Lesson 53: Luke 15

“Lesson 53: Luke 15,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)

“Lesson 53,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 53

Luke 15


The Pharisees and scribes complained about the Savior’s association with publicans and sinners. The Savior responded by giving the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

Suggestions for Teaching

Luke 15:1–10

Jesus gives the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin

Begin class by asking students if they have ever lost an item that was valuable to them.

  • What were you willing to do to find it? Why?

  • What do you think it means for a person to be spiritually “lost”? (Help students understand that this can refer to those who have not yet received the restored gospel of Jesus Christ or are not currently living according to the teachings of the gospel.)

Invite the class to think of someone they know who may be spiritually lost. Ask them to ponder how they feel about this person.

Explain that Luke 15 contains the Savior’s teachings about those who are spiritually lost. Invite students to look for truths in Luke 15 concerning how Heavenly Father feels about those who are spiritually lost and the responsibilities we have toward them.

Ask a student to read Luke 15:1–2 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for who drew near to Jesus and what the Pharisees and scribes complained about.

  • Who drew near to the Savior? Why were the Pharisees and scribes complaining?

  • What does this complaint reveal about the Pharisees and scribes?

Explain that the Savior responded by giving three parables: one of a lost sheep, one of a lost coin, and one of a lost son. These parables were meant to both give hope to the sinner as well as condemn the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Encourage students to pay attention to why the subject of each parable became lost and how it was found.

Copy the following chart on the board or provide it to students as a handout. Group students into pairs, and assign one student to study Luke 15:3–7 and the other to study Luke 15:8–10. Invite students to read their assigned parables, looking for answers to the questions in the left column. (The third parable will be covered later in the lesson.)

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin, and Son

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual—Lesson 53

Luke 15:3–7 (see also verse 4, footnote a if available in your edition of the scriptures)

Luke 15:8–10

Luke 15:11–32

What was lost?

Why was it lost?

How was it found?

What words or phrases describe the reaction to it being found?

After sufficient time, ask students to explain their assigned parable and report their answers to the questions in the chart to their partners. After both students in each group have finished, invite a few students to come to the board and fill in the chart with their answers or (if you did not draw the chart on the board) to share their answers with the class.

  • What is the difference between how the sheep and the coin were lost? (The sheep became lost through no fault of its own, while the coin was lost because of the negligence or carelessness of its owner [see David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 120, 121–22].)

  • According to verses 7 and 10, what do the coin and the sheep that are found represent? (They represent a sinner who has repented and turned to God.)

  • What is our responsibility toward those who are lost, regardless of how they became lost?

Write the following incomplete statement on the board: When we help others feel a desire to repent …

  • Based on the responses of those who found what was lost, how would you complete the statement on the board? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: When we help others feel a desire to repent, we feel joy and the heavens rejoice. Complete the written principle on the board. You may want to invite students to consider writing this principle in their scriptures next to Luke 15:1–10.)

  • How have you or someone you know helped a person who was spiritually lost feel a desire to repent or draw closer to Heavenly Father? When has someone helped you? (Remind students that they should not share experiences that are too personal or private.)

Luke 15:11–32

Jesus gives the parable of the prodigal son

Invite the class to consider the following scenario: A young woman has committed serious sins and has stopped praying and attending church. She feels a desire to begin praying and living the Lord’s standards, but she worries that He would not want her back.

Ask students to reflect on whether they know someone who may have felt like the individual in the scenario. Explain that the third parable in Luke 15 is the story of a prodigal (meaning wasteful and recklessly extravagant) son, his older brother, and their father. Invite students to look for truths as they study this parable that can help individuals who may feel they are lost beyond hope.

Consider dividing students into groups of three. Provide each group with a copy of the following handout. Invite them to read Luke 15:11–32 aloud in their groups. Assign one student to consider the parable from the perspective of the prodigal son, the second student to consider it from the perspective of the father, and the third student to consider it from the perspective of the older brother.

After students have finished reading, ask them to discuss the questions on the handout in their groups.

Media Icon
Instead of asking students to read and discuss the parable, you could show the video “The Prodigal Son” (5:35) from The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos. Provide each student with a copy of the following handout, and ask students to look for answers to the questions as they view the video. This video is available on

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual—Lesson 53

The Prodigal Son

  • What helped you come to yourself, or recognize the awful situation you were in?

  • How did you expect your father to respond to your return home?

  • What might you have been thinking and feeling when your father treated you as he did?

The Father

  • What might you have been thinking and feeling while your younger son was gone?

  • Why would you welcome your prodigal son home in the way you did?

  • When your elder son resented how you treated his younger brother, how did you help him understand your actions?

The Older Brother

  • What might you have been thinking and feeling while your brother was gone?

  • Why was it difficult for you to rejoice in your brother’s return?

  • What blessings have you received for being faithful to your father?

Ask students how they would complete the third column (Luke 15:11–32) of the chart on the board or on the first handout. Write students’ answers on the board, or invite students to write their answers on their handouts.

  • Why did the prodigal son become lost? (In contrast to the sheep and the coin, the prodigal son became lost due to his own rebelliousness.)

  • Understanding that the father in this parable represents Heavenly Father, what can we learn about how Heavenly Father responds to those who return to Him by repenting? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: If we return to Heavenly Father by repenting and seeking His forgiveness, He will rejoice and welcome us back with open arms. Write this principle on the board.)

  • How might this principle help those who feel spiritually lost?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Holland, Jeffrey R.

“The tender image of this boy’s anxious, faithful father running to meet him and showering him with kisses is one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in the protection of His arms” (“The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 62).

Remind students of the older brother in the parable.

  • Why do you think the older brother was angry?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Holland, and ask the class to listen for insights regarding why the older brother was angry:

Holland, Jeffrey R.

“This son is not so much angry that the other has come home as he is angry that his parents are so happy about it. Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son—and he is wonderfully dutiful—forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded. …

“… He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother. …

“Certainly this younger brother had been a prisoner—a prisoner of sin, stupidity, and a pigsty. But the older brother lives in some confinement, too. He has, as yet, been unable to break out of the prison of himself. He is haunted by the green-eyed monster of jealousy” (“The Other Prodigal,” 63).

  • According to Elder Holland, why was the older brother angry?

  • What do we need to remember when we see God being merciful and blessing those who repent and return to Him?

  • What principle can we learn from this parable about becoming more like our Father in Heaven? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: We can become more like our Father in Heaven by responding with compassion and joy when others repent.)

Review the principles students learned from the parables in Luke 15. Ask students to explain how they might have used these principles to respond to the Pharisees and scribes who complained when Jesus ate with sinners.

Remind students of the person they thought about at the beginning of class who may be spiritually lost. Encourage them to prayerfully consider how they might be able to help that person repent and draw closer to Heavenly Father. Invite students to write their response to the following question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:

  • What is one way you will apply what you have learned today?

Commentary and Background Information

Luke 15. “The Parables of the Lost”

The parables recorded in Luke 15 were the Savior’s response to the Pharisees and scribes after they had condemned Him for eating and drinking with sinners. Seen in this context, these parables contain not only words of hope for the repentant sinner but also a strong rebuke against self-righteousness. This rebuke may be seen in the Savior’s statement that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 just persons who do not need to repent. The Savior’s reference to “just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7) does not suggest the Pharisees and scribes did not need to repent. Rather, it was an apt representation of the Pharisees’ and scribes’ prideful self-regard and their failure to acknowledge their own need to repent. Another condemnation of such attitudes may be seen in the older brother’s actions in the parable of the prodigal son. Like the Pharisees and scribes who complained when Jesus received sinners, the older brother in the parable reacts with self-righteous hostility rather than compassion when his father welcomes back the wayward brother.

Luke 15:1–32. The sheep, the coin, and the prodigal son became lost in different ways

President David O. McKay spoke on the reasons that some become lost:

“I desire to refer to the conditions that contributed to [the sheep, the coin, and the prodigal son] being lost. …

“I ask you tonight, how did that sheep get lost? He was not rebellious. If you follow the comparison, the lamb was seeking its livelihood in a perfectly legitimate manner, but either stupidly, perhaps unconsciously, it followed the enticement of the field, the prospect of better grass until it got out beyond the fold and was lost.

“So we have those in the Church, young men and young women, who wander away from the fold in perfectly legitimate ways. They are seeking success, success in business, success in their professions, and before long they become disinterested in Church and finally disconnected from the fold; they have lost track of what true success is, perhaps stupidly, perhaps unconsciously, in some cases, perhaps willingly. They are blind to what constitutes true success. …

“In [the case of the lost coin] the thing lost was not in itself responsible. The one who had been trusted with that coin had, through carelessness or neglect, mislaid it or dropped it. There is a difference, and this is the one-third, which I think applies to us tonight. Our charge is not only coins, but living souls of children, youth, and adults. They are our charges. Some of them may be wandering tonight because of the neglect of the ward teachers. …

“[Regarding the prodigal son:] Here is a case of volition, here is choice, deliberate choice. Here is, in a way, rebellion against authority. And what did he do? He spent his means in riotous living, he wasted his portion with harlots. That is the way they are lost.

“Youth who start out to indulge their appetites and passions are on the downward road to apostasy as sure as the sun rises in the east. I do not confine it to youth; any man or woman who starts out on that road of intemperance, of dissolute living will separate himself or herself from the fold as inevitably as darkness follows the day” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 120, 121–22, 123).

Luke 15:1–32. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son

Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote:

“The three parables … are as one in portraying the joy that abounds in heaven over the recovery of a soul once numbered among the lost, whether that soul be best symbolized by a sheep that had wandered afar, a coin that had dropped out of sight through the custodian’s neglect, or a son who would deliberately sever himself from home and heaven. There is no justification for the inference that a repentant sinner is to be given precedence over a righteous soul who had resisted sin. … Unqualifiedly offensive as is sin, the sinner is yet precious in the Father’s eyes, because of the possibility of his repentance and return to righteousness. The loss of a soul is a very real and a very great loss to God. He is pained and grieved thereby, for it is His will that not one should perish” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 461).

Luke 15:3–7. The lost sheep

“The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) said that one interpretation of the parable is that the ‘hundred sheep represent one hundred Sadducees and Pharisees’ and since they did not accept and follow the Savior’s teachings, He would go outside the sheepfold to search for ‘a few individuals, or one poor publican, which the Pharisees and Sadducees despised.’ When He had found the ‘sheep that are lost’ who would repent and receive Him, they would have ‘joy in heaven’ (in History of the Church, 5:262). This interpretation helps us understand that the Savior’s words were a rebuke to help the Pharisees and scribes recognize their own need to repent, for the Lord commands ‘all men everywhere to repent’ (D&C 133:16; see also Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; D&C 18:9, 42)” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 168–69).

Luke 15:11–32. “The prodigal son”

Referring to the parable of the prodigal son, President Gordon B. Hinckley urged:

“I ask you to read that story. Every parent ought to read it again and again. It is large enough to encompass every household, and enough larger than that to encompass all mankind, for are we not all prodigal sons and daughters who need to repent and partake of the forgiving mercy of our Heavenly Father and then follow His example?” (“Of You It Is Required to Forgive,” Ensign, June 1991, 5).

President Hinckley also said:

“Some of our own … cry out in pain and suffering and loneliness and fear. Ours is a great and solemn duty to reach out and help them, to lift them, to feed them if they are hungry, to nurture their spirits if they thirst for truth and righteousness. …

“… There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast again at the table of the Lord.

“My brethren and sisters, I would hope, I would pray that each of us … would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives” (“Reach with a Rescuing Hand,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86).