Grace For The Journey
The very last verse of the previous chapter, chapter 14, the very last thing Jesus says is, “He who has ears to hear let him hear” (Luke 14:35). In chapter 15, we will be reading about a couple of parables. Jesus teaches about a lost sheep and a lost coin. Listen for how these two parables illustrate the wondrous love of God, especially toward those who would be considered social outcasts.
Most of us can share an experience of having been lost. I am pretty good at directions, but I can share a few instances where I have gotten lost after making a wrong turn in my car. There were times when I was younger, getting lost in a retail store. Did you ever this happen when you were small – you are looking at all these things on the rack at a toy store, just wandering down the aisles, and you turn to say something to your mom, and you say, “Hey, mom,” but the woman standing there was not your mother? It is not only embarrassing, but a little upsetting as you deal with feeling silly for calling this stranger your mother and the panic of not knowing where your mom is. That happened to me more than a time or two. It is never fun knowing your lost.
But you can also be lost and not know it. You can be lost and not know it. How many of you know the cartoon Popeye? There is an episode where Popeye is taking care of Olive Oil’s little baby – Sweet Pea. Olive Oil has gone shopping and Popeye is supposed to take care of Sweet Pea. The whole episode is how Sweet Pea crawls away when Popeye is not looking, and she crawls across a busy street, laughing as cars pass by, crawling into a construction site, with beams moving up and down, and the whole time Sweet Pea is just cooing and laughing and having a great time while Popeye is desperately chasing after her. Sweet Pea is having the time of her life: she is lost and does not even know it. You can be lost and not know it.
Jesus tells these parables here in Luke 15. There are actually three altogether: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, which we will look at next time.
These parables reveal the loving, ever-beating big heart of God toward repentant sinners.
Parables teach one main point. You can write this one main point across Luke 15 . . .
“God’s wondrous love –
His grace and mercy –
Toward repentant sinners.”
That is chapter 15:
God’s wondrous love
Towards repentant sinners.
Recalling the immediate context is helpful here. Remember twice in the previous chapter Jesus spoke about the “poor, the maimed, the lame, and blind” (Luke 14:12-14 and Luke 14:21-23). He said if you are going to throw a dinner party, invite people who cannot pay you back – the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. The kingdom of God is for people like this. He says again go out into the highways and hedges and compel these people to come in – outcasts like the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. God has a big heart that beats strongly for the outcast, for the sinner.
These verses do not really require much explanation. Jesus’ teachings are pretty simple and straight-forward. It is very important, however, that we understand why Jesus tells these three parables in Luke 15. The reason He tells them is not left to our speculation. Luke, the Gospel-writer, is very clear as to why Jesus tells these three parables. The reason is found in the first two verses.
Verses 1 and 2 tell us, “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Now look at verse 3, “So He spoke this parable to them.” Why did Jesus speak this parable to them? Because we are told in verse 2, “The Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ Jesus tells this parable about the lost sheep and then the following two parables about the lost coin and lost son because the Pharisees and scribes were complaining about the company Jesus was keeping. That is why Jesus tells these parables. That will be especially important for us to remember when we look at the prodigal son and how his older brother deals with the son’s returning home.
This is not the first time – nor will it be the last – where we read of the Pharisees and scribes’ disdain for Jesus’ hanging out with sinners. Back in Luke 5:29-32 the Bible says, “Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” As the “tax collectors” and “sinners” drew near to hear Jesus, to hang on His every word – they had “ears to hear” – as they are drawing near to Christ, these Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’” The word “complained” here is the idea of “murmuring.” Tax collectors were looked upon with scorn. Because they couldn’t be trusted, their testimony was inadmissible in the Jewish courts of law. Synagogues would not accept their money. And the “sinners” were those who were generally immoral people. But what is really cool is that these people were drawing near to Jesus.
We ought to really feel the hypocrisy in this. These Jewish leaders are supposed to be shining the light of God’s salvation to the Gentiles and to the nations, to the whole world, to everybody. Yet, there were some people they felt were not worthy of drawing near to Jesus. And they’re shocked that Jesus cares to give them the time of day!
Our initial reaction ought to be something like, “What is the deal with these guys?! Who do they think they are?!” Then after we have said that, then we pause and we look within, and we ask ourselves: “Have I ever looked down upon someone who comes into worship dressed shabbily, or someone who has a reputation that is not particularly glowing? What is my initial reaction to the unkempt woman standing at the intersection with a sign asking for help?” Are not these the very people God created in His image, people who need to hear of the love of God? Are you ever guilty of being a Pharisee in your thinking as you look at others?
Let’s look at these parables that Jesus teaches about. The first one is about a lost sheep in verses 4 to 7, “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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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!’ 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.’”
Most of us do not have a hundred sheep, much less one sheep so maybe that does not resonate with you the way it would if you lost your dog or your cat. But you get the point. If something you love is gone, you go after it. You seek it out. When you find that lost cat or dog man, you are happy! You hug it and cradle it, and bring it home. You tell all the folks you know that the dog that was missing has been found and you share the joy with others.
Jesus adds in verse 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?” In the ancient near East, the average home had a dirt floor and it was not always easy to see things on. Lighting an oil lamp and carefully sweeping the house makes sense. Verse 9 tells us, “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!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Maybe losing a silver coin doesn’t mean a lot to you, but if you lost your iPhone it would! You might not light a lamp and sweep the floor, but you would ransack the car and your bedroom and pull the cushions off the couch and reach down into the back and stick your hand down there and you would search until you found your iPhone. And when you have found it – and often you can find it just by calling it from another phone – you rejoice. You let others know you have found it so they can share in the joy.
Now why did Jesus tell these parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin? Because the Pharisees and scribes complained about His hanging out with the Riff Raff and Ne’er -do-wells. Remember that! We read here something about the love of Christ, and the love of God for repentant sinners. We read here something about God’s grace and mercy extended toward the outcasts. These people are lost, and they need to be found. God in His wondrous love comes seeking them out. God comes seeking out those who are lost that He may find them. I was once lost, but God – in the person of Jesus Christ – came seeking me out. John Newton was right when he wrote:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but not am found,
Was blind, but now I see!
I once was lost. I was like a sheep that strayed from the fold, but God came seeking me out and found me! I once was like a coin buried in the dirt, but God came seeking me out and found me! I once was lost, but now am found. In His wondrous love, God comes seeking us.
Let’s remember these three things. Number one . . .
In His Wondrous Love, God comes Seeking Us . . .
1) So We May Be Reconciled To Our Savior.
Apart from God’s wondrous love – a love that seeks us out, an active, seeking love – apart from God’s wondrous love that comes to us, we are lost and separated from Him. Apart from God’s wondrous love we are lost and undone.
The Bible tells us in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” Because of sin, we are separated from God and stand in need of reconciliation. We are like a sheep that has gone astray, that has wandered off. We are like a coin separated from our owner. We need to be found and brought back – reconciled – to God. In His wondrous love, God comes seeking us so we may be reconciled to Him.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God is reconciling us to Himself through Jesus Christ. So He comes to us. Jesus as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11) comes to the sheep, comes to us to reconcile us, to bring us back, to God. The picture we must have in our minds is that it is God who comes seeking us. It is God who leaves the glory of heaven and humbles Himself, coming down to us to save our souls.
This condescending work of God, His coming down to us, is pictured in the incarnation, God’s taking on flesh to live as the God-Man . . . 100% God that He may live a perfect life we could not live and we get credit for it . . . and 100% Man that He might die a death we deserved to die as just punishment for our sins – and we get the credit for that, too. Jesus Christ is our substitute. The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:24-25, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” If you have this idea of God as some aloof, divine being somewhere “up there” who does not really care about you, you need to think again. God does not sit smugly upon some throne, pitying your sinful condition, and shaking His head at your frequent failures. He – in His wondrous love – comes seeking you out to rescue you from your sin, to reconcile you to Himself. He comes down from the glories of heaven to make atonement for your transgressions (Philippians 2:5-11). He comes to you.
These words very beautifully sum this truth up . . .
When the Savior reached down for me
He had to reach way down for me
I was lost and undone without God or his Son
When he reached down his hand for me
In His wondrous love, God comes seeking us – so we may be reconciled to our Savior.
Secondly, in His wondrous love, God comes seeking us . . .
2) So We May Repent Of Our Sins.
Note that God’s wondrous love is extended not just to sinners, but to “repentant” sinners. In both parables – the lost sheep and the lost coin – –we read of joy in heaven over “one sinner who repents” (We see that phrase in Luke 15:7, Luke 15:10).” God rejoices when we repent.
Luke writes often of repentance in his two volume set of Luke and Acts. In the two books the verb “repentance” occurs 14 times. As a noun, the word “repentance” occurs 11 times. But what does it mean to repent? In the Old Testament it generally means to turn.” In the New Testament it generally means “to have a changed mind and heart.”
Taken together, repentance means
a changed heart and mind about
Our sin, our selves, and Savior, and
A turning to Him, trusting Him
As Lord of our lives.
We forsake our sin
And we follow our Lord.
We live for Him.
We cannot be saved from our sin, we cannot be reconciled to God, without repenting. Like the battlefield commander we read about last week, or like the builder we read about in our last study, we must “count the cost” of discipleship, thinking about what it really means to follow Christ, then repent of our sin, and turn to our Savior and Lord, living for Him.
Repentance is the natural consequence of the soul who realizes that God has come to seek him out. When we realize that – in His wondrous love – God comes seeking us to reconcile us to Himself, to save us from sin, then we will want to live for Him – we turn from our sin and we turn to our Savior.
When we admit that we are lost and undone – spiritually poor, lame, maimed and blind; outcasts! – and we realize that in His love God has come to us to rescue us like plucking smoldering embers from the fire of hell, when we realize this – we will repent. We will turn to Christ and receive Him as Lord of our lives. We will repent not just at the moment of salvation, but daily. Every time we sin, we confess our sin and turn to our Lord afresh and anew, returning to the loving arms of our Good Shepherd, who always welcomes us back because of His wondrous love.
In His wondrous love, God comes seeking us – so we may be reconciled to our Savior, so we may repent of our sins.
Thirdly, In His wondrous love, God comes seeking us . . .
3) So He May Rejoice In Our Salvation.
God is a God of joy. He loves to celebrate! God and all the heavenly host celebrate every time a lost person is found. You see that picture in verses 7 and 10. Verse 7, there is joy in heaven; verse 10, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when sinners repent. Here we see the love of God for your soul . . . He loves you so much that when He finds you, He throws a party. St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that, “The tears of the repentant form the wine of the angels.” God loves finding lost souls.
What wondrous love, that God comes seeking us in the Person of Christ. No wonder verse 1 says, “sinners drew near to Him.” They felt His love, they were drawn by the love of God. This God loves sinners and outcasts, people like you and me. The Pharisees murmured in verse 2 that Christ “receives sinners.” Aren’t you glad He receives them still?
If you have ever mourned your sins, and felt like the bottom of the barrel, remember that Christ still receives sinful people. He loves the outcast, the spiritually poor, maimed, lame, and blind. Not a one of us deserves that kind of love. The Bible says in Romans 3:10-11, “There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understands or seeks after God.” We do not seek Him naturally. We are sinners naturally. The Bible says in Ephesians 3:1-3 that we are naturally dead in our trespasses and sins. We are spiritually dead. We need someone to come to us and give us life. We need a loving, soul-seeking God. We need a Good Shepherd who comes after lost sheep. And that i’s what God does for us in the Person of Christ.
One scholar said these parables were revolutionary because while the rabbis agreed that God would welcome a repentant sinner, the idea that God seeks sinners was a new insight. God seeks sinners. He loves us first. Remember what the Bible says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” God loves us first. We do not simply wake up one day and decide to be a Christian. We do not just weigh the evidence and then say, “Well, I guess I will follow Christ.” IF we come to Christ at all, it is because He has first come to us. He makes the first move. He sets His affection upon us. He loves first.
Some have trouble with the doctrine of election taught in the Bible – God’s choosing some to salvation while passing over others. We look at the verses in the Bible that teach this doctrine and collectively scratch our heads and wonder aloud about how to reconcile it all. But whatever else we may think about this doctrine, one thing is crystal clear: God always makes the first move. He loves us first. And that teaching – a teaching which is illustrated in the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin – that teaching is also illustrated in this beautiful hymn:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.
Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea;
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As thou, dear Lord, on me.
I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee;
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
Always thou lovedst me.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”