Jesus was like a magnet for the outcasts of society, the throw-aways, the lost souls. They all wanted to be close to Him. Verse 2 says, “the sinners were all drawing near to Him.” Jesus sought out people like Zacchaeus, the crooked businessman; Mary Magdalene, full of demons; and the Samaritan woman at the well, on her fifth husband. He wanted these lost people to be found.
That did not sit well with the Pharisees, who “grumbled” against Jesus. They did not have room in their narrow religion for lost people. Rather than reach out to them, the Pharisees had shut them out.
Jesus answered their grumbling with three stories of losing, finding, and rejoicing. The “sinners” of verse 1 are represented in the stories by the 100th sheep, the 10th coin, and the 2nd son. In each story the one who finds the lost thing goes delightfully overboard in celebrating its recovery.
In the first story it is a neighborhood block party for a sheep — not a pet, but a head of livestock that would become somebody’s meal or sweater. In the second story it is a celebration for a coin — the party probably cost more than the value of the coin! In the third story it is an elaborate homecoming banquet and dance for a wayward son who had wasted the family’s money — when a simple “Ok, you can come home” would have sufficed.
Jesus made His point well: He really delights in seeking and saving lost sinners. He loves to lavish His grace on undeserving prodigals. In fact, all of heaven celebrates when a single sinner repents and turns to Jesus. (Do I mirror that attitude and passion? Or am I more like the grumbling Pharisees?)
In my opinion, the stories of the lost-and-found sheep, coin, and son serve to set up the real lesson Jesus was teaching in verses 25-32. The lesson of the older brother is that He was so unlike his father. Because of his selfishness and apathy, he was alienated from his father and jealous of his brother. He missed the joy of the homecoming. While everyone else celebrated, he was aggravated.
The Pharisees, with their older-brother attitude, didn’t share in Jesus’ joy over the lost sheep of Israel coming to their Messiah. They missed the point. And sometimes I miss it, too. I can get so busy doing religious things that I miss opportunities to bring lost people to Jesus. And consequently I miss the joy of the celebration. And in time I will become unmoved and unconcerned about how lost lost people are. And when I stop caring about the lost I forget that I was once lost, too — and that Jesus rejoiced when I was found (and all of heaven with Him).