The most obvious similarity among these three parables is that, in each, something has been lost. In the first, a sheep is lost; in the second, a coin; and in the third, a son.
Each of these parables speaks of man’s miserable condition apart from God. In each case the object remained valuable in the mind of the owner in spite of its lost condition.
The owner of the lost sheep and the owner of the lost coin searched until the lost object was recovered, and the father waited for and longed after his prodigal son’s return.
The only explanation for the behavior of the owners and the father is that what they lost was valuable to them and they were determined to recover what was lost.
God according to His redemptive plan and by His sovereign power and timing seeks His elect out and draws them back from sin to the Savior. The very purpose for Jesus coming into this world was to “seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
The great assurance we receive from these parables is that God will seek and save His lost chosen ones and bring them to Christ who, through His substitutionary atonement, will bring them into fellowship with the God who chose them and owns them.
THE SEEKING GOD
These parables are an amazing picture of God. He is seen grieving, seeking, and rejoicing. That has always been true of God’s thoughts and actions toward His lost elect whom He sent His Son into the world to seek and to save.
Every true Christian is sought and found by God. Isaiah 65:1
God seeks out His lost chosen ones through His Spirit by the word. The preaching of the word is the outward call, but the Spirit must open the heart of the hearer (regeneration/new birth). He must effectually accompany the outward call with an inward call that moves the hearer to answer the outward call, to repent of sin and believe on Christ for forgiveness and righteousness.Acts 16:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9
Every Christian has been sought and found by God, who always finds what He seeks. When we say that God finds an individual, we mean that by the miracle of regeneration the sinner comes to his senses, repents of sin, and begins to seek God.
Look at the life of the prodigal (a type of the sinner), and see the steps that led him away from the father (a type of the heavenly Father): It began with rebellion against the father, then a desire for total independence, then a waste of inheritance, then desperate need, then shame and bondage.
But just as there were steps away, so also are there steps back.
First, there is an awakening to one’s true condition (he came to his senses).
The second step in the prodigal’s conversion was an honest confession of sin.
The final step in his conversion was an actual return to the father. Having seen himself as he was and having confessed his sin as sin, the prodigal “got up and went to his father.”
Thinking alone did not save him, accurate though his thinking was. Confession alone did not save him, though he had much to confess. He needed to turn around and seek God. And he did that by leaving his sin and returning to his father.
THE OLDER BROTHER
The hard working and responsible older brother could not understand why his father had to be so happy about the return of his good-for-nothing son. No one ever expressed joy and happiness about the firstborn; not one ever had a party for the one who stayed home and served his father.
The prodigal son did not feel worthy to be called a son and was willing to be a servant. The self-righteous older brother saw himself as a servant and not as a son. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders,” he told his father.
The elder brother separated himself just as far from the father as the younger brother had done. The one had come home; the father pleaded with the other to do likewise.
The Pharisees are the older son. They are those “who were confident of their own self-righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9).
We are never so like God when we rejoice at the salvation of sinners. We are never so like the self-righteous Pharisees as when we despise the conversion of some sinners that we think are so sinful, so wicked, that they are beyond God’s grace.