In this episode, we begin our series, Dysfunctional Children, Functional God. Join us as we spend 4 weeks digging into what is commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Most know this parable as a tale Jesus told about a son who leaves his father, squanders his money, and comes back with his tail between his leg throwing himself on his father's mercy. But it is so much more! Join us as we dig into the rich theology in this parable, as well as the parables Jesus tells along with this one.
Episode 96 - The Self-Righteous Child
Welcome back! Today we’re starting a new series called “Dysfunctional Children, Functional God.” Now, you might be saying to yourself that you’ve never heard God referred to as “functional” but functional means “purposeful” and God has a purpose for the things He does.
He certainly does, and this parable we will be teaching about comes from Luke 15 and is commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” a title which we think you’ll see by the end of this series doesn’t really fit this parable at all – at least not when it’s understood correctly.
Before we get started it’s probably a good idea to talk about what the parables were for, and why Jesus often taught the crowds using parables. To do that, let’s go to Matthew 13:10-17. “Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull; and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
And Matthew 13:34-35 tells us, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Jesus is quoting Psalm 78:2
So, we see that the parables were for teaching truths about the kingdom to believers; but, the parables both reveal and obscure truth. Unbelievers will be blinded to those truths, as verse 11 in what we just read said. They will hear the the words of the parable but won’t understand them. As an example, I just heard a popular Hillsong pastor say that we (people) are the “pearls of greatest price” and that Jesus “gave all He had to buy us back from Satan because we mean so very much and are worth so much to God.”
Well that’s totally wrong and a total misunderstanding of a parable. With the help of the Holy Spirit, believers can understand the parables as we read them in Scripture. Jesus explained parables to His disciples when they didn’t understand them, but He didn’t explain them to the whole crowd. That’s why you’ll hear some commentators call the parables divisive, a word that most people without thinking about it wouldn’t attribute to Jesus. But He’s often making a distinction between saved and unsaved – sheep and goats.
A few other things about the parables are that, although some are allegory – where each “thing” in the parable stands for something, like the way Jesus explains the parable of the sower – not all of the parables are allegory. And, we should note that there’s usually one significant theme in a parable, and in some of them there may be more than one point, but we shouldn’t try to make a significant theological point out of every single detail.
For instance, the parable we know as the prodigal son has been called by liberal scholars “the gospel.” But it’s in no way a summation of the Gospel.
It definitely isn’t. There’s no mention of the need for atonement for sin, nor the need for a Messiah or mediator between us and God.
Something else we should keep in mind when we talk about the parables, as well as all Scripture, is that they have to be looked at in their context. What’s surrounding them means something. To pull them out totally alone without looking at the surrounding text can make us miss the point altogether.
And as we delve into this parable, it’s best to start with taking a look at the text surrounding it. In the case of this parable, we’re going to start at the beginning of Luke 15. Jesus told three parables about “lost things.” Let’s start by reading Luke 15:1-2. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him and the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus was followed by crowds during his ministry. There was a mix of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the time who were watching everything that was going on, and those referred to as Tax collectors and sinners.
The ESV Study bible defines the “sinners” here as, “Pharisees would have regarded as sinners anyone who failed to keep God’s law as they interpreted it, and the term here seems to reflect a commonly understood meaning by which it included both people guilty of publicly known sin and others who did not keep the strict purity requirements of the Pharisees.
Tax collectors were thought of as some of the worst of “sinners” not only because they were collecting taxes from the Jewish people for the Roman government, but because they were known for collecting more than was required so that they could pocket the rest.
The Pharisees and scribes thought of themselves better than everybody else – they didn’t see themselves as being sinners because they were so strict at trying to follow the Law.
And the rest of the people somewhat thought of them the same way … they thought the Pharisees had it together when it came to following God. And then Jesus comes on the scene and He is associating with the “sinners.”
And, Jesus is pretty popular with those considered “sinners”! The Pharisees are already judging Jesus for “receiving” and eating with them. Eating with someone implied that they were part of your circle, or at least that they could be. You know that popular saying about the company you keep???? Jesus (in the eyes of the Pharisees) is keeping company with a bad crowd, something that they deemed would make you “unclean,” and they are grumbling or murmuring (as some versions say) about it.
So Jesus, knowing what they’re saying, is going to answer the question that goes along with their statement, “Why is He is hanging out with the ‘sinners’?” using parables. Let’s read the first one about a lost sheep.
Luke 15:3-7 says, “So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that 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 his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Now we know that Jesus came for the lost sheep of Israel, according to Matthew 15:24. We also know that Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” according to Luke 19:10. We know from John 10:11 that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And here he is talking about a shepherd leaving the larger group of sheep to go look for the one who is lost.
Why leave 99 to go look for one who wandered off? Because Jesus didn’t just come to “save the lost” but to “seek and save the lost.” The lost, on their own, are dead in their trespasses and sins. They have no inclination to seek after God because they don’t even know they need Him. God has to turn our dead hearts from stone to flesh through the work of the Holy Spirit before we have any idea we need to be saved. The shepherd doesn’t “herd the lost sheep” back home using his staff and rod once He finds it. He puts this sheep on his shoulders and carries it home. The shepherd does the work of getting the lost sheep home – ALL of the work – because the sheep couldn’t have done it. It was as good as dead in the state it was in, off by itself.
And next we get a glimpse at the real heart of these parables of lost things – the shepherd’s reaction to finding the lost …rejoicing! In contrast to the Pharisees’ grumbling or murmuring about eating with sinners who they would never associate with, the Good Shepherd not only seeks the lost but rejoices when they are found.
God cares for the lost. In John chapter 10, Jesus contrasts himself as the Good Shepherd, with the “hired hands” who do not care for the sheep and run away when danger comes. God sent prophets (who were sometimes treated very badly) to a mostly unrepentant Israel over and over through the Old Testament calling them to repentance. Those prophets were “good shepherds” of the people. Despite danger and suffering, they took God’s warning to the people.
But that wasn’t the attitude of the religious leaders Jesus is addressing in the parable. In fact, it was pretty much judgement of others and a disregard for the welfare of others that most of them were about.
The Pharisees and Scribes are evil and they don’t even know it. They think they’re “good” but they’re not. In their self-righteousness they’re judging everybody – including Jesus.
But the “tax collectors and sinners know they’re “not good.” Many of them probably lived with that label their whole lives! They had to be thinking, “Here is this Man they’ve seen teaching in the Temple with authority, spending time with us and including us.” It was such a contrast to the religiosity they were used to.
And I think religiosity and self-righteousness is what turns a lot of non-Christians off to Christianity, and even to Christians themselves. When the Gospel message is understood correctly, the person who is saved understands that they are sinners who brought ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the table for their forgiveness. They shouldn’t be judging the non-believer.
They should know better because they were once in a state of unforgiveness, and in addition, – they still sin! The difference is that God has had mercy on them. Which should make them merciful to others. And sometimes it’s hard to get an unbeliever to understand that that is truly what Christianity is – especially if they’ve been judged or are being judged by other Christians.
Exactly. I’ll quote from Monergism here, “We should first observe in these verses — the striking testimony which was borne to our Lord by His enemies. We read that when "all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him, the Scribes and Pharisees murmured, saying: This man receives sinners, and eats with them!" These words were evidently spoken with surprise and scorn — and not with pleasure and admiration. These ignorant guides of the Jews could not understand a religious preacher having anything to do with wicked people! Yet their words worked for good. The very saying which was meant for a reproach — was adopted by the Lord Jesus as a true description of His ministry. It led to His speaking three of the most instructive parables which ever fell from His lips. The testimony of the Scribes and Pharisees was strictly and literally true — the Lord Jesus is indeed one who "receives sinners." He receives them — to pardon them, to sanctify them, and to make them fit for Heaven. It is His special office to do so. For this end He came into the world. He came not to call the righteous — but sinners to repentance. He came into the world to save sinners. What He was upon earth — He is now at the right hand of God, and will be to all eternity. He is emphatically the sinner's Friend.”
The parable ends with more rejoicing … the shepherd calls his friends and his neighbors to rejoice. And then the last line says, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous o persons who need no repentance.”
This verse isn’t saying there are people who don’t need to repent. We know that since the fall, ALL people are dead in their sin, and as Romans 3:10 says, “None is righteous, no, not one.” What Jesus is addressing is the attitude of the self-righteous religious leaders – they are basing their salvation on their works and think they are saved without needing repentance.
Know any Christians who are self-righteous; who rely on their good words for salvation; who are prim and proper on the outside and who look down at others who openly sin? I’m thinking of groups like the ones who marched at the funerals of service members, holding signs saying it was judgment because of homosexuality in our country.
Definitely a self-righteousness there. That’s the same type of people Jesus is addressing – people who think they are righteous and don’t see they need to repent. But they should see that the rejoicing in this passage isn’t over them it’s over the lost one who is saved. Let’s read the next parable.
This is the parable of the lost coin, Luke 15:8-10 which says, “Or what woman who has ten silver coins and loses one of them does not light a lamp, sweep her house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to say, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
Again, we see three themes emerging – lostness, rejoicing and repenting.
What’s a little different in this second parable? There’s some emphasis on the carefulness and diligence the woman uses to find the lost coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps, searching carefully the text says.
It was obviously very important to her. Many commentators believe these ten coins were her dowry. Without them, she probably wouldn’t get married anytime soon.
But the lost sinners were not of importance to the Pharisees. In fact, the religious leaders of the day were very much like the prophet Jonah, who didn’t want to see God’s mercy on the Ninevites, and in fact, was angry about it. In his eyes, they were sinners not deserving mercy.
The religious leaders were very much like Jonah in their heart attitudes and like him, they don’t see that they are wretched sinners too! But Luke 11:37-44 tells a different story. It says, “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
But God’s heart toward sinners is very different than Jonah’s, the hearts of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and even sometimes our own! God isn’t waiting around for people to clean themselves up so that they can come to Him! In fact, we never CAN clean ourselves up enough. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, comes to us first. And once He’s done that, then He begins the work of cleaning us up through the conviction and help of the Holy Spirit as we study Scripture.
And He’s given us the immense privilege of sharing His Gospel message with people – sinners just like we are – so that they can come receive His grace and mercy too.
Why have we spent an entire episode on the crowd listening to Jesus? Because it’s important to know who was listening to Jesus because He includes both groups in the parable of the prodigal son. Do we see ourselves in either of these groups? “Do we have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude? Do we realize that we are sinners, and that only by the grace and mercy of God we are saved?
When we talk to the unbelievers in our lives, what’s our focus? Is it on the things we don’t like about them – do we mention their sin or (even if unspoken) show our distaste for something sinful about them in some outward sense? Or do we overlook it, knowing that they can’t even begin to ‘clean themselves up’ because they aren’t saved?
Christians are to judge the behavior of other Christians in their sphere and take them to Biblical truth when they’re sinning. Christians who ask for Biblical answers about whether something is sin or not sin when they ask for it (yes, even if it’s on social media) should be given the Biblical answer.
The Biblical answer non-Christians need the most is the Gospel. Yes, that will involve telling them they, like us, are sinners. But that should look very different from pointing out their sins in a judgmental way. They need to hear that all of humanity is in a fallen, sinful state and that God is perfectly holy. He cannot tolerate sin. But He’s made a Way – Jesus.
So share the Gospel with non-believers … not judgement. That’s all we have time for today. Tune in next week as we continue in the Parables of Lost Things.
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Have a blessed day!
 Ryle, J C. “The Parables of the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Coin, Luke 15:1-10.” Monergismcom Blog. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://www.monergism.com/parables-lost-sheep-and-lost-coin-luke-151-10.