“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”Paul, I Timothy 1:15, 16
Jesus defines us totally. And so it was meant to be. Our primary relationship with God is through the mediation of Jesus the Messiah, and so he remains the central person in Christian consciousness. Our connection with the Trinity is through its Second Person. This has many implications, but for one it means that we can never get beyond the fact that we are disciples and therefore people directly connected to the messianic purposes in the world. We can never remove Jesus from the foremost place in our thinking, adoring and actions.
– Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come
1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I 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.
8“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”Luke 15:1-10
We have just gone through a period of very direct teaching by Jesus on our need to repent, to enter through the narrow door, to be willing to leave all to follow him and to carry our cross daily. Jesus gives a vision of the brutal reality that awaits those who are uninterested or unwilling to do so – an eternal hell of suffering and separation from God.
Those he focuses this message on most intently are people who believe they are justified through their own righteousness, living in superiority and judgment over those they perceive as less worthy – Pharisees, teachers of the law and other religious leaders being his principal target here. You can say that Jesus just gave his fire and brimstone sermon to a church full of preachers who use fire and brimstone techniques to intimidate others they consider less worthy than themselves. As we have seen in the past, the Pharisees and teachers of the law just don’t seem to get or accept the message of the kingdom Jesus brings. This passage starts with yet another condemnation of Jesus and his willingness to befriend and dine with “sinners” and tax collectors.
Jesus now takes a very different approach to explaining salvation, with God as the initiator and rescuer of the lost.
The first parable has Jesus as the shepherd distraught over the one sheep out of a hundred that has become lost. The shepherd leaves the safety of his fields and flock to go into the open country and intends to search until he finds it. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, Jesus paints the beautiful and tender image of the sheep being carried home on the shoulders of the joy-filled shepherd. The shepherd is so overwhelmed with joy that he calls his friends and neighbors to celebrate the recovery of the lost sheep.
Similarly, a woman loses one of ten silver coins and frantically searches the house until she finds it; when the coin is found she likewise rejoices and calls her friends and neighbors together for a celebration.
Jesus then draws the analogy: in the same way, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent; there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. In both instances, the joy and celebration is not experienced by the sheep or the coin, but rather by the finder of the sheep and the coin. God’s greatest desire and joy is to see us repent, come to salvation and enter into full relationship with him.
Note that in both cases, Jesus does not back away from our need to repent – defined as turning 180 degrees from our selfish and self-governed lives to humble ourselves in our sin, embracing Christ’s grace and becoming followers and disciples who seek to obey his teaching. But here we must recognize the role of the shepherd searching for the sheep and woman searching for the coin. Both stories are meant to capture the deep desire and longing of God for our reconciliation to him. This love and longing is so extraordinarily intense that God pursues us relentlessly into whatever open country we have strayed to or dark corner of the house we have fallen into.
Jesus’ continued journey to Jerusalem is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for man. The shepherd is about to lay down his life for his sheep and, in doing so, create a way for every man and every lost and broken sinner to seize this grace and become children of God.
We recognize here the interplay between our repentance and God’s role in opening our eyes to see this need and giving us the gift of faith. While each person faces the decision to follow Jesus or not, those of us who are called to this life must recognize God’s incredible grace towards us in even be able to perceive this call and then respond to it. Jesus is our rescuer, the one who carries our busted-up bodies and souls to the place of love, celebration and rejoicing.
Thank you for your limitless and unfailing love, Lord – we are so undeserving and you are so merciful to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . may we be used by you as instruments of your redemption and healing towards those you put in our path today.
“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”Proverbs 18:12
“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”Psalm 73:2, 23-27