Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”Luke 15:1-10
Yesterday was the Rockwall Rib Rub Run & Roll. The event had all kinds of fun events like a car show, a one-mile fun run for kids, a 5k, a 10k and lots of BBQ, but there was also some competition. There were awards given out for the best cars, the fastest runners and the smokiest BBQ. All the winners were celebrated, but what was the reaction to the person with the worst car, the slowest runner and the blandest BBQ? We often celebrate those who do well, but Jesus rejoiced over a different group in our gospel reading from Luke 15. Our encouragement this morning is to rejoice with Jesus for those who repent.
Jesus was not spending his time in the winners’ circle. The opening verse of our reading from Luke 15 read, 1 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” Two kinds of people were making it a habit to be around Jesus, and both had bad reputations. First, the tax collectors, which were hated because they were required to collect taxes, but also were hated because they chose how much extra to collect from people to make up their salary. And, since the state and soldiers backed them up when they collected taxes, their salaries were usually pretty good. Second, the sinners, which covered many groups, and I want you to take a few seconds to picture in your mind what a sinner looks like. With this picture in your mind of a group better suited for a role in a movie like the new “Joker,” rather than “VeggieTales,” it is easy to see how the Pharisees and teachers of the law said this about Jesus in their most despicable tone, 2 … “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The reason Jesus welcomed this group was revealed in one Greek word, ἀκούειν, which means “to hear.”
Jesus welcomed the lost members of his society because they needed to hear what he had come to do. The tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus listened to his message. Jesus made clear the hopeless future ahead of them if they kept taking advantage of others and falling short of doing what was right, but in Jesus there was the promise of forgiveness, freedom and a new life. The Pharisees and teachers of the law did not see any hope for the lost, and their hearts were filled with hatred and judgment against them and against Jesus. So, 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? Jesus told a similar parable in Matthew 18, but the setting and purpose were different. Here, Jesus told the parable of the Lost Sheep to show why he spent his time with sinners. He spent time with sinners because they needed his forgiveness, otherwise they would be lost to death and hell. Jesus’ love for all the lost sinners was the reason he came to this world, and the time he spent with them was filled with telling them how he was going to save them and what it would mean for them.
Jesus was going to buy back sinners in order to give them eternal life. You and I needed the same saving as the tax collectors and sinners, even the Pharisees and teachers of the law who did not think they needed saving. All people are God’s creatures, all of us can trace our ancestry and 23 pairs of chromosomes back to Adam and Eve, meaning we all suffer from sin. Sin separated us from God, but he loves us wanting peace and a relationship with us again. God taught this lesson to his people Israel in a very real way as we heard in our reading from Hosea 3. God had the prophet Hosea record these words, 1 “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…’” God had asked Hosea to marry a prostitute and after she continued to live that way, God asked Hosea to take her back. In order to do that, he bought her back and told her she had to be faithful to him alone. Can you imagine your spouse cheating on you, then God telling you to pay money to get them back? This is what God did for all people. We are all his creatures, yet he bought us back. Like Hosea paid the be with his own adulterous wife, God paid the price of his one and only Son to make you his own child once again.
When you and I hear again what Jesus has done for us, we are filled with love for all who need to hear about what Jesus has done for them. Jesus told the parable of the Lost Sheep to make the simple, yet amazing point that he and heaven rejoices when someone is brought to faith. Jesus calls you and I to rejoice too when someone is brought to faith. If we are angry when God’s grace is shown to someone who desperately needed it, then we are like to loveless, faithless Pharisees and teachers of the law. Instead, we are called to rejoice over those who repent. We are called to welcome, eat with, pray for and love someone who by God’s amazing grace sees their sin, is sorry for it and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, forgiveness he bought and earned that is free to us. We are also called to search for and be prepared to share Jesus with others who have not heard about God’s amazing grace.
After the parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus told the parable of the Lost Coin. Jesus’ first parable illustrated the amazing love he has for sinners, and in the parable of the Lost Coin, he shows how far we are to go to find the lost. Jesus said, 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” Jesus gives extra details in this parable about the process for finding what was lost. The woman who lost the coin lights a lamp to make sure she can see clearly, she sweeps the house to make sure everything that might have fallen under or behind is revealed, and she carefully searches every likely and unlikely place the coin could possibly be until she has found it. These are the lengths to which we are all called to go to show people their sins and need for the one true Savior, Jesus.
Our search for the lost is not easy. In the parable of the Lost Coin, it is easy to picture all the woman is doing to find the coin because we have all been there. If Jesus had told the parable today, it would be the Lost Smartphone. We have all done it, left our phone somewhere then realized it was gone when our thumb went to text, post, snap, tweet, get directions, stream music, watch a show, order food and I guess call if you still do that. And, then the frantic search begins, and we are hoping that there is battery left and it is on vibrate or the ringer is on so that we can try to call it. When we lose something, we look for it, and the effort we put into the search directly relates to the value of the item. When Jesus came to save you and I, he paid with his life because we are his most precious creatures. Jesus made you and I part of his kingdom, and the mission of that kingdom is to bring others into it. And this is not easy because we are going to be talking with people who are sinful about their sins as sinful people ourselves. Yet, we have the greatest source of light in our Savior Jesus to help us look for the lost and to shine love and truth into their lives. In our reading from 2 Corinthians 2, the Holy Spirit gave Paul words to summarize how we search for the lost, “…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The devil would have us judge others and leave them lost, but we search for them with forgiveness.
Twice in our reading from Luke 15, Jesus said that the result of 10 “…one sinner who repents,” is rejoicing. Jesus said that there is rejoicing by the angels and heaven when someone comes to trust in Jesus’ forgiveness for their sins. There can only be rejoicing when someone hears that for all the times their hands texted or emailed words to gossip, hurt and ruin others, Jesus said, “Look at my pierced hands.” There can only be rejoicing when someone hears that for all the guilt held inside making them sick to their stomach, Jesus said, “Look at my pierced side.” There can only be rejoicing when someone hears that for every step away from responsibility to work and family, Jesus said, “Look at my pierced feet.” There can only be rejoicing when someone hears that for each doubt and worry, Jesus said, “Look at my scared head.” Finally, there is rejoicing when someone hears they have months or weeks to live, Jesus said, “Look at my empty tomb.” There is only rejoicing for you and me, and all those who hear they are forgiven through Jesus who paid the price to make them his forever. This is the hope you were called to; this is what you get to share with others.
Can you imagine being at the Rib Rub Run and Roll yesterday and all the people muttering and mocking the last one to cross the finish line, muttering and mocking a pit master who smoked a dry brisket or muttering and mocking a person whose classic car had dents, unfinished paint and no shiny coat of wax? The ones who are lost, last, different, sinners do not need rejection; they need love. The people who needed Jesus are the ones who did not look like they would ever have anything to do with the perfect Son of God. And, they are the people Jesus welcomed and ate with, and the people he rejoiced with when they listened to him and believed. Jesus loved us by saving us, and our faith leads us to rejoice, and that joy is multiplied every time we bring the good news of Jesus’ love, forgiveness and eternal life to someone else. May the Holy Spirit fill us with love as we seek the lost and rejoice with Jesus for those who repent. Amen.