One of the things we learn at the very beginning of Luke 15 is that Jesus practiced what He preached. He told us to show hospitality to those who could not return the favor and to invite people to eat who were considered throwaways to society. That’s exactly what Jesus did and He was criticized greatly because of it.
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
It’s an interesting picture. The religious leaders, the very people we would have thought would be ecstatic about Jesus, pushed Him away. The people we might have thought would have no interest in Jesus are the very ones who sit before Him with eager hearts and open minds. It is a sad truth that some of the hardest people to reach with the gospel are those who have been deeply involved in their church. Those people sometimes think they have things all figured out and become unteachable. People from outside the church are often more willing to hear what God has to say.
To the Pharisees, those who were not “religious” in the same sense as they were should be avoided. You weren’t supposed to lend them money, put them in any position of responsibility, or trust them with any secrets. Jesus did not play by these rules
As we move to Luke 15 we come to what is often called the “Lost and Found” chapter of the Bible. In this chapter Jesus told three parables (we’ll look at the first two this week). Before we can rightly understand the parables we need to be sure that we understand that context of those parables: Jesus was responding to those who criticized Him for the people with whom He was hanging around. These parables show a distinct contrast with the attitude of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees saw Jesus’ actions as spiritual carelessness. Jesus argued on the contrary that His actions actually reveal the heart of god.
That Which is Lost
In all of these parables something is lost. In the first case a Shepherd who had 100 sheep lost one of the sheep. We are told that he left the ninety-nine and went after the one. Think of losing a family pet.
The second story involves a woman who had ten silver coins and she lost one. We don’t know the nature of these coins. They could have been all she had and so losing one amounted to a loss of 10% of her resources . . . a significant sum. Others have suggested this coin could have been part of a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. Such a headdress was a highly significant wedding piece that was so significant it could not be taken from her even to pay a debt. Imagine, ladies if you will, losing the diamond from your engagement ring.
In both cases the loss is significant and very troubling. It seems clear to me that the items that were lost represent those people who are not followers of Christ.
Searching for What is Lost
Notice several characteristics in common in the search for that which is lost. First, what is lost is deemed valuable. The sheep and the coin were both considered to be of significant enough value to search for them with diligence. In the same way when you lose your keys, your glasses, your wallet, your dog, or a long lost friend from college you search diligently for them because what is lost is considered significant enough to search for.
Jesus is declared that lost people matter to God. We may have the attitude of the Pharisees and look at some people and think of them as throwaways in society. Max Lucado writes,
Pigeonholing permits us to wash our hands and leave.
“Oh, I know John. He is an alcoholic.” (Translation: Why can’t he control himself?”)
“The new boss is a liberal Democrat.” (Translation: “Can’t he see how misguided he is?”)
“Oh, I know her. She’s divorced.” (Translation: “She has a lot of baggage.”)
Categorizing others creates distance and gives us a convenient exit strategy for avoiding involvement. [Lucado, Outlive Your Life chapter 14]
This is not God’s attitude. He focuses on what could be. Aren’t you glad? None of us wants to be held hostage to our worst mistakes or our areas of deepest struggle. The blood of Christ was shed so that our scars and weaknesses might be eliminated in God’s sight. He asks us to view others as He does.
Second, those who searched were single-minded. Have you noticed that when you lose something it is difficult to think of anything else? You will keep searching in your mind (even when you should be sleeping) for possibilities of where to find what is lost. If you lose your wallet you will check your pants pockets, your furniture, you will look through the piles of stuff on your desk, you may look under the bed, in the car and retrace your footsteps since the last time you remember having your wallet. If you are like me you keep searching until you find what you are looking for.
We see this with someone who has lost a marriage. One partner thought things were going well and suddenly (it seems) their spouse tells them that they want “out” of the marriage. Such a loss leaves a person searching for answers and solutions. It’s all they can talk about. They rehash the same things over and over again. Such obsession can be wearying to their friends. If you are a friend it is helpful to picture the person searching again and again in the same places (much like we do with the less valuable items) in an attempt to find what was lost.
God is single minded toward people who do not know Him. . . He wants us to come into a relationship with Him. He uses every circumstance as an opportunity to get your attention. The Bible tells us that he wants all men to come to Him. (2 Peter 3:9)
Third, the search is diligent and tireless. When something valuable is lost we just can’t give up. We check everywhere. We try everything. A little over a year ago our dog ran away and was gone overnight. She was outside with me while I mowed the lawn and was frightened by a loud noise and she took off. I felt horrible and did everything I could think of. I called for her, I looked for her, I whistled, I got in my car and drove around the neighborhood. When this was unsuccessful I called the police, I sent notes out via e-mail and Facebook. Many people in the community graciously joined me in looking for our dog. When I didn’t know what else to do I tried doing what I had already done. This is the nature of someone who is looking for that which is lost.
I shudder to imagine what it would be like for a parent who had a child disappear. It wouldn’t matter how long ago they disappeared, you would still be looking for them in the faces of every crowd. You would never say, “I’m just not going to concern myself with this anymore.” This is your child and they are more precious to you than words can convey.
Jesus says this is the way God feels about us. His patience is astounding. He is determined to use every means to reach those whom He loves. He will use blessings and He will use trials; He will use people and He will use circumstances; He will shout and He will whisper. He will not grow tired or weary (Isa 40:28).
The Happy Reunion
When the sheep and the coin were found we are told there was not only one who rejoiced . . . it was a shared joy. The owner shared their joy with their friends and family. You may not have this kind of joy when you find your keys, but you might share your joy or relief when you found your wallet, your wedding ring, or your pet.
When our dog was lost everyone wanted to know if/when we found her. When our dog found her way home to sit at the back door of our home, Maggie sent out a note on Facebook that the lost had been found. Immediately people joined in the joy of the reunion.
The application is found in verses 7 and 10,
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (v.7)
In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (10)
Jesus says that when a person who was lost (one who did not embrace Christ as Savior and Lord) turns to the Lord and embraces the salvation offered and desires to follow the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit that person becomes one of the “found”. God is not just glad . . . we are told that all of heaven celebrates. I picture the kind of a celebration that a city might give to a winning sports team. Tens of thousands of angels rejoice that one has come home. They rejoice that the enduring love of God has once again proved to be effective and sufficient to draw one of His creation to new and everlasting life.
Don’t miss the contrast between the grumbling and mumbling of the Pharisees and the celebration of the Angels. The response is directly tied to the way the people were viewed. To the Pharisees these people “of little value” gave them no reason to rejoice. In their mind nothing had been gained. To Jesus, however, there is reason for great rejoicing.
There is a question we ask of the text. What does Jesus mean when He said,
there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Why does Jesus rejoice more for the one than the ninety-nine? It’s possible He was saying that God rejoiced (not permanently) over the one who repented more than over the ones who had already repented in the past. It was a joy for the greatness of the moment. It would be like rejoicing with a child that has reached a goal. Your joy for that child at that moment is greater than your joy for your other children. That does not, however, mean that the other children are not valued or cherished. The joy is due to the circumstance.
However, I believe the more natural understanding is to understand Jesus to say that Heaven rejoices over the one “sinner” who repents rather than over the 99 others who don’t think they need to repent. It is a contrast between the people the Pharisees dismissed and the Pharisees themselves. The Pharisees did not feel they need to repent or turn from any sin. They could not see that their need for grace was just as significant as the need of the people Jesus spoke to.
The Pharisees, those who felt that had “earned” God’s favor, would not listen. Rather than be frustrated by the obstinate, Jesus focused on the open.
Let’s draw some applications. First, don’t miss the main point: If WE are diligent, tireless and single-minded in our search for what is lost . . . does it not make sense that God would at least have this same passion for people who are lost?
These parables (and the next parable) reveal the heart of God. It is a staggering thought: The God of the universe wants you and He wants me to return to the fold.
The most amazing part of this story is this: Since Jesus loved sinners and tax-collectors, it means He also feels this way about you and me! It is truth that God is righteous, He hates evil, and will judge sin. But God is not mean. He is not vindictive. God hates sin because of what it does to those He loves. It turns us away from Him. Sin destroys; God wants to build. Sin makes us think less of God; God wants us to see Him, honor Him, and enjoy Him for the great and wonderful God that He is.
Did you notice how the Shepherd brings the lamb back to the flock? He doesn’t put it on a leash and drag it back. He doesn’t beat it with a rod. He doesn’t put it in a sack and carry it back. The Shepherd places the lamb on his shoulders with the legs around his neck and the Lambs mouth near his ear. It is a picture of love not anger, joy not disgust.
Do you think it mattered to the Shepherd if the lamb was dirty? Do you think the woman was concerned that the dirty and lost coin was going to pollute all the others? No. And God’s love and desire to welcome you as His child is not affected by your past. In the eyes of Jesus, the sinners and tax-collectors were just people . . . people eager for a Savior. This may have brought disgust to the hearts and minds of the religious big-shots but it brought only joy to the Father.
There is a second application: Since God is lovingly searching for us we should stop running from Him. Since God has such a caring heart toward Him we should stop ignoring Him, avoiding Him, scorning Him, and resisting Him. There is this sense in the heart of many people that if they allow Christ to take over their lives then they are going to have to give up all the “good stuff”. The reality is that we can’t even receive the good stuff until we turn to Him! We think good stuff is
- Being able to party with friends
- Being able to Indulge in the whims of our desires
- Good stuff is found in a store
- Good stuff is status or advancement
- The Good stuff comes from the applause of the crowd
God’s view is different. He invites us to know the “good stuff” of His blessing
- Forgiveness and new life
- A Life that makes a difference in the lives of those around you
- The supernatural strength, perspective, and intimacy that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit
- The incredible joy of contentment and generosity
- Joyful unity and deep intimacy with those who likewise have surrendered to His Lordship.
- Hope and confidence in the midst of hardship
- The Joyful exuberance of Heaven
- The well done of a Loving Father
- Eternal Life and eternal fellowship with the Lord of Life
Is it possible that you sit here today as one who is trying to hide from God in plain sight? Are you one who is so wrapped up in your own life that you don’t even notice the One who has been searching for you since you were born?
Sometimes people fall away. They fervently follow the Lord and then suddenly the Devil succeeds in turning them away. Often these people want to return, but they are afraid if they return, people will talk about them or they won’t be accepted, or some even feel God has written them off. This passage says God’s arms remain open to you.
This passage calls you to a choice. You can choose to be paralyzed by the fear of men or set free by the love of God. You can choose to continue to run from Him and keep making excuses, or you can choose to stop and let Him take you up into His arms so He can carry you home. Will you be found today?
Before that can happen, you need to recognize that you are lost. You need to embrace Jesus as your rescuer. Run to Him as your Shepherd and let Him lead you back to the place where you belong. Follow Him in confidence that He knows what He is doing and where He is leading.
Finally, since God loves those who are lost, we should love them also. We should passionately want to help lost people find their rescuer in Christ. If we have this attitude it will be reflected in
- The patience and kindness we extend to those who are different from (and maybe even offensive to) us.
- The time we make for others
- The direction of our conversations (pointing toward Christ)
- The heartfelt intercession we make in prayer
- The way we invest our resources (personally and as a church)
- The welcome we give to newcomers
- The careful consistency of the way we live our lives (we want people to see Christ in us.
- The way we look past the past failures of those who have found new life in Christ.
If we understand and embrace God’s heart we will battle the tendency to be self-absorbed. We will look at others not as a nuisance but as the Lord looks at them (and us)….we will see people who matter eternally to God. And as we labor to share the love of Christ with others we will on occasion be blessed to know one of the greatest joys life has to offer: the joy of seeing someone who had run from God turn and discover His greatness and His love. It is a great joy . . . one we get to share with the angels in Heaven.