Luke 15 is about things lost and found. Jesus begins by talking about a lost sheep, then turns to talking about a lost coin, and wraps up with the parable of the prodigal or lost son.
Something or someone is lost and then found and there is rejoicing in heaven and on earth.
But what prompted the telling of these parables?
Jesus was teaching and the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around to listen to him. Jesus had been in the homes of these people who were considered on the outer circles of society. He shared meals with these outcasts.
The problem was that he also shared meals with the Pharisees. In fact, he not only dined with them but admonished them about giving dinners to others of their own standing who would surely invite them back the next week or next month.
Jesus bridged the divide in Jewish society between those of acceptable standing and those outside that circle.
If you spent your life inside the circle, the last thing you wanted to do was to let other people in. There was status being on the inside. There was security being in the accepted group. There was some smugness and comfort knowing that you were acceptable before God, or at least in your own opinion, you were acceptable before God.
This was a scarcity mentality at work. There is only so much to go around and you had better be among those in good standing if you wanted to get your share.
Then came Jesus.
He played by the rules but he didn’t play by the rules.
He observed the law and the Sabbath, except when he was about his Father’s business and then he did the work of his Father on the Sabbath.
He was a rabbi—a teacher—yet he associated with people that a rabbi would not hang out with.
He dined with other religious leaders, but sought no status among them. In fact he counseled them about status and honor and seeking the best seat in the place.
The religious leaders didn’t want Jesus in their inner circle but they couldn’t keep him out. They might plot to kill him, but Jesus moved among whatever element of society that he needed to in order to do the work that his Father had sent him to do.
And so this 15th chapter of Luke begins with this dichotomy of a rabbi who was teaching sinners and eating with them as well as eating with and teaching those who would condemn him for associating with the first group.
In today’s world, if you venture outside of your group and your group calls you on it, you might just try to justify what you did. You might say:
They are not so bad.
Everybody goes slummin’ once in a while.
There are plenty of things that we might say to mitigate the fact that we were associating with the wrong group.
But Jesus does not defend the group of tax collectors and sinners to which he is speaking. He said, “I am here with a purpose.” But Jesus was also skilled in his manner of presentation. He knew when to confront directly and when to teach by parable.
So he tells a story that most of the people could understand. This was an agrarian society. Fields, crops, and livestock were a way of life. Remember when Joseph brought his family into Egypt, they were given hill country to be shepherds. When the people wanted a king, one of the earliest and best was a scrawny shepherd.
If you wanted to relate to a lot of people, you talked sheep. In today’s world it would be as natural as talking about the Sooners or the Cowboys. Most people who talk about them never played for them, but it is common ground for discussion.
People of this day and age knew what a shepherd was and did and did not do. So Jesus starts talking sheep.
He says put yourself in the shoes of a shepherd. That’s sort of like saying, put yourself in Mike Gundy’s shoes. It is like saying, if you were Bob Stoops.
Jesus says, suppose one of you has 100 sheep and 1 is missing. He put these people into the shoes of the shepherd.
Then he proposes this radical, but apparently acceptable course of action. Would you not leave the 99 in the wilderness to go and find the 1 that is missing?
This does not seem like good risk management. Who would put 99% of their assets at risk to recover 1%, really who does this?
Evidently, such a bold move was the norm for the shepherds of the day. And when the shepherd finds the sheep, he throws him onto his shoulders and carries him back to the flock, but the story does not end here.
There is proclamation and celebration with friends.
It’s like calling up your friends and family at 4:00 a.m. and saying, “It’s a boy!”
It’s on the order of jumping off the sofa and screaming, “Touchdown!” when OU sticks it to Notre Dame.
It as compelling as stopping everyone you see and announcing, “The tile in the women’s restroom is finished!”
The shepherd just doesn’t come back to the flock and say, “Well, were at a hundred.” No, there is rejoicing.
And Jesus seamlessly transitions to the rejoicing that takes place in heaven when a single sinner repents. It is evidently a much bigger event than people scoring high on the comply with the rules scale on a daily basis.
Have you ever lost you keys to your car or your house? You probably have a back up set somewhere, but things are just out of balance until you find those keys.
Have you ever lost your reading glasses? Isn’t it embarrassing when people are just giving you funny looks because you have them on your head? It doesn’t matter if they are near or on the top of your head, lost is lost.
The embarrassment of looking for something on the top of your head gives way to the celebration of finding your glasses.
We understand lost and found in the common things.
Jesus said, “Understand lost and found from my Father’s point of view.”
Surely there were some women in the group that had gathered to hear Jesus teach. They would likely have not been among the Pharisees. Being a religious leader was a man’s job in that time. Perhaps a few of the wives may have been around, but most likely any women present would have come from this group of outcasts—the sinners.
But Jesus makes sure that both target audiences have something that rings true with their experience. Guys talk football and lost sheep. Sure the girls can be involved in that discussion, but if you want to get a girl’s attention in that day and age, talk about the money she was entrusted to manage.
Read Proverbs 31 if you don’t think that women had monetary responsibilities. They did.
What would hit home with a woman managing a household who had 10 coins? How about discovering that one was missing? That might set off a little panic. That’s not a 1% loss. That’s a 10% loss.
That woman is going to look high and low until she finds the missing coin. How the coin went missing is a topic not explored. When a sheep goes missing, we think, “Stupid sheep.”
We can’t quite make the missing coin parallel the lost sheep in every way. The women did not gather around saying, “Stupid coin.”
But things would not be right until the lost coin was found. What happened next?
Long before the telephone and telegraph there was “Tell a woman.” The story of that lost coin being found is going around town faster Lance Armstrong fully pumped.
“Hey girl, you wouldn’t believe!”
“Did you hear she found the coin!”
Not only is the story circulating, but the excitement that goes with it is making the rounds as well.
Jesus has made a connection to another part of the group gathered and listening to him and says that there is some big time rejoicing going on in the presence of the angels in heaven when a single sinner repents.
Jesus is telling us, “Understand lost and found from my Father’s point of view.”
Ever wonder why we don’t just celebrate birthdays every 5 or 10 years. Logically, this is a sound course of action. Logistically, this would surely simplify things. Economically, it would save most families a lot of money.
But we are not content to do that. We celebrate the day of our birth and the birth of our kids every year. Likewise there is celebration with the redemption of every lost soul. There is excitement when those blinded by the prince of this age receive their eternal sight.
There is joy when those who are dead receive life. Jesus said when you believe in him you pass from death to life. That warrants a celebration.
Jesus is not hanging out with sinners to condone their lifestyles. He is there to bring them home. He is there to bring them into the ultimate inner circle—right relationship with God. He is there to bring sight to the blind. He is there to set captives free.
Jesus is not saying that sin is ok or that it doesn’t matter. He is saying that redemption and reconciliation is not just for the religious elite.
The teaching of the religious leaders of that day created division.
Jesus called all of God’s children.
The religious leaders of that day looked to disqualify people from their inner circle.
Jesus called all to righteousness.
The religious leaders of that day had a mindset of exclusion.
Jesus sought inclusion. Unlike the inner circle of the religious leaders, there is plenty of room for all to come. If only one repents, there will still be rejoicing in heaven.
If only one lost soul is reclaimed, there will be much joy.
If only one comes to redemption, there is still much joy.
If only one repents of evil and seeks the face of the Lord, many will rejoice.
Do we actually believe this?
Really, will angels in heaven rejoice when just one comes to salvation?
Is the redemption of one lost soul really worth celebration in the presence of God?
Why would I ask this?
Because it saddens me that I don’t see much joy among Christians these days. There is plenty of condemnation and calls to repent and warnings against ungodly living. These are the things that our faith is best known for these days.
Should Christians really be known for bringing condemnation and division to the world? That sounds more like the Pharisees than people of good news.
But should we not be better known as people of joy and celebration. We have responded to the grace of God that we know in Jesus Christ. That is a celebration.
But should we not be celebrating every person who comes out of death into life?
We are people of joy who live in the middle of a world of broken lives, marred marriages, and throw away kids. Our light and our joy are how people who do not know God will come to know God.
These people who struggle because they do not know God need to see joy and celebration in those that do know him, in those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
I am not suggesting that we put on rose colored glasses and see a world without trouble, trial, and tribulation. We look all around us and see plenty of people making terrible decisions. Sometimes they make the same terrible decisions again and again.
We see people shoot themselves in the foot again and again, but instead of learning from their mistakes; they admire their marksmanship and reload.
But when one, just one, comes out of this world of chaos and disharmony and death in the flesh; we must celebrate.
When just one person professes Jesus as Lord, we must shout Hallelujah until we rattle the ceiling tiles.
When just one person declares, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” we should shout it from the mountain top.
We should go out into this lost world and tell people, “You wouldn’t believe the party we are planning for you.”
Instead of bring condemnation to the doorsteps of those who are lost, we bring an invitation to celebrate a new birthday, a new person, a life born from above. We are inviting them to their own party.
It saddens me that we who carry good news look so sad half the time. We should celebrate not only the new life we have in Christ; we should ready ourselves for the celebrations to come as each sinner turns away from the ways of the world and embraces the way of God.
Are there hard times ahead? Without any prognosticating, I would suggest that there are some difficult times to come; however, too many Christians are reading only the hard times ahead parts of the Bible when we should be focused on the person by person victories that we get to be a part of.
We should be singing the chorus, “From victory unto victory.”
We should remember that we are the salt—the God seasoning—of the earth. If I had been consulted, I might have suggested the pepper of the planet. Perhaps we are blessed that I wasn’t around to make that recommendation. People should taste God through our lives, and part of that ‘taste’ is rejoicing with each soul that comes to salvation.
There is rejoicing in heaven with each lost soul that comes to the Lord. Should we do anything less here on earth? Should we not follow this heavenly example of rejoicing?
Let us be known as people of celebration, people who celebrate victory one person at a time.
We can look at the world and become depressed or we can look at that same lost world and see a target rich environment.
We live in a world with so many lost people waiting to be found. Let us focus on the ready availability of potential victories that come across our paths every day.
And when just one person repents and comes to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, let us celebrate each victory here on earth as it is done in heaven.
Let us rejoice and celebrate from victory unto victory!