- January 12th, 2014
Seeking the lost
Download audio file Here!
Seeking the lost (Luke 15)
MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
(The Powerpoints used with this sermon are available for free. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and request #131.)
A. During the next few weeks I want to speak on subjects that we, as a congregation, need to consider again, messages that deal with our purpose, why we are a church, & why God has called us to do the things that we are to do.
Now, I don’t want you to be confused & think that this is a “What we believe” series, because it is not that. Yes, it’s true that because of what we believe we do the things we do. But what have we really been called to do?
Jesus answered that by saying, “Go & make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, & teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s the great commission, our marching orders, if you please!
So the first part of our purpose as a church is to go, seek the lost, tell them about Jesus, & try to bring them to Him.
And I’m convinced that when we recognize that the reason we exist is to reach the lost with the message of Christ, then as a congregation we will grow.
B. Now in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, there are 3 parables that illustrate the importance of spreading the good news about Jesus. You know these parables, so I’m not going to read them to you this morning, but just remind you of them again & summarize some of the things these parables teach us.
But first, realize that Jesus told them in response to a criticism. The Jewish rulers were criticizing Him about the kind of friends He had. They said, “If you are who you claim to be then you wouldn’t be spending your time with these dregs of society. You would be spending your time with quality folks like us, instead.”
1. In response to that, Jesus tells them 3 parables. He begins by saying, “If you were a shepherd & had a hundred sheep, but when you came home at night & counted them & discovered that you had only 99, what would you do?”
“If you were a good shepherd, let me tell you what you would do. You would go out & search for that lost sheep. You would search the rocks & ledges until you found it. And when you found it, you would put it on your shoulders & come home rejoicing.”
2. Next He says, “Suppose you’re a woman who loses a valuable coin, what would you do? I’ll tell you what you’d do. You’d light a lamp & move the furniture. You’d go through every nook & cranny in the house until you found it. And when you found it there would be a celebration. You’d call your neighbors & say, ‘Rejoice with me. I have found that which was lost.’”
3. Then Jesus goes on, “Suppose you’re a father & you have a rebellious son who demands his inheritance. Reluctantly, you give it to him & he goes into the far country where he wastes it all.”
“Finally, he finds himself in a hog lot eating the slop that has been put out for the hogs. Then he comes to himself & says, ‘I would be better off as one of my father’s hired servants than to be here.’ And he goes back home again.”
As I said, you’re familiar with the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, & the Prodigal Son. But I want you to realize that Jesus told those 3 stories to teach people that He had come for one primary purpose – to seek & to save those who are lost.
PROP. So let’s draw some lessons from them. First, let’s understand why we seek the lost. Secondly, let’s look at how we seek the lost. Thirdly, let’s see the reward of searching.
I. WHY DO WE SEEK THE LOST?
A. Why do we seek the lost? You see, it is possible for us to do the right things for the wrong reasons.
If our reason for wanting to reach out to the lost is simply to build a big church, or to stroke our ego, or so we can brag about what a great church we have, then that’s the wrong reason & we need to reexamine our motives.
B. Why do we seek the lost? Because they’re lost & still in their sins, just as we once were. So the love of Christ compels us to reach out & share with them the good news of God’s love, & of Christ’s offer to forgive them of their sins & make them a part of the family of God.
ILL. Have you ever lost something valuable & searched hard for it? A preacher friend told of a gut-wrenching time when he couldn’t find one of his twin grandsons.
Their names are Christopher & Michael, & they were 8 months old. Christopher seemed to be a contented-type child & would play quietly by himself for hours. You might not even realize that he is anywhere near.
But on the other hand, Michael is very vocal & quick to express his feelings. If he is unhappy, he lets you know about it. If he doesn’t like the food, or if things are not just right, he is very vocal & loud. So you almost always know where Michael is.
Well anyway, one day the house got strangely quiet, & whenever the house is quiet & Michael is in it, something must be wrong. So my friend started looking for Michael. He wasn’t too concerned at first. He just walked through the house saying, “Michael, where are you?” But there wasn’t a sound.
There was Christopher playing quietly by himself, but no Michael. So he continued looking through the house calling, “Michael, Michael.” But still, there wasn’t a sound.
Suddenly all kinds of horrible thoughts began swirling through his mind. “What if he stuck his finger in an electrical outlet? Or what if he has fallen into the toilet?”
Then he remembered taking the garbage out, & he thought, “Maybe Michael got out the door & is crawling around outside.” He quickly went outside & searched all around. But no Michael.
Finally, he came back into the house & got down on his hands & knees & started crawling around on Michael’s level, looking behind doors, in the closets, behind furniture, calling constantly, “Michael, where are you?” But there was not a sound.
Then he crawled into the dining room, & discovered Michael under the table, eating something that had fallen off the table. It was crunchy & Michael must have thought it was a whole lot better than the cereal he had been offered earlier. And as my frantic friend looked at him, Michael just grinned.
He picked Michael up & he says that he was nearly in tears as he said, “Michael, don’t you ever do that to me again.”
APPL. Later, when he reflected on that incident he thought, “When was the last time I searched that diligently for someone who is lost from God?”
SUM. You know, Jesus looked at the crowds & felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, wandering aimlessly in the world. So He came to be their shepherd & to lead them safely into the fold. And that’s what we have been commissioned to do, too.
II. HOW DO WE SEEK THE LOST?
Now the second thing I would like you to see from these parables are the ways of finding the lost. What ways are presented in these parables?
A. First, there is searching. When the shepherd lost his sheep, he went searching for it. He went out & looked & looked until he found it. And when the woman realized that she had lost her coin she went looking for the coin. So searching is the very first method. We need to search for the lost.
By the way, I don’t know whether you noticed or not but there is a difference between these parables. In the first parable the sheep was lost out there. But the coin was lost in here – in the house.
There are people out there for whom we need to be searching because they are lost. We need to do whatever is possible to find & bring them in.
That is the reason Jesus took time to talk to the woman at the well. That is the reason He called Zachaeus down from the tree. That is the reason He spent most of the night talking to Niccodemus, & that is the reason one of His final acts on earth was to speak to the thief beside Him on the cross & say, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”
ILL. Terry Bradds was 25 years old. He lived in middle America & was pretty much caught up in the life style of middle America. His 5-year-old son was invited by the woman who lived next door to go to VBS with her, & he went.
At the end of VBS the little boy invited his father, Terry, who was not a Christian, to come to the closing program & Terry went. As he watched the program, the Holy Spirit began to work on him. It took a while, but gradually there was a change in his life & Terry became a Christian.
Not long afterwards, Terry Bradds enrolled in a seminary & today he is a preacher. His son, Craig, who was 5 years old when he was invited to VBS grew up to become a minister, also. And his youngest son studied for the ministry, too. All because one lady took time to invite a 5-year-old boy to attend VBS.
We need to be searching. We need to be looking.
B. But there is a second method presented here. You see the shepherd went out searching & the woman went searching, but the father stayed home. He didn’t go to the far country.
It may not have done any good to go into the far country & find the prodigal & drag him home. He needed to come home on his own. So what did the father do? The father made home so appealing that the son wanted to come back.
SUM. So in one respect we search, but in another respect we attract. We need to make the church so warm & appealing that people want to come.
APPL. Whenever there are prodigals out there in the far country, they need to know that the church is a place of love & acceptance, where there’ll be warmth, where there are people who will understand & reach out & minister to them.
III. THE REWARD OF SEEKING THE LOST
A. Finally, there’s the reward. And the reward is rejoicing.
When the prodigal son came back home, the father said, “’Quick! Bring the best robe & put it on him. Put a ring on his finger & sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf & kill it. Let’s have a feast & celebrate. For this son of mine was dead & is alive again; he was lost & is found. ’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24).
When the shepherd found his sheep he told his friends & neighbors, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” And Jesus adds, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
And when the woman found her coin she called her friends & neighbors & said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” Again Jesus adds, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Now listen people, if it is that important to the angels, how much more important it should be to us as we think about our friends & our loved ones who are outside of Christ.
ILL. Larry Bryant heard a sermon about how the angels rejoiced in heaven when one sinner came to Christ, & he wrote these words:
“At the completion of the golden gate,
No, the angels did not celebrate.
And when the Wright boys flew their bird,
No angelic shouts were heard.
There is only one thing that we are sure about,
That can make those angels jump & shout.
It’s when a sinner makes the Lord his choice,
That’s when the angels rejoice.
When the light bulb first lit up the town,
No, the angels did not dance around.
And when the Model “T” first hit the street,
It didn’t bring all heaven to its feet.
When the first man stepped on the moon,
They didn’t sing a victory tune.
And when the first computer was born,
They didn’t blow old Gabriel’s horn.
There is only one thing that we’re sure about,
That can make those angels jump & shout.
It’s when a sinner heeds the Savior’s voice,
That’s when the angels rejoice.
B. If that’s true of angels, it should also be true of the church. I think that is the reason the time of invitation is important because the decision you make could affect you for all eternity.
You see, as Christians, we can search & we can attract, but finally it all comes down to your own decision. The doors are open, & we’re ready to rejoice with you & with the angels in heaven. But it is up to you. You’re the one who has to decide. Will you come as we stand & sing?
Lost…in the wilderness or in the house?
Read Luke 1:-10
You remember last week in the parable of the Prodigal Son, which some call the parable of the Loving Father, that we got the picture of a God who runs after us. In the two parables we examine today, we see a God who seeks, and seeks, and seeks…until what is lost is found, restored, and celebrated. And we see the joy of God as heaven rejoices.
There are many things that please God. But there is one above all else; that is the salvation of one lost sinner!
That revelation that we read in verse 7 is really the theme of this entire chapter. It is about Heaven’s joy recovering the lost. In verse 10, at the end of the second parable, it says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And in verse 32, at the end of the third parable, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
The characters change…a shepherd finds a lost sheep, a woman finds a lost coin and a father restores a lost son…but the theme doesn’t change and the main point is the same. The main point is the joy of Heaven over lost sinners being restored. That is what starts the celebration in the presence of God.
We can say, then, that anyone who does not rejoice over lost sinners being found and brought to God is totally out of touch with God. And that is exactly the case with the proud and self-righteous religious leaders of Israel identified here as the Pharisees and the scribes…scribes, being law experts who basically were the scholars who provided all the data that was needed to sustain the Pharisaic religion.
What sets off this whole chapter is the outrage of the Pharisees and the scribes over Jesus receiving tax collectors and sinners and not only receiving them but eating with them. This was an outrage to them. They prided themselves on being separated from such lowlifes. And, therefore, they are utterly out of touch with the heart of Christ, utterly out of touch with the heart of God. They know nothing of the joy of Heaven over the recovery of the lost. It seems to me that sometimes in the church we become like the Pharisees.
Jesus, you remember, went to the cross, according to the writer of Hebrews, for the joy that was set before Him. He paid the extreme price of suffering and death and feeling alienation from His Father and the full weight of divine wrath on the sins of all who would ever believe and He did it for the joy that would come in the recovery of lost sinners. He did it for you and for me.
God is, by nature, a Savior, which sets Him apart from all the gods of men that the world has ever manufactured. He is, by nature, compassionate, tenderhearted, kind, patient, forbearing, merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving. It is God, you remember, who rejoices and all the angels around Him gather in His joy and all the saints in glory are added to that joy when one sinner is brought home. Even in the birth of His Son, when His Son came into the world, His parents were told to name Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. The very name, Jesus, is a New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew name Jehovah saves.
This calls not only into question the Pharisees who were totally indifferent and disinterested in the lost who needed to be recovered, in the unclean and the sinful and the wicked of that society, but it calls us into question to ask us what is the source of our joy? Where do we find our joy? What is our highest joy? What brings us the deepest satisfaction and the greatest fulfillment? Someday, when we all gather around the throne in Heaven, it will be very clear.
We’re gonna sing a new song, says Revelation 5. “Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals, for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” And “You…made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God and they will reign upon the earth.” And then all the angels begin to chime in and all of Heaven says, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And then, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And that’s what Heaven is gonna sound like as it’s an eternal celebration of the recovery of the lost. We need to understand Heaven’s joy. It should be our joy.
So Jesus is indicting these false leaders for their absolute indifference to the sinners who were coming to Him from whom they separated themselves so that they would not, quote, unquote, “be polluted by the unclean.” Our Lord surrounded Himself with them because He was here on a recovery mission to bring joy to God. Not to be too pointed, here, but just how many of us identify with THAT mission? Of bringing joy to God by joining with Jesus in his recovery mission?
The first story He tells is a simple one about a shepherd who lost a sheep and found it and brought it home and had a celebration. As simple as it is, it is profound. This story, as well as the others, really breaks into four simple ideas. Four little points in the storyline: lost, sought, found, celebrated.
Remember, all through the gospels, the Pharisees and the scribes wanted nothing to do with sinners. Jesus wanted everything to do with sinners.
These two parables draw the Pharisees in. Jesus draws them in by making the first two parables questions. Not only are they questions, but He draws them in by asking the question of them, in a sense, as if they were the person in the story, drawing them into the experience and the thinking of the main character so that they really play the role in their minds. And once they have been drawn into the story, and once they have affirmed in their own minds what is the right thing to do, they have then trapped themselves in a corner to be the recipient of a clear and unmistakable application. You might say Jesus set them up and forces them to see themselves in God’s eyes.
As we saw in verses 1 and 2, they were grumbling and complaining and criticizing Jesus for the kind of people that He received and the kind of people He spent time with. This is nothing new. This is the same old thing that we’ve been seeing all the way through the ministry of Jesus, this criticism. Sinners came to Jesus because He came to seek and save sinners. They came, He received them, He embraced them, He loved them, He forgave them, He gave them eternal life and this outraged the religious leaders. They become very clearly exposed in the first story.
Look at the text starting in verse 3. “So He told them this parable saying, ‘What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them…” Now, that brings up the issue of the lost sheep. Now, this is about a shepherd. Okay? But the word is never there. But it’s clearly about a shepherd.
Shepherds, you may not know, were the lowest class in Jewish society. Just a step above the tax collectors. Of all the legitimate labors, they were at the bottom. That’s what made the appearance of the angels to announce the arrival of Messiah to shepherds so astonishing—rather than to the religious elite.
Jesus was always doing what He needed to do to humble the proud because God gives grace to the humble. And He was always striking at the self-righteous pride of the false leaders of Israel. And so what He says to them is so interesting. “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them…” This is offensive to them because He speaks to them as if they were the shepherd in the story. Which one of you… That in itself was an offense because they would then have to think of themselves as shepherds. They didn’t want any pollution on their bodies and so they stayed away from these kinds of people. But they also didn’t like any pollution in their minds. And the very thought of putting them in the role of a shepherd would be very offensive to them. No law-abiding Jew, no Jew of any respectability, no Jew who was a Pharisee or a scribe would ever become a shepherd, nor would any Pharisee or scribe even like to think of himself hypothetically as if he were a shepherd. That would be demeaning and unclean in their minds.
Sure, they knew that God was described several times in the Old Testament as a shepherd. Psalm 23, the Lord is my Shepherd. Isaiah 40, verse 11, Ezekiel 34:31. There are times when God is viewed as a shepherd. And they would see the analogy there leading…God leading Israel to feed and water in a safe place. They would understand that. God protects Israel from enemies. They would see the picture of the shepherd that illustrates something of the nature of God. Also, Moses was a shepherd for a while for his father-in-law when he was in Midian. But even though they would still give honor to God and see a connection there and still give honor to Moses, their great leader, they actually despised shepherds…real shepherds who lived with sheep, the dirtiest of all animals. And they had established in Jewish society that anybody who was a shepherd was unclean.
According to Jeremias, a historian, they were believed to be dishonest. Basically, as a lot, they were dishonest. They were thieves. They encroached on land that wasn’t theirs to feed their sheep. Because they took a role that put them at the lowest level, they tended to be the lowest level of people who had the least expectation for themselves and they tended to live up to their reputation. And, certainly, no Pharisee would ever, ever be a shepherd, nor would he like to even conceive of himself in a hypothetical sense as a shepherd. But they can’t help that because Jesus has put them in the story by the rhetorical question. And so, now, whether they are offended or not, they’re in the story and they’re going to have to deal with the ethical issue that arises.
What man among you, if you were the shepherd, and you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them…
Now, let me just talk about this a little bit. Most families had maybe up to as many as 15 sheep. These are peasant people, poor people, living in village life. These are not Bedouins who roam and have no village and no home and often large herds. We’re not looking at a Bedouin kind of lifestyle. We’re looking at peasant life in a village because you remember that verse 6 says the shepherd comes home. He comes back to the village. He brings the sheep back to the village. So this is a peasant kind of life. These would be people who were peasants living in a village, typically, anywhere in Israel. And as I said, one who was doing very well might have up to 15 sheep, but no one person typically would have 100. But what happened was the village would consolidate their sheep in one great flock and they would have some shepherds who would take care of their sheep. They didn’t like to hire a shepherd from outside the village or outside the extended family because, as Jesus points out in John 10, hirelings tend to destroy. Hirelings tend to kill. Hirelings tend to steal. You don’t want strangers doing that. So they would pick somebody who was at the lowest level of their social structure in the village and who needed the work and didn’t mind that it was an unclean kind of outcast job and they would hire them. Also, it was safer to hire somebody in the extended family because that person had a vested interest in the value of the sheep. And so, here is a hypothetical flock of a 100 sheep being cared for by two or three shepherds. A hundred sheep, you’d have to have two or three shepherds. One of the sheep is lost.
Now, there weren’t a lot of rules about shepherding, but there was one very dominant rule and that is, you don’t lose sheep. That was the big one. And if one goes away, you find it and you bring it back alive or dead or you bring back a piece of it snatched from a predator’s mouth. But you don’t come back without a sheep. Everybody knew that. The Pharisees knew that. That’s what shepherding was. It was making sure that you took care of those very, very valuable sheep. The one you lost may have belonged to a family who only had two. And so you took on that responsibility.
And so when He asked the question, “What man among you…” Let’s say you’re shepherds. That just must have irritated them so deeply. But let’s say, for the sake of a question that you’re shepherds and you have 100 sheep you’re responsible for and you’ve lost one of them. What man “doesn’t leave the 99 in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” Nobody’s gonna say, well, we got 99 left. No big deal.
Everybody knew what a shepherd’s responsibility was. Everybody knew that. The sheep, during the night, would be in the village in a pen. But during the day, in the morning, they would go out into the open pasture and they would feed and they’d bring them back at night. But when you lose one in the open pasture, you are called to an immediate responsibility. You don’t go back and come the next day. You go look for the sheep and you leave the sheep in the pasture with the other shepherds. And what man among you would do any different than that? I mean, He knows the answer to the question and they all know the answer to the question. He must leave. He must. This is his duty. This is his responsibility. And he goes…end of verse 4…”until he finds it.” You bring it back alive, you bring it back dead or you bring a piece of it back out of the mouth of a predator. That leaves us moving from lost to sought in verse 4. He goes after it. Everybody would say, of course, he goes after it. Of course, everybody knows that. No man among us would do anything different than that. If we were shepherds…God forbid!…that’s exactly what we would do because that’s what shepherds do. And no sacrifice would be too great and no time and effort, enterprise would be too demanding. You go and you find that lost sheep. Lost sheep get the attention of the shepherd. Lost sheep, by the way, are in grave danger. Sheep are dumb. They are defenseless. So the sheep that’s wandered off would be in danger from predators, in danger from a fall, from exhaustion, from dehydration. All kinds of potential issues could beset that lost sheep. And we’re told by people who work with sheep in the Middle East that when sheep become afraid…and they do, they get very nervous and very fearful…they lie down and die. That’s right. They can’t get up. They become so despondent and discouraged. The Pharisees knew all that. And they knew the shepherd had to go and do whatever was necessary. It wouldn’t be easy.
That takes us to the third element, which is found, verse 5, “when he has found it.” He lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. “When,” because there is no option, not “if.” “When,” because he has no alternative. This shepherd is not lazy. This shepherd is not indifferent, nor can any shepherd be. This shepherd is not afraid. He understands the wilderness. He spends his days out there. He understands the animals and he seeks until he finds it, no matter how rigorous it is to look. And when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders. And what they would do would be to take the sheep and they would weigh up to 70-75 pounds and put the belly of the sheep against the back of the shepherds neck…take the four legs, pull them around his neck and take a cord and tie the feet together. So he now has a 70 to 75 pound burden on his back. You might think verse 5 would say, when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, miserable or painfully. But, no, rejoicing. And everybody would understand that, too. He’s found the sheep. The sheep has value. The sheep provides wool. Wool provides clothing. Sheep are valuable. And so he finds the sheep helplessly, hopelessly, perhaps, nearly lifelessly, lying somewhere. And he picks it up and puts it on the back of his neck and rejoices, even though he knows the hard part is ahead. It’s one thing to look for the sheep; it’s something else, having found the sheep, to go back over the same track carrying the sheep. But he’s rejoicing as he starts the hard part, going back home where the rest of the flock has, by now, been taken, which means it’s night. And he has to go back, as it were, in the darkness.
That takes us to the fourth element…something lost, something sought, something found and something celebrated. He has some private joy going on on the way back. But verse 6 says, “when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'” This is a village, as I told you. And after a tough journey over the rugged land bearing the full weight of that sheep, he’s finally home. The Pharisees and scribes would, of course, know the scene well. They lived all over the land and the villages and towns. And they would know he did the right thing. And they would also understand his joy and they would also understand the celebration when he came back. The family and the village would have been waiting, wondering if he would find the sheep and in what condition he would find the sheep. The old men in the village, typically, we are told, would sit somewhere in the center of the village at the end of the day and rehearse all the stories and tell all the tales and speak of the things that happened that day as people commonly do even today. These would be people who shared in the ownership of the flock, perhaps. And they wanted to hear that the sheep was found. That was the news they longed to hear. And so it would become a wonderful event of joy in the village when the shepherd showed up with the sheep.
At this point, Jesus has them completely absorbed in His story, just like we are…very familiar to them, much more than to us. They have bought into the story because it’s a normal story. It’s not a bizarre story; it’s just normal common stuff. They have bought into the ethical responsibility of the shepherd because they are people of high ethics and you’re supposed to do your duty and do what’s right and that’s what shepherds should do even though they’re disdained by them. But what they’re about to get is a devastating application of the story.
Whatever they understood about the story itself and the ethics of the story, they were about to get the theological content. Verse 7, “I tell you that in the same way”…the same way that there is joy in a village over a lost sheep that is brought home…”in the same way, there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
This is a very clear implication and a very clear application. Nobody could miss it. It was just too obvious. The whole story is about the joy of God when a lost sinner is sought and found and recovered. And the point is, how is it that God can be so eager, that God can be so desirous, that God can be so concerned to seek and save the lost, and you, who claim to be God’s representatives on earth only despise the lost? How can that be?
Another way to say that was, you couldn’t be further from the heart of God. You despise the lost and God rejoices over them. You don’t want to go near the lost and God pursues and finds and carries them back. And how is it that you can respect the shepherd, an unclean shepherd, who goes out to find an unclean animal and bring it back? How is it that you can take the lofty, ethical posture on the fact that he did the right thing and condemn Me for rescuing eternal souls? How warped are you? You are far from the heart of God and you are caught up in superficiality and triviality while souls all around you are perishing. These are powerfully challenging words from Jesus.
Do you know as I studied this out I wondered how far from the heart of God I may be? Of how caught up in superficiality and triviality I may be even as souls all around me are perishing?
Now, Matthew, chapter 9, says Jesus was teaching and doing His miracles and delivering people from illnesses and diseases. And it says He was moved with compassion because He saw all the people as “sheep without a shepherd”…nobody to come and find them, nobody to rescue them, no one to come and pick them up out of their hopeless, helpless, wounded, nearly lifeless condition and carry them back.
What hypocrites the scribes and Pharisees were. They know nothing of God. They know nothing of shepherding. Quickly, with that application, the whole story would replay in their minds. And they would be exposed and indicted and the knife would go in and it would go in deep. Applauding an outcast shepherd for doing what is the rightful duty of a shepherd to save the life of an unclean, stupid animal while condemning the Great Shepherd for rescuing unclean sinners. The sad reality is, of course, in Israel, as everywhere, like people, like priests. They had no shepherds. They had no leaders. They knew nothing of the heart of God, nothing of divine shepherding. In fact, they were so far from God that when He sent His own Great Shepherd, they killed Him.
Looking back at the story, God in Christ is the Shepherd who seeks the lost. In Luke 19:10, it says this is Jesus’ mission “…the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And it is God in Christ who not only seeks but finds.
It is God in Christ who bears the full burden of restoration. That picture of God incarnate in Christ putting the sheep on His back and carrying the sheep all the way home through the darkness is the image I want you to remember from the story.
It is Christ who seeks the lost. It is Christ who finds whomever He seeks because He knows His sheep. And it is Christ who bears the full burden of their restoration. In fact, in that very act, the shepherd was making a tremendous sacrifice, the pain, suffering, to bear the full weight of the sheep back home. And so Jesus Christ bears the full weight of our recovery, the full weight of our restoration. He finds us when we are lost and lonely and hopeless and helpless and nearly lifeless and He comes to us and He picks us up and He puts us on our [His] back and there was nothing the sheep could do or did do. He says in John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Verse 14 again, “I am the Good Shepherd…” Verse 15, “…I lay down My life for the sheep.” He is the Shepherd who pays whatever the sacrifice is to bring the sheep back. It’s all of grace. It’s all of Christ. All we can do is acknowledge our lostness and our helplessness and our hopelessness and yield in faith to the Great Shepherd who picks us up. The Shepherd does the seeking, the Shepherd does the finding, the Shepherd does the lifting, the Shepherd does the carrying, the Shepherd does the restoring and the Shepherd leads the celebration.
When you think about Christianity and you think about a symbol, you might think about a cross. Right? I would say that if we were to sort of identify any one symbol in Christianity it would be a cross. But it wasn’t always that way in Christian history. It wasn’t. In fact, in early Christianity believers didn’t use a cross. Once in awhile they used a sign of a fish but that was more in the Gentile world. Early Christians used the image of a shepherd with a sheep on his neck. That was the earliest Christian symbol. Beautiful.
In fact, I have heard, if you’ve ever been to Israel and you’ve gone to all those little stores they take you to where they’ve got all kinds of things carved out of olive wood, you find that one thing appears there perhaps as much or more than anything else and it is little wooden carvings of a shepherd with a sheep around his neck. That was the early symbol because the early church understood the meaning here of being carried by Christ back to the Father’s presence.
And, of course, He closes the story by saying, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” That last line is pure sarcasm. Of course, we couldn’t be talking about you, because you don’t need to repent. The sinner who repents is like the sheep…helpless, understands his helplessness, danger, weakness, need, desperation and recognizes only a hope for life and a hope for rescue and trusts himself into the arms of the Great Shepherd and rests fully on His back until He brings him home.
That’s in stark contrast to the ninety-nine righteous persons who don’t need to repent. They’re already holy. The Pharisees and the scribes had nothing to do with the purposes of God, nothing to do with the work of God. They were deluded into thinking they needed no repentance. They are the ninety-nine who are the self-righteous, self-made legalists who know nothing of God. They are saying with the Pharisee in Luke 18, I thank you that I am not like these vile lowlifes. On the other hand, there are those who are lost and they know they’re lost. They’re desperate. They’re carried home. And then an amazing thing…they become the tools and the instruments and the means by which the Great Shepherd continues to rescue other lost sheep. This is our high calling and Heaven’s high joy. What a privilege it is for us to participate in the divine recovery process. And what a shame that we often do not make this a priority in our lives.
Continuing to confront them, Jesus tells the second story about this woman who lost a coin. And the setting, again, is village life. Can I just take you back? You’re in a little Middle Eastern village in the land of Israel, a little dirt road. And along the little dirt road in a small little village there’s some little earth brick houses made out of bricks with mud and straw and the little houses are along the road and the little road down the middle. That was the little village. They would know this very, very well.
The picture is of a simple people, a poor people who face a serious matter in the story. This woman has a big problem. She loses something of great value. They didn’t have a lot of money. In fact, they didn’t use money the way we use money today. They lived in a bartering society as many people have throughout history and some even do today. They swapped this or that for what they needed, even their own service and their own labor. And so money was not distributed and dispensed at the pace that it is for us. And a little bit of money, relatively, could go a long way.
And this woman, this village woman in the story has 10 silver coins and she loses one and she finds it and has a party.
Verse 8…I love how He starts. You remember in verse 4, He said, “What man among you, if he has 100 sheep…”…and they would have all gone ___________, because a shepherd was unclean. Shepherds were defiled. They wouldn’t have anything to do with a shepherd. They wouldn’t be a shepherd. They wouldn’t go near a shepherd. And yet Jesus said what one of you, in effect, if he were a shepherd, and He had caused them, in their minds, to have to conceive of themselves as a shepherd and, thus, they had been defied.
Jesus loved to assault their foolish pride. And this, if anything, is worse. Now He makes them act in their minds as if they are not a shepherd but a…a woman. He says to them, “Or what woman”…yikes! This would be viewed as an absolute, outright insult to address Pharisees and scribes and ask them to put themselves in a woman’s place to evaluate how a woman would think and how she would behave. Shepherds were unclean and women were un-respected. In fact, in the Middle Eastern culture, it was an insult to compare a male audience to a woman. Here again, Jesus just sweeps away their foolish pride.
[He] does it mercifully since God only gives grace to the humble, and sooner or later they’re gonna have to be humbled if they’re ever gonna come into His kingdom. And by the way, while the Pharisees didn’t want to be compared to a woman, for sure, God doesn’t mind being compared to a woman. We think of God in male terms and, of course, that’s the way He presents Himself, as a Father, the masculine identity, the masculine pronoun.
But there are many times in the Word of God when God presents Himself as analogous to a woman. And I’ll give you one that just combines both of them. Listen to Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Well, we understand that. That’s a male kind of analogy. But this Psalm also says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Can I tell you something about ancient culture? The men didn’t set the table and fix the meal. In Psalm 23, God is both the Shepherd who leads His sheep and God is the woman who prepares the meal. It shouldn’t surprise us that in the 13thchapter of Luke and the 34thverse, Jesus speaking as God says, “How often I wanted to gather your children together like a hen gathers her brood…” That’s a picture of a mother hen. That’s a picture of a mother hen picturing a mother picturing Jesus. I wanted to gather you like a mother gathers her children.
And there are numerous other occasions in Scripture where God is represented as analogous to the conduct, the behavior of a woman. But women, in this period of time, in the time that Jesus was on the earth from about 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., 400 years in there, weren’t even taught the law of God. That’s how much disdain there was for women. The Pharisees led that parade. They no doubt got up every day and several times said I thank you, O God, that I’m not a woman. They wouldn’t be a shepherd and they certainly wouldn’t be a woman.
So Jesus said to them, What if you were a shepherd and what if you were a woman? What would you do? And He pushes them into the mental place to have to think like a shepherd and think like a woman and, thus, they are intellectually being defiled. They would be outraged by this but they couldn’t avoid it. Jesus distressed and disturbed their prejudices greatly.
Now, let’s look at the story. Four little points: lost, sought, found, celebrated. Just like the one about the shepherd.. Verse 8, “What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin”…we’ll stop right there. Picture your little village, okay. A dusty road somewhere in Judea, Israel, a little village, a little home with four walls, a little low doorway, no windows, maybe a slit above eye level to let the smoke out from the fire inside and maybe cause a little ventilation, floors made out of dirt in some parts of Israel, black bay salt dirt and the floor is hard and yet dusty on the surface. There are cracks, there’s dust, there’s debris. This woman is in this little house and she’s lost one of her ten silver coins.
These silver coins would be about 4 grams of silver. The Greeks called them a drachma and the Romans called them a denarius and they would be a day’s wage. But in the case of these women, while it is possible that this could just be a sum of money that she had, like, cash for family needs over the next months or weeks, the truth is they didn’t spend their money at as rapid a rate as we would. Even though it was a day’s wages, it wouldn’t necessarily be spent every day. So this would be some money that they could use down the road. And in ancient times women would take the coins that they would have in their, sort of, cash accounts and they would wrap them in some kind of a rag and tie a knot. That was kind of the original purse thing.
The money would be in there and it would all be knotted up and tied for safekeeping and the woman would put it in a safe place. And sometimes these coins might be sewn into their clothing. But there’s another possibility here that maybe is more likely. It could be her dowry. Women were given a dowry by their fathers. On occasion their husband would even give them a dowry, which would act as a security for their future. And some of those women would put those around their neck in a necklace. They would run a cord through coins that were pierced or they would put a bag with those coins in them and they would have it tied tightly to this thing they would wear around their neck so they always had their security in their presence. And this would be their future. What happens if their husband dies, if their husband is ill, if there’s a disaster in the family? This is their security.
Well, it could have been any of these things. But whatever it is, in a poor village family, this amount is significant. And one-tenth of this amount is significant, too. There’s not only the duty of being responsible, but this has real value. A woman knew she was responsible for the coins, she knew this was a great loss and there was really no option. And so He asked the question that is gonna demand a right answer. What woman…if you were this woman and you lost one of those coins, what would you do? They would know that she had only one choice. You wouldn’t say, ah, it doesn’t matter. This is a poor family. Of course it matters. And so you go from lost to sought in verse 8. She loses one coin, she lights the lamp, sweeps the house, searches carefully until she finds it. It’s got value plus, you know, women are really special about this kind of stuff, aren’t they?
Caren will turn the house upside down to find something where I will usually give up and suggest we should buy another one. That might explain why I probably have six or seven hammers around my home. When I can’t find one after looking, I’ll get another one. But women tend to attach sentimental value to things. Well, this is more than sentimental value. This matters. So the diligent search goes on. The lamp is lit. A little clay lamp with oil in it, drop a little wick, float the wick, light the wick and going around trying to find it and maybe it’s hanging from some chains and looking into every nook and cranny and every corner. She gets out her little twig broom that maybe she made or bartered from a neighbor. She starts sweeping because even on a hard floor of dirt, there’s dust on the top. It’s a very dry place. And she’s sweeping it all over trying to find it. Maybe it’s in a crack. Maybe it’s under the dirt. Maybe it’s under debris. Maybe it’s under something there, a furnishing of some kind.
And it says she searches carefully, the greek word epimelos, a very intense verb, means to have an urgent sense of care. She reaches with her little broom every corner of the house, moves everything, lifts up anything it might have rolled under, looks in every crack by her light. And she keeps doing it until…we come to the third point…it’s found, end of verse 8, until she finds it. Verse 9, and “When she has found it…” She’s gonna do this until she finds it. Why? It’s precious. It belongs to her. It’s lost. It needs to be recovered. It’s the same as the shepherd back in 4, verse 4. He goes after the one which is lost…the end of the verse…until he finds it. And “when he has found it,” said the same two statements down in verse 8 and 9, “until she finds it,” and “when she has found it.” Whatever it takes. And Jesus’ audience, absolutely they understand this. Perfectly clear.
And that takes us to the fact that the coin is lost and sought and found and celebrated, verse 9. And “when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.'” Let’s have a party. Friends and neighbors, by the way, different than back in verse 7…or verse 6 where the shepherd calls his friends and neighbors. Here, the word friend, philos, and the word neighbor, geitonos, are both in the feminine. She calls her lady friends. That was pretty typical. Men stayed with men in that culture and women with women. They were very close in the little village. They all knew each other. Everybody’s suffering would be everybody’s suffering and everybody’s joy would be everybody’s joy. And so she calls her lady friends together and they have this wonderful little party because she has found what she lost. And the point to the Pharisees is, you understand that, right.
This is perfectly clear. Of course they would buy into the story. They would buy into the ethical response of the woman. She did exactly what she should have done. And then comes the application in verse 10. “In the same way”…this is where the finger comes out…”I tell you”…emphatic…”there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” In a similar sense, just like that woman, as she called her friends to rejoice over recovering a lost coin, I tell you, Pharisees, I tell you, and He points right at them, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” They’re just so far from that. Here, Jesus is saying, I’m doing this because this is what brings joy to God. He gets no joy out of you 99 self-righteous people. His joy is in the recovery of a repenting sinner, the people you don’t associate with.
Now, look at that phrase, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God,” because it’s an interesting one. You might assume immediately that this is the angels rejoicing. It doesn’t say that. It says there is joy…and this is an accurate translation…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God. Where the angels are, there is joy and the angels are there in the presence of God. So there is joy there in the presence of the angels where God is. The joy, however, is coming, first of all from…whom?…from God. He is the one in view in verse 7 when it says “joy in Heaven.” It’s the joy of God that fills Heaven. It’s the joy of God that surrounds the angels. He is the one who fills Heaven with His joy. Oh, of course, they share His joy and, of course, they join into His joy.
So if you asked a simple question, What goes on in Heaven, pretty easy to sum up…the worship of God, the exultation of Christ, the fullness of holiness and endless, perfect joy. And right now it’s going on. As one sinner after another is sought and found and recovered, the party never ends. God places the highest value on the worth of a sinner, one soul recovered, very unlike the frauds and the fakes who serve Satan and have no love for the lost. Jesus said of the Pharisees, you only make more sons of hell with your efforts. So the indictment, frankly, is inescapable.
Jesus is saying, How can you affirm the ethical responsibility of a shepherd to find a sheep, how can you affirm the importance of a woman finding a coin and be utterly critical of Me recovering lost souls? How can you understand the joy of a village of men and the joy of a village of women and not the joy of God? How can you condemn Me for doing what brings God joy?
Let me take you back through the story in your mind again. It is God in Christ who is that woman. God doesn’t mind being compared to a woman. It is God in Christ who is that woman seeking the lost sinner hidden in the cracks, in the dust, in the debris of a dirty world of sin. It is God in Christ who initiates the search for the sinner. It is God who initiates the search for that sinner because that sinner belongs to Him. It is God in Christ who initiates the search and it is God alone who finds because the coin is inanimate, lifeless, dead, can do nothing on its own. It is God in Christ who searches intently, who comes all the way down to this world, all the way down to death, all the way down to the shameful death on the cross. It is God who sends His Son way down, all the way down, turn on the light of the gospel to sweep, to search, to pursue the sinner in every dark and hidden place. It is God in Christ who shines the light of the glorious gospel of Christ on that lost sinner. It is God in Christ who reaches down, picks up the sinner and restores him back to the book of life. And it is God, then, who breaks loose in joy into which all the holy inhabitants of Heaven, men and angels enter.
The celebrations of Heaven are not just for the recovered coin and the recovered sheep, but for the Recoverer…God, Himself. For God to recover us is……costly grace. He had to come all the way down, all the way down to the cross, death on the cross, down into the dirt of a tomb. Costly grace, because He was exposed to sin for the first time in His eternal existence. He came down and lived with sinners, down in the dirt, in the debris, in the cracks. But in that costly grace was great power because the coin was inanimate, lifeless, hidden in the darkness, but it had the power to find us, to pick us up, carry us back.
There is no religion that has a God like this. There is no religion in the world that has a God even of their own invention who seeks and saves unworthy sinners because they have value in His view, because they are His own. There is no God in any other religion who goes to find His enemies and make them His friends and build them a room in His own house for the sheer joy that He receives in saving them. There is no God like this who, then, takes them to live with Him forever and finds in them satisfaction. This is our God and then this is the character of the people who truly represent our God.
One final comment, verse 10, same in verse 7, “over one sinner who repents”…The sheep is helpless, the sheep is near dead, can do nothing, has to be picked up, put on the shepherd’s back and carried back. The shepherd carries the full burden, the full weight of the search, the find, the recovery and the restoration. The coin is inanimate, helpless, dead, lifeless. The Lord has to do the finding and the restoration. But our Lord makes this very clear that this does not happen without repentance. The celebration in heaven waits until you repent.
In closing, you can be lost in the wilderness; like a sheep you can wander away. You can be lost, even in God’s house. The scribes and Pharisees were lost and could not even grasp it—not at least, until their pride and hypocrisy was stripped away and scriptures do not name many who came to their senses. In the church or out of it, It is very easy for us to lose our way; we get distracted or confused, we chase the wrong things, we get complacent. Time doesn’t allow for me to talk about how we get lost—that’s another lesson. But let me conclude with this; I am sure many of us have need to repent today. Some of us are lost and perhaps are feeling sought after; maybe God is opening up our hearts.
Let me conclude with a short video after which we will ask Darrell to lead us in a song
Notice what happened when the shepherd found the lost lamb. He didn’t scold the lamb or take a whip and drive the lamb back to the flock. Instead, the shepherd picked up the lamb and carried him on his shoulder all the way back home. To me, that communicates salvation is something Jesus does for us–not something we do for Him. He does it all. He carries us home. Won’t you let the shepherd pick you up today and carry you home?