How to Make the Angels Cheer
Introduction: Luke 15 may well be the best-loved and least understood chapter in the entire Bible.
This chapter is among many people's favorite sections of scripture. And for good reason! Luke 15 is a chapter of parables. It contains three parables, two of which are among Jesus most unforgettable stories. Who doesn't love the picture of a tender shepherd carrying the lost lamb home on his shoulders? Then there's the Prodigal Son! For centuries, Bible lovers have called the story ''the pearl of parables.'' Some have labeled the chapter ''the Gospel in the Gospels.'' (Neil Lightfoot, Lessons from the Parables, Baker, 1965, p. 116). Even people who don't know much about the Bible recognize these stories.
On the surface, we understand the stories. That's part of the power of parables. We identify with the plot and characters. But parables can also sneak up on you. Beneath the familiar sentimental pictures hides a spiritual trap. Just when you're thinking, ''isn't that sweet,'' Jesus says, ''gotcha!'' I wonder if we would love this chapter as much if we understood it better.
The Stories. Jesus begins with a shepherd and his sheep. The Bible is full of such scenes. Abraham, Jacob, and Moses owned flocks of sheep. David was a young shepherd boy defending his father's flocks with a sling long before he took on Goliath. The beloved 23rd Psalm pictures the God-man relationship in terms of a shepherd and his sheep. ''The Lord is my shepherd,'' it begins. Jesus spoke often of sheep and shepherds. Jesus himself said, ''I am the good shepherd.'' Scripture describes the Savior as the Lamb of God.
In the first parable, a shepherd has one hundred sheep. One strays. That happens. Sheep aren't the sharpest critters in the barn. A shepherd would guide his flocks down valleys and over rocky hilltops in search of tuffs of vegetation. The flock mostly stayed together and moved together from hillside to hillside. At ...
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