Luke 15: Three Common Threads, One Loving God8 min read

It’s not often in the Bible where, in some way, one topic is covered over the course of many verses.

Luke 15 is the only place in Jesus’ three years of ministry and teaching recorded in the Gospels that He tells three stories, to emphasize one particular FACT, one life-altering truth. Jesus often answered questions or difficult predicaments with a single parable or with a clear statement of truth. Yet, at this particular time, He told three parables.

The context helps explain why. Jesus, doing what came so naturally to Him, was speaking with those who were attracted to Him. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus” (Luke 15:1). This really ticked off the religious leaders of the day who recognized the spirituality that Jesus exuded as well as His popularity: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:2). Imagine! They were immensely bothered—maybe even angry—about the fact that Jesus conversed with, laughed with, got to know, was engaged with, welcomed, and even ate with … SINNERS! So Jesus tells “them this parable” (Luke 15:3). Luke 15 turns out to be three parables with three common threads pointing to one incredible, amazing, LOVING God.

Three Parables

Why? Why did He do that? I’ll give my opinion on that shortly, but first let’s briefly look at the three parables.

  • Jesus shares the story about the shepherd with a hundred sheep. One sheep wanders away and the shepherd searches until he finds it and brings it back. He then throws a party and rejoices with the other shepherds.
  • Then he tells the story of the woman who has ten coins. She loses one and turns the house upside down to find the lost coin. When she finds it she calls her friends together and celebrates.
  • Jesus continues by relating the story of a man with two boys. One of the boys exacts from his father his inheritance—before his father is dead, mind you—and wastes all of it in “wine, women, and song” in a foreign land. Hungry and finding himself in a pigpen eating hogs’ food, he recollects how good he had it in his father’s house. He determines to return to his father with a repentant attitude, expecting the worst. BUT he is welcomed by his father who has run to meet him, receives a warm hug, and hears his father say, “’Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:23, 24).

Jesus’ storytelling—his progression, his emphases—is masterful, appealing, engaging, and impactful. He goes from one hundred to one, from ten to one, and then from two to one, in the last dealing not with animals or inanimate objects or possessions, but people. When you take a few minutes to read through and study these stories (please do so), three common threads or themes pop out at you.

Three Common Threads

The first theme is that something of great value is missing or, at bare minimum, that SOMETHING THAT REALLY MATTERS to someone IS LOST.

  • The missing sheep really mattered to the shepherd.
  • The missing coin really mattered to the woman.
  • The missing son really mattered to the father.

Somewhere along the line, as the crowd—Pharisees, Sadducees, and sinners—listened to these stories or, better, when they contemplated them later as we are doing now, there’s the realization that tax-gatherers, prostitutes, robbers, addicts, pious people, religious leaders, those who have wandered for a moment or for years, those who have fought God’s love for all their lives, sinners, EVERYONE—exactly the way they are in their present condition—IS IMPORTANT TO GOD! EVERYONE MATTERS to the God of heaven and earth! I think that maybe they marveled, as should we, that God could be that inclusive, that God could be that LOVING! Doesn’t that love for everyone, God’s love for you, just make you weep?  What amazing grace! What wondrous love!

The second common thread in these parables is that an all-out search is warranted because something that really matters is lost!

  • The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep and searches for the one lost sheep.
  • The woman spends all day cleaning her house and looking for the one lost coin.
  • The third parable draws us all the closer to the heart of God when we realize that it appears that the father in the story waited every day for, searched the horizon for, his lost son returning home.

Whenever you have something of great value and lose it … you search for it until you find it! I’m sure you could think of a few stories where that has been true for you!

Let me tell you something else: You matter to God! Friends, God is a seeking God! God wanted to save you, He wanted to save mankind, and so He sent Jesus! “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). God started seeking you the moment you were conceived! Maybe God gave you Christian parents who brought you to the waters of Holy Baptism where you were washed and found. Perhaps God placed a Christian person in your life, or maybe it was a book or a Bible or a church. Somehow God, in His rich love, drew you to Himself. Jesus, lovingly, made it very clear: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). You are so very precious to God—deeply, eternally loved, and sought after!

The final thread, the third theme in these parables, is the one that most people see first: REPENTANCE, REVIVALS, REBIRTHS, RETRIEVALS … BRING GREAT REJOICING IN HEAVEN. After the shepherd finds the sheep, the woman finds the coin, and the son returns to the father … there’s a party, a huge celebration!

Maybe that is what the church is missing today: celebrations when a person is born again, or comes to repentance, or is revived or retrieved. Think of all the believers who have gone before us in heaven rejoicing in the presence of the angels! Talk about the best choir ever! Talk about the best party ever!

Think about it: the name in lights is the name of the person outside the party who has come to repentance or has been reborn. All heaven is rejoicing! Think about when your name was in lights; when you were the cause of celebration!

So here’s the question: how many parties are waiting to be thrown for people who are currently outside God’s family? How many people are literally “one prayer away” from confessing their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit and being given the gift of faith? What is your role to be in bringing the party to fruition?


Folks, we have ONE loving, all-merciful, gracious God! He loved the world so much that He gave His ONE and only Son to live, to teach, to show us the way, to die, to rise again that there might be a way—ONE SURE WAY—of salvation.

And how amazing is it that God has allowed us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world—given us this ONE great purpose in life—to point the way to Jesus, to salvation by grace through faith? Life is far more than having good health or making it financially, materially, intellectually, socially, or spiritually. You have the opportunity—WE have the opportunity—to be used by God to befriend, to love, to be in relationship with others that we might be able to share the Good News of what Jesus has done for the world, for them. The highest purpose in your life, no matter your vocation, should be to help someone who’s far from God understand what He’s done for them.

Why did Jesus tell the three parables in Luke 15? I once heard a church leader I greatly respect put it like this: Jesus was so exasperated about the discussion that the religious leaders were having in their little huddle about who matters to God and who doesn’t, He was so restless in His spirit that He basically says, “I’m going to clear this issue up once and for all. I never want there to be any confusion on this issue. So I’m going to tell you not one, not two, but three stories, back to back, to make sure everybody understands who matters to God.” Jesus wants us to know that EVERYONE matters to God—the hungry, the poor, the naked, those of different social economic classes or educational levels or races, the addicted, the disturbed, male and female, old and young and middle-aged—ALL matter to God! People matter to God. Every one of them!

Friends, you have never seen or met a person who does not matter to God … including the person who just messed up going through the traffic circle in front of you! God has done everything possible to redeem them and is now doing everything possible to bring them to Himself.  AND … God has chosen you, me … to be the vital instrument used by Him to let someone know that they are loved, that they matter, that they have a future with God in Christ Jesus.

Please pray to be used by God—to be the one that He uses to lead someone to Jesus. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).

PRAY … and humbly listen that you may respond.

Illustrations (c) MasaruHorie/iStock

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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