would be departing from and decided it was lunch time. We found a Whataburger (which they do not have in Wichita) and ate there. I remember it was warm in the terminal. And when we had left Wichita it was bitter cold. We were expecting it to be cold in California, so I had my jacket with me. But in the tropical climate which is the Dallas airport, I was roasting so I took it off during the meal.

After lunch, we collected our things and went back to the gate. I check with the people at the desk to make sure things were OK (since we had to be bumped) and lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, we had been bumped to First Class!! Oh yeah. Kim and I were exuberant over this news. First Class! La De Da. Neither of us had ever flown First Class before so this was a treat. We were excited and could bearly contain ourselves as they began boarding. We marched triumphantly, noses high as we walked past the lowly folk who had to fly coach. Oh brother, right. Well, I suppose it was not quite that grand, but it was pretty awesome. We found our seats on the plane, stowed away our carry-ons and sat back in those oversized chairs, waiting for take off.

I was mentally checking off the things I carried on. Laptop…check. Backpack…check. Jacket…and literally as the flight attendant was closing the door, it hit my like a sack of bricks. My jacket. I had left my jacket in the terminal at our seats. By the way, this was no ordinary jacket. This was my favorite jacket: black corduroy with a wool collar, not too think or thin, I had had since high school, my wife had a matching coat that I had gotten her one year for Christmas…just a good coat which I loved. And I had left in the terminal in Dallas.

I very calmly informed my wife what I had done. She called a flight attendant over and we explained the situation. Of course there was no way I could get off the plane to go try to find my coat. She called the people at the gate desk to search for it. They looked but told her it was gone already. Just moments previous I was elated to be in First Class; now I was absolutely deflated, disheartened that my jacket was gone.

For the entire we were in California, I was inconsolable. Every day I called the Dallas airport lost and found. Every day I was told my jacket was not there. For three weeks I agonized over my coat, certain it was lost. I did get a fleece pullover for Christmas, black and white just like my coat…but it was not the same. I contemplated buying a new coat, but they were too expensive. All I could do was wait.

The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.8-10) is a twin to the preceding parable. It has the same context and much of the same imagry. A woman has ten coins (Gk. drachma). This is equivalent to ten days wages. Some infer that this is the image of a very poor women and these ten coins are her life’s savings. So naturally, if this is so, when she loses one, that is a big part of her livelihood, she would sweep the house, light lamps, trying to find that one coin. Picture a frantic search, a search where perhaps there are tears. Her hands and knees become bloody from scraping the floor. Persperation beads on her forehead. Her eyes are ablaze with intensity. Where is the coin?

So also is God pictured here: he is involved in a frantic search for every soul of every person. There are no lengths he will not go to, not lamp he will not light, no corner left unswept, no furniture left unturned until he finds his lost child. It is a frantic search for our God seeks a creature that is created in his image, much more valuable that any coin. It is intense because our God knows what lay beyond death for the soul not saved. He is searching and is not far from each on of us.

Finally, the frantic search is over; the coin is found. Picture a woman with tears welling up, streaming down her face. She has found her prize. But she will not keep this to herself; calling her friends over, she invites them to rejoice with her. In the same way, heaven erupts in celebration over the sinner who repents. Angels break out in glorious praise of God and rejoice even with God himself over the return of the lost one.

On our return flight to Wichita, we had a layover in Dallas. The frantic search was on! Kim and I raced around the airport (no small feat in the Dallas airport), hurriedly making our way to the lost and found department. I was going to make sure that my coat was gone. I had little hope of getting it back. Nevertheless, I found the lost and found department and made my request as I had so many times before during the last three weeks. Black corduroy, white wool collar, Burnside brand name, pocket contents. The lady made her way back to the racks and looked around.

“Black jacket, you said?” she asked. I nodded.

“Wool collar?” A glimmer of hope as I nodded again.

Wouldn’t you know it, she pulled it off the rack. My jacket!! My lost jacket…was found. My jaw dropped. My wife’s jaw dropped. We couldn’t believe it, but there it was. She handed it over to me, and we went on our rejoicing, calling family and letting them know what happened so they could rejoice with us. And I know what your thinking…it’s just a jacket. But to me it is so much more; it is memories and connections, it is a hundred cold days, it is mine. Surely you have something of sentimental value. Lose that one thing and you hurt. But the feeling of finding it…there are no words for that feeling.

It is that feeling I carry with me when I read Luke 15. Lost things that are found. I imagine God has those same feelings, only magnified a billion times because of how big he is and how much more precious a lost sinner is to God. Our God is a God who rejoices over the return of lost people. It is this God Jesus pictures for us in these parables.

The Lost Sheep

Once again we have a decent break in the chapter division for ch.15; I believe this is one unit of Scripture that is meant to be taken as a whole as Jesus shows us through vivid parable the grace of God, the pursuit of God, the gentleness of God, and the love of God. This is one of the most loved and (perhaps) oft preached chapters of the Bible. In fact, most unchurched people know about the prodigal son (v.11-24). I will do my best, in the treatment of this text, to maintain the structural integrity of this teaching of Jesus in ch.15.

But we must realize that this context is tied to the foregoing context. Notice Luke 14.35: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. That is how ch.14 ends; notice how ch. 15 begins: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. Did you see the connection? Jesus finishes his discourse on discipleship with an admonition to hear his words and the tax collectors and sinners heed that admonishment. The lowest of society are doing what says while the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders of the day, are grumbling (v.2). What a shocking contrast! Tax collectors were hated by the society – they were seen as helpers of the evil empire, the Romans. As Leon Morris puts it, “They were ostracized by many and regarded as outcasts by the religious.” Sinners were not much better; they lived immoral lives and were publically recognized for their lives which were contrary to the Law.

It is these kinds of people, the despised and disobedient, that Jesus received and ate with (v.2). To eat with someone was not merely to associate yourself with them, but also pointed to welcome and recognition of that person as worthy of fellowship. And so there is contempt in the words of the Pharisees and scribes as they comment on the situation before them: This man, Jesus, who is supposed to be some kind of religious leader, eats with this kind of riff raff! But remember, these people had gathered for a purpose: to hear Him. That is, to hear the voice of the one who speaks and the storms are calmed, demons flee, even dead bodies come back to life (see ch.8). There is life in these words, freedom and peace. No wonder it is these kind of people, tax collectors and sinners, those in social bondage, troubled by their past, dead in their transgressions and sins, who flock to hear Him.

Urged by the contempt of the religious leaders and perhaps burdened to vindicate his audience (for Jesus’ vidication will be found in an empty tomb), he speaks a parable to “them.” Them could be specifically the Pharisees and scribes (very likely) or it could be to the audience in general. Nevertheless, the parable is addressed to “them”: What man of you…. It is a rhetorical question; any one of them would do what Jesus proposes. The picture is painted of a flock of one hundred sheep. One goes missing. The good shepherd will not leave it to die in the wilderness; instead he will go and search until he has found that one lost sheep. Why? The ninety-nine are safe and sound; that one lost sheep is in danger in the open. This was customary.

And finding the sheep, the shepherd does not begrudingly grab the stubborn sheep and grumble all the way back to the flock. He does not beat the stupid animal for going astray. He does not even raise his voice to the animal. If he raises his voice, it is to rejoice over finding this one lost sheep. He gladly hoists this blessed beast onto his shoulder, smiling from ear to ear, as he lovingly takes it back to the flock. He rejoices with his neighbors for it is a happy occasion (v.6).

And here is the application in v.7: heaven rejoices over the repentant sinner even more than over the righteous who need not repent. To be sure, there is rejoicing for the faithful; but there is more joy over the returning sinner. And who was Jesus with? Those who needed a clearer picture of God. The Jews had muddied the water when it came to God. They believed God rejoiced over a returning sinner; but they did not picture God actively seeking out the sinner. And that is the revolutionary picture painted by our Savior. God is a seeking God, he is in pursuit of the straying sinner, doing everything in his power to track down and restore that straying sheep. A Jewish saying was, “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.” Do you see the burden these religious teachers had bound on the lost? But Jesus comes and presents a very different idea about God. He is God who lovingly searches every high and low, every peak and valley, seeking out his one lost sheep. What grand and marvelous news this must have been to the ears of those who came to hear him! They found themselves in the parable and identified with the sheep. God had come to seek and save them and sitting before was the incarnate reality of this truth.

Lunch with Jesus, pt.4

The meal is over, but the teaching is not finished. It seems that after this marvelous teaching concerning the kingdom (compared to a great banquet, v.15-24), Jesus has gained a following. Now it is normal and makes sense that when you have “fans” who like what you say and want to be around you, you try to keep them around. That is, you try to stay popular and soak up as much of those fifteen minutes of fame as possible. But what does Jesus do? He actually does the opposite and begins teaching things that will drive people away (And even today is repulsive to some).

 Jesus has just revealed the gospel of the disenfranchised and emarginated in v.21-24. It is the poor, lame, crippled, dejected who would forcefully enter the kingdom. This in the streets and alleys and in the highways and hedges were invited and filled the master’s table. So also in the kingdom it will be these same kind who will eat with the Master. And before unvealing the full force of the grace of God in the lives of men (ch.15), Jesus ensures that everyone hearing (even we today) know the cost of following Jesus. It is no milk toast discipleship that Jesus is calling for. One cannot be a fair weather disciple if he intends to follow Jesus. Discipleship is serious business and Jesus details the commitment one must have.

A Disciple and Family

Every Greek lexicon and bible dictionary translates the Greek word miseo (used here for “hate”) as hatred, aversion, detest. Only one had the secondary meaning of “love less.” Jesus’ is serious about discipleship and therefore uses such a strong word. But what kind fo teaching does Jesus use to make his point? I believe this is hyperbolic teaching. An exaggeration to ensure the point is not missed. The parallel verse (Matt 10.37) helps put this in clearer perspective: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (ESV). I believe that is the point made in Luke 14.26: your love for family members (father, mother, sister, brother, wife, even children) will look like hatred compared to your love for Christ. And Christ has a right to occupy this place of primacy: he died for us. How can we give him any less?

Atheists usually grab this verse to “catch” Christians in their supposed “folly” which is Christianity. “See,” they say, “Jesus is advocating family hatred. What kind of monster is Jesus that he wants us to hate our kids and wives, etc. Further, this contradicts other places where it says to take care of your family.” Their argument usually goes something like that. While this may be a difficult passage, by no means is it a contradiction. If we truly believe the Bible is the word from God, then it is free from errors. And while there may be some difficult passages, there are good answers for these difficulties. As is stated above, this seems to be a wake up call to all the would-be, fair-weather, milk-toast disciples of the “great crowds” following Jesus. If you want to be a disciple, it will cost you something: all your love and unrivaled devotion to Christ.

A Disciple and His Life

But Jesus does not stop with the family members; he digs even deeper, striking the very heart of the disciple. If you love your own life, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple. Once more opponents will try to seize an opportunity to point out an alleged “contradiction.” “Does Jesus not want us to care for our bodies?” In the same way we are called love Christ more than our family, so also we must love Christ more than our own life. And how can we keep our life when Christ so freely laid his down on our behalf? Jesus teaches we cannot. One writer says, “Martyrdom should be an ever-present possibility to the Christian, not to be courted, but not to be shunned.” Perhaps Jesus is speaking of the time when Christian persecution would be heavy. A disciple who loved his life would desert Christ in the hour of intense persecution. But the disciple who loved his Lord more than his life would remain faithful even to the end of his life. As another writer put it: “Love for Christ takes precedence ‘over even the elemental instinct of self-preservation.'”

A Disciple and the Cross

Perhaps the most severe teaching Jesus gave his disciples focused on the cross in the life of the believer. In 9.23, Jesus says that cross bearing is a 24/7 occupation. Daily we bear the cross. Jesus teaches us once more, in v.27, the necessity to bear the cross. Not only do we bear the cross but we also “come after” or “follow” Jesus. Where is Jesus going? He is on his way to Jerusalem. Why is he going there? To die. So we take our cross and follow Christ to Jerusalem to die as well. We crucify the flesh, putting it to death. Then Christ truly rules and lives in us. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me.” Christ came into this world to end lives, you life and mine, so that once we are dead he might live in us and through us. This is the profound meaning behind the cross. Though we die, yet will we live and that with Christ in us. If we shun the cross, this death to self, we cannot be Jesus’ disciple.

A Disciple and Counting the Cost

Jesus has been teaching us what a disciple is to do if he intends to be a true follower of Christ. Now Jesus illustrates the folly of a disciple who does not count the cost. First, he speaks of a person (you) who wants to build a tower with insufficient funds. Unable to finish his work, he is mocked for his folly. This is a ridulous picture! So the disciple needs to take stock to see whether he has the spiritual resources to build his building. We must avoid becoming or making disciples who are unable to finish building. Jesus’ second illustration is of a king who is about to go war with another king. If he has insufficient troops, he will try to establish peace. Count the cost! Obviously, we cannot wage a war with God and hope to win. In fact, before we are in Christ, there is hostilitybetween God and us. Only through Christ do we find the peace we need.

A Disciple and His Possessions

Tied into counting the cost is the fact that we must acknowledge that nothing we have is ours. All we have has been given to us by God. We must renounce it as ours and turn it over to God to be used in his kingdom. It is his stuff anyways.

A Disciple and Salt

To close this section on discipleship, Jesus has a discussion about salt (v.34-35a). What does salt have to do with discipleship? Some would say a disciple is the salt of the earth and they add flavor to the world. Others say that since salt is a preservative, we help preserve the world. Eh. I believe that Jesus is building on the Old Testament sacrificial system. What would salt mean to a Jew? Look at Leviticus 2.13: it is called “the salt of the covenant” and it was a major part of the grain offering which was a fellowship offering. So to a Jew, salt meant covenant, especially in regards to being in fellowship with God. So when Jesus talks about salt, he is calling for the disciple to be salty. In Mark 9.50, the imperative is to “have salt in yourselves” (i.e. be salty). Jesus is imploring us to be covenant people. If you are not a covenant keeper, what good are you. You become useless like tasteless salt, good for nothing but the dung heap.

The meal may be over, but the lesson is still going on. And Jesus’ final admonition is to listen us (v.35b). Can you hear me now? Pay attention lest you lose your saltiness, that very essence of discipleship: covenant. He has issued his decree concerning kingdom dwelling in ch.14. Have we heard and are we doing what he tells us?

Lunch with Jesus, pt.3

In Luke 14.12-24, we are still having lunch with Jesus. He is dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (v.1). He has taught about the Sabbath and having mercy for human life. This rolled right into a parable about a wedding feast, culminating in a teaching on humility. That parable was directed at all those present (v.7) at the luncheon. Now in v.12-14, Jesus addresses the host of the meal.

A Word to the Host

He advises this man about who to invite to his lunches in the future. Jesus tells him not to invite those close to him (friends, brothers, relatives, etc.) because then he will be repaid. Instead, invite those whom cannot repay him: the poor, crippled, blind, etc. There is a blessing attached to this. The reason there is a blessing is because you are acting like God when you help those who cannot help themselves. This is God-like compassion that is to be extended. And when we exhibit this kind of godliness, there is a reward attached to it. We are not rewarded by men; Jesus advices we seek the opposite. Instead it is reward from God at the resurrection. We let God recognize and reward us for the good deeds we have done. This is a promise.

A Word from a Guest

Perhaps it was excitement at this amazing proposition that stimulated a guest at the lunch to exclaim the blessing found in v.15. He had heard these things and for joy he shouted out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” I wonder if it caught the Lord off guard. Or maybe there was a slow smile that crept across his face as he saw an opportunity to teach. Simply speculation. But the Lord did, it would seem, use this exclamation to teach the people about the kingdom of God.

A Word about the Kingdom

This parable is sort of divided into three guest lists: those invited who refuse, those invited who were collected, those invited who should not have been there. First, there are those who are invited but refuse their invitiation. Jesus details the various excuses they use. One says he has a field he has to go look at. Another has some oxen to examine. Still another has a wife he just married. It is a dismal report this servant brings back to his master: no one is coming.

Furious because of this development, the master sends the servant into the streets and alleys to find anyone and everyone who will come to the banquet. Now these are people were the social outcasts. The street walkers, prostitutes, “sinners” were invited and tookl their seats at the banquet. Actually, I suppose they take the empty seats of those who should have been there but for earthly cares decided not to come. These are gathered and there are still seats to fill. Now the servant is to go to the “highways and hedges” and collect those who will come. Now we are at the lowest rung of the social ladder. These are the vile Gentiles (for these are the roads outside the city, pointing to the invitation that would be extended to the Gentile who was outside the Jewish system). But this is a theme running throughout the gospel of Luke: it is the emarginated, those pushed to the edge of society who are pictured as recipients of the good things the master has prepared. It is this group who receive with gladness the invitation and take the place of the Jew who was to be at the banquet.

And notice the final words of Jesus in this section: “For I tell you (plural), none of those men who were invited will taste my banquet.” I think this is the lesson of this parable for the people sitting around the table eating lunch with Jesus. And surely the lesson is for us also as we sup with the Lord. Currently we have an invitation to the banquet of the Master if we are Christians. But if we allow the cares of the world to bog us down, if we lose focus on that grand feast, we will lose our spot. But God’s table will be filled that day. Just as the Jew could refuse to take his proper at the table, so can we. And just as the “vile” Gentile would take the place of the Jew who refused, so also will our spot be filled should we deem ourselves unfaithful. Jesus is showing the true blessing of eating at the banquet: there is room for all. The sad truth that goes with this teaching, though, is that the table feast can be refused.

Lunch with Jesus, pt. 2

Perhaps you have recently been to a wedding or some event such as that where the tables are arranged by a host. Thus, certain seats have been designated “Reserved” usually for family or friends of the bride or groom or host (who ever is putting on the party). This is to accomodate all and facilitate the seating process. Also, it would be an embarrassing thing for the host to come and have to ask to move because you are sitting in someone elses seat. Now we are getting a picture of what Jesus is talking about in Luke 14.7-11 where we find the parable of the Wedding Feast. The middle positions around the table were esteemed as honorable and were reserved for the upper class and elites who came to eat. Verse 7 says Jesus spoke this parable to the people invited who were taking those positions around the table. Perhaps some of them had to be moved, a humiliation, when a more honorable guest arrived. And so Jesus used this opportunity to teach a spiritual lesson using this earthly practice.

As we saw in v.1-6, Jesus has just established his authority as a teacher. He has healed a man of a serious and no doubt painful disease. Based upon that miracle, he has authority to teach. Again, this was the purpose of miracles – it established the authority of the message and confirmed the word spoken.

What not to do – Negative

Jesus is speaking to the guests (v.7) and so he begins “When you are invited… do not sit down in a place of honor” (ESV). The reason is because a person of greater honor than you will arrive later; this was the practice of the day – the more honorable or distinguished a person, the later they showed to the engagement. It was probably so that they could be recognized by all. Guess what? You are in their seat. And so the host has to come and ask you to move, embarrassing him. You have to move, shaming you (v.9). It is a humiliating thing all around. Jesus says you want to avoid this.

What to do – Positive

So in verses 10-11 Jesus explains what to do. Instead of taking the places of honor, when invited, sit in the lowest places around the table. But do not do this as false humility; certainly Jesus is not advocating this. In the same way the honorable guest should not be seeking the praise of men when they arrive late, so the person who takes the lowest seat should not be seeking the praise of men for their humility. Rather, have in your mind this attitude of humility. If you do this, chances are you will be asked to “move up higher” by the host. And through your humility, you will be honored by all.

Jesus has been driving toward the spiritual truth of verse 11: God opposes the proud but exalts the humble. WHen it comes to the kingdom, it is like sitting at the banquet table in the high halls of heaven. And when you are in that majestic presence, you should not think of yourself more highly than ought. Instead, you ought to honor one another above youself (Rom 12.3, 10). So how ought we to act? Peter, who may very well have been there that day, says “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Peter 5.5). Peter goes on in that context to say that if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that “he may lift you up in due time.” Note that God cannot exalt the person who has exalted himself. It is only the humble, the humiliated that God can exalt.