The Lost Coin
Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (15:8–10)
Like the first story, this one also takes place in a village setting. As does the previous parable, this one presents a poor person of low social standing facing a major crisis—a woman who lost a coin of great value.
If the scribes and Pharisees were insulted that Jesus asked them to think like a shepherd, calling on them to imagine themselves in the place of a woman was an even greater insult. Shepherds were considered unclean, and in that male-dominated culture women were deemed insignificant and not worthy of respect. It should be noted that while the scribes and Pharisees resented being compared to a shepherd and a woman, God Himself did not. In Psalm 23 He not only pictured Himself as a shepherd (v. 1), but also as a woman (v. 5; preparing a table was women’s work), while in His lament over Jerusalem, Jesus pictured Himself as a mother hen (Luke 13:34). It was mercy that prompted Jesus to assault their foolish pride, since only the humble can be saved (Matt. 5:5; James 4:6, 10).
The parable describes a woman who had lost one of her ten silver coins. The coin was a drachma (a Roman denarius), which represented a day’s wage for a common laborer. While that may not seem like a large sum, in a bartering society, where money was not used as frequently as in most modern societies, it was a significant loss. The money may have been an emergency fund, to be used when needed to make critical purchases. A more likely possibility is that the coins represented the woman’s dowry, given to her as a wedding gift by her father and providing security for the future.
How she lost it is not relevant to the story. It may be that she had strung the coins together and worn them around her neck and the cord broke, or she may have bound them up together in a rag as a sort of purse and the knot came undone. To carry out her desperate search, it was necessary for her to light a lamp even in the daytime, since houses usually had either no windows, or at best very small ones. When a quick look around failed to reveal the coin, she proceeded to sweep the dusty, hard-packed dirt floor of the house and search carefully and intensely for it.
At last, to her great joy, she found the missing coin. To celebrate, she called together her female friends and neighbors (both nouns are feminine) saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” People in a small, tight-knit village would share each other’s sufferings and joys, so a party celebrating the woman’s joy at recovering what she had lost would have been appropriate. Are eternal souls worth less?
In terms of ethics, the Pharisees would once again have agreed that she had done what was necessary under the circumstances. All would agree that having lost a significant sum of money, there was nothing else for her to do but diligently search for it until she found it. This parable too was aimed squarely at them, as Christ’s emphatic statement I tell you indicates. Yet they again failed to make the connection between their contemptuous disdain for lost souls and God’s passionate concern for them. They failed to share in the joy that exists in the presence of the angels of God, who have a keen interest in the redemption that produces God’s joy (cf. Matt. 18:10; 25:31; Luke 2:10–14; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 3:5), over one sinner who repents. The joy here is God’s joy, the joy that fills heaven, and in which the angels and the redeemed share (cf. Rev. 4:8–11; 5:8–14).
The Lord’s indictment of the scribes and Pharisees was clear and inescapable. How could they affirm the ethical responsibility of a shepherd to search for a lost sheep and a woman to search for a lost coin, while condemning Him for seeking to recover lost souls? How could they understand the joys of the humble men and women in a village over temporal recovery, and utterly fail to comprehend the joy of God in heaven over eternal salvation?
The theological and Christological elements of this brief parable are clear. The woman represents God in Christ seeking lost sinners in the cracks, dust, and debris of a dirty world of sin. He initiated the search for those sinners who belong to Him through His sovereign choice of them, since like the lifeless, inanimate coin, they can do nothing on their own (Eph. 2:1–3). Jesus came all the way from heaven to earth to search for His lost ones, pursuing sinners into every dark corner, and then shining the light of the glorious gospel (2 Cor. 4:5–6; 1 Tim. 1:11) on them. Having found the lost sinner, God in Christ restores him or her to His heavenly treasury, and then expresses joy in which the holy inhabitants of heaven share.
Recovering the lost requires costly grace. The sinless Son of God became a man, lived with sinners, bore God’s wrath for sin on the cross, and rose in triumph from the grave. None of the false gods of the world’s religions are like the true and living God, who seeks and saves unworthy sinners because He values them as His own; who makes His enemies His friends for the sheer joy that He receives in saving them.
Yet God’s seeking and saving lost sinners does not happen apart from their repentance. That reality is not part of the sheep and coin stories, since they are not persons. It is, however, a theme of the last and longest of the three parables in this chapter, the tale of two sons and a loving father (vv. 11–32), which is the subject of the next chapter of this volume.
The Lost Coin
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8)
The Pharisees we meet in the Gospels were wrong about many things, including God’s requirements for salvation and their own righteousness, and wrong about the true identity of Jesus Christ. But at least they were right about this: Jesus was a man who welcomed sinners. We know this because they said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
This is one of the best summaries of Jesus’ ministry anywhere in the Gospels. How ironic that it comes from the scribes and the Pharisees, who were speaking more truly than they even knew! To “receive” people in the biblical sense of the word (Gk. prosdechomai) was to welcome them into fellowship, to accept them and associate with them. In that culture, one of the most tangible ways to establish this kind of friendship was to share a meal. “To invite a man to a meal,” writes one scholar, “was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life.”
This is the very essence of salvation: God the Son sharing his life with us. Remarkably, he shares his life with sinners. Some Bible translations put the word “sinners” in quotes, as if to indicate that somehow this was the wrong word for the Pharisees to use. But these people were sinners; this was just the word for them. They were reprobates. They were liars and cheats, lechers and lawbreakers, swindlers and thieves. In the words of John Chrysostom, “The tax-gatherer is the personification of licensed violence, of legal sin, of specious greed.” Yet Jesus welcomed these people into his fellowship. He even ate with them—not as a duty of philanthropy, but because he had mercy on people who were lost in their sins.
At the Table with Jesus
Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners. If you know that you are a sinner, then this is the best of all possible news, because it means that there is still hope. Despite the fact that we have fallen into sin—doing things we should never do, as well as not doing things that we really should do, and therefore deserving the wrath and curse of God—Jesus is ready to receive us. He wants to welcome us. If we come to him—even after everything we have done wrong—he will take us to himself. This ought to make what the Pharisees said one of the most joyful statements in Scripture: “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Praise God!
The Pharisees did not say this with joyful praise, however. This is one of those times when you have to know how somebody said something to know what they really meant. Here Luke uses the little word “grumbled” to indicate what tone of voice the Pharisees used. The Greek version of the Old Testament used the same word to describe the way the children of Israel grumbled in the wilderness (e.g., Ex. 15:24). It expresses a strong undercurrent of discontent. When the Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners, they complained about it bitterly. Rather than making their remark with admiration, they made it with condemnation.
Jesus hardly could have done anything to give these men greater offense than to eat with sinners. A man is known by the company he keeps, and thus the Pharisees were shocked to see that Jesus preferred “the society of notorious sinners to their own irreproachable manners and decorous conversation.… They could not understand why a teacher of holy life, instead of frowning upon the notoriously profligate, should show a preference for their society.” As far as they were concerned, this could only mean that Jesus was guilty of moral laxity. He was not taking sin seriously enough, but going soft on depravity. The Pharisees believed that to eat with people who were known for loose living was to condone their immoral behavior. “Let not a man associate with the wicked,” the rabbis said, “not even to bring him to the law.”4 Jesus broke this tradition every time he sat down to eat dinner with sinners (which he did, of course, any time he ate with anyone at all, including the Pharisees!). To associate with people of low moral character was to give them public recognition. Thus the Pharisees accused Jesus of sharing in unrighteousness.
What the Pharisees saw as a problem was actually the solution! The very thing they criticized was the very thing Jesus had come to do. He had come to make sinners holy for God, and sharing table fellowship was part of his plan. It is only in being received by Jesus that anyone can ever be saved. How can Jesus help us unless he has a relationship with us? In that culture—and perhaps in any culture—having a relationship meant sharing a meal. So Jesus ate with sinners.
Rather than getting grumpy about this, the Pharisees should have been rejoicing. If they had, then the rest of what Jesus said in this chapter would not even be necessary. Replace the word “grumbled” with “rejoiced” in verse 2 and you get rid of everything that follows. But the Pharisees were grumbling, and therefore Jesus taught them a three-part parable about sharing God’s joy in finding what is lost.
What Woman …?
In the first part of this triple parable, a shepherd finds a lost sheep and brings it back home, rejoicing. In the third part of the parable, a father runs to embrace his long-lost son. In between those two famous parables Jesus told a story about a housewife who found her missing money: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8–10).
The first lesson this story teaches is that Jesus cares as much about women as he cares about men. Although at first this may seem like an insignificant detail, Jesus begins by talking about a woman. He could just as well have told this story about a man, of course. In fact, one of the old Jewish rabbis told a somewhat similar story about a man who lost a little coin and then looked for it until he found it. The rabbi then compared the man’s careful search process to the way faithful Jews should look for hidden treasure in the Torah.
Jesus could have told his story about a man, too, but instead he chose to tell it about a woman. He did this despite the fact that he was speaking most directly to a group of men—the scribes and the Pharisees. There must have been women in the audience too, as there almost always were. In chapter 8 Luke told us that as Jesus went from place to place a large group of women went with him (Luke 8:1–3). These women were devoted to Jesus’ teaching. They wanted to hear everything he said, and on this occasion he told a story that touched the world of their experience—the story of a poor woman at home who lost one of her only coins.
As far as we know, this is something the rabbis never did: set the story of a woman side by side with the story of a man. First Jesus told a story about a man who went out into the wilderness to look for his sheep; then he told a story about a woman who swept her floor to look for her coin. By putting the story of a woman next to the story of a man, Jesus was reaching his whole audience.
This may still seem insignificant, but consider how many times something like this happens in the Gospel of Luke. Two miracles are performed, two stories are told, or two examples are given, and one of them relates specifically to women. First Jesus healed a centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1–10); then he raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11–17). Jesus told two parables about how God answers prayer: one is the friend at midnight—a story about the man of the house (Luke 11:5–13), but the other is the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1–8). In teaching about the sign of Jonah, Jesus used two examples from the Old Testament: the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South (Luke 11:29–32). Jesus performed two miracles on the Sabbath: one was the woman with the disabling spirit (Luke 13:10–17), while the other was the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1–6). In describing the people that he saved, Jesus called one of them “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16) and the other “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Jesus told two parables about the kingdom of God. The first story was about a man working in his garden to sow a mustard seed (Luke 13:18–19); the second was about a woman working in the kitchen to mix leaven in with her dough (Luke 13:20–21). Similarly, in his teaching about the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus used examples of men working in the fields and women grinding out their grain (Luke 17:34–36).
Can you see what Jesus was doing? In contrast to the other preachers of his day, he wanted to teach women as much as men. To do that effectively, he made a point of using examples that related to their life experience. According to Luke, Jesus Christ is not a male chauvinist: his ministry, his gospel, his teaching, and his theology are explicitly for women.
There is more, because the woman in this parable represents the character of God himself. As she looks for her lost coin, and as she rejoices in finding it, she shows us the joy that God has in finding lost sinners. This is a connection people sometimes miss. It is easy to see that the shepherd who finds his lost sheep must be God the Son, who said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). It is also easy to see that the father who finds his lost son must be God the Father. But if these three stories are parallel, then in some way the woman who finds her lost coin must also represent God.
Going back to the early church fathers, many Christians have thought that this woman represents the Holy Spirit—an interpretation that seems to fit with the other stories in the parable. If the first story is about Jesus the Good Shepherd and the third story is about God the loving Father, then it would make good sense for the middle story to show us the Holy Spirit. There may even be a specific point of connection in the story, because in order to find her coin, the woman had to light her lamp. Perhaps this refers to the work of the Spirit in lighting our way to God.
Admittedly, this interpretation seems somewhat speculative. But whether the woman in the parable stands for the Spirit or not, she certainly shows us something about God. This is not to say that God is a woman. (He is not a man, either; God does not have a gender, although most commonly he uses masculine terms to reveal himself to us as the Father and the Son.) But from time to time—on rare occasions—God compares his attitudes and actions to the love of a woman. For example, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13). To help us understand the comfort of his compassion, God says that his love is like a mother’s affection for her only son. Here in Luke, Jesus tells us that the love of God pursues us the way a poor woman pursues a lost coin.
God is not embarrassed to make this kind of comparison. The women he made in his image are able to reflect his grace, as Jesus showed throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus cared for the women in his life in a way that elevated their sense of dignity. Therefore anyone who treats women with disrespect, or fails to prize their gifts, or dismisses their capacity to learn sound theology, or puts them down in any way does not have the love of Christ, who cares about women as much as he cares about men.
As Precious as Silver
The story of the lost coin also teaches how precious we are to God. Notice that there is a progression in the larger parable. The lost sheep was only one out of a hundred. The lost coin is one of out ten. The lost son will be one out of two (although really both sons were lost, as we shall see). Needless to say, a coin cannot possibly compare with the precious life of a son, but since it is one out of ten, it would seem to be more precious than the sheep—at least as far as the ratio is concerned.
The coin was certainly precious to the woman, who we may infer was very poor. The coin she lost was a drachma, which in those days was roughly equivalent to a full day’s wage for a common laborer. It is hard to work out an exact equivalent, and it depends on what kind of work a person does, of course, but it would amount to perhaps a hundred dollars in today’s economy.
Needless to say, anyone who dropped a hundred dollar bill would take the trouble to look for it, especially someone living below the poverty line. Although the parable does not give us any other details about the woman’s financial situation, ten coins may well have represented her life savings, and therefore she would have guarded them with her life. According to custom, in those days a housewife would have kept her money in a chain around her neck, or else tied them up in a little rag. When she discovered that one of her coins was missing, she would have done anything to get it back. Her coin was too precious to lose; it had to be found.
The value this woman placed on her lost coin shows the great love that God has for lost sinners. We are as precious to him as silver—an analogy that works at several levels. To begin with, the relationship between the woman and her coin was that of ownership. Even when it was lost, the coin still belonged to her. In the same way, each of us belongs to God. Even if we have fallen away, and even if we never acknowledge him, we still belong to him by virtue of the fact that he made us. So when we finally come to God in repentance, through faith in Jesus Christ, God is getting back his own.
Another point of comparison—not mentioned explicitly in the parable, but illustrated by its central image—is that like the coin, we bear a royal likeness. At the time of Christ, coins generally bore the imprint of the Caesar in Rome. Since we are made in the image of our King, we too have been stamped with his likeness. Furthermore, silver is a metal that remains precious even after it tarnishes. Unless it is kept polished, silver will darken with time; nevertheless, it retains its value. This is our situation exactly. We were made precious when God fashioned us in his own image, giving us a dignity that surpasses all the other creatures. Sadly, our race has fallen into sin and is now darkened by all the sins of our depravity. Nevertheless, we are still valuable to God. Even in our lost and fallen condition, he considers us his prized possession.
Know for sure that we are precious to God. Now that Jesus has paid the price for our redemption by bleeding and dying for our sins on the cross, we are more precious to God than ever. Do not wonder whether or not your life is even worth living. Do not feel forgotten. Do not doubt that God loves you. The story of the lost coin shows that God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love. Even when we are lost, we are still precious to God and will be useful to him when he finds us.
This story also teaches that until God does find us, we are helplessly lost. A lost coin is certain to stay lost until it is found. We are in the same situation spiritually, for we cannot find ourselves. Once we are lost, we will stay lost until we are found by God.
Each of the stories in this triple parable has to do with something that is lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. But notice that each of these things gets lost in a different way, so that together these stories give us a full picture of what it means to be lost. The sheep simply wandered away from its shepherd. Heedless of danger, it followed its own instincts and appetites. The same thing happens to us when we go off and pursue our own pleasures: we end up far away from God, and whether we realize it or not, our souls are in mortal danger. As we shall see, the son got lost by his own deliberate will. He chose to walk down the path of rebellion, and when he discovered that he was lost, he knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Yet the coin was lost through no apparent fault of its own. It slipped between the woman’s fingers, or fell out of her purse, or got knocked off the table, and then it was truly lost.
When we use this parable as an illustration of our own spiritual experience, we have to admit that what happened to the coin is never the whole story for us. We can never say that we got lost through no fault of our own. We are like the sheep that wandered away, or like the son who turned his back on his father and went to live in a far country. Yet, we may well be able to say that what happened to the coin is part of our story. The hard circumstances of our lives conspired to keep us away from God. Maybe no one took us to church when we were children, or taught us what the Bible says about salvation. Or maybe people sinned against us, and this only drove us further into sin. But however it happened, the reality is that we are as helplessly lost as a silver coin that has fallen from a woman’s purse and rolled into a forgotten corner of her home.
Now, despite our intrinsic value, we are useless to God. We do not have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, and therefore we do not praise him, have not loved him, and will not serve him. This is what it means to be lost. “Like a coin that is lost,” writes Richard Phillips, “sinners lie unused and unseen, no longer contributing the value for which they were fashioned, while God’s image with which they were stamped is increasingly tarnished and covered with the dust of sinful living.”
Are you able to identify with that coin? Do you know what it means to be lost spiritually? What makes the situation so completely helpless is that coins cannot find themselves. A lost coin is hardly able to leap off the floor, land on the table, and roll back into its owner’s money bag! This is why the woman made such a diligent search: a coin will stay lost until it is found.
This illustrates our own spiritual situation until we are found by Christ: we will stay helplessly lost until Jesus comes to find us. Michael Wilcock describes this part of the parable as a story about “the finding of that which cannot help itself.” He explains:
The coin is lifeless, it cannot move, it can certainly not find its own way back like the son, it cannot even bleat for help like the sheep. Of course in some senses lost mankind is not, like the silver coin, inanimate. But spiritually—from the point of view of the Spirit—it is lifeless; and the coin is an apt symbol of those who see the requirements of God and know themselves incapable of rising to them. Only the all-powerful Spirit can rescue men who in that sense are lost.
A Thorough Search
We may be helplessly lost, but we are not hopelessly lost, because Jesus is able to come and save us. This is a fourth lesson from the story of the lost coin. Jesus does not simply leave us in our lost condition, but is looking to find us.
When the woman in the parable discovered that one of her precious coins was missing, she started to search for it. Although her coin was lost, it was not forgotten, and she was determined to get it back. In those days most homes were only about the size of a one-car garage, but they were very dark, with only a few small slits to let in the light. Typically floors were made of dirt, sometimes covered with straw. In Galilee, where Jesus came from, they were usually made of flagstones. How easy it was, therefore, for the woman’s coin to get covered with straw, or to be concealed by the dust, or to fall into a crack between two stones. In order to find it, she would have to light a lamp, get out her broom, and make a clean sweep.
In the first part of this parable, Jesus emphasized the persistence of the good shepherd, who looked for his lost sheep until he found it. The woman who lost her coin was equally persistent. She knew that the missing money had to be in her house somewhere, and she would not stop looking until she found it. But what Jesus especially emphasized was the meticulous thoroughness of her search. With extreme care the woman lit her lamp, swept her house, and searched diligently to find her lost coin. We can imagine her getting down on her hands and knees to examine every square inch of her home. Subjecting her floor to the most careful scrutiny, she looked in such a way as to find. This is the way people look for anything they really want to find. First they look in the most obvious places, but if the missing item is still nowhere to be found, they go back and conduct a more thorough investigation.
This is also the way that Jesus looks for lost sinners: in such a way as to find. The reason Jesus came to earth in the first place was to seek and to save what was lost. This is why he became a man, why he performed miracles, why he preached the kingdom of God, and why he died and rose again. Jesus was looking to find.
Even now he is still conducting his search, looking in every corner of the world for the sinners he died to save. Jesus has sent his gospel out into the world—the gospel that says everyone who trusts in his cross and believes in his empty tomb will be saved. He has sent his Spirit out into the world—the Spirit who convinces people they are lost in sin and invites them to come to Christ. He has sent his church out into the world—the church that proclaims the gospel, by the power of the Spirit, to all the unreached peoples on all the lost continents of the globe. Jesus is looking to find and seeking to save. With painstaking thoroughness, he will keep searching and searching until he finds every last one of the precious coins that belongs in his pocket.
If you are lost and waiting to be found, Jesus is looking to find you. He is searching and seeking to save you. Here is how Anne Lamott described her experience of being lost and getting found:
[Jesus] was relentless. I didn’t experience Him so much as the hound of heaven, as the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven, who seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up, mewling outside your door, you’d eventually open up and give him a bowl of milk.… I resisted as long as I could, like Sam-I-Am in Green Eggs and Ham.… He wore me out. He won. I was tired and vulnerable and He won.… Then, when I was dozing, tiny kitten that I was, He picked me up like a mother cat, by the scruff of my neck, and deposited me in a little church.… That’s where I was when I came to. And then I came to believe.
The Joy of Being Found
Every lost sinner has a different story to tell, because we all get found in different ways. But whenever and wherever and however Jesus finds us, we all share the same joy. This is the fifth and final lesson from the story of the lost coin: it is a joy to be found by Jesus Christ—a joy that lasts forever.
When the woman found her lost coin, she gathered her girlfriends to celebrate (the Greek words that Luke uses for “friends and neighbors” are feminine). Because her search was so rewarding, it led to great rejoicing, which is really the main point of this story. Thus Jesus ended this part of his parable by saying: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
This statement is virtually repeated from verse 7, where Jesus said there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Here in verse 10 he makes no comparison, but when he mentions “the angels of God,” once again he is pulling back the curtain so that we can see what joy there is in heaven whenever Jesus finds a lost sinner. Jesus ought to know, because he has been there!
It is always a joy to find something that is missing, as we know from everyday experience. Even if what we find is only something small, we invariably tell someone else about it. “Hey! Look what I found!” we say. “You’ll never guess what I just discovered!” Yet the simple joy of finding something lost cannot compare with the surpassing joy of being found by Jesus Christ. What a joy it is when Jesus finds you in your lost and helpless situation, when you respond by repenting of your sins and receiving the free gift of eternal life. What a joy it is to see someone else come to Christ. What a joy it is to the angels, who love to celebrate the grace of God for the poor lost sinners of our fallen race. What a joy it also is to God himself. When Jesus spoke about “joy before the angels,” he was not referring only or even primarily to the joy that the angels have, but also to the joy which they witness every time a sinner gets saved. The angels see the joy of God.
If you want to bring joy to the heart of God—and to your own heart—then turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation. If you are not yet a believer, the angels are waiting to celebrate. What joy there will be in heaven when you finally come to Christ! Then, once you have come to Christ, do everything you can to welcome other people with the love of God, just as Jesus welcomed the tax collectors and the sinners. Jesus is looking to receive sinners, and he is calling you to be part of the search party.
A beautiful example of the way Jesus looks for lost sinners—and of the joy he brings when they are found—comes from the Bayview Glen Church in Toronto, Ontario, where Pastor Sam Nasser was preaching in Persian to an Iranian congregation during the summer of 2004. Pastor Nasser was troubled by the fact that one of the women in the church was talking on her cell phone during the worship service. At first he thought it must be some kind of emergency, but when it happened again the following week he was even more disturbed.
Nasser invited the woman to his office to confront her about this ongoing distraction. “Pastor,” she said, “I already told you! My husband in Iran is very interested in how I became a Christian because of listening to you.” This still did not explain the cell phone, but when the pastor asked for a further explanation, the woman said,
I bought a calling card, and I call my husband in Tehran so he can hear you preaching. He puts the call on the speakerphone so my mother and sister can hear too. They have been inviting other friends and family over, and for the past three months, they have been listening to you preach. More people come every week. I am not talking on the phone. I’m just holding it up so they can hear your message about Jesus!
Needless to say, Pastor Nasser invited the woman to sit right at the front of the church. The following week he preached on the love of Jesus for his precious children. At the end of the service he asked if anyone wanted to pray to receive Christ. Suddenly the woman with the cell phone started to shout: “My husband! My husband! My husband got saved! My mother and sister want to come to the Lord too!”
Even if he does it over the cell phone halfway around the world, Jesus is looking for lost sinners. He is looking for them every time somebody preaches the gospel. He is looking for them right now. I pray that he will find you, because I know that when he does, you will rejoice. So will the hosts of heaven. And so will Jesus.
Luke 15:10. There will be joy in the presence of the angels. If angels mutually rejoice with each other in heaven, when they see that what had wandered is restored to the fold, we too, who have the same cause in common with them, ought to be partakers of the same joy. But how does he say that the repentance of one ungodly man yields greater joy than the perseverance of many righteous men to angels, whose highest delight is in a continued and uninterrupted course of righteousness? I reply, though it would be more agreeable to the wishes of angels (as it is also more desirable) that men should always remain in perfect integrity, yet as in the deliverance of a sinner, who had been already devoted to destruction, and had been cut off as a rotten member from the body, the mercy of God shines more brightly, he attributes to angels, after the manner of men, a greater joy arising out of an unexpected good.
Over one repenting sinner. The word repentance is specially limited to the conversion of those who, having altogether turned aside from God, rise as it were from death to life; for otherwise the exercise of repentance ought to be uninterrupted throughout our whole life, and no man is exempted from this necessity, since every one is reminded by his imperfections that he ought to aim at daily progress. But it is one thing, when a man, who has already entered upon the right course, though he stumble, or fall, or even go astray, endeavours to reach the goal; and another thing, when a man leaves a road which was entirely wrong, or only starts in the right course. Those who have already begun to regulate their life by the standard of the divine law, do not need that kind of repentance which consists in beginning to lead a holy and pious life, though they must groan under the inﬁrmities of the flesh, and labour to correct them.
9–10 As in v. 6, the extent of joy expressed is striking (v. 9). Considering the neighborly feelings in a small village, this is understandable, especially if the coin represented a tenth of the woman’s savings. Moreover, Jesus’ final comment (v. 10) reinforces the point. “In the presence of the angels of God” is a reverential reference to God, as is “in heaven” (v. 7). This parable, like that of the lost sheep, justifies Jesus’ welcome of sinners (v. 2).
10 Functioning in the same way as its parallel in v 7, this addendum allows Jesus to draw out the relevance of the parable by drawing it back into the co-text provided by vv 1–2. In Jesus’ appropriation of the parable, the emphasis again falls on the heavenly joy that ensues from the repentance of a sinner, thus characterizing Jesus’ table fellowship with toll collectors and sinners as an expression of the divine celebration accompanying the recovery of the lost. (On these motifs, see above on v 7.) Although Jesus’ final remarks do not develop it, the enhanced portrayal of the woman’s efforts as she attempts to locate what has been lost might also provoke reflection on the initiative taken by God in human recovery.
The Lost Coin (15:8–10)
Keeping cash at home is not something we encourage in a society based upon the gathering of interest upon capital, where inflation can be unpredictable and where stealing is rife. However, in New Testament times, to keep family treasures (or to bury them) was commonplace. Here a woman had ten silver coins. Sometimes these were worn around the head by women on their wedding day. Each coin represented a day’s wages.
This woman lost one, lighted a lamp and swept the house. All of us have had this experience at one time or another. We know the frantic search for a bunch of keys or perhaps for a passport—the feeling of helplessness, the almost infantile cry as we turn over cushions and books. Jesus knows human nature and understands such moments. Then he describes the relief on finding the coin—the joy as friends and neighbours are called to share in the happiness of this time.
It seems the Lord wanted hard-hearted and foolish sinners to consider the depth of his longing for our restoration, and his great joy when we are at last restored to him.
15:8–10 / The Parable of the Lost Coin makes the same point. When the woman lost one of her ten silver coins, she turns the house upside down in search of it. When she finds it, she is delighted. As in the case of the Parable of the Lost Sheep, there is joy in heaven whenever one who is lost (sinful) is found (repents). Both of these parables drive home the point that it is natural to respond with joy when something (or someone) is recovered. This joy stands in sharp contrast to the Pharisees and other “respectable” religious people who grumbled because Jesus spent time with those whom the Pharisees would regard as “lost.”
10. Likewise—on the same principle.
joy, &c.—Note carefully the language here—not “joy on the part,” but “joy in the presence of the angels of God.” True to the idea of the parables. The Great Shepherd. The Great Owner Himself, is He whose the joy properly is over His own recovered property; but so vast and exuberant is it (Zec 8:17), that as if He could not keep it to Himself, He “calleth His friends and neighbors together”—His whole celestial family—saying, “Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep-My-piece,” &c. In this sublime sense it is “joy,” before “or in the presence of the angels”; they only “catch the flying joy,” sharing it with Him! The application of this to the reception of those publicans and sinners that stood around our Lord is grand in the extreme: “Ye turn from these lost ones with disdain, and because I do not the same, ye murmur at it: but a very different feeling is cherished in heaven. There, the recovery of even one such outcast is watched with interest and hailed with joy; nor are they left to come home of themselves or perish; for lo! even now the great Shepherd is going after His lost sheep, and the Owner is making diligent search for the lost property; and He is finding it, too, and bringing it back with joy, and all heaven is full of it.” (Let the reader mark what sublime claims Himself our Lord covertly puts in here—as if in Him they beheld, all unknown to themselves, nothing less than heaven in the habiliments of earth, the Great Shepherd above, clothed in a garment of flesh, come “to seek and to save that which was lost”)!
10. Similarly, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who is converted.
Does this passage mean that the angels rejoice when a sinner is converted? There can be no question about the fact that God’s holy angels take a deep interest in our salvation. See Matt. 18:10; 25:31; Luke 2:10–14; 1 Cor. 13:1; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 3:5; 5:11; 14:10. They may know more about it than we imagine, for they dwell in God’s immediate presence. Hence, their rejoicing over a sinner’s conversion must not be ruled out.
But that is not exactly the teaching of our passage; at least, that is not its main point. That main point is this: God, who has his dwelling in the presence of the angels, seeks sinners, and rejoices over even one of them who repents or is converted. So, should not you, Pharisees and scribes, be concerned about those people you now despise? Should you not do all in your power to help them?
On the subject of God’s deep interest in sinners and his joy in their conversion and salvation see also the following beautiful passages: Isa. 62:5; Jer. 7:13 (and its many parallels in that book); 32:41; Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Hos. 11:8; Zeph. 3:17; John 3:16; Rom. 5:6–11; 8:32; 2 Peter 3:9.
Parable of the Lost Coin (15:8–10)
15:8–10. The second parable is remarkably simple and reiterates the same basic point as the first: something lost (a coin) was diligently searched for and ultimately found, to the great joy of the finder. As with the parable of the lost sheep, the reaction of the woman who found her coin—calling neighbors and friends—is not true to life. It is an exaggeration. However, it is meant to make the point that there is extravagant joy in the presence of the angels (15:10 indicating God Himself) when sinners repent. Both of these parables teach that it is God who takes the initiative to seek the lost (cf. 19:10), as demonstrated by the controversial actions of Jesus who sought the social and spiritual rejects.
15:10. Jesus repeated the message of verse 7. A repentant sinner brings celebration and joy to heaven. The question lingers: Does it bring the same joy and celebration to you? Do you share God’s feelings of love and pity and care for sinners. Is your heart so heavy for them that their repentance—their being found for the kingdom—swells your heart with joy? Hopefully, this week the results of your witness will flood heaven with joy.
10 γίνεται χαρά, “there is joy,” may be a Lukan “improvement” (cf. Acts 8:8) to the χαρὰ … ἔσται used in v 7, which may reflect the source at this point. This verse stands behind Luke’s formulation in v 7. The phrase ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ, “before the angels of God,” is odd and is probably not original. In late Hebrew and in the NT, for something to be so “before God” is an indirect method of attributing the matter to God (cf. Walls, NovT 3  315). A step further toward indirectness involves substituting “the angels” for God. But then the process seems to have gone into reverse here with the addition of “of God” (Walls’ suggestion [NovT 3 (1959) 314–16: God rejoicing before or with his angels] finally falls foul of this “of God”). God is no more content than is the woman with what remains to him. There is special importance for him too in that which has been lost but is restored to him. Because of v 7, “who repents” introduces here as well a note that takes us outside the dynamic of the parable. The parable is intrinsically interested in the recovery of the sinner, not his or her repentance as such.
The present parable forms a close parallel with the preceding, only now with a relatively poor woman and her coins in the place of the relatively rich man with his sheep. Once again the point is that God takes special delight in the restoration of the sinner who has been lost from his People.
A drachma is probably about a day’s wage for a day laborer. The coins likely represent the family nest egg, there to buffer against difficult times or to meet special needs. The one coin represents a significant part of the woman’s savings. With a lamp to catch the glint of the coin and a broom to make it tinkle, she searches with care for her coin. Naturally enough, the woman is not content with what remains to her but makes every effort to retrieve her lost coin.
When the coin has been found, she invites her friends and neighbors to share in her joy. The coin has become more important to her in its recovery than it had been originally as part of her nest egg. In the wider setting there is a challenge to actively identify with the joy that results from the restoration of a sinner to God.
v 10 applies the parable to God. God is no more content than is the woman with what remains to him when some of his People are lost from him in their sin. The penitent sinner is a source of great joy to God.
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