The Text: Luke 15:1-10
Few experiences in life arouse stronger feelings or stir us to action more quickly than when someone or something is lost. Hundreds of people will turn up to help look for a lost child. We can more easily identify with the woman who’s lost her valuable coin than the shepherd in this morning’s Gospel reading. What teenager hasn’t ransacked her or his clothing and bedroom until a lost $20 note is found, followed by a joyful shout, ”Mum, I’ve found it!” Luke 15 with its further parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the best loved chapters of the Bible. It’s considered the greatest chapter in St. Luke’s Gospel, since the Christmas story in chapter two.
Sadness hovers over a family where there’s a member missing. But what joy there is when the missing one returns home! The background to today’s two parables of good news is the eager welcome our Lord gives to despised tax collectors and other outcasts, an action which is strongly criticised by Jesus’ constant critics, the Pharisees. They’re complaining that Jesus invites tax collectors to have meals with Him even before they may have repented. Now if Jesus had announced that tax collectors would be welcome at His table after they’d renounced their evil ways and ‘cleaned up their act’, Jesus’ action would hardly have caused a ripple. But Jesus couldn’t wait for that to happen. He wanted them within His transforming presence as soon as possible. No wonder such folk flocked to Jesus. His critics, on the other hand, thought the worst charge they could level against Jesus was that “He’s the Friend of sinners!!” Jesus turned this criticism into a compliment. That’s why He’s come to our world – to be the Friend of all of us sinners.
So now, to defend His conduct in spending so much time seeking out God’s lost sons and daughters and then making them feel so welcome, our Lord now tells us two parables about searching for what has been so treasured and now becomes lost. Jesus went out of His way to spend the most time possible with those who needed Him the most, regardless of what it might do to His reputation. The new emphasis Jesus brings, as opposed to what the Jewish religious leaders had taught, is this – God actively goes in search for the lost and doesn’t want them to first “clean up their act”. Jesus is saying that because God is like this, seeking us unconditionally, I speak and act as I do. Jesus said that He was sent to seek God’s lost sheep because God misses them so much and treasures them so deeply.
Jesus assumes that His critics, when they lose a valuable animal, will act like the shepherd in today’s first parable. “Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine and go after the one that is lost?” The loss of even one sheep back in those days would have been a great blow to a shepherd struggling to make ends meet. A sheep which had wandered away from the care of its shepherd would be in danger of losing its life. The safety of the ninety nine sheep is no substitute for the loss of one. That’s why this good shepherd, who is a symbol of Christ our Good Shepherd, spares no effort in seeking its recovery.
Our society, our world places a big emphasis on statistics and numbers, which would suggest that we focus on the big numbers instead of only one. Not so with Jesus! Each single person matters more than they could imagine to their Lord and Saviour. Each of you matters immeasurably to your Good Shepherd, who made the ultimate sacrifice of His very life in order to rescue you. That’s how precious and invaluable you are to Jesus. No one else can take your place in Christ’s mission in this church and community. No one else can replace the unique contribution you alone can make to advance Christ’s cause. You’re more than “just another”.
Have you noticed how much more blessed our worship here is when every member attends? Jesus needs your contribution, according to the gifts and talents He’s given you. His work is too important to not give it your all; your contribution can make such a difference to the life of His Church. The Lord’s work cannot be left to a few keen folk. Your presence and participation is an encouragement to everyone else.
A large part of Jesus’ ministry was with individuals on a one to one basis. He spent time with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman by the well, the man born blind, and with Martha at her brother Lazarus’s death. Jesus treasures you more than you feel you could ever deserve. We need to remember that the people we’re tempted to criticize are cherished immensely by our dear Lord.
Helmut Thielicke once wrote, “Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy upon His shoulders, though Corinth and Ephesus and Athens, whole continents, with all their desperate need, were dreadfully near to His heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle and slums, seen only by the Son of God – though this immeasurable misery and wretchedness cried aloud for a physician, He has time to stop and talk to the individual. He associates with publicans, lonely widows, and despised prostitutes; He moves among the outcasts of society, wrestling for the soul of individuals. He appears not to be bothered at all by the fact that these are not strategically important people, that they have no prominence, that they are not key figures, but only the unfortunate, lost children of the Father in Heaven. He seems to ignore with a sovereign indifference the great so-called “world-historical perspectives” of His mission, when it comes to one insignificant, blind, and smelly beggar, this Mr Nobody, who is nevertheless so dear to the heart of God and must be saved. Because Jesus knows that He must serve His neighbour (literally, those nearest here and now) He can confidently leave to His Father the things farthest away, the great perspectives.”
A farmer was walking down a lane carrying a half grown sheep. “How do they get lost?” he was asked. “They just nibble themselves lost”, he replied. “They just keep their heads down and just wander from one green patch to another. Sometimes they come to a hole in the fence, but they never find the hole to get back in again.” What a lost sheep cannot do for itself, someone else must do for it. It needs a caring shepherd to rescue it.
Now when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, he doesn’t reproach it for causing him so much trouble. Nor does he complain about having to carry it on his shoulders back to his sheepfold. Without his shouldering of this eagerly-sought burden, there can be no joyous restoration to its flock. The joy of finding his treasured possession overshadows everything else. That’s why he urges his friends and neighbours to celebrate with him his glad discovery. Joy has to be shared. It’s too good to keep to oneself. Jesus asks His critics: “Is it wrong for Me to spend so much time and effort over one lost soul as you do for one lost sheep?”
This parable is an invitation to them and to us to repent. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance (v7).” What better reason can there be to apologise to God for all the times we’ve hurt Him and disobeyed Him? One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was, “Always say ‘sorry’ more than you think you need to.” We can repent with joy because of the joy our repentance creates in heaven. Repentance need not be gloomy or morbid. Rather, because of the joyous reaction in heaven to our confession of sin, we repent as often as we can, as soon as we can, because our Heavenly Father is eager to welcome us back home again and embrace us with His unconditional love.
At the same time, God’s grief over those who see no need to repent and return to His House is like the grief of the woman who has lost one of her ten coins. This would have amounted to the loss of a tenth of her savings. No wonder she passionately searches for her lost property! As long as the coin is lost, it is of no value to anyone. No wonder she doesn’t stop searching until it’s found. And when it’s found, she invites her girlfriends and neighbours to a joy-filled celebration of thankfulness. She possibly even spends more on the celebration than the coin is worth!
In the same vein, Jesus shares with us the angels’ keen interest in our salvation. The angels can’t wait to joyously celebrate our eager repentance to our forgiving God. Today’s Gospel about Jesus eating with sinners is good news for all of us. His precious Supper is His Feast of forgiveness for us. He invites all of us who need Him so much and who are aware of their unworthiness to receive that life-giving gift. God’s Word says, “Do you not realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)?” You can repent with joy because heaven rejoices when you do.
Look around you and rejoice at all those who have responded to the Gospel, and thank God for them all. Jesus wants you to have His permanent joy in you. Finally, thank God for the good news of great joy in today’s sermon text, news that’s a joy to share with others. Take up Jesus’ invitation to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).”