I want to begin with what is admittedly an embarrassing story of sorts, that is, embarrassing for me anyway. And since humility is a biblical virtue, I’m happy to practice it here.
Years ago I had two identical pairs of prescription glasses, (two pairs, that’s an important detail to the story) and over time I lost both of them. I remember sitting at home with Callie one night, lamenting that I had lost not one, but two pairs of glasses, and she said, “Have you checked the lost and found at church?” This was back when I was working at a large church near Seattle, and so the next day at work, I went to the church receptionist, told her I had lost my glasses and she pulls out an entire basket full of glasses, which I suppose, isn’t that surprising at a multi service church with thousands of members. And lo and behold, I found one pair of glasses and I was thrilled.
I get home, share the good news with Callie, and then looked and said to her, “You know, it was the strangest thing, in the basket were a second pair of glasses that were just like mine.” And Callie is looking at me with this incredulous look on her face, standing there silently, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and eventually she says to me, “Those are yours too! Go get them!”
Oh goodness, what would I do without my sweet wife? Together she’s given me new meaning to those all too famous hymn lyrics, “I once was lost, but now and found, was blind, but now I see,” not once, but twice, thanks to Callie’s gentle prodding and savvy deductive reasoning.
Lost and found. Lost and found. That is in many ways, the theme of our story for today. And thankfully, this morning we find ourselves reflecting on what I’m convinced might be one of the sweetest and dearest passages and parables in all of the gospels, all of which is a real gift and feels by design by our gospel writer Luke, in midst of challenging passages over the past couple months, and a few more challenging passages in the weeks ahead.
In our passage today, Jesus shares two parables, the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, and to properly understand these two parables we must recall the scene that prompts these two parables.
Here again is the setting that Luke setups up for us in verses 1 and 2, saying,
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Here we return to a theme that’s been running throughout Luke’s gospel. Where Jesus is more than happy to welcome and eat with sinners, and because of it the Pharisees aren’t very happy with Jesus at all.
For in the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus’s behavior goes against all their preconceived notions of who their God is and how their God is supposed to behave. Here Jesus is with the tax collectors, they are thieves and traitors in the eyes of the Pharisees, and even more he’s eating a meal with them, an intimate act which symbolized friendship, intimacy and unity.
All of which makes the Pharisees grumble and mutter in frustration, and creates this tension, highlighted by this question of, “Why would a holy and perfect God choose to dwell with sinful people? Why would he bother with them?” Or in other words, “Why would Jesus welcome sinners?”
To answer this question, Jesus shares two parables, or, to be more accurate, he shares three, the third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, of which Ron Loge gave a great sermon on this past February, you might recall the corresponding photos from Rembrandt, there’s no need to repeat that parable here, instead I’ll point you to his message.
Rather, today we’ll simply reflect on the first two parables, the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, both of which effectively communicate the same truths, both answering this question: “Why would Jesus welcome sinners?”
Our parable gives us a two part answer to this question. Why Jesus welcomes sinners.
The first being, The heart of our God
And second, The joy of our repentance
We’ll take these two in that order, and in doing so walking through the parable itself.
First, Why would Jesus welcome sinners? … because it’s true to the very heart of our God.
Both parables that Jesus shares here are structured in the same way and together communicate the same message. Where, as for the lost sheep in verse 4, Jesus says,
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
Notice the logic here. Sheep belong to a shepherd. And when a shepherd loses one, he goes off to find it. That’s what shepherds do! The heart of a shepherd is to go after and find his lost sheep, yes even when it’s one in a hundred. Jesus is saying, how much more so is that true of God with his people. People belong to God and the heart of our God is to gently and persistently pursue that which belongs to him.
All the more, the parable of the Lost Coin functions in the same way, saying in verse 8,
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
At first glance when I read this, my mind translated a silver coin as like the equivalent to a dime today. And if that’s the case, I’m thinking to myself, oh my gosh, forget about it, who cares, loose change is often more of a hindrance than helpful anyway.
But yet, in reality, each silver coin would be the equivalent to one day’s wages. And when it says that she has ten silver coins we are to assume that her entire life savings is a sum total of ten days wages, which when you think about it, is not very much. Now, knowing that, would you now go looking for it? Well, yeah, you better believe it. In fact, I’m turning the whole house over in search of that precious silver coin and will not stop until I find it, which is exactly what this woman would do too.
Jesus is saying, how much more so is that true of me, of a God with his people. It’s our God’s character, it’s in his very nature, it’s central to the very heart of God to pursue, to find what has been lost.
And so why would Jesus welcome sinners who are far from him? Because it’s true to the very heart of God to find what has been lost.
One of the things that I love about Jesus is that he is not willing to settle for 90 or even 99%. Personally speaking, more often than not, I’m perfectly content with those percentages. To my middle school and high school friends, I’m sure you’d agree with me here, we’d be more than happy to get 99% on every test and paper going forward.
But yet, not so with Jesus and his people. As our Good Shepherd, he could very well look at his flock of sheep, having lost one and still with 99 and say to himself, “You know, I’ve still got 99/100. That’s pretty darn good.”
No way. Uh-uh. He goes after the 1. It’s the very heart of our God.
That’s the first reason. Here’s the second.
Second, Why would Jesus welcome sinners? … because there is immense joy that comes from repentance on both heaven and earth, in knowing that what was lost has now been found.
After finding the lost sheep or say the lost coin, both the shepherd and woman respond in the same way, where, for example, starting in verse 6, it says,
Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Or as one commentator put it so simply, the idea here is that this man is so thrilled by his discovery and so eager to share it with others, that he’s effectively saying, “Help me to enjoy my joy!!” When you have good news, you just naturally want to share it with others.
And here’s how Jesus connects the parable to the larger story and setting at hand, saying, now here in verse 7:
7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Why does Jesus welcome sinners? Because there is immense joy that comes from repentance on both heaven and earth, in knowing that what was lost has now been found, in seeing lives transformed through Jesus Christ.
Now, a couple important things to note here.
First, consider the nature of true repentance. Repentance can sometimes be one of those big and scary bible words, conjuring up images of fire and brimstone. And yet, repentance in its very essence is rather simple, meaning “to turn.” To turn away from our sin and to turn towards Jesus and follow him.”
And even more, this parable communicates an understanding of repentance far beyond that.
Consider this for a moment. The lost sheep never turned around, rather he was found. And so in the context of the parable, repentance happened when the shepherd went out and brought the sheep home.
All put together, I think commentator Ken Bailey absolutely nails it here when he says this about repentance. Repentance is a willingness to be found. Repentance is a willingness to be found.
Repentance is not “get back here.” Repentance is “come home.”
Repentance is not “get your act together.” Repentance is “are you willing to be found?”
When Jesus says the repentance of one is more joyful than 99 who do not need to repent, the idea here isn’t that there are good people and bad people, sinners and righteous, those who need to repent and those who don’t. The idea here isn’t that there are people who don’t need to repent, but rather that there are people that don’t see their need to repent. That don’t realize their need to repent.
You see, everybody, everywhere, at some point in their life, yes, even on a daily basis, needs to repent. Everyone, everywhere, must at some point in their life, yes, maybe even daily, say, “Lord, I am willing to be found.”
And so, why would Jesus welcome sinners? … because there is immense joy that comes from repentance on both heaven and earth, in knowing that what was lost has now been found.
And thank goodness he does, otherwise there’d be no seats at the table available for you and me.
And now, if I may, I want to share with you a couple of encouragements and points of application and a story before we wrap this message up.
First, if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’m too far gone, I’ve done too much, Jesus wants nothing to do with me” this passage might be the single greatest rebuttal to that feeling. Because here’s the thing, if he’s willing to leave the 99 and go out and risk it all for one, that means he’s willing to go find you. If he’s willing to lay it all on the line for just 1, then he’s willing to lay it all on the line for you.
Second, where in your life do you need to make the turn, crying out to Jesus and saying, “Lord, I am willing to be found?”
“Lord, I’m lost in my sin, stuck in my ways, Lord, I am willing to be found.”
“Lord, I’m struggling leading my family and raising my kids, Lord, I am willing to be found. After all, they belong to you anyway.”
“Lord, all the plans I had for my life, trying to find my identity and self-worth in my work have only led me to a dead end, Lord, I am willing to be found.”
Oh the joy, oh the joy, on heaven and on earth, when one sinner repents, saying, “I am willing to be found.”
Third, are you able to rejoice when people seemingly far from God come to know Jesus?
When the Pharisees saw Jesus welcoming sinners they muttered and grumbled. And yet, Jesus hoped that they would do something different altogether, and to instead, rejoice.
And so, would you rejoice if your curmudgeon-y, get off my lawn kind of neighbor put his faith in Christ?
Would you celebrate if your annoying coworker who gets on your nerves turned to Jesus?
Would you praise God if you heard on the news that a famous celebrity had a born again experience or would you be filled with skepticism, a doubtful grumbling?
We’re sometimes tempted to grumble, and yet Jesus says, “Rejoice.”
Fourth, and finally, will we as people once lost and now found, go and share Christ’s love to those who are lost today?
That’s the implicit charge that Jesus is giving the Pharisees here. As if to say, “Fellas, if you see someone who is spiritually lost, will you lovingly go after them? Will you pursue them?” It’s as Jesus is saying, “Guys, as I welcome and eat with sinners, I am doing the very thing you refuse to do yourself.”
One of my favorite stories I’ve read recently is about a woman who shared Christ’s love in the most unexpected of places. And I’ll in fact finish with this, sharing this story as though I was reading from the book I read months ago.
The first time Rachelle Starr walked into a strip club, she made sure she wore a turtleneck and no makeup. She and her friends from the church looked so out of place that they might as well have walked in wearing snow pants. And as they walked in, a bartender, recognizing right away that Rachelle and her friends had not stepped into the strip club looking for employment, asked “What on earth are you girls here for?”
Rachelle responded by saying, “Jesus has sent me here to do something kind and loving for the women in this club. Can I bring a meal in?”
The bartender said, “No. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Absolutely not.”
Undeterred, Rachelle eventually spoke to the owner and somehow got permission from him to bring in a meal. The owner later told her that in his 30 years of management, he’d seen Christians protesting outside, but never knowingly had one inside his club.
And so the next week, Starr returned, this time with homemade fried chicken, green beans and macaroni and cheese. “Where are you from?” the women asked as she handed them plates free of charge.
Rachelle said, “I’m not from a restaurant. I’m here because Jesus loves you.” That was enough to turn some off altogether, and several wouldn’t eat because they thought the food had been poisoned.
It took Rachelle and her friends six months to build any sort of trust. Once she started to gain some traction, Rachelle and her friends would stay for a few hours, serving either in the girls dressing room or on the floor.
Over time, some of the women began asking for help. One was addicted to heroin. Another was homeless and living in her car. Another really wanted to go back to school.
Starr raised up a volunteer team and served the women as best she could. It was one thing for her to serve these women with occasional and regular support, but a whole other thing to create systemic change necessary to help these women get on their feet so that they didn't have to rely on a strip club for their employment long term.
And finally, she hit on an idea that worked – a bakery. Rachelle would pay the women not only to make cupcakes and cookies but also to take classes on how to balance a household budget, how to recover from addiction, how to parent children, and how to study the Bible.
Over the years, Scarlet Hope, the name of the organization Rachelle helped found, has helped six hundred women transition into new careers, and hundreds have accepted Christ.
All because Rachelle and her friends once welcomed and ate with sinners. Truth is, long ago, that’s what Jesus did too.
Oh the joy, oh the joy, when one sinner repents. For as Jesus says, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
So friends, how about you?
As the next hymn goes, Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me, calling, “O sinner, come home!”