I say to you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than over 99 righteous who don’t need to repent.
Jesus always tells some interesting stories, sheep, coins and parties. He’s there in ancient Judah with these greedy embezzlers, probably prostitutes and all sorts of obvious sinners coming to hear Him, His words of truth in love, repent and believe the good news (Ephesians 4:15; Mark 1:15). At the beginning of His ministry in Luke’s account He declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19). These sinners had come to hear the good news, hopefully not to reject it. However the religious elite, the ones who knew God’s Word and looked down on those who didn’t, they were different, they came not to hear but to grumble, ‘how can he associate with druggos, bikies, and even those thieving bank managers?’ Jesus always has good ears, He hears them and He responds.
There will be more joy in heaven over one of these rotten people repenting than all those who don’t need to repent. More joy at one of these lost sheep, at real risk of destruction, being found, picked up and taken home, more joy at this one salvation than over 99 who were already safe. Now sometimes it’s helpful for you to think about who you might’ve been all those years ago; a despised tax collector coming to hear Jesus, a grumbling Pharisee? A righteous sheep, or the lost, in Greek destroyed, coin? The sinner or the righteous? I’m sure that tax collector Zacchaeus knew which one he was. So who are you?
I’ll give a small hint from the Psalm for today, ‘all have turned away, all are corrupt, there is no one who does good, no not even one.’ (Psalm 14:3). You are a sinner, just like me, just like those tax collectors and just like those Pharisees who were too proud to notice. Too proud like the kings and people Jeremiah brought God’s Word to, refusing to accept their need for a saviour, their need to change and serve God alone. God promised destruction and they were lost. But what happened to the lost? It’s them Jesus came to save!
As Paul wrote, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), later in Luke, to seek and save the lost (19:10). The shepherd travels and finding the lost sheep, lifts it to His shoulders and brings it home in joy! The woman brings light, cleanses the house and seeks out the coin, finding again with joy! And in the parable after these the father welcomes his prodigal son with joy! Yes, you have sinned, you are afflicted by sinful corruption that all humans suffer from, but you have been lifted up, saved by Jesus. You were lost, dead in your transgressions and sin but God raised you up with Christ, yes baptised into His death and rising in Him with new life, Christ has cleansed you by the washing with water through the word, this is the truth (Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 6; Ephesians 5:26)!
Now saved and made holy by Christ, receiving the joy and peace that comes with this wonderful grace, who are we but the friends and neighbours of the shepherd and the woman in the parables, together with all the saints who have gone before, with the angels and all heaven rejoicing when the Father draws another sinner to salvation in His Son (John 6:44). Celebrating when any other is born into this new life in Jesus, rejoicing at all baptisms and with every new convert; it doesn’t matter their work, family, sickness, or sins; and also rejoicing when after you sin, after one of us sins against you, going your own way, after this when you repent, transform your mind, and reject deception and sin, when one of us returns to this new way of living in Jesus, confessing the truth of what we have done, and coming before God’s throne of grace we can rejoice as each of us receive His wonderful grace! To live again the joy of Christ’s forgiveness, He came to save you and all sinners; to thank God for His mercy, that we don’t receive the destruction we and the ancient Hebrews deserved; and to taste, even if just a moment, the wonderful victory that is ours in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.