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.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then 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. Doesn’t she 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.” (New International Version)
Lost people matter to God… a lot. They matter so much to the Lord that one lost soul who is found is the grounds for a big celestial party.
Note a simple observation of today’s Gospel lesson: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents, then it is God who is doing the rejoicing. The Lord is absolutely giddy with joy over a lost person being found.
Jesus told two short stories, each teaching the same thing, so that we will be absolutely sure to get it: A loving God has unbounded joy over lost people being found. These parables of Jesus give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. The Lord would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile that person to right relationships.
God would go dumpster diving and wade through stinky nasty garbage to find just one lost valuable person.
Restoring lost people is such a high priority to God that the Father sent the Son to this earth. Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.
I have not always been a devoted follower of Christ. I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the Church – it was lonely and awful, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help.
But God mercifully sent people into my life to share good news with me and help me out of my prodigal way of life. I once was lost. But now I am found. When I turned from my path of destruction and embraced Jesus Christ, there was a big party in heaven.
God gathering wayward and lost persons is a gracious activity, seemingly free from criticism. But there was. The rightful Judge of the universe got judged by a group of spiritual simpletons. And because there were complaints leveled at Jesus for purposely going after the lost, it therefore needs to be asked:
Where do we locate ourselves in these parables?
The two stories were downright offensive to many of Christ’s original hearers. Those upset with Jesus were so inwardly focused that they believed ministry ought to revolve around them and their needs.
And, what’s more, the religious leaders were offended because they thought all the fuss about sinners would only highlight their sin. In other words, there ought to be no party and no rejoicing for people who have lived an ethically and morally dubious life.
Preaching grace is always offensive to people who work for their salvation. It is scandalous to such persons to hear that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
If we hear Christ’s parables and the concern for lost sinners who don’t know Jesus and say, “Well, all this talk about outreach is well and good, but what about us? What about me? After all, I never went down a path of immorality or hurt anyone. I’m a good person. Where’s my party?” Then, we must locate ourselves as the lost persons in need of being found by God’s grace.
Consider for a moment the worst sinner you can think of – a person for whom you would label as being akin to the devil…. Now picture that person being found by God and becoming a follower of Christ….
Would you attend the party to celebrate that person’s repentance, reconciliation, and recovery?
If any of us feels justified in our hate, then we are the lost one in need of turning from our sin.
In leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the flock and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost….
Can you live with that?
These parables of Jesus have significant meaning for church programs, budgets, and committees. By most estimations, only one-in-five lost people in America even knows one Christian. Statistics like that are what keep me up at night; it deeply saddens me. It drives me to prayer.
God’s unconditional mercy and amazing grace is what makes all the difference.
If we lose the sense of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, then there will be no outreach. Finding lost people is not dependent on completing a class on evangelism or getting training in how to answer every question.
Outreach is fueled by passion and desire. Healthy Christians reproduce themselves. I assume you didn’t take a class on how to procreate – you just had the desire and the willingness; and then, you celebrated nine-months later, the birth of new life.
New life always needs to be celebrated because that’s what God does. Yet, the party cannot commence until the lost are found….
O God – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – sanctify all believers everywhere with your abiding presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the Gospel. Bring lost people to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you and straying from the flock. Increase in us your grace and love so that we may participate with you in finding the lost. Amen.