Luke 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
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.”
We are in the season of Lent, leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of spring-cleaning our hearts and our attitudes. It’s a time to toss out the ungodly and bring in what will please our Father in Heaven.
We continue today to work through the three parables of Luke 15.
Last week we spoke about when Jesus was speaking to sinners and tax collectors, explaining to them that if they want to follow Him, they need to disconnect from the things and the relationships in their lives which bind them to sin. Jesus said before they leap into following Him, they need to count the cost.
But the Pharisees needed to repent of another type of sin. They need to repent of their lack of love. Their lack of love and concern for the lost showed that they were no closer to God than the sinners they were ridiculing. They were as guilty of sin as the tax collectors they were shooting down, but because their sins were the pious kind of sins, they practiced the sins of self-righteousness, and so they thought they were better than the sinners. The end result was that the Pharisees were further removed from God than their sinning counterparts.
As a part of this teaching encounter, Jesus told them three parables.
The second parable is about a woman who has ten coins, each coin is the equivalent to one day’s wage, so she has ten days money. But we read that she then lost one of those coins. The parable does not give us any idea of age of the woman who lost the cost, maybe because age is not the reason we look or abandon. The value we place on the coin is what motivates us.
What would you do if you lost ten percent of your life?
We lose wealth, we lose jobs, we lose friendships, we even lose loved ones.
Sometimes we lose our health. The other day I heard of a man in his early 60s who said, “Just let me die”. But for some of us we will go through almost anything to get it back. Four years ago my mom discovered she had cancer. First she went for chemo which made her feel tired and all her hair fell out. Then she went for surgery, which was painful. Then she went for radiation every day for six weeks. She drove 50 kilometers each way from where she stays to Jo’burg General Hospital every day, and sometimes when she got there they said the machine was broken and she had to leave and just come back the next day.
At 68 years of age, why would anyone go through all that?
The answer is simple, because she lost her health and wanted it back, and the place to find it was 60 Km’s away.
My mom went through all that because she wanted to live.
We will all go looking for what we lost, if we place a high enough value on it.
We weigh up the cost verses the value, and then we decide to look or to abandon.
The parable of the lost coin reveals to us the searching nature of God. The woman is not satisfied with 9 coins. She lights a lamp and she searches till she finds the lost coin. That is just like God. In this parable the woman represents God
Genesis tells us that we are designed to be in relationship with God. I love the Genesis image, that in the evenings God and Adam and Eve would walk together and discuss the day.
Genesis tells us that just like us, when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid away from God. Since the fall of Adam, people have been hiding, and God has been sending His word, He has been sending His messengers, to seek the lost. “Adam, Adam, where are you?”
God is a missionary God, sending His own Son to find us. Today we speak of being missional, committed to fulfilling a mission.
One day Jesus climbed in a boat, crossed the Sea of Galilee and went to a heathen area where they bred pigs, which was despicable to any good Jew, and Jesus went all the way there and back for one man who was lost. Jesus went there for one man who was demon possessed and his life was hell on earth.
No matter how disgusting our lives have been, Jesus came looking for us.
If you are running away from God, please realise He is looking for you.
I am always drawn back to Philippians 2, which says that to find the lost, Jesus stripped Himself of all His divine attributes, He took on human form, human language, human suffering, human culture, so that He could enter the world of lost people and speak to us in a language our hearts would understand.
Hebrews 2 says that Jesus did not come to save angels, but people, and so He had to become like people to save us.
2 chapters later, Hebrews says, “Jesus became LIKE US IN EVERY WAY EXCEPT SIN.”
If you want to find the lost coin, you have to go looking where lost coins go.
Going seeking means leaving, it means making sacrifices. Seeking is humiliating.
I heard a story of someone who lost a coin, and they were looking around in the garden for it. A friend asked, What are you doing? and they replied, “Looking for a lost coin.” “Where did you lose it?” the friend asked” “In my bedroom” was the reply. Well why are you looking in the garden then?” You know the answer? Because the light is better out here.
The woman would never find the lost coin looking in her garden. To find her lost coin, she lit a candle and swept every corner of her home, unpacking and repacking, looking in every little nook and cranny.
She probably had sore knees and a stiff back the next day, but that coin meant enough to her for her to make the effort.
To find you, Jesus came to earth, because you are worth enough to Him. God’s family photo album is incomplete without you in it.
Jesus made the sacrifice; Jesus crossed the universe, from heaven to earth and right into hell, to find you and to tell you that you are still welcome at His Table. He still wants to talk with you and share your life with you. God wants to be in a relationship with you.
So if God loved us so much, if Jesus is the ultimate missionary who emptied Himself for us, what is an appropriate response from us?
The Pharisees thought an appropriate response was to say, “Wow, I must be special, I am going to stay just as I am”.
The early Christians looked at the people who had not yet met Jesus and said, “Wow, you must be special, I had better be like Jesus to find you.”
Jesus is still going looking for the lost, but now He goes in us, the body of Christ.
The first Christians understood that to seek the lost means to make the sacrifices of letting go of who they were for the sake of the gospel. The first Christians even reevaluated and let go of their religious beliefs and practices out of their love for Jesus and the lost.
Paul said to the Philippian Christians, before he told them about Jesus’ cross-cultural mission, that their attitude must be the same as Christ’s.
The early Christians were Jewish. They were raised in Jewish homes, they went to Jewish synagogues to worship, and when they followed Jesus they were following a Jewish rabbi. Their faith in Jesus was born out of their Jewish beliefs.
But God was calling them to go looking for the lost in a non-Jewish world. They were going into a world with different cultures, with different religious beliefs and different religious practices. And so they had to ask themselves, “What is the irreducible core of the Gospel, and what is simply the culture of our Jewish world?
They realised you cannot forfeit the truth of the Gospel just to be accepted by the people you are wanting to minister too, because then even if they believe, they are no closer to following Jesus. Then they are just following a new heresy, worshipping a new idol, practicing a new false religion.
But they also realised that the Gospel is not the same thing as the culture it is packaged in, Gospel is carried along in culture but it is distinct from culture.
The Gospel can be transferred from one culture to another without losing any of the power of the Gospel. But churches are filled with culture too.
If we spend enough time in the church, eventually we lose the ability to distinguish between what is God made and what is manmade. We see our manmade practices as God made religious rites, and then we try to impose our church culture onto people coming to Jesus. After a while they taste that this is not the real thing, they realize this is manmade, and go on in search of the real Gospel. To reach the lost we need to be able to separate the two, cling to the Gospel and hold on loosely to our manmade traditions. Jesus never held a church service like this.
If the first generation Christians did not cross the cultural lines, we would never have received the gospel.
How deep did that reevaluation run?
If you asked a Jew, circumcision was non-negotiably at the core of the Gospel, Genesis 17 says “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
And yet when the apostles met for the council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, they said Gentiles need not be circumcised.
Paul became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. But that meant that Paul had to strip away all his culture to obey Jesus. Paul was a Pharisee. He was of the same school as those who stood and grumbled about Jesus eating with sinners. So how did Paul fit these two worlds together? The truth is he didn’t. Paul rejected his Pharisee life and culture just as a sinner rejected their life of sin.
Paul was the crème dele crème of the Jewish world. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews; a Pharisee among Pharisees; as for legalistic righteousness, he was faultless.
But Paul says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil 3: 5ff)
Paul realised that if he was to be successful in finding the lost, he could not stay in his Jewish world with his Jewish friends and his Jewish culture and his Jewish religion. If you want to find lost coins, you learn to use a broom and you light a lamp and you look under the furniture. Paul had to go where the lost were, he had to learn to think and speak like the lost.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians
1 Corinthians 19: 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul understood God is a missionary God who strips Himself of culture and religion for the sake of getting the love of Jesus to those who need to receive it.
Last year at a conference, the keynote speaker made a challenging statement. He said that people aren’t leaving the church because they have lost their faith; statistics show that this generation is as spiritual as ever, they are leaving the church to save their faith.
Maybe the challenge to us is to look at the way we do church, and we need to ask whether our church is missional in the same way as Jesus was missional? Are our church practices missional in the way the first generation Christians were missional?
Are we like the women who lit the lamp and swept and searched to find the lost? Or are we like the woman who went to look in the garden because the light was better?
If we are going to be like our God, we are called to lay aside our manmade creations, to put aside our creature comforts, to strip ourselves of our church culture and to go and look for the lost.
The theological name for that kind of action is repentance.
When the woman finds her lost coin, she calls her friends and neighbours and throws a party. But the Pharisees stand outside the door, grumbling and moaning. When we understand that God is a missionary God, we realise that the Pharisees were opposed to the mission which God had started at the Fall of Adam.
Today we will celebrate Communion where Jesus invites us to eat with Him, and the question comes up “Who can come to the Lord’s Table?” And we need to ask who Jesus invited to eat with Him while HE was on earth. In Luke 7 and 14, Jesus went to the houses of Pharisees for dinner. So if you are a Pharisee you are welcome at the Lord’s Table today, because like any sinner you need grace.
But in Luke 15 the complaint is that Jesus ate with sinners. So if you are a sinner, you are welcome at the Lord’s Table today, because there is grace here for you too.