Thursday, August 16, 2012

The True Meaning of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son

Q: Why is there more rejoicing in Heaven over the one who comes back, then the 99 that have done their best their whole life? Luke 15:7. I think there is something I am not understanding here, can anyone help me out?

A: **The conclusion of this answer is marked **SHORT ANSWER, and so you may wish to skip ahead and consult that before you read the rest. However my argument will make more sense if you read the whole thing through.

 In order to fully understand what Christ meant when he said: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" it is important to examine the scriptural context, which Joseph Smith explained is one of the most important keys for understanding the meaning of any of Christ's parables:

 “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? … To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus” (in History of the Church, 5:261).

This saying was Christ's summation of His brief parable of the lost sheep and His transition as He began another, similar, parable about a lost piece of silver. He follows both of these with the parable of the prodigal son. As I mentioned before, context is everything, so what caused Him to launch into this seemingly rapid-fire litany of parables?

Let's examine the beginning of the chapter for the answer.

Luke 15:1-2  Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

The Pharisees and scribes condemned Jesus because he taught and associated himself with publicans (who were considered to be racial traitors) and other people whom the Pharisees and scribes had judged to be sinners. Another such instance is described in more detail a few chapters earlier.

Luke 5:27-32  And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

You might be interested to know that Levi is also called Matthew, the apostle and author of the Gospel. After Christ called him to discipleship, Levi hosted a great feast in His honor, which naturally was attended by many publicans. As a publican, Levi probably did not have many friends who were not also publicans. Publicans were tax collectors for the Roman Authority (or more typically King Herod) in Judea, and those that were Jewish were looked upon as race traitors and enemy collaborators. Publicans "were detested by the Jews, and any Jew who undertook the work was excommunicated." (LDS Bible Dictionary, 755) That is the reason why the members of the Jewish religious elite classed publicans with sinners-they were literally anathema among respectable Jews.

The Scribes and Pharisees weren't just offended that Jesus Christ had the temerity to associate with people whom the Jewish religious and social elite considered the lowest of the low. In both Luke Chapter 5, and 15, it describes the Pharisees and scribes as "murmuring", which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines thusly:

1. A soft, low, or indistinct sound produced by a person or group of people speaking quietly or at a distance.

2. A subdued or private expression of discontent or dissatisfaction.

In Luke Chapter 5, the scribes and Pharisees murmur "against his disciples."  This is very important. They murmured, in what I imagine to be a harsh whisper, so only Christ would hear, not just because they were questioning Christ's choice of friends or eating companions.  They looked at those whom Jesus called disciples, and saw in them only sinners and outcasts.  I wish to emphasize something very important: many of these people, Levi/Matthew most notably, were surely some of Christ's most faithful disciples.  In fact, only one chapter later, Levi/Matthew is called as one of the twelve apostles. Surely they were only considered sinners because the unrighteous Jews had arbitrarily judged and decided them to be such. However, look closely at Jesus' response in Luke 5:31-32

And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

When the scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples as sinners and scum, Christ's only defense does not (initially) seem like a defense at all.  He acknowledges that they are sinners, and reasonably explains that he "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  This doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement of His host Levi, whom Christ will shortly call and ordain to be one of His chosen twelve apostles, nor does it seem to speak well of the rest of his disciples. However, there is a subtle rebuke in his answer, a rebuke which is aimed at those who would criticize those who have humbly repented and begun the process of returning to the Savior.  Christ says he is not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. But there is no one who has ever lived who has been totally righteous and without sin except for Christ himself.

Romans 3:10, 23   As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Isaiah 53:6   All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

"It was understood from the beginning that in mortality we would fall short of being perfect. It was not expected that we would live without transgressing one law or another."  (Boyd K. Packer, "The Atonement," Ensign, November 2012, 76.)

Christ is therefore deliberately contrasting the scribes and Pharisees, who erroneously and arrogantly assumed that they had no need to repent because they already considered themselves to be "just" according to the outward observance of the law, with those humble publicans and others, who had already been brought low by the malicious treatment and harsh judgment of Jewish society, who did not need to be told that they were sinners, and who-when presented with the opportunity to repent-did so enthusiastically, and with their whole souls.  Christ's simple message of universal redemption to all who would repent and come unto him, and even the very person and presence of the the Savior himself, must have seemed like a beacon of love and hope to these people who had been told by men such as those scribes that they were forever consigned to the misery and wretchedness of irredeemable sin.  Small wonder then that these humble souls, who had embarked on the life-long process of repentance and conversion, were so keen to abide in the presence of our Lord.

"If you have made no mistakes, then you do not need the Atonement. If you have made mistakes, and all of us have, whether minor or serious, then you have an enormous need to find out how they can be erased so that you are no longer in darkness."  (Boyd K. Packer, "The Atonement," Ensign, November 2012, 77.)

In either case the Pharisees' claim to perfect righteousness is inherently preposterous and wrong-headed, because even one little transgression of the law makes you guilty of the whole of it. Therefore you are sick, and in need of a doctor, a sinner in need of repentance, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

Galatians 3:10-12   For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

James 2:10-12  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were no better off than common sinners, and considerably worse off than those repentant souls who congregated at the Master's feet, and whom the Pharisees so plainly despised.  The scribes may have considered themselves to be among the 99 just men who need no repentance, but they were sorely mistaken.  The Pharisees may have considered themselves to already be whole, and therefore surely they needed no physician, but such an idea is based entirely on bad reasoning. If Christ came only to cure those that are sick, to call only those who are sinners, then why bother to make such an exclusion or distinction if everyone has sinned, and therefore no one is truly righteous? That's the right question! That is what he was trying to tell the Pharisees and the scribes!  Christ is does not make any distinction between righteous and unrighteous because there isn't one-all men have sinned-therefore all men must repent and come unto the Savior. The distinction that Christ does make among men is a much more reasonable and reachable distinction given our mortal weakness:  who is repentant and who is stubbornly unrepentant.

If perfect righteousness (that is, flawless obedience to every law and commandment of God) is possible for mortal men in this life, then why did Christ institute baptism and the sacrament?  When we are baptized we promise, among other things, that we will "always...keep his commandments which he has given [us]" and we renew that same covenant every time we partake of the sacrament.  Why must we come back and make the same promise week after week?  What is wrong?  Are we liars?  Have we betrayed our word every week?  The answer is "not at all!"  We are indeed supposed to do our utmost to keep his commandments, after all that's what we promise to do every week, however our utmost just isn't good enough.  That is why we need the atonement.

2 Nephi 25:23, 26   For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.  And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

2 Nephi 2:8  Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

Mosiah 3:17  And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

Through the atonement, we are enabled to repent of our sins, and then through the sacramental covenant (in which we renew our baptismal covenant) we can renew our determination to act according to that covenant by striving to our utmost to keep the commandments and statutes of God; to the end that, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we might slowly but surely progress and grow beyond sin entirely through Christ's redemption.  A child who does not measure up to the stature and the maturity of his father is not a failure, he just needs some time to grow.  The idea is that, through Christ and the repentance He offers, we will have the space we need to do that growing.  As we grow, our utmost must therefore become greater-our best should become better-but no matter how much we grow in this life we will always depend wholly on the merits, and mercy and grace of Christ to fully achieve the salvation and exaltation that our Father has in store for us.  This is Christ's doctrine, the heart of his gospel.

3 Nephi 11:32-33  And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.  And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized [and renews that covenant through partaking of the sacrament], the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

3 Nephi 27:16  And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

Everyone needs Christ and the redemption He offers, therefore everyone needs to repent. The Pharisees and scribes, unfortunately, could not comprehend his words. The Pharisees and the Scribes only THOUGHT that they were whole and did not need a physician, when in actual fact they were just as sick, if not more so, than those whom they condemned and maligned to Jesus at the feast of the Levi the publican. Moreover, the Pharisees and scribes were so convinced of their own piety and righteousness, that when Christ issued his UNIVERSAL call to repentance and salvation, they did not answer. They did not answer because they did not recognize within themselves the need for change. They were so blinded by their own sins and deafened by their comfortable thoughts of their own supposed piety that they could not hear the voice of the shepherd calling them, nor could they recognize the Son of God standing before them.  In addition to this the prideful Pharisees could not see a need for any power outside their own in order that they might gain redemption.  And that is why Christ uses the parables in Luke 15 to rebuke them, because even if they had recognized Jesus to be the Christ, they could not imagine that they needed the repentance he offered.
That is why, when the scribes and Pharisees once again hissed this query to Christ, He responded to them with a not just parable about a lost sheep, but also two related parables, all contained in Luke 15.  Because in Christ's view (and therefore in actual fact) it isn't so much about who is righteous and who is not (in a finite sense), as if it is a badge you can earn and wear for all to see, or something you are born with (or not) like a star on the belly of a sneetch.  Christ wants everyone to be righteous, but because we are mortal and weak, we do not always perfectly measure up to that standard.  Therefore what Christ actually cares about is who chooses to repent and return to him when they fall short of perfect righteousness, and who continues proudly in their errors.  Christ accepts all those who actually recognize and listen to the voice of the Good shepherd and then CHOOSE TO COME when they are called.

John 10:11-14, 27  I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Alma 5:38-39  Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.

The scribes and Pharisees were confident that they were already saved, although they probably would have called it "justified", by merit of their own works.  And surely such men as these were considered among the most devout and observant in Jewish society. No doubt they gave generously into the coffers at the temple, and carefully observed the laws and rules concerning the observance of the sabbath, and cleansing rituals, and all of the one hundred and ten other laws which they had constructed around the law of Moses, and by which they considered themselves to be made clean. Yet in their hearts the scribes and the Pharisees were not only sinners just like those they condemned, but they were worse, because while they were actually gross sinners, they worked hard to appear righteous and holy before men.

Jesus has some choice words for the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-31

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.

The Pharisees and scribes, in their pride and arrogance and hypocrisy, took it upon themselves to interpret and teach out of the law and by their interpretation to condemn and judge others for what they considered to be sins.  And yet, according to Christ, the scribes and the Pharisees, these supposed pillars of righteousness and devout obedience, were in actual fact the most vile of sinners!   These men who were so concerned with outward appearances of righteousness, and who so roundly and condescendingly condemned those who surrounded Jesus, were nevertheless wholly corrupt and filthy beneath the facade of righteousness that they carefully presented to the world.

What is more the scribes and Pharisees could not even acknowledge their own secret sins for fear that they would lose their status and become as one of those with whom Jesus ate.  This was surely too much for them to bear!  And so, that thing that ultimately restrained the scribes and pharisees (and many before and after them) from heeding the call of the master was the knowledge that to do so would mean that they would have to acknowledge a lifetime of secret sins, and subject themselves to the ridicule and rejection of those whose respect they craved.  It also meant that they would have to cease and desist from those sins, which I am sure they were not particularly inclined to do, as they seem like they were pretty comfortable in their ways.

Yet even men as wholly corrupt as the Pharisees and scribes could easily have repented and obtained the same reward as those sinners who they so maliciously judged if only they had so elected.  If only they had chosen to humble themselves, and heed the master's call, then Christ the doctor could have cured them, and Christ the good shepherd could have gathered them safely into the fold.

1 Peter 2:25  For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

John 10:27-29  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.

Matthew 23:37   O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

The point here is that the scribes and Pharisees were more interested in the power, status, and the prestige and praise of men that one often obtains when the world perceives you to be righteous, than they were in practicing actual righteousness.  If they were not so in love with the praise of men, and the trappings of their status, perhaps they would have recognized and heeded the call of the Good Shepherd who sat right in front of them at the feast.  If they were not so afraid to confess their sins openly, and to no longer rest content in their wickedness, perhaps the Savior's teachings would have moved them.  If they did not fear embarrassment and the loss of their position and power so much, they might have heeded Christ's call to repent and return to Him.  Instead they chose to be offended by Christ, for this and many other slights and perceived infractions, and subsequently conspired with the Sadducees and others to have Christ apprehended and killed.

These men, who claimed authority from Moses to read and teach and interpret the law of God, who were so sure that "If [they] had been in the days of [their] fathers, [they] would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets," would in their blindness and pride, very shortly kill the greatest prophet of them all, even the son of God.

And so, to return to your question let's examine Christ's summations of the first two parables which he uttered to the critical scribes and Pharisees:

(After the parable of the lost sheep.) Luke 15:7  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

(After the parable of the lost silver piece) Luke 15:10  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

Christ's point has nothing whatsoever to do with a supposed comparison between those who have broken the commandments, and those who have not. I hope that I have demonstrated by now that there is no such division among God's children, save it be between us and our Savior. Christ is teaching a very true principle that would have benefited the scribes and Pharisees greatly if only they had elected to listen. Christ used these parables (and the final parable of the prodigal son) to teach that no matter how low and debased a man may find himself as a consequence of his sins, he will be welcomed with open arms as long as he "comes to himself", which means recognizing one's one wicked and debased state (as the prodigal son did after being forced to eat the pig's husks), and then returning to God in humble contrition through repentance.

This truth applies as much today as it did in Christ's day.  Too often we as members tend to group people in our minds according to whether we think they are "righteous" or "wicked," but, as President Ezra Taft Benson pointed out, the Lord is more interested in "repentant vs. unrepentant."

"In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. …

But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67; italics added.) To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 76–88).

Luke Chapter 15 contains a subtle development of a theme, with each parable representing a variation on that one theme.  The parable of the Good Shepherd is intended to demonstrate the lengths to which our Savior will go in order to recover a lost soul.

The parable of the lost silver piece is intended to impress upon us the value of a soul in God's eyes, a value which justifies such lengths.  The silver piece represented a part of the woman's dowry.  In many ways, the collection of ten silver pieces was all she had in life.  The loss of even one of the coins constituted an emergency, and certainly justified the frantic search of her house, and the joyful celebration upon finding the lost coin.

Both parables are told from the point of view of the one who has lost something, and who searches and rejoices upon the finding.  Both parables are intended to help us understand God's feelings when one soul chooses to repent and be "found."  We are also meant to more fully understand God's part in our personal redemption process from our reading of these two parables.

The final parable in Luke chapter 15 represents a departure from the formula of the first two.  This time it is told from the point of view of the one who is lost, and is intended to instruct us as to our part in our redemption process.

If you recall, the prodigal son, after wasting his inheritance in iniquity and dissipation finds himself brought to his lowest point, when "he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat."  When he is brought to this low and terrible place in his life, he comes to himself.  He is finally humbled, and declares

Luke 15:17-19   How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

The prodigal has been brought to understand, and to exclaim with the Psalmist:

For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

When the prodigal son subsequently returns in humility to appeal to the mercy of his father, his relieved father welcomes him warmly:

Luke 15:20-24   And he arose, and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

This parable is the climax and the conclusion of Christ's response to the scribes and the Pharisees.  What is it that he wants them to learn from these parables?

The prodigal son has a brother, who is working in the fields when the prodigal returns, and when he hears of the reception that his father has given this man who as far as he is concerned is nothing but a sinner, this is how he reacts:

Luke 15:25-31  Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

The parable of the prodigal son contains the most direct rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees in the whole course of these three parables.  The eldest son represents the scribes and Pharisees, who are so offended that the master would choose to welcome into his kingdom those who they considered to be rank sinners, and even traitors, that they themselves REFUSED to enter into the kingdom.

Notice, that the older brother, whom everyone assumes to be righteous based solely upon his own declaration, is never depicted as entering the house in this parable. The house represents heaven, and yet it is the prodigal that enters first in spite of his obvious defects.  The older brother (and the scribes and Pharisees) stubbornly refuse to avail themselves of the same blessing of repentance and the loving reception and rejoicing that could also be theirs if only they could only overcome their pride and answer the entreaties of the father.  

The scribes and Pharisees, like the stubborn older brother, steadfastly maintain that they have never " any time thy commandment."  As I have earlier demonstrated, this claim is inherently ridiculous and unsupportable, and yet the brother, who represents the scribes and Pharisees, has the gall and temerity to declare such an obvious falsehood in the face of his father, who represents Christ in this parable. As the father lovingly went out to entreat the stubborn brother to enter his house, so Christ deigned to come here to entreat all men to humble themselves and repent so that we can enter his kingdom and rejoice with him.  And yet, both the father in this parable, as well as Christ in this world, were met with rebuke and falsehood by the brother and the scribes and Pharisees.

These men, who claimed to be the servants of God, who claimed to work on His behalf, are like the brother in that they are in the field, where it is presumed that he is laboring on the father's behalf, and yet notice that Christ makes no mention at all in this parable that the brother was actually working while he was in the field-he only CLAIMS to have served his father "these many years."   Likewise, the Pharisees and scribes proclaimed loudly that they were the servants of the Lord, and yet, I think it clear by their words and deeds (which culminated in the death of Christ Himself) that far from serving and seeking for God, they in fact served His enemy the devil.  As servants of the devil they have turned their hearts to him, and therefore they in serving Satan they have become enemies of God themselves.

Matthew 7:15-23   Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Moroni 7:11-12   For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.  Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

Alma 5:38-42  Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.  And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye?  Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this?  Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.  For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.  Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.  And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works.

Once we gain this understanding  we can examine in a new light the father's last words to this brother who, far from being righteous as he claims, seems wicked and incredibly stupid.  It is my opinion that this last pronouncement, which seems reassuring to someone who has been righteous, but unfortunately the brother, and the pharisees and scribes whom he represents, have been wholly wicked and corrupt.  To those who had the Messiah in their very midst, and yet willfully persisted in their wickedness and hypocrisy, the words of the father to his angry son form the most stinging rebuke and condemnation.

"And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."

These wicked leaders stood to inherit the same blessings as all who choose to repent of their sins and follow the Savior with their whole souls-namely, eternal life-which is all that the Father has.  Yet even though they were often in the very presence of the one true Christ as he walked the Earth, even though they heard him with their own ears calling them to join him in his kingdom, they could not overcome their arrogance, pride, and wickedness and so they stubbornly did the eternal equivalent of the older son's tantrum, and blindly refused to enter God's kingdom.

Thus, Christ's point, when he says "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." is that there is much more rejoicing over one soul who chooses to return and repent then there is over the so-called "just" persons who because they think they need no repentance refuse to return to God.

Christ uses these parables to rebuke the scribes and the Pharisees who arrogantly and hypocritically claim to be righteous and just men who can therefore judge and condemn others, when in fact they need repentance as much as any mortal man that has walked the earth.  Christ sought to instruct them, through these parables, that all men-no matter how righteous or just they might think themselves to be-must depend wholly upon the merits and mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. In order to enter into the presence of God on your own merits, one must keep the whole law.  Despite what the scribes and Pharisees thought, no man can keep the whole law, thus in order to answer the ends of the law (the consequences of transgressing the law required by justice) we must wholly turn ourselves to Christ for redemption.

2 Nephi 2:6-8 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

This redemption is only made available to those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit, those who repent. Unless you repent of your sins (which means you must first acknowledge that you have some sins of which you must repent) Christ cannot (or at least will not) save you.

Helaman 5:10-11   And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

If, like the Pharisees and scribes, you feel that you are already righteous, already justified, already saved, then you are sorely mistaken.  The Lord would not issue a universal call to repentance if his children were permanently categorized as either righteous or wicked.  All men sin, therefore, all men require repentance.  If you choose not to repent than you will discover on judgment day that the Lord does make one critical distinction between his children: You have either repented of your sins, or you have not.

Mosiah 2:38-39  Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever. And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

If you feel that you do not need to repent, and thus choose not to cast yourself upon the mercy of the Savior you must do as the elder brother did in the parable of the prodigal son. You will find yourself sitting stubbornly outside God's kingdom not just because you cannot acknowledge your own need to change, but also because you cannot abide God's presence.  If you cannot humble yourself enough to acknowledge that you too are unclean and that you depend wholly upon the Savior instead of your own power and works, and repent of your sins and allow Christ to cleanse you, you will never be able to enter the Lord's presence, and instead of celebration there will be mourning over the loss of your soul.

3 Nephi 27:19-20  And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

**SHORT ANSWER: Luke 15:7  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

No one but Christ is so righteous that he doesn't need repentance. Therefore the Pharisees and scribes only THINK that they do not need repentance. The reason that there will be more joy over the one sinner that repents than over 99 "just" souls who think they "need no repentance," is because that one lowly sinner, who was humble and contrite enough to throw himself wholly upon the mercy of the savior through repentance, will gain entrance into heaven-while the other 99, who reside in the arrogant security of the "knowledge" of their own righteousness will find such entrance denied to them-unless they also elect to humble themselves, and repent as did that one humble sinner.

“Our absolute distance from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is important, but the direction we are heading is even more crucial. God is more pleased with repentant sinners who are trying to draw closer to Him than with self-righteous, faultfinding individuals who, like the Pharisees and scribes of old, do not realize how badly they need to repent” (Dale G. Renlund, “That I Might Draw All Men unto Me,” Ensign, May 2016,).

Matthew 7:21-22  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This is what Christ sought to teach the arrogant scribes and Pharisees, who were so sure that they were more righteous and therefore superior (by virtue of their elevated status as doctors of the law and "devout" and “just” men and as members of the "elect" and "chosen" people) to men of low status and reputation like Matthew (who would shortly be elevated far above them to be called as one of Christ's own twelve apostles) that they hardened their hearts and rejected the call of the Savior even when he stood in their very midst.

Those who are truly God's "elect", His "chosen people" are those who choose to be chosen, those that listen and then come when the Lord issues His call.  It does not matter what horrible (or minor) transgression of which you may be guilty-if you hearken to the gospel, and truly repent of you sins, the Lord will exalt you far above those Pharisees and scribes who so callously and capriciously judge you here in this life.  If you follow Christ, and live His gospel, he will grant you eternal life.

D&C 29:7  And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;

Acts 2:37-39  Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

2 Nephi 31:18-21  And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.  And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.  Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.  And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.  And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God,without end.  Amen.

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