In last week’s message, Jesus was speaking to large crowds of people who were following him and strongly challenged them regarding discipleship and commitment. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (14:26-27) These are very difficult words to hear for sure. Then, Jesus closed his dialogue for chapter 14 with these words in verse 35 “Let anyone who has ears to hear LISTEN. So I’m thinking that having heard Jesus say these things about the true cost of following him, it would drive people away. They would stop following him. But we don’t even get past verse one in chapter 15 before Luke says “ALL of the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen.” Tax collectors were Jews who, one might say, “had gone over to the dark side.” They collect taxes from the jews and give it to the Romans, who abuse, mock and mistreat the Jewish people. “Sinners” might refer to Jews who were notoriously NOT following the Law of Moses or Gentiles who are curious about Jesus, but it would include also the sick, the poor, the outcasts who the Pharisees would have taught that they are sick, poor, disabled BECAUSE they sinned. So this is a pretty motley crew that is gathering around to hear Jesus.
Among the crowds there were also Pharisees and other religious leaders. And what are they doing? In Verse 2 Luke says “And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ “ This description does not sound like listening. Where our CSB version uses the word “complaining,” some commentaries suggest that the Greek word here would be better translated as muttering. If you aren’t sure what that muttering sounds like, think about a time when you were a teenager and your parents asked you to do something and your response was to say something in a low or barely audible voice, especially in dissatisfaction or irritation.
In this scene, if you will, we have the sinners and the outcasts who have come to hear, to listen, to what Jesus has to say because he is bringing them Good News. They are not lost forever. They are of value..
We also have the Pharisees and scribes who have come to listen but their goal is not to understand what Jesus has to say but find a way that they can ruin his reputation and stop so many people from following him. Why are they doing this? Because Jesus continues to disrupt their interpretation of how one “correctly” follows God.
Throughout the book of Leviticus, God (Yahweh) identified what was clean and unclean. The religious leaders were given the list of clean and unclean in the Law of Moses. The issue was that they had no compassion, concern or care for those who were unclean. They tried to live, as much as possible, completely separated from the unclean. Some rabbis took this separation so strictly that they didn’t believe one should try to teach the word of God and share the kingdom, with someone who was considered unclean, a sinner. Their complaint that Jesus was welcoming and eating with sinners revealed a major stumbling block among those who considered themselves righteous and thus already members of the kingdom of God. Here was this Jesus offering the kingdom to those they had excluded. The Pharisees were the epitome of someone keeping a balance sheet…If I do enough right things, I will be in the kingdom of God. They had let following the letter of the law interfere with their relationship with God.
Today we find ourselves in the heart of Luke’s gospel. In chapters 15 and 16 he presents a series of 5 parables(or stories) which Jesus directed at the Pharisees and scribes. While they were addressed to the religious leaders, they were told in the hearing of “All the tax collectors and sinners as well.” Why did Jesus use stories? Why didn’t he just come right out and say what he wanted them to hear? He used stories much the same as we do today. We connect with stories much better than with lectures. This morning we will look at the three stories in chapter 15 which all deal with something lost.
Parable of the Lost Sheep: Vs 4-7 (I read from bible)
As I read this, I am wondering how the sheep got lost? I have not raised sheep and I’m pretty sure some of you have. Rodney has and he verified for me the description I had heard and read elsewhere. Sheep are nibblers. They nibble a tuft of grass here and then, oh look another tuft of grass there and oh wait that tuft looks good. And before they know it, they have nibbled their way right through a hole in the fence and haven’t the slightest idea how they got to where they are and much less how to get back to the flock. Now, nibbling grass is good for sheep. They have to eat. That’s the way it works. But when their stomach becomes the thing which rules them (becomes their idol) they lose their way. Some of us may not be too far distant from this example. Oh it’s not our stomachs necessarily. It happens when we do something (even good things, sometimes) which takes our focus off our relationship with God. We repeat the process until we have neglected the relationship so long that we don’t know how to get back. The sheep didn’t intend to get lost. Some people don’t set out to drift away. It happens when we make a small compromise in one of our values (it doesn’t affect anyone but me) and we don’t see an immediate consequence. Then another small compromise with no immediate consequence and another and another until we are so far away, we have opened the door to spiritual darkness and neglected our relationship with God. I would describe this as being unintentionally lost. But Jesus asks the question? What man among you (the religious leaders) wouldn’t go looking for the lost sheep? I mean you’ve got 99 that are doing just what they are supposed to be doing. 1 out of 100 is only 1 percent. But sheep had value: for food, wool, milk, maybe even a sacrifice. And a good shepherd would not let one sheep be lost. The head shepherd, if you will, had assistants and he would leave the 99 in the care of those assistants and go looking for the lost sheep. And the saving of the lost sheep would be a cause for rejoicing. Jesus tells them, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”
And then he continues Parable of the Lost Coin Vs 8-10 (I read from bible)
How did the coin get lost? We aren’t told how this coin got lost. It is an inanimate object so it couldn’t wander off. One can only guess that it got lost by neglect or carelessness. What is the value of this coin? Let’s say we go out to the parking lot this morning and dig around under the seats or in the console of one of your vehicles. We would likely find 2, 3, or 4 coins (maybe one is a quarter) that have been missing for who knows how long. You didn’t stop everything you were doing to dig around for that nickel or quarter (unless you were in the Aldi parking lot). We almost shrug off the finding of the coins.
Maybe you are thinking this is the kind of coin we are talking about here, but this coin is called a drachma (denari). The value of this coin would be about one day’s wages at the time. It represented food, clothing, shelter, provision for the family. Now the woman had 10 and lost 1, so she still has 9. Is it a big deal? The average day’s wage here in Riverside is just under $150 per day. Now we are talking average so some make more others much less. But I can guarantee that if Jesus asked you, would you not “light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until you find it?”, we would all say “yes! of course!” And having found it, You might even tell someone about it! Again Jesus says, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
At this point, everyone who has been listening would likely have agreed that the search for the lost was almost imperative. So He also said Parable of the Lost Son Vs 11-24 (I read from the bible)
Many of us would know this section very well as the story of the Prodigal Son. This is one of the two most influential and best loved parables Jesus told. It has two parts so hang with me as we look at it. How did the younger son become lost? As humans created in God’s image, we are given the ability to choose and as we know, we don’t always choose wisely. The younger son in this story did something which was absolutely unheard of in those days. He went to his father and demanded that he give him his inheritance. Now we know that an Inheritance is something that one receives after the death of someone. This son was essentially saying to his father, I wish you were dead because if you were dead, I would have what is coming to me now, not in the future. The father here does what we can not imagine. He distributed the assets to them. The younger son gathered everything he had. He wasn’t planning on coming back. He cleaned out his room: Loaded up his baseball card collection, his x-box 360, his bed, chest of drawers, all of his clothes. You get the idea. He’s not coming back! And then he had a garage sale, put his stuff on Facebook Marketplace, E-bay and converted it all to CASH. Cash was power, influence. Our perception of cash hasn’t really changed in the past 2000 or so years. If I have money, I can get what I need or want. This son’s desires became needs and then idols. He willingly chose to break the relationship with his father. He was intentionally lost. This story about the lost son however is not like the sheep and the coin. Those items were unintentionally lost (maybe they didn’t even know they were lost) and the shepherd and woman (who represent the attitudes and actions of God) went about searching to find what was lost, to restore it to it’s right place.
As this story goes, the son squandered all his money and wound up in a pretty sorry state of affairs. I mean a Jew taking a job working with pigs would have been detestable, They were unclean and by working with them, he was choosing to be classified unclean. But the story says, “he came to himself”. So what does this mean? Some commentaries say that when he was not thinking clearly, with right motives, he was not himself. How many times have we heard someone, perhaps even ourselves, say that they are trying to find themselves. Rarely does anyone ask, “If I go off to find myself, will I like what I find?” Well, he found himself in a pretty sorry state of affairs, probably asking, “What am I doing here?” He reasoned that he would go to his father, confess that he had sinned and ask to be treated like one of the day laborers and I am sure fully expecting the wrath and displeasure of his father. We could certainly relate to that response by the father.
Here is where Jesus’ story takes a sharp turn from the expected. The father has been waiting, watching, anticipating how he would respond should the son return. I am sure, as the son has been traveling homeward, he has been practicing his speech all the way home “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.” When he finally gets close to his father’s house, he only gets the chance to say that he has sinned and is unworthy. He doesn’t get the opportunity to finish his prepared statement and ask to return as less than a son. The father has been getting up every morning going out on the front porch, looking down the road, watching to see if the person raising the dust coming his way is the wayward son. He anticipated the joy he would have should that son return. And indeed, he didn’t wait for the son to get to him. He ran to greet him. It would have been considered undignified of the father to run. But the father didn’t care. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 gave instructions about this kind of son. Listen to what the law said. (Read scripture) He didn’t say to him why don’t you go around back and kind of sneak in so folks don’t see you, get cleaned up and we’ll talk about the conditions of your return. No, He told his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; place a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate for this son of mine was dead but is alive again, he was lost and is found!” There it is. His sin didn’t make him bad, it made him dead! The father didn’t see him as a sinner any longer. He saw him as alive; back from the dead. He clung to him, expressing his love and affection, calling the whole household into action to celebrate. The robe, the ring, the sandals all indicated that he was fully recognized as a member of the family.
Can you imagine the feast. Thanksgiving is this week and around this country there will be tables full of food that at some levels can be considered lavish, extravagant and perhaps even be embarrassing. But I can almost guarantee that the celebration when this son returned home would make them pale by comparison.
But wait, there’s more! There were two sons. (Read Vs. 25-28) The older son heard the celebration and rather than go in to find out what was happening he called one of the servants to ask about it. The servant shared what he thought was the greatest news ever and was greeted by the older brother becoming angry. How did the father respond to him? He didn’t go out and tell him to get his act together but pleaded with him to come in. The older son's response was (vs. 29-30) “Look, I have been slaving many years for you and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.”
Go back to verse 12. The younger of them said to his father, “Father give me the share of the estate that I have coming to me. So he distributed the assets to THEM.” Here is the older son, the owner of ALL of the remaining assets, acting like a slave! He even says that he has been slaving for many years. He is basically saying, “Look, I have been following all the rules, doing things the “right’ way and never strayed.” Are you serious?? The older brother didn’t even acknowledge the father’s provision for him all of these years. The pharisees, scribes and religious leaders, who supposedly already had the kingdom were living like slaves. They were following the rules, they were so wrapped up in the rules that they missed the connection, the relationship with God which was the purpose of the law.
There wasn’t one lost son. There were two. The younger son was intentionally lost. The older son didn’t even know he was lost because he was so wrapped up in doing things the right way.
As I was looking at these parables which Jesus spoke to a crowd that included tax collectors, sinners and Pharisees, I tried to put myself in the place of those hearing them at that time.
Imagine for a moment being one of the tax collectors or sinners. You have been told repeatedly that you are bad, not good enough, don’t dress correctly, don’t say the right things, will never measure up. No matter what you do, you’re not good enough. But here is Jesus telling you “come as you are. come to me and I will make you clean, not clean up and come.”
Or perhaps, a Pharisee. I am of the right family line. I follow the laws that Moses gave us. Now I am being challenged to look at the spirit of the law, not just the letter. Have I been doing it wrong all along? Have I been trying to measure up when I should be trying to show others the love of God?
Then I asked myself, what is Jesus saying to me in these stories? I found that there have been times in my life when I have been unintentionally lost, a look at social media for a few minutes leading to maybe an hour or more of time lost when I could have been reading my bible, studying God’s word or praying all activities which will reveal God’s character to me. Other times I have been intentionally lost. Turning my back not only on the church but on God. Certain that I could be self-sufficient. Relying on my skills, knowledge to get me through this messed up world. I found in those times that I felt not only helpless but hopeless. I was not myself.
Perhaps this morning you are hearing for the first time that the Lord and Father of all is seeking for you. Is waiting for you to turn to him so that he can tell you that you are not worthless, your life is more valued than anything you can imagine. You are dearly loved and he wants to welcome you home. If that is you, please find me, Rodney or one of the other leaders this morning so we can pray with you.
Last but certainly not least of all. Have you, have I been guilty of acting like one of the Pharisees. Thinking that I can check off the boxes and that’s what I need to do to earn eternal life.. Oh dear friends. When I think that way, I am so far from the Father’s love. God doesn’t require those things for me or you to be a part of the family of God. What is required, the only requirement is that we recognize that on our own, we have no hope, no future. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Reading and studying the bible, praying, associating with right-minded christians. These things help us learn and understand the character of God, they do not earn us an invitation to the banquet. They do encourage us to tell others where to find life. We don’t know if the older brother ever went in and celebrated but we know that the father pleaded for him to have a change of heart and enter into the celebration.
Friends, Jesus is the great shepherd of the lost sheep. He left heaven to come to earth to save the lost. And like the woman searching for the lost coin, Jesus will not give up until everyone who belongs to him is brought to eternal life. It is Jesus who points us to the love of the Father who delights to welcome sinners home. Scripture says anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, so call out to him.
Do not grow weary in doing good. Let us rejoice when the lost are found. The sinners are saved. Let us go out into the streets and highways and proclaim the good news. The banquet is prepared. Come, celebrate and rejoice.