Jesus Welcomes Sinners
There are times in life where you lose something very valuable to you, and you are in a panic. A number of years ago, I had an envelope filled with cash, because Laura and I were (and still are) doing the cash envelope system through Financial Peace University. I had a lunch appointment, and I made sure I carried that envelope with me, because I didn’t want to leave it in the car and have someone steal it. After lunch, I was driving back to the office, and I looked in the folder where I had put the envelope, and my cash envelope was gone. I know we’re supposed to be calm and trust in the Lord and all that, but I was in a panic. I looked all through the car. I drove back to the restaurant and talked to the server, looked all around the table where we sat. I re-traced my steps back to the car, looked all around the ground where I parked. I mean, I was frantic, and, unfortunately, the envelope was never found. And, no, I didn’t lose everything at the casino and just made up the story to cover myself.
We’ve all experienced those moments of panic when you lose something, and you start tearing apart your whole house to find it. Just like I had when I lost that cash envelope, we’ve all had that sickening feeling deep in the pit of our stomach when we can’t find what is lost.
We’re in week two of our series called “Reckless Love,” where we’re taking a look at Luke 15. This is where Jesus tells three stories about things that were lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. But before we can talk about the third story, the one about the lost son, we need to go back to the first two stories.
In the first couple of verses of Luke 15 we have the contrast of two groups of people who are also “lost”--the tax-collectors and “sinners” who come to hear Jesus, and whom everyone else would identify as being lost. And then there are the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, whom Jesus is actually pointing out are lost in a different way--they’re lost in their own view of righteousness--but they don’t think they’re lost, and thus they don’t think they need to be found.
This second group, the religious group, is muttering, the Bible says, “This man (Jesus) welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Now, why is this such a problem? Why would those in this religious group even care?
In order to understand the answer to this, we need to understand a little background to the culture and to the worldview of this religious group. First of all, in Middle-Eastern Culture, someone who eats with someone else is giving a sign of acceptance, community, and agreement.
So Jesus comes along and all of a sudden He’s eating with the wrong group of people. Jesus comes along and He introduces a new community that the world has never seen, nor has the religious world ever seen. “He welcomes sinners and eats with them.” There is a cultural implication here that the religious group rejects because of their religious worldview. Here’s The Religious Worldview: the way you get to a right relationship with God is by doing all the right things. The way you get out of your state of “lostness” into “foundness” is by doing the right things, knowing the right things and thereby being declared righteous.
But here’s what happens in this religious worldview. Those who think they make it have a real sense of accomplishment--they are the “in” group, and they disassociate themselves from those who have not made those accomplishments--those who are NOT a part of the “in” group. And we do this all the time. We have some type of accomplishment, credential, education, and we’re a part of that “in” group, and we very easily consider those outside our group as being a little lower on the food chain than us.
Now, when that worldview is brought into our view of God, it defines what we think about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” So Jesus comes along and he breaks bread, he eats with those who are on the “outside,” and that causes those who don’t consider themselves lost to mutter.
It’s in response to this cultural norm and religious worldview that Jesus tells these three stories. I want us to read the first two stories (vv. 4-10), and then we’ll talk about them and take a look at what they mean for us today. So if you would, let’s stand out of respect for God’s Word. Luke 15:4-10.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (ESV).
Notice what’s common between these two stories: the things that are lost, those who search, and one of the greatest characteristics of this new community--joy.
First of all, let’s talk about 1. The Things That Are Lost (verses 4-5, 8). The sheep and the coin.
When we read about sheep in the Bible, for many of us, we get these images of innocence, furry, warm, fluffy, peaceful animals. But what we need to know is that when the Bible calls us sheep that’s a strong metaphor that’s actually an insult!
A pastor who once was a sheep herder or shepherd wrote that sheep are stupid animals. They lose their way constantly. And when a sheep gets lost, even to catch that sheep and bring it back, you have to grab it, throw it to the ground, tie up its feet, throw it over the shoulder and take it back to the pen. That’s the only way to save a lost sheep.
Now, let’s meditate on the meaning of this metaphor. We learn something about ourselves from this metaphor.
Like sheep, we need to be rescued. When sheep find grass, they go to that grass regardless of where that grass is, regardless of how dangerous it is. They’ll keep going and going until they are either rescued or until they fall off a cliff to their death.
We all feed on something—something with which we try to feed our souls—that relationship, feeding on success, feeding on something that will give us a sense of value or identity. Think about it this way. Dating Mr. X or Miss X. But if you are feeding your soul by that person, thinking that that person gives you your meaning, your identity, your hope, and you say, “I know I’m a somebody. I know I have value. I know I’m o.k., because I’m dating this person,” then you’re like that sheep feeding on the grass that’s leading you to the edge of the cliff. And then if you break up, it’s not just a disappoint, it will be a spiritual/emotional plunge. The Bible says, “For you were straying like sheep” (1 Pe. 2:25). Therefore, all sheep need to be rescued.
But what about the coin? The sheep and coin both have great value, but the coin is even more incapable of finding its way back into a purse than a sheep is capable of finding its way back into a pen. Taken together, the sheep and the coin paint a nuanced, multi-dimensional view of what it means to be lost. And Jesus teaches us how important it is in this new community to value what is lost. Those in the religious community of Jesus’ day had lost that perspective. They were more concerned about maintaining their status of being part of the “in” group by their achievements, education, status, obedience to the right rules and traditions than they were about being a welcoming community to those who are lost.
Every one of us in this room fits into one of these two categories. We’re either lost (even if we think we’re o.k. with God because we go to church and don’t do anything really bad...like bad people) or we’re a part of the new community, the community of Jesus who is supposed to welcome sinners. We’re not part of the “in” group by how we perform, or by how long we’ve been a member of E91, “and so I have my rights,” but because we were once lost and have been found. Which is the second part of these two stories. We have the things that are lost and then we have…
2. The Joyful Seekers (verses 6-7, 9-10)
When Jesus talks about the shepherd going and finding the sheep and the woman searching her house for the lost coin, He’s confronting the religious communities’ categories about salvation.
Again, most people think of religion as “humanity’s search for God.” We like to think of ourselves as spiritual seekers, as honest inquirers. We look at the religions of the world and, while giving somewhat different directions about how to do so, they all seem to agree that it’s pretty much up to us to find God through whatever religious system works.
But The biblical gospel turns this idea on its head. The shepherd (whom Jesus obviously identifies with) must go out to seek and to save that which is lost (Lk. 19:10). Likewise the coin cannot search and find its owner, the owner must find the coin.
And here is the first great blow to the world’s categories. Every other religion says that we have to find God and please and appease Him. Only Christianity says, No. God had to come down into the world to seek and save us. Salvation must be by His grace, not our achievement.
And here’s where we learn about 3. Jesus’ New Community.
Back in Luke 15, we have the things that are lost, the joyful seekers, and Jesus’ new community. The end of each parable challenges not just the categories of the Pharisees but their hearts and attitudes. A theme through all three parables is the joy of finding the lost. And this is the earmark of Jesus’ new community—it is to be a community of JOY! God does not look at spiritually lost people the way the Pharisees do. Because the Pharisees do not see themselves as lost sinners saved by grace, they disdain “sinners.” They feel superior to them. But heaven, on the other hand, rejoices when “sinners” are reached and found.
“Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” “There will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” This new community, this heavenly community, has as a primary characteristic—JOY. Heaven rejoices more over a sinner who repents than a righteous person who doesn’t think he needs to repent.
Folks, This is the joy of the new community of Jesus--it is a community that welcomes sinners. It is a community that recognizes we are all lost in our sin, helpless like sheep without a shepherd. And it is only by God’s grace reaching down through the cross of Christ that we are found, saved, and set free. SOME OF YOU HAVE BEEN VERY GOOD RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. BUT YOUR RELIGIOUS WORLDVIEW IS KEEPING YOU FROM A DEEPER RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST, AND IT IS KEEPING YOU FROM EXPERIENCING THE JOY OF THIS NEW COMMUNITY OF JESUS. If that’s where you are, I beg of you to repent today, come clean with God, stop trying to achieve something you can never achieve on your own--that is, forgiveness and salvation. And join us in this new community that welcomes sinners!
AND SOME OF YOU KNOW ALL TOO WELL THAT YOU ARE LOST, AND YOU HAVE FELT OSTRACIZED BY CHURCHES, BECAUSE YOU NEVER MEASURE UP TO WHAT YOU PERCEIVE TO BE THEIR STANDARDS. If that’s where you are, I want you to know that if Jesus were here in the flesh, He would take you out to eat right after this service and spend time with you without any concern about what people would think of Him if they saw Him eating with you. He would eat with you joyfully and welcome you into His new community. I call on you right now to turn to Him and let Him in to your life. Let’s pray.