Luke 15 may be one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible. It contains three parables about things that were lost and then found. These stories are pictures of how God seeks us and the joy heaven experiences when we are found. Let’s begin reading in verse 1:
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
There were two different groups present in Jesus’ audience: the religious leaders and the sinners. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had become the enemies of Jesus by this time. They followed Him around looking for a reason to condemn Him. These religious fanatics were so scrupulous in their observance of the law; they would never sit down and eat with “sinners” like tax collectors and common men. The words of Jesus made the religious crowd very angry and they were going to eventually crucify Him in the name of their religion.
But the Bible says the common people heard Jesus gladly–they rejoiced in His words! We need to be on guard constantly so we don’t become so self-righteous that we begin to exclude people who aren’t just like us. When we do, we become exactly like those Pharisees. Look at their criticism of Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” My response to that is, “Thank God He welcomes sinners or else I would never have a chance to know Him!” Their criticism was actually a compliment!
If you are here today and you feel you aren’t good enough, that you have failed and blown it too many times to approach God, let me remind you that Jesus welcomes sinners! Jesus didn’t share the scruples of the religious leaders, so He was always hanging out with the outcasts and rejected people. Because Jesus welcomed sinners, we need to welcome sinners, too! Look at verses 3-10:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. The he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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. 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? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
What is it that makes heaven happy? Jesus reports there is great rejoicing in heaven when one person turns from their sins and puts their faith in Jesus Christ. The world may be impressed when we build a huge building, but I don’t believe heaven celebrates too much when a building is built. The world may be impressed with our multitude of programs and ministries, but Jesus never said there was joy in the presence of angels over 4,000 people gathering for Bible Study. He did say, not once, not twice, but three times there is great joy in heaven when one person turns to God and receives His forgiveness. Let’s take a closer look at these parables and discover why heaven gets so happy when a person turns to Christ. In both of these parables, there was something lost that was found.
I. THE LOST LAMB: God Loves You as an Individual
In the first parable, a little lamb is lost and the Shepherd leaves the others to go out and find the individual lamb. We are the lost lamb and Jesus is the Shepherd. This leads to two observations:
1. The Saddest Experience of Life is To Be Lost
In the parable, God is the Shepherd and the lost lamb represents us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). There are three words starting with “D” that describe sheep: dumb, defenseless, and directionless. You won’t see any trained sheep acts at the circus–they are too dumb. Almost all animals have either claws, sharp teeth, quills, a hard shell, or speed to escape predators, but not a lamb; they have no defenses. Sheep get lost easily, too. Pigeons, cats, and dogs can often find their way back home, but sheep are clueless about how to find their own way back home. In many respects, we are the same way in our ability to rescue ourselves from our lost condition. We are dumb, defenseless, and directionless. Like sheep, we all have a tendency to stray away from God. We are prone to wander.
It can be unnerving to be lost. How many of you have ever been in a strange building or city and gotten lost? It can be a distressing experience! In this passage, Jesus used the word “lost” to speak of the spiritual condition of being eternally lost. The word L-O-S-T is one of the scariest four lettered words in the human language. A lost soul is the most tragic condition in life. There was a time, as a young adult, when I was very wealthy, but because of some unwise investments, I lost it all. It’s terrible to lose a fortune, but that’s nothing compared to the tragedy of a lost soul.
I have friends and family who suffer (and in some cases have died) from various health problems. They once had been strong and healthy, but then they were disabled. It’s terrible when someone loses his health, but not nearly as terrible as a lost soul. You can lose your mind, but it’s not as tragic as a lost soul. Death will heal the loss of a fortune, or a loss of health, or a loss of a mind, but a lost soul is for eternity. We are all like a lost lamb at one time in our lives. Jesus can never find you until you admit you are a lost sinner. The bad news is without Christ, we are lost. But the good news is
2. Jesus Searches for Us in Order To Save Us
The shepherd had 100 sheep and he began to count them, “…97, 98, 99, Whoa! I’m missing one!” Then the Shepherd does something surprising. He leaves the other 99 sheep and sets off to find the single lost lamb. Remember, that’s what God is like. Most people think “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” But Jesus never said anything like that. God is more concerned with the individual than with the group. God deals with us as individuals, not as groups. He cannot save the crowd, but He will save every individual in the crowd who will accept His love and forgiveness. You don’t get saved by hanging around other saved people–that’s called salvation by association–it doesn’t work that way. You have to have a personal encounter with the Shepherd yourself.
Now, many folks think the shepherd is foolish to leave the 99 sheep in order to search for one lamb. What’s the big deal if one is lost? You still have 99 sheep–it’s only a 1% loss! But with God, every individual matters. If the shepherd had 10,000 sheep and one was lost, he would have still left the 9,999 and gone after the one. Why? Because it is the character of our God to love the individual and to seek the lost. If you were the only person on earth who was lost and needed a Savior, Jesus would have still come to earth and died on a cross for your sins. That’s why Jesus came to earth.
The bad news is without God you are lost. But the good news is Jesus loves you so much He died on the cross. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is the nature of God to seek the lost. In the other religions of the world, man is seeking and searching for God; but in the Christian faith, it is God who comes seeking and searching for you!
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?
In Part 2, we will look at the second parable Jesus told about a lost coin and the woman who searched frantically for it.