Most of us have heard sermons on the Prodigal Son, most of us have at least read the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, but usually we fail to realise that these parables are linked to the verses which go before them.
Luke 15: 1 tells us that tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to hear Him.
The logical question is, “What was He saying to them?”
Was Jesus saying to them, “Don’t worry about your sin. Mr Tax Man, don’t worry that you have ripped off all your neighbours, that the old lady on the corner went without food for three days last month, don’t worry that Gheimi’s son died because Gheimi did not have the money to take him to the doctor. Was he saying, Mr Tax Man, don’t worry that the soldiers who will crucify me have been paid with the tax money you took from your own people.”
Was He saying to the man having an affair with his golf partners wife, “Don’t worry, I forgive everything.”
Was Jesus saying to the young mother who was beating her son, “don’t worry, I’ll fix his emotional scars.”
To find out what Jesus was saying, we need to read the verses that go before Luke 15: 1.
Luke 14: 25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus was telling the tax collectors and the sinners just how much it would cost them if they chose to follow Him. He was telling them the cost of discipleship.
Jesus said to the sinners and the tax collectors, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
There are no bones about the word “hate” which Jesus uses here. We cannot water it down or interpret it to mean something else.
Luke only uses this word three times. The first time is in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man”
So excluding and insulting and rejecting is something of what Luke means when he says, ‘Hate.”
The second time is 5 verses later when Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
Jesus telling us to hate seems to go against everything Christian.
The other day Oprah interviewed Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips of the Mammas and the Pappas. From age 11 Mackenzie started taking drugs with her dad. She remembers at age 14, for the first time being raped by him. Then for 10 years she had a consensual sexual relationship with her father.
The problem was that she loved her dad. She knew what they were doing was wrong, but she loved her dad and so she could not break out of this sinful relationship.
We are to cherish the memories and the teachings from our good family members. We spoke about that a few weeks ago. We are to love them. But this is different.
Jesus was talking to really rough sinners and tax collectors. These guys were the Perlemoen poachers and the Nigerian drug lords of His day. Not only were they rough, but their families were mafia families. Jesus was saying you can’t straddle the fence, you are in or you are out. And you have to realise if you are going to follow me, it means you have to reject your families too; you are going to have to separate yourself from them.
You don’t hate them for the sake of hating them, but if you stay in love with them, you will never break free from the sinful life you are living, the life they suck you in to. We are called to share the Gospel with sinners, but sometimes we are just not strong enough to share with some people. An alcoholic should never go to a pub to share his faith, because you know what will happen.
Sometimes we are not strong enough to withstand the temptation.
If you have a problem with alcohol and every time you visit your brother or sister they convince you to have a few drinks, and a few becomes a lot, you cannot try to separate the sin from the sinner. You can’t visit your brother without visiting the temptation to drink, and so you have to cut out both of them.
When God called Abraham he said to Him “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. (Genesis 12)
Abraham had to move away from his pagan homeland and his pagan family if he was to follow God.
We know Timothy in the New Testament was taught the Christian faith by his grandmother and his mother, Paul tells him to hold on to that. But not all his friends were wholesome. Paul wrote to Timothy, “22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim 2: 22)
Paul is telling Timothy to get into a group of people he can journey with towards righteousness.
To those sinners, Jesus said, “You will even have to hate your own life”. Jesus is not calling them to commit suicide, but He wants them to realise there are no half measures.
Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Crosses were only used for one thing, death.
We sometimes say something like. “You know my cousin, she drinks like a fish and swears like a sailor, but we all have our crosses to bear.”
I don’t think that is what Jesus meant. I think He means that when we see that we are not strong enough to overcome some temptations, and the only way we can is to leave our social group or stop visiting someone in our family, they are going to turn nasty on us and insult us and try to ruin our lives.
Alan Young was the CFO of Coega, and he discovered a lot of inproper stuff there, and that forced him face to face with a decision. By blowing the whistle, Alan has gone through a year of hell on earth. He has spent a fortune in court battles, he was locked out of his office, at times he was even receiving threats over the phone. Hiw Lawyers advised him, “You can win, but you will need 20 Million to fight the court battle.”
When Alan chose to follow Jesus and blow the whistle, he took up his cross to die.
How many of us are this committed to our faith in Jesus.
Jesus said to these sinners, “Before you choose to follow me, count the cost.”
Someone building a tower has to calculate the cost before they start.
Someone going to war has to consider whether they have enough resources and enough stamina to stay the course to the end.
If following Jesus means breaking ties with your casino friends, if following Jesus means ending the partnership with your business partner because they are committing tax fraud, then you have to ask, “Can I make it through to the other side?” Because there is no point going through the pain and then eventually going to the way things were.
That was what Jesus said to the sinners, and Luke tells us they were gathering around Him in their droves to hear that. I think we can say that at least they were considering making a change.
Society was about to get better, people were about to follow Jesus and find salvation. Tax collectors were about to stop tax collecting. Prostitutes were about to stop prostituting. Thieves were about to stop thieving and murderers were about to stop murdering. Lets throw a party!!!
But is that what happened?
Luke says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The religious leaders, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, grumbled and muttered and moaned because Jesus was welcoming sinners. Can you imagine our police force complaining on national TV because the crime rate has gone down? Can you imagine the prison warders at St Alban’s toy-toying because the prison is only half-full?
The Pharisees were complaining that these people might not go to hell, but just might go to heaven. The Pharisees were grumbling because they enjoyed looking down their noses at these awful sinners. It made them feel righteous. It meant they did not have to confront their attitudes and sins.
And so Jesus told them 3 parables.
The first parable was about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and lost one.
You have to understand that a Jewish shepherd walked ahead of his flock. They were behind him and he could not see them all the time. But Jewish shepherds understood that sheep like to be together. When hey are on the move, sheep stick together, they are highly social animals.
So why would one go missing?
In Ezekiel 34: 20 God said through the prophet, “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.”
Sheep leave the flock because they are stolen by predators, or because they are pushed out by their fellow sheep.
Jesus asks the question, “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”
It’s a rhetorical question. The only answer is, “Yes”.
This shepherd does not take the 99 sheep home, he does not put them safely in a camp, he leaves them out in the open country.
When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he picks it up, places it on his shoulders and he takes that one home. When he gets home he calls all his neighbours together and he throws a party. “He runs around saying, “I have found my sheep”.
It’s obvious in this parable that the 99 sheep represent the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the good religious folk who never stray, who never go off the path, but who grumble and moan about the weaker sheep. The lost sheep obviously represents the tax collectors and the sinners who Jesus was just talking to. The sinners are the one sheep the 99 have rejected and shoved and bullied.
What’s amazing is that this parable does not call for the lost sheep to repent and say they are sorry and they will never do it again. This sheep is viewed as the victim, the victim of the other sheep.
Jesus is not rebuking the sinners for withdrawing from the Pharisees, He is embracing them.
Now remember what Jesus was saying about leaving your mother and father for His sake. It seems from the shepherds embracing of this sheep, that He is pleased this sheep has separated itself from the other sheep. The shepherd lifted the found sheep up onto His shoulders, He is holding the sheep up for others to imitate.
Now this is the turn in the story. This is where we were racing down the road saying, “Flee from Evil, Flee from Evil!!!!”
But Jesus is saying, “Flee from religious people who will grumble and mumble and moan when someone who is different joins the flock”. Flee from Religious bullies who refuse to accept the weak into the flock.
1 John 4
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
By their actions, the Pharisees have shown they are as far from God as the sinners were. In fact, they are a breeding ground for lovelessness, they are a cesspool of sin. They need to be fled from as much as your old cocaine dealer.
We don’t only need to separate ourselves from prostitutes and murderers and drug dealers. Christians can kill your relationship with Jesus faster than any sinner.
The Pharisees don’t think they need to repent. They don’t drink or smoke or collect taxes. But they fail to see their sin is much worse, They FAIL TO LOVE.
Let me rephrase that. We can kill someone’s love for Jesus faster than their old drinking buddies.
I want us to notice how this story ends.
The lost sheep is back home, safe with the shepherd, and a salvation party is taking place with all the neighbours invited. The sinner is saved.
But where are the 99 sheep? Where are the Pharisees and the Lawyers? Luke leaves it hanging. They are left out in the open country, left vulnerable to predators. They are not at the salvation party. They are not with the shepherd, and He is not with them.
Is Luke saying the sinners and tax collectors will be saved, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law will be left out, unsaved, eternally separated from Jesus?
In Matthew 25, Jesus said he will be with the least of these. He will be with the one sheep.
If we are Pharisees, Jesus’ warning to us needs to break through and be heard. He will leave congregations who shun people, and He will go to be with the lost, the shunned.