February 7, 2016
Read Lu 15:1-10 – Luke 15 is one of the most wonderful chapters in the Bible. It consists of three parables that give us amazing insight into the heart of God. The theme of the chapter is illustrated by this story. Pres Thos Jefferson was riding with friends one day when they came to a swollen river that had washed out the bridge. A man contemplating the situation allowed Jefferson’s companions to cross. But as Jeff approached, he asked for help. At great risk to himself, Jefferson got the man across. One of the companions asked, “Did you know that was President Jefferson who helped you across?” The man replied, “No, I didn’t know that. All I know is when I looked into your face I saw ‘No’ and when I looked into his face I saw ‘Yes.’” Similarly these parables teach when it comes to helping sinners who are faced with a stream that they cannot cross on their own, the face of the Pharisees said, “No”. But thankfully the face of a gracious God always says, “Yes.”
This account opens with tax collectors and sinners crowding around Jesus. The outcasts of society. And there is that wonderful phrase in v. 2: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Of course He did. That’s why He came -- “to seek and to save that which was lost.” But the scribes and Pharisees were indignant. This was company they would never keep. They despised those they considered sinners.
But not God. Look at v. 10: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” When God finds a repentant sinner, His great heart is overjoyed! Jesus knew the Pharisees would never feel that way. But those who share the heart of God will. The 1st 2 parables show how a lost person moves from being the object of God’s righteous condemnation to the object of His heartfelt joy? The parables tell us how God changes hearts.
I. Realize We are Incurably Lost Without Christ
Both parables make this point. The woman loses a coin, perhaps part of her dowry, and is desperate to find it. The shepherd loses a sheep and is desperate to find it. Jesus uses sheep bc they are stupid and helpless. A dog might find home. A sheep – never! For that reason, they are in constant need of rescue.
Sheep are driven by their desire for food. They will go after grass anywhere. It doesn’t matter how steep or dangerous the spot, they go for the grass. Sometimes it leads them up and they can’t get down. Or they can eat their way down, but have no way up. They are oblivious to danger and will follow each other right over a cliff to their death (1500 in Istanbul, 2005). Do you see why Jesus uses sheep to depict unrepentant sinners? It’s not that sheep are warm and fuzzy. It depicts people driven by desire, oblivious to danger -- following others to destruction! These parables define the human condition.
Now, just as sheep are driven to feed, so every person alive feeds their soul on something. Some desire drives every life. The patch of grass may change occasionally, but we are always seeking soul food. Perhaps it’s ambition. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to excel at a career. But if that drives our existence; if we feel we can be somebody only if we can make it to the top of that ladder, then that is our soul food. Perhaps it’s a relationship. Nothing wrong with dating, but when it becomes, “I’ll know that I’m okay – that my future is secure – that I have value if that person will marry me,” then it has become soul food. Perhaps it’s money. We don’t see money as a means, but as the end. I’ll only feel safe and secure when I have $1,000,000 in the bank. Then I’ll be bullet-proof. Suddenly money has become soul food.
And Jesus is saying, “If you are finding your soul food anywhere other than from the Shepherd, you are hopelessly lost.” He told the crowd in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He is saying, “You must believe in me. I must be your soul food. Anything else will soon leave you hungry again. Ambition cannot save you; nor human relationships; nor money; nor pleasure; nor the respect of men. All will be gone in the twinkling of an eye. Only I can save you. I must be your soul food. You are lost without me.”
Our problem is we will not acknowledge that we are lost. We will not believe it. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” but all we see is the next patch of grass – the next sucker food that the Enemy convinces us will give us worth. Ironically, there is no hope until we see that we are hopeless. On Feb 6, 1995, a Detroit bus driver finished his shift on Route 21 and headed for the terminal. When he didn’t arrive, the search was on. His wife reported that he might have become disoriented due to medication. Six hours later state police found the bus and driver 200 miles NW of Detroit, driving slowly down a rural two-lane road. When pulled over the driver said he was lost and agreed he must have made a wrong turn – something that didn’t occur to him during the six hours that he couldn’t find the depot. Gone astray, like sheep.
Such is the blindness of men outside of Christ. Oblivious to spiritual danger. Like the Pharisees. V. 2, “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Did they even have a clue what they were saying? They were announcing the best news ever. “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” But they would never experience that eternal blessing for one simple reason. They would not classify themselves as sinners. Until you know you are lost, you can’t be found; until you confess your sin, you can’t be forgiven; until you acknowledge you need a Savior, you’ll never find Jesus. Isa 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” Chasing what looks good to us condemns us. But the verse finishes, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” There is our hope. But until we own our own sin, laid on Him, sending Him to the cross, we are among those incurably lost outside of Christ.
II. Realize We are Intently Looked for By Christ
Suppose you exploring a boggy area one day and you step in quicksand. The harder you struggle, the deeper you go and soon you are up to your neck. It is clear you have no hope of getting out on your own. You cry out, but don’t know if anyone hears. What do you need? You need a savior, someone to rescue you, right? But what if no one comes? You are hopeless without help.
That is exactly the spiritual situation of those without Christ. That’s why the next part of Jesus’ parables is so wonderful. The coin is lost – BUT, the woman in v. 8 is going to “light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it.” The sheep is lost, BUT the shepherd in v. 4 is going to “leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it.” Glorious news! Even as we are sinking in the quicksand of sin and death, a Savior is seeking us. Help is on the way due to God’s great heart. His holiness condemns us; but His love sends a Savior to rescue us.
Jesus is shining the light of the gospel into every God-forsaken corner of a desperate world, searching for anyone who will repent and turn to Him. John 1:9, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” That’s Jesus who came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” The shepherd longs for every lost sheep. II Pet 3:8: He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That’s why He came looking for sinners. Paul says in I Tim 1:15, “15 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Listen carefully, Beloved. No one who dies in their sin will ever be able to say, “No one came. No Savior came for me.” A Savior has come. And He is standing with arms outstretched right now waiting for your response. Rev 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Your rescue from the sin that separates you from God is at your heart’s door. If you insist that you really are not in quicksand up to your neck, or if you insist that you prefer to get out on your own, then your condemnation will be upon your own head and rightfully so. But you will never be able to say, “No one came.” He did come and He has come.
Jesus’ audience would have known of God welcoming sinners back, but the thought that He actively sought them – because He loved them – that was revolutionary. This was good news. Furthermore, look at v. 5, “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” What is that about? That shows how thorough His rescue is. It’s not enough just to find a lost sheep. The lost sheep won’t just follow you home. The lost sheep will run around and you have to grab it, tie it and take it all the way home. Your lost dog will follow you home when you find it. Not a sheep. Jesus uses sheep to show it is all grace. Even the faith to accept His offer – it’s “a gift of God.” But when we exercise that gift, He carries us all the way home. Isn’t that good!
An example. What happened when Adam and Eve sinned? Did they rush to the feet of God, begging forgiveness? Isn’t that what you would expect? But no – they ran; they covered up; they hid. Look at it. Gen 3:8: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Adam and Eve ate at the wrong place. They chose ambition as soul food. And as they sank into the quicksand of their own sin, they did not run to God. They hid. They would have never been saved – except – God searched them out. Why did God include that account in the very first pages of the Bible? To show us Good News. They didn’t come for God; He came for them and He provided the first symbol of a substitute payment for sin when He killed animals to provide them cover, not with their own fig leaves, but with His blood-bought provision. That’s the heart of God, Beloved. He seeks the lost. No lost person will ever be able to say, “You never came.” Because He did and He does.
III. Realize We are Infinitely Loved in Christ
Look at the Shepherd, representing the Father in vv. 6-7: “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.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who [think they] need no repentance.” Look at the woman representing the Father in v. 9: “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.’” And then to make the point crystal clear, Jesus says in v. 10: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” What a verse! Notice how naturally Jesus speaks of what happens in heaven. How can He do that? Because He’s been there, Beloved. Heaven holds no surprises for Him; He’s seen firsthand how enthusiastically the Father celebrates a sinner who repents. Notice the verse does not say the angels rejoice, tho I’m sure they do. It says there is joy before the angels – in front of them. Who would that be? It is the Father. He rejoices at finding the lost. Can you imagine how much God loves and wants you that He rejoices over every sinner who repents? Aren’t you glad God isn’t a Pharisee? They would have said, “There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that God obliterates.” But not the Father. He rejoices over every sinner who repents.
There’s a great verse in Zeph 3:17. God describes His unbounded joy over those who will turn to Him (repent): “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Beloved, if that doesn’t humble you and give you goose bumps, you are a hopeless case. Imagine God quieting you by His love – removing every cause of anxiety and then exulting over you with loud singing. It’s almost too much to take in, isn’t it? God love sinners, but His special, infinite, celebratory love is reserved for those who repent. It’s an amazing thing to be found by God in Christ.
Conc – On Jan 10, 1948, Hungarian refugee Marcel Sternberger boarded the train for his office in NYC. On the crowded train, he noticed a man in his late 30’s reading a Hungarian newspaper, but his eyes had a haunted look. Sternberger asked if he could borrow the paper which led to an extended conversation. The young man was named Bela Paskin. He had been a law student when war started in 1939. Shortly after he was sent by the Germans with a labor battalion to Ukraine where he was eventually captured by the Russians and spent several years as a POW. When the war ended, Paskin spent weeks working his way back home to Debrecen, in eastern Hungary. Sternberger knew the city well and they talked about that for awhile.
Then Paskin went on. When he arrived at the apartment occupied by his parents when he left 6 years before, he found strangers. The same was true of the apartment upstairs that he had shared with his wife. No one had ever heard of his family. Eventually he found a neighborhood boy whose parents knew his parents. “Your whole family is dead,” he was told. The Nazis took them and your wife to Auschwitz. With that news, all hope died in Paskin. With Hungary under Russian domination it had taken him a couple of years to steal across the border and immigrate to the US. He’d been here only 3 months.
As Paskin told his story, Sternberger was thinking. He had recently met a young woman at the home of friends who was from Debrecen and who had been transferred from Auschwitz to work in a German munitions factory. Her relatives had all been gassed to death. When she was liberated by the Americans, she joined a group of displaced persons and immigrated in 1946. Sternberger had been so moved by her story that he had taken her address and phone number intending to invite her to meet his family. He couldn’t imagine there was any connection, but he asked Paskin in a casual voice, “By any chance, was your wife’s name Marya?” Paskin turned pale and answered, “Yes! How did you know?” Sternberger suggested, “Let’s get off the train. I need to make a phone call.”
Sternberger dialed the number he had an after an interminable wait, a woman answered. Bc her English was not good, Marya did not usually answer the phone, but for some reason, with no one else home, she did. Sternberger asked her to describe her husband. She was surprised, but did so. He then asked her address in Debrecen, turned to Paskin and said, “Did you live on such-and-such a street?” Paskin turned white as a sheet and answered, “Yes.” At that point, Sternberger said, “Try to be calm. Something miraculous is about to happen to you. Please take this phone and talk to your wife.” Shortly thereafter, Sternberger place an emotionally overwhelmed Paskin in a taxi to his wife’s residence where they were reunited after 10 years. When asked later how she felt, Marya responded, “I remember only that when I left the phone, I walked to the mirror like in a dream to see if maybe my hair had turned gray. The next thing I know, a taxi stops in front of the house, and it is my husband who comes toward me. Details I cannot remember; only this I know—that I was happy for the first time in many years.”
It’s a wonderful thing to be found, Beloved. Have your been found by the Savior? If so, have you said “Yes” to His invitation. If not, why not now. It would rejoice your heart. Even more, it would rejoice the heart of the Father. God’s eyes say, “Yes.” What do yours say? Let’s pray.