Seeking The Lost (Luke 15)
September 22, 2019
Painting the Scene
First, notice that Jesus tells this parable to a mixed group of tax collectors, sinners, and Pharisees.
Luke 15:1--2 (ESV) --- 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
First, notice what it says about Jesus here. He is receiving sinners and eating with them. Now the Pharisees have a skewed view of what is going on in this case. Jesus has just said some difficult commands in Chapter 14, specifically, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” He finished that by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let them hear.” The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him, and Jesus was willing to eat with them. This is not a scenario where Jesus is trying to associate with the worst people imaginable to prove that he can or to get under the skin of the Pharisees. These are people who are wanting to repent of their sins. So he gives three parables to address the Pharisees grumbling over these sinners who would repent.
We know the three parables so let’s go through them quickly. In the first parable, Jesus asks, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” A shepherd cares about his sheep, and he doesn’t want to lose any of them. He cares about the sheep that are lost. So he leaves the other sheep to go out and find the one that is lost. Then he says, “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I found my sheep that was lost.’” You can imagine this man being excited over his sheep.
The second parable is very similar. A woman has ten coins and loses one. So she diligently searches the house until she finds it. Then she calls her friends and family together to rejoice with her over the found coin.
In the third parable, the pattern is still there, but another dimension is added to it. In the first two parables, we could see the perspective of one who is seeking something that is lost. Now, we hear the perspectives of the lost/found and of those who were never lost. This is not so much a parable about the lost or prodigal son as it is a parable about the three different attitudes that are present in the father and his two sons. Jesus is giving us a picture of how the lost sheep was lost, how the shepherd felt, and how the 99 sheep felt.
The younger son asks his father to give him his portion of the inheritance. That would be one-third of all that the father owned. Now the father is not dead yet, so really the son shouldn’t be asking for anything. He should wait for this father to die to get his inheritance. But he is young and impatient. So he takes one-third of his father’s possessions and goes off into a foreign land to squander it. But eventually the money runs out, and the young man is unprepared for a major famine that was in the land. So he gets the only job he can find feeding pigs. To a Jew, pigs are the unclean animal. So the son is doing work that is degrading and sad. Things get so bad that he is wishing he could eat the food that the farmer was giving to the pigs to eat, but no one would even give him that. So he decides to return to his Father. Verse 17 says, “He came to himself.” He recognized that his father was gracious and able to provide for his servants, so he plans to ask his father to take him back as a servant. He intends to say, “I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”
When he arrives at his father’s house, his father runs out to meet him with arms wide open, embracing him and kissing him. The son was confessed his sin to his father and showed himself to be humble, so the father responded with joy, saying, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Once again, the main character finds what is lost and rejoices.
Then, the older brother shows up, and we see that he is unable to accept his father’s youngest son. He hears the party going on and refuses to go in. His father comes out to him, and he says, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” This son rejects his younger brother because he has been so foolish, and now he is rejecting his father for being foolish and accepting the fool back into his house.
The father tries to bring this older son back in and help him see what he sees. So he says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
What Do We Learn About Evangelism?
Now, let’s think again about why Jesus gave these three parables and what they can tell us about evangelism. Remember from verse 2 that the Jews are rejecting Jesus because he is accepting tax collectors and sinners. These parables point to those Jews who are represented by the ninety-nine sheep, the nine coins, and the older brother. Let’s consider why that caused them to turn away from Jesus and see if we can understand some tendencies we may have that are similar to the Pharisees.
Hinderance #1 - Self-Righteousness
In verse 29, the brother in the story tells the father, “I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command.” This brother has always done everything just as the father has asked without any complaining or resistance. Yeah right! He is the picture of self-righteousness. In rejecting the father’s wishes to come into the celebration, he is showing that he only obeyed because he wanted to. His heart was not obeying out of love for his father, but out of love for himself. This attitude reveals that he loves himself too much, and he thinks too highly of himself. The Pharisees do the same thing.
Have we ever looked at someone who is making many horrible mistakes in their lives and felt relieved that we aren’t sinning that bad? Maybe someone we know has fallen to some sexual sin, perhaps they have gone to prison, or maybe they disrespect us. Do we find comfort in knowing that we are better? Are we content with ourselves? How many times have we thought, “I’m not as bad as him or her.” This is self-righteousness at the lowest level. If they were to come to church services, there would be a tendency for us to look down on them. At the very least, we would not want to treat them as equal with “good prospects.”
In some cases, it may be that they have a heart of gold. They look like sinners. We will tend to be self-righteousness and fear of impurity. Therefore we will reject the sinners as well. We who are the ninety-nine never went astray. So we will struggle with self-righteousness, and that will hinder our ability to evangelize.
We must be humble instead of self-righteous. There is not one person here who is worthy of the grace they have been given. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we have to develop care for their souls. Are there scriptural changes we can make to our services that would make it more visitor-friendly? Maybe the way that we like to do things is not conducive to a new visitor feeling comfortable.
Hinderance #2 - Distractions
The second lesson we learn about evangelism is found in the second part of verse 29. He says, “You never gave me a goat to celebrate with my friends.” Do you hear the implications in these words? All that the father has left belongs to the son because he divided it up between them. The younger son has already taken his inheritance. This means that this feast is being paid for by the older son’s inheritance. The older son does not see his younger brother because he is too focused on how much this is going to cost him. There may be a real fear inside of the older brother that the younger brother will squander another third part of the inheritance. The old saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice... you ain’t going to fool me again!” (George Bush’s alteration). But in all of this, the older brother is missing the fact that his brother is back. He is so focused on the stuff that he has lost his concern for the lost souls around him. He is blind.
Have we ever been so distracted with the worldly pursuits that we fail to consider the lost souls around us? How much time do we spend thinking about and praying for a lost soul that we know of? How does that amount of time compare to our time spent dreaming of how we will spend our money on new things? If someone came to the point of repentance, would we even notice? Would we do anything to help them in their walk? There will be a tendency to fear that we would be wasting our time, money, or energy trying to help them. This is the way of the Pharisees, who Jesus said were lovers of money in Chapter 16. We can get so focused on ourselves that we will fail to see the spiritual battle that is taking place over their souls. Instead of God using us to help the sinner truly repent, the devil is using us to pull the sinner back to him. We who are the ninety-nine will struggle with distractions, and that will hinder our ability to evangelize.
We must be focused on the severe needs of others instead of ignoring them. That means that we must leave the ninety-nine to find a lost sheep. We can talk to the same people all the time for the first 10 minutes after service. We all get comfortable talking to people we know. But let’s speak to people we don’t know. We can look for those who might need encouragement and talk to them about spiritual things. Those of us who are already doing that, we can go to a person who we know is a visitor and speak to them. We don’t need to hog all of their time, but if we let them know that we are glad that they are here, they might feel more welcomed. We have to tell them that we care about them by sacrificing the things that we are comfortable with, or they won’t come back.
Hinderance #3 - Forgiveness
In the last parable, the father is trying to convince the brother to let the son be restored to him as a brother. The older brother says, “When this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Do you see the way the older brother is talking about the younger brother? I sense some jealousy in his tone. There is no recognition that the younger brother has come back to the father. That act alone took some amount of humility. There is also the assumption that the father is foolish enough to accept someone who will take advantage of him again. The older brother does not believe that his younger brother has truly repented. He sees him as being too far gone to ever come back or to ever be helped.
Do we feel the internal resistance to be kind to a sinner? How many of us have had someone do something awful to us and thought, “There is no way I could ever forgive them for what they have done.” But what does God want his people to do when someone decides to repent? The picture throughout these parables is that God wants his people to accept them into the fold. He is pleading with the Pharisees to rejoice over the return of a lost sinner. He wants them to celebrate along with him. These men and women have done some horrible things. Tax collectors were funding the Roman army (an army that has murdered and raped thousands of Israelites). They support them through their work of tax collecting, and they were known for taking more than what was required so that they could be wealthy. Can you imagine someone doing that to you and your family? But now they are willing to relinquish all that they have to follow Christ. Would you be able to rejoice with all of heaven over their repentance? Jesus is saying that this news is worth celebrating! We tend to resist the sinner for their sin, or we may draw a line and say they have gone beyond that line. Can you imagine the ninety-nine sheep killing the one sheep that was brought back safely? The ninety-nine will struggle to forgive and accept those who God has forgiven.
We must be accepting instead of unforgiving. It does not matter what they have done in the past. God still wants them to repent and turn back to him. Let’s not draw a line that God hasn’t drawn. Let’s allow those who will repent to come. It may be that they have some severe sins that they don’t even know they need to repent of yet. If they are humble and have the right heart, those sins will work themselves out over time.
God Is Seeking The Lost
I don’t want to beat anyone up over evangelism. I know that I have not done all that I could in this area, but this chapter gives us a glimpse of what we find throughout scriptures: God is seeking to save the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus is just reiterating what God already said many times. We could go to Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 42, Jeremiah 32, or many other places to see this. But I think the most fitting is Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a book written about the fall of Jerusalem to the first exiles so that they will know precisely what God was doing and why. Three times in Ezekiel, God says that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather they turn back to him and repent. Even though he must judge and destroy most of his people, he says in Ezekiel 34 that he will search for his sheep, seek them out, and rescue them from wherever they have been scattered. Then, he will set up over them one shepherd, his servant David, and he shall feed them (Eze 34:10-13, 22-24). David had one of the biggest falls of all time, yet he was forgiven when he humbly turned to God and submitted to him. Manasseh was called the most wicked king in Israel because he offered his child to false gods and led all Israel astray. But he turned to God and was forgiven. God even forgave many of those who killed his son. God wants to accept back those who are lost in prodigal or reckless living if they will turn and repent. We must be as well.
Are We Seeking The Lost?
We know that God wants the lost to return to him, but how do we seek them? How could we leave the ninety-nine to find those who are lost? First, we need to know who are the ninety-nine and who are lost? Is it all of those who are faithful to come to services? Any one of us can appear righteous but have a heart that is completely rebelling against God. Those people are lost sheep. How could we find those members and help them? How could we help those who have stopped coming altogether? How could we help visitors who show up and have no clue what to do? How do we handle the lost at work or school? We wouldn’t treat one the same way that we would handle the other. We must do the opposite of the older son.
It may be that there is someone here this morning which is a lost sheep. I want you to look with me at verse 7 again. Luke 15:7 (ESV) --- 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 need no repentance.” Please don’t think that the people here will look on you with suspicion if you make that change today. If you are willing to renounce everything and follow Christ with all of your heart, there will be rejoicing in this place. There will also be rejoicing in heaven over you. Isn’t that a fantastic thought?