Rejoice With Jesus!
A sermon based on Luke 15:1-10
Sunday, September 19, 2010 – Pentecost 17C
A man is known by the company he keeps… Bad company corrupts good character… An old Rabbinic Law states, "Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law." One mother explained it to her son in this way; she said, "You don't work in the garden wearing white gloves – the gloves will get dirty; the dirt won't get glovey."
Often times we are recognized by the company we keep. Hang out with hooligans and people will think you're a hooligan. So, naturally Jesus' opponents thought little of him. He was always hanging out with the worst crowd. Wherever he went tax collectors and obvious sinners crowded around him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law thought of Jesus, "He must be of pretty poor character to be such close friends with such sinful scum." His opponents gave him the title, "Friend of Sinners."
But while they intended it as an insult, Jesus took it as a compliment. Jesus knew what his enemies refused to believe, that he had "come to seek and to save that which was lost" (cf. Luke 19:10). Jesus does befriend sinners, even though he isn't one. And thank God that he does. Through him, the dirt does become "glovey." Jesus seeks out sinners to save them and all of heaven rejoices when he does.
This morning as we hear Jesus' words to these Pharisees, we are invited to rejoice with Jesus! We rejoice because in his love he has found and befriended us lost sinners. And we rejoice because he finds and befriends others through us. Listen again to the grace of our Savior as he teaches us two parables in Luke 15:1-10…
15 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
I. In Love He Has Found You
Doesn't sound very complimentary to be called a sheep, does it? They're not exactly the greatest animals. The Greek word for sheep is literally, "forward moving things." Sheep aren't very intelligent. They wander off a few yards and quickly get lost. You can drop a dog off miles away from his home and somehow he can find his way back. But not with a sheep. I have a friend who's sense of direction is so poor that we used to tease, "If you took him into the driveway and spun him around three times, he couldn't find his way back to the house." Sheep are like that. There is nothing more helpless than a lost sheep… except a lost sinner…
The Pharisees and teachers of the law didn't think they were that bad. They didn't think they were lost, but knew where they were, where they were going, and how to get there. But the truth is, as uncomplimentary as it sounds, we are all like sheep. Isaiah writes that "we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned his own way." On our own, by our own fault, each of us has turned away from God and his plan for us. Each of us, in our own stupidity, has rebelled against him and has become completely lost. And we prove it by the apathy we show those who remain spiritually lost, caring only about ourselves.
And what's worse is that in our sinful nature, we hated God and neither wanted to find him, nor him to find us. But even if we did want to find our way back, we were completely lost in darkness and had no chance of finding our way. In our ignorant blindness, we kept wandering further and further away from him. It's true: There really is nothing more helpless than a lost sinner.
But, when we were so helpless, Jesus befriended us miserable sinners. He said in verse 4, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?"
Jesus once said, "I am the good shepherd." It was he who took the initiative. When we sheep wandered off, Jesus set off after us. Leaving 99 others behind, he went in search of the one. He could have said, "Uh oh, I lost a sheep… Oh well, I still have 99. What's one little sheep?" and left it on its own. But no! He didn't want to lose a single sheep! So he set out to find the one that wandered away.
Jesus second parable has the same meaning, but adds something. Listen to the way our Good Shepherd searches…8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?"
A few years ago I was helping my father-in-law put a new transmission in my car when I realized I still had my wedding ring on. Not wanting to do any damage to the ring while I worked on the car, I took it off and put it in my pocket. But later that night, when I noticed I wasn't wearing my ring, I went to look for it in the pocket of the pants I had been wearing, but it wasn't there. Becky and I tore the whole house apart looking for my wedding ring. We searched all the laundry, under all the seats in both cars, under the cushions of the couch (where we found everything but my ring). Finally, after having my in-laws tear apart their house too, we found my ring in a jar of change. It seems that when I emptied my pockets and dumped a handful of change into the jar on my desk, I never noticed the ring with it.
If you've ever lost your wedding ring, or your wallet, or some important document, you know the feeling. You search frantically. You don't give up until it's found. You're persistent and thorough. You leave no cushion unturned, no pocket unchecked, no crevice or hiding place unsearched until you find what was lost. And it's the same way with Jesus. With love and determination he thoroughly searches out the lost. And he doesn't give up until he finds success!
Now, notice what Jesus does when he finds that lost sheep. Though he has every right to be angry and scold the sheep saying, "You stupid sheep! Why did you wander so far away! You sure are lucky that I found you. Well, you'd better get walking! It's a long way home from here!" But he doesn't act that way.
Instead He lovingly picks the sheep up and carries it home on his shoulders. He does everything for the sheep... and he does it joyfully! And that's exactly what Christ does for us. Christ brings the lost sheep back to the Father. That's what he did on Calvary, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus gave up his life, he suffered hell itself, to remove our guilt, our apathy toward the lost, and our every sin and to return us to the Father. He spared no effort to save us, not even life itself. And he did everything to win our salvation. We don't have to do a thing! And though he has every right to scold us sheep for wandering off and causing him so much trouble and so much pain, listen to his reaction upon finding us…
Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep… And [the woman who lost her coin] when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'
Do the shepherd and the woman seem to be overdoing it a bit? Throwing a party for one sheep or a single coin worth only one day's wages? Perhaps this is a bit much for a sheep or a coin. But Jesus says that this is exactly how God reacts when a soul, lost in sin, repents and puts his trust in Christ. He said…
7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. [and] 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
When a sinner abandons his own self-righteousness recognizing what a wretched sinner he is, when he repents before God and puts his trusts in Christ for his salvation, all of heaven rejoices! When you came to faith, God threw a heavenly party of celebration! He had too much joy to bear alone and shared it with all his angels!
Imagine that you're sitting in a football stadium. You're rooting for the home team, but it's been a close game—a real nail biter. Finally, with only seconds left on the clock your team scores the winning touchdown! The crowd erupts in a roar of excited cheers and applause! …That's the same excitement that God and all his angels feel when a lost sinner is brought to repentance and to faith. And that's the same excitement we feel too!
II. He Finds Others Through You
Having been lost ourselves at one point, we know how exciting it is to be found! Now we too share in the attitude of our Savior. We lose the attitude of the Pharisees who thought themselves better than the rest. We no longer treat others with contempt, like "those people over there; those sinners," or worse, with apathy. Instead we have a sincere concern for the lost. We too, get excited to see others come to trust in their Savior, even "the rough crowd" or "the wrong kind of people." We love them as God's own lost sheep, as his lost coin. And we love them at our own expense, sparing no effort or expense to help find them…
Take an estimate. Roughly how many hours in the average week do you spend watching television? How many hours do you spend studying the Bible so you're better equipped to share God's gospel with others? How many hours do you spend praying for the lost, that they might put their trust in his death on the cross for them? Being found in Christ, having his salvation and heaven itself awaiting us makes us want to spend our time and effort on bringing others to their Good Shepherd too.
Or how much money do you spend on entertainment in the average month? How much do you give to mission efforts that help others to have lasting possessions in heaven? Knowing that our Good Shepherd became poor that we might become rich, moves us to gladly give our offerings to him so that his message of grace might be shared where we cannot go.
And when we do gladly give of our time and effort out of thanksgiving to God for finding us and saving us lost miserable sheep, he lets us join in the celebration. We rejoice with God like the shepherd's friends celebrated with him. We rejoice with God like the woman's friends partied with her. We can rejoice that though they were once helplessly lost sheep like us, now, like us, they are found by Christ. We rejoice that though once they were blind as we were, through us they now see clearly too. We rejoice that they trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross for them as we join the festivities with God and all his angels! Rejoice! Amen!