Joy Over Lost Ones

Posted: July 16, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 15:1-10, “Joy Over Lost Ones”

Everyone wants to go to heaven, but not everyone is thrilled with who else will be there.  It’s often been observed that those who do go to heaven will likely be surprised to see some folks there…and they will be just as surprised to see us!

Is there anyone you believe is impossible to be saved?  Is there anyone you don’t want to be saved?  If we are honest, many of us can probably think of a few people with whom we are less than thrilled will be sharing eternity with us.

That’s the way the Pharisees were.  They believed (wrongly) without question that they were going to be in the kingdom of God, and they were going to be a pretty exclusive group.  Some people were so lost that the Pharisees could not (or were unwilling to) imagine them there.  Thankfully, God doesn’t think like Pharisees…neither the Pharisees of ancient Judea, nor the Pharisees of today.  There is no one so lost that cannot be found by God, and God rejoices over them when they are found!

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables to illustrate this concept: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (which is commonly called the Prodigal Son).  In many respects, the ideas behind the parables are identical, even though the details vary.  The first two set the scene, and prepare the way for the third.  The first two also have a focus upon the joy of the finder, whereas the third adds an additional component of the complainers. 

God rejoices over lost ones!  Not because they are lost, but because they were lost.  It is they who have the privilege of experiencing the amazing grace of God, just as John Newton famously wrote: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me / I once was lost, but now am found / was blind, but now I see.”  If anyone knew what it was to be lost, it was Newton.  John Newton was a sailor and slave-trader who had trouble getting along with people, and was eventually himself sold into slavery.  He was eventually freed, and in 1748, had a spiritual awakening.  It wasn’t until 1754 that he left slave-trading, and ended up becoming a strong force for the Abolitionist cause. Looking back, Newton did not consider himself a full Christian believer during the time he still worked as a slave-trader, but certainly did afterwards.  Newton had been completely lost, blinded by his culture and his own wickedness.  That is who Newton was, but that is not how he is remembered, for that is not what he became.  This most wicked of men was found and gloriously saved by God, and God used him to minister to countless numbers of Christians over the past 250 years.  Heaven rejoiced over the salvation of Newton, because someone who was lost, was found.

God rejoices over lost ones.  He rejoices over you

Luke 15:1–10

  • The Pharisee’s complaint (1-2)

1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.

  • This may seem like minor details, but this is actually crucial for what’s to come.  Leading up to this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus had been among the religious elite.  It may not have been the best of circumstances (considering that it was a setup from one of the rulers of the Pharisees), but it was still among the scholars and lawyers – the Pharisees and the scribes.  It was them that Jesus warned were not included among those answering God’s invitation to the kingdom, no matter what they might have believed about their automatic entry.  Next, Jesus had been seen among the multitudes, preaching the need for them to count the cost of discipleship.  Many of the Jews hanging around Jesus would not be able to be His disciple because they were not willing to surrender everything else for His sake.  So if the kingdom would not include the religious elite…if the Jewish multitudes weren’t among Jesus’ disciples…who is left?  The cast offs: “the tax collectors and the sinners.”  The ones that the Pharisees deemed not only unworthy of the kingdom, but absolutely deserving of judgment.  Those were the ones drawing near to Jesus now.  They were coming “to hear Him.
  • Every testimony is unique, but ultimately every testimony is the same.  At some point, we all draw near to Jesus to hear Him.  Every Christian started out as a non-Christian (even if he/she was born into a Christian home), and at some point along the way, our interest in Jesus was piqued, and we gave Him special attention.  And guess what?  Not a single one of us deserved to hear Him.  We may not have included ourselves among the tax collectors & sinners, but that’s who we were.  Even the most “innocent” among us is still guilty of treasonous sin against God.  How many lies does it take to become a liar?  How much anger or how many lustful thoughts do we need to admit a lack of self-control?  How much pride?  Any sin is rebellion against God, and our lives have been full of it.  None of us is worthy to hear Jesus, as there is “none righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10)  Yet we still have the opportunity to draw near to Him & to hear Him.  In fact, that’s what He invites us to do.  He invites the unworthy ones, the cast-offs, the unexpected to hear Him & to be found by Him.
    • This might include some of you here today.  Be listening for the voice of Jesus – the call of the Holy Spirit to your heart.  Hear what He says to you, and then respond.

2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

  • The tax collectors & sinners came, and how did the Pharisees & scribes respond?  They “grumbled / complained.”  The word used by Luke refers to murmuring & whispering.  Most likely, this wasn’t out in the open with the Pharisees confronting Jesus.  The picture is more that of complainers hanging out in the background, talking to one another with disapproval as to what they saw.  Not that their disdain wouldn’t have been obvious – people whose hearts are filled with hatred have difficulty concealing it, and they usually don’t care whether or not they hide it anyway.
  • What was the problem?  Jesus welcomed people they didn’t want welcomed.  For the Pharisees, the message of God’s kingdom was for worthy people, deserving people…people like them. (Or so they thought!)  People who were outright sinners didn’t deserve to hear the message of the kingdom; all they needed to hear was judgment & damnation.  More than that, people like that needed to be pushed aside & punished by general society, in addition to the punishment they would receive from God.  Certainly, they shouldn’t be welcomed & received by rabbis or other supposedly-respectful people in society.  Jesus was breaking all of their rules!  “This Man” welcomed the traitorous tax collectors, and everyone else publicly known as sinners.  This Jesus went so far as to share meals with them, even after He got done dining with the leaders of the Pharisees.  How dare He! … Thankfully, that is exactly what Jesus does!  If Jesus never received sinners, none of us would be saved!  If He received people like us, then who else should be denied?  No one. 
  • The reaction of the Pharisees seems a bit ridiculous to us at first, but people still struggle with this idea today.  What does it mean for Jesus to welcome sinners & spend time with them?  Did He not care about their sin, or did He join them in the midst of their sin?  Don’t those lost in sin need to hear about judgment, rather than a promise of heaven?  We need to be careful not to let the prejudices of the Pharisees force us into an either/or position.
    • Yes, those in sin need to hear the law of God.  The last thing they need is a false promise of a salvation they have not yet received, and the law is the very tool that God uses to bring us to the feet of Jesus. It is our tutor/schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. (Gal 3:24-25)  Even so, that does not mean there is no place to share the love and grace of God.  After all, it is the goodness of God that draws us to repentance. (Rom 2:4)  The law awakens us to our need, and God’s goodness reveals to us the cure.  Jesus never once abandoned this principle; He just used it in a way that the Pharisees didn’t expect.  It was the Pharisees who were the proud & hard-hearted sinners, and Jesus consistently used the law to show them their need for salvation.  As to the publicly-known sinners, these were people who already knew their sad condition, thus they were given the gospel.
    • No, Jesus never approved of, nor engaged in the sin of those He welcomed.  Just because He received tax collectors doesn’t mean He collected taxes.  Just because He received adulterers doesn’t mean He gave permission to commit adultery.  People sometimes get the idea that because Jesus ate with sinners, that He just hung out with them, not caring about their sin while He just had common conversation with them.  Thus, we can go to the bar & get drunk with everyone else, because Jesus hung out with sinners, so we should too.  Right?  Wrong.  Jesus consistently called people out of their sin.  When He called Matthew to be a disciple, He didn’t tell Matthew to keep engaging in his tax collecting along the way.  When Jesus dined at Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus didn’t approve of Zacchaeus’ past sins, and Zacchaeus was so impacted by Jesus’ presence that he gave it all up immediately.  If we are to welcome sinners as Jesus did, it means we need to be ready & willing to be among them, but unwilling to be like them.  You cannot win people to Christ whom you’ve never met; Christians absolutely must engage unbelievers in real, authentic relationships.  At the same time, we cannot (and dare not!) compromise our own actions in the process.
  • The Pharisees may have grumbled amongst themselves, but Jesus knew exactly what was in their hearts, and He responded appropriately.  Vs. 3…
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep (3-7)

3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

  • As we’ve done at other times in the gospel of Luke, it needs to be emphasized this is a parable; not a straightforward teaching, nor an allegory.  Jesus does not relate a historical event, nor does He provide so much symbolism that parallels need to be found for every single aspect.  It is a parable, which means we are to look for a primary point…and Jesus is going to be make it obvious.
  • If the parable sounds familiar, it’s because the same parable is taught in Matthew, though a different context.  Matthew 18:12–14, "(12) “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? (13) And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. (14) Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."  At that time, Jesus taught this to His disciples, in regards to the need for their own humility, and their need to be like little children in their faith. (Mt 18:3-4)  God has His eyes on the humble, caring for them deeply.  He wants them to be saved.  In Luke, the audience isn’t the group of disciples struggling with pride and humility in the midst of their faith; it is the group of Pharisees struggling with pride outside of faith.  They had pride and hardheartedness towards other people coming to faith.  The Pharisees already saw themselves as “saved;” but they believed they were the only ones.  Jesus tells them otherwise.  He tells them of a shepherd who sought out others.  He tells of a shepherd willing to leave 99 behind, all for the sake of finding one that strayed.
  • Question: Is the shepherd irresponsible with the 99?  Not at all.  Again, this is a parable, told to make a singular point, specifically in response to the complaints of the Pharisees and scribes.  They weren’t concerned about the salvation of tax collectors; they were concerned that Jesus was receiving tax collectors.  They didn’t want tax collectors & other sinners to be saved; they believed those people deserved the judgment they were to receive.  What they missed was their own hypocrisy.  All of us deserve the judgment that we would receive without salvation!  Not a single one of us deserves the grace of God, or to be included in the heavenly kingdom.  If we treasure it so much for ourselves, that’s not something we can hold back from others.
    • This gets to the heart of evangelism.  We, as born-again Christians, have been entrusted with the wonderfully good news of Jesus.  We have the news of how (literally) anyone can be saved & transformed for all eternity.  This is truth to which we cling; but it’s not truth that is to be horded & hidden away.  No one loses his/her salvation by sharing it; we only experience more joy when we do!  How can we hold it back?  How can we not share the good news of Jesus with others?  To do so is to engage in the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: wanting the best for us, desiring nothing for others.  Share the news!  Tell your testimony – demonstrate the love of Jesus – invite people to church – hand out a gospel tract.  Do something (anything!) to let people know of the Jesus who seeks them and offers to save them.  You might be the only Christian they encounter all day, all week, or even all their lives.
  • Notice the love of this shepherd.  This is a shepherd concerned about all of his sheep.  He knows each one, and is immediately concerned when one is missing.  He himself goes off, being willing to personally endure hardship to ensure that his lost sheep is safely found.
    • This is the gospel!  Jesus personally left the glories of heaven to seek out sinners and to save them.  He personally endured hardships on our behalf.  Did He have to leave?  No.  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have been perfectly content on their own without any of us.  But God wanted us.  He wants humanity reconciled with us, so the Father sent Jesus to seek us out, and He seeks us out individually.  Jesus died for all humanity at the cross, but we aren’t saved corporately.  Jesus died for all, but all are not automatically saved.  Individually, one by one, we come to faith in Jesus.  Each of us at some point has been the “one sheep” that was lost, and Jesus came to find us and bring us home.
    • This might be you.  Today might be your day that you hear the voice of Jesus calling you, searching you out.  When the Shepherd calls, you need to respond.  You have no idea how long you will hear His voice, or if you will hear it again.  When Jesus comes to seek you, be willing to be found by Him!
  • What happens when he finds it?  Joy!  Vs. 5…

5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

  • The key word: “rejoice/rejoicing.”  There is joy when the sheep which was lost is found.  The shepherd was happy that he found his lost sheep, and he was so overjoyed by it that he had to share it with his friends.  Grammatically speaking, there’s nothing special about the word used for “rejoicing;” it is the typical word found throughout the Scriptures.  Theologically speaking, it is profound.  God rejoices over lost ones who are found – which is exactly what Jesus is leading up to in the parable.
  • BTW – notice what the shepherd does with the sheep: “he lays it on his shoulders.”  Typical action for a shepherd with a lost/injured sheep.  Although it’s not the main point of the parable, this is exactly what Jesus does with us: He carries us.  When people are saved, we are saved by grace through faith, with our own works contributing nothing. (Eph 2:8-9)  Thus when we say we “come to faith” in Jesus, our language breaks down a bit because we aren’t doing anything; we’re passively responding to the work of Jesus for us.  He does the work – He carries us by His grace.  In responding to Jesus, we simply do not struggle against the work He does.  If He didn’t carry us, we wouldn’t go anywhere.  Our faith is merely our reliance upon Him to carry us in the first place.
    • FYI – Regarding the oft-told illustration of a shepherd breaking the leg of a sheep that wanders, then carrying it on his shoulders while the leg heals…it’s a myth.  It might make for a nice sermon illustration, but there’s no basis for it in practice or history.  In the parable, the shepherd carries the sheep back to the rest of the flock, bringing it home…nowhere is it mentioned that the leg is broken.  Even Psalm 23 says nothing about broken legs; just the disciplinary staff of the Lord our Shepherd.
  • Again, the main point is that of joy…and the fictional joy expressed in the parable is literal joy expressed in heaven.  Vs. 7…

7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

  • Heaven rejoices over repentant sinners!  There is joy among the heavenly beings when people respond to Jesus in faith.  Heaven rejoiced over you!  Think of it: as a born-again Christian, the very moment you put your faith in Christ, heaven threw a party.  That’s not said to put the focus on you, but upon the grace of God.  After all, how amazing is God’s grace if He could rejoice over someone like me?  This rotten, no-good sinner – this depraved person – even someone like me (and like you) was extended the grace of God.  God sought us out, and we were found.  That’s a reason for rejoicing! 
  • Reminder: what is repentance?  Repentance is a turning – it is a change of mind and direction.  We so much change the way we think about something, that our actions follow as a result. It’s not being sorry; it’s more.  It is contrition combined with change.  People can say they are sorry about their sin all day long, but if they’ve done nothing to change, then how sorry are they?  Think of it in terms of disease.  Someone can say, “I’m sorry about smoking – it’s hurting me & making me ill.”  But if they never take any steps to change, how sorry are they?  Obviously their thinking hasn’t really changed – deep down, they still believe they can do it without consequence. (Not to pick on smoking.  The same analogy could be used with drinking, poor nutrition, or any other habitual action.)  Real repentance involves a change. To the context here, a person changes by turning to Jesus in faith.  A person turns away from sin, and turns to Christ.  Someone hears the call of the shepherd, and responds.  They turn away from self-reliance, and turn to dependence upon Jesus.  They turn away from themselves, and turn to Jesus as Savior.  They repent.
  • In the parable, nothing was said about the repentance of the sheep.  Why?  It wouldn’t make sense.  Literal sheep have no reason to repent.  Again, this is part of the reason we need to interpret it within the proper literary context of a parable.  The parable teaches two main points: (1) lost things are searched out, (2) there is joy in finding that which was lost.  A lost sheep is found by a seeking shepherd, and the shepherd rejoices.  Lost sinners are found by a seeking Savior, and He rejoices when they are found.  But how are they found?  Though repentance.
  • Repentance is crucial to salvation!  Without repentance and faith in Jesus, no one will see the kingdom of God.  But not everyone believes they need to repent. They believe in their own self-righteousness, that they’ve done enough good works in themselves for inclusion in the kingdom of God. That was the problem of the Pharisees, and what Jesus referred to as the parable ended: “ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”  Obviously, no one is just/righteous on their own.  Again, none are righteous apart from the grace of God (no, not one – Rom 3:10).  But some people believe that they are.  In comparison with others, they aren’t so bad…they’re downright saints!  They’ve never committed a felony, they gave money to charity, they helped people when they could – they’ve been truly good people, so if anyone deserves to go to heaven, they do.  But that’s the problem: no one deserves to go to heaven.  What we deserve is hell.  Even the best among us have still sinned against God at some point.  If nothing else, the person who claims to have never sinned has committed the sin of pride…and pride leads to a host of other problems.  The people who don’t believe they need to be saved, won’t be.  And this is why heaven rejoices over the sinners who repent, rather than the 99 who don’t.  Those 99 are 99 people who need to repent, but never see the need.  Those 99 are doomed.  No matter how they lived their lives, if they lived it without turning to Jesus, they will suffer eternity without Him.

That was parable #1.  The 2nd parable changes the characters & objects, but the action is absolutely identical.  Jesus had a point to make, and it was so important to Him that it was worth repeating.

  • The Parable of the Lost Coin (8-10)

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

  • The setting changes from that of a shepherd to a woman, which was not in itself unusual, but we want to be careful not to miss the description, or we’ll miss the picture painted by Jesus.  The “ten silver coins” refer to the drachma, each coin worth only 18-19 cents, but those 18-19 cents had far more purchasing power in that culture & economy!  According to one dictionary, it was the price of a sheep, or 1/5 the price of an ox. (BDAG)  This woman had ten of this silver coins, and yet she apparently lived very modestly in a one-room house that could be completely swept in her search.  Thus, this money was likely all the woman had – it was her whole livelihood.
  • With that in mind, it’s no wonder she searched the way she did!  One coin was a lot of money, and she was going to search out every nook & cranny to find it.   If an object is valuable enough to you, you’re going to do whatever you can to seek it out.  You aren’t guaranteed to find it, but you’re going to ensure that you tried your hardest.
  • That’s how Jesus describes this woman regarding her coin, and that’s what Jesus says about God regarding us.  He does what it takes to seek us out.  He went to extreme extents.  How else would you describe the incarnation and the cross?  John writes that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:14)  Isaiah wrote that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquity. (Isa 53:5)  Paul wrote of both aspects, that Jesus: Philippians 2:7–8, "(7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."  This is the very definition of extreme!  What can top the Infinite God leaving heaven in order to serve – than the Creator making Himself as one of His creations – than the Author of life allowing Himself to experience death?  Jesus held nothing back in His quest for you & me!  He could have done nothing more in His search than what He has already done.

9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’

  • As with the earlier parable, there is joy upon recovering what was once lost.  How much joy?  Enough for this woman to throw a block party!  She called together everyone she knew, in order that they could share in her joy of finding what was lost.
  • Christian musician Andrew Peterson wrote a song loosely based on this parable, written from the perspective of a modern-day penny.  Some of the nuances of the parable are missed, but Peterson truly captures the joy: “But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch / By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change. / Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town / Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved. / And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine / Like all the gold a king and queen could measure / You see even a penny is a treasure.” (“Loose Change,” Clear to Venus, 2001) 
  • Question: Why did the woman rejoice over the found silver coin?  She valued it.  Why does God rejoice over us?  He values us.  You matter to God.  Yes, even people like you & me matter to Jesus.  This is one of the things that makes His grace so amazing!

10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

  • Once again, Jesus makes the parallel to heaven.  Just as the shepherd rejoiced with his friends & neighbors, and the woman rejoiced with her friends & neighbors, so does God rejoice with others besides Himself.  His joy is shared by the heavenly “angels.”  Why do the angels rejoice?  Because this is an aspect of God’s character of which they can never share.  Salvation is foreign to them, as the work of Jesus does not appear to be extended to them. Jesus came as an incarnate human when He went to the cross, thus He died as a substitute for humans; not angels.  The angels who fell with Satan seem to be fallen for all eternity, and hell was specifically created for them. (Mt 25:41) Thus, salvation is something that the angels cannot know.  They either belong to God, or they don’t.  This is why they angels that do serve God rejoice when humans are saved.  We experience an aspect of God they can never truly know: redemption.
  • How many repentant sinners does it take for the angels to throw a party?  Just one.  Each individual person who puts his/her faith in Christ is a person over whom the angels rejoice.  Better yet, it’s a person over whom God rejoices! 
    • It may seem strange to have so much focus on our value to God, and His joy over us, yet these are the words of Jesus.  Sometimes we get the idea that because our culture focuses far too much on self-esteem, that the proper view of ourselves is self-hatred.  That’s not the case, and isn’t what the Bible teaches at all.  Are we sinners?  Yes – but Christians are sinners saved by grace.  We are sinners beloved by God.  We are sinners who are so valued by God that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us at the cross.  We matter to Him.  That’s not something for us to get a big head about, but it does mean that God has a purpose for us as His people.  You mattered enough for God to save you; you matter enough for God to use you.
    • Rant alert, re: the “one” sinner.  Sometimes this is used to justify massive financial expense in evangelism.  “If only one person repents, it was worth it!”  Praise God for the one repentant sinner, but was there a better way to reach that one person?  Perhaps for the same amount of money, there could have been 3-4, or even 10-12.  Granted, it may take a bit more hands-on work, with a much smaller profile “event,” but wouldn’t the same reasoning be applicable?  Those who repent are worth it.  We need to stop using this as an excuse to throw the biggest events, and start using it as it was intended: as motivation to go reach the lost with the gospel.
    • The bottom line: Almighty God, along with all heaven rejoices over sinners who are found.  God’s great desire for us is to repent, and place our faith in Jesus.  Will we do it?  You can make heaven smile today.  Repent & believe!
  • That brings us back around to the initial setting that provided the impetus for Jesus to teach these parables.  The Pharisees and scribes were not rejoicing in the many people who were turning from their ways to hear from Jesus & potentially put their faith in Him to be saved.  If the angels rejoiced, why wouldn’t they?  What stops them from rejoicing?  Pride…  Legalism… Lack of love…  Lack of faith/worship/knowledge of God… Those who truly know God rejoice when others get to know God.  That’s simply the natural response.
    • Do you rejoice when people believe?  Do you rejoice when sinners repent?  If not, you’d do well to ask yourself why.  Is it prejudice against certain people?  Is it a lack of love in general?  Perhaps it’s an indication that you need to examine your own faith.  Perhaps you’re the one who needs to repent.  Repentant people rejoice over repentant people.  Christians rejoice over other people becoming Christian.  They don’t have to look exactly like us, nor worship exactly the way we do.  But if they have truly put their faith & trust in Jesus as Lord, then we ought to rejoice.  We want our church to grow, but ultimately that matters nothing in comparison with God’s Kingdom.  We want the Church to grow; that’s something to rejoice over!

Conclusion:
God rejoices over lost ones who repent.  He has sought you out, found you, and carried you back to Himself.  He, along with all His angels, rejoiced the moment you were saved.  He did whatever was necessary to bring you to faith, and you responded through repentance.  Praise God!  If that’s you, be sure you join the rejoicing. Help others experience that same joy.

If that’s not you, then join the repentant!  God is seeking you, and has called you.  He offers to freely save you, but He isn’t going to make the decision for you.  You’re the one who needs to repent…so do it!

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