************ Sermon on Luke 15:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 26, 2003
"Joy Over Repentance"
Do you know one of the worst things about being an elder or a pastor? Putting someone under discipline. Do you know one of the best things about being an elder or a pastor? Putting someone under discipline. When members of the church stubbornly refuse to change their lives – in spite of all of our work and all of our prayer – then we have to take the sad step of removing them from the membership rolls of the church. We do that with sad and heavy hearts and cry to God in prayer when that happens. However, when members of the church – by God's grace – reform their lives in response to our visits and prayers, then we are filled with joy and gladness that someone has repented.
This morning, in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, we are called to be like Jesus: to seek out the lost and to rejoice with the angels of heaven when they repent.
I Search for the Lost
A In Jesus' parable one sheep out of a flock of one hundred gets lost. Since an average family back then had from five to fifteen animals we know this must be a communal flock in which a number of families put their sheep together. The sheep are owned either by an extended family or by an entire village. Whatever the case may be, the loss of one of the sheep is a loss in which the whole community or family shares.
A shepherd, a member of the community or family that owns the sheep, counts the flock while they are still in the wilderness. He discovers that one is missing. Jesus asks,
(Lk 15:4) Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?The shepherd is responsible to the community for the loss of the sheep. Being a diligent shepherd he feels badly about the loss and goes to search for the lost sheep. And, he searches until he finds it. No trouble, no sacrifice, no suffering is too great to find the lost sheep and bring it back. It is a long and dangerous search among forests, cliffs, and ravines, but the shepherd continues to seek until he has found the lost sheep.
The sheep is an animal that seeks the company of other sheep. It has a herd instinct. It does not wilfully separate itself from the flock. In a mountainous district, though, it can easily go from one tuft of grass to another without watching where it is going and eventually separate itself from the flock. Once it realizes its predicament it will lie down helplessly and refuse to budge.
Our shepherd finally finds the lost sheep. There it helplessly and stubbornly lies. He now is forced to carry it over a long distance to the sheepfold.
Many commentators and ministers have made a big deal about the ninety-nine being left unprotected and helpless in the wilderness or open country while the shepherd searches for the lost sheep. This is not at all the case. Assumed, but not stated by Jesus, is that the ninety-nine are in no danger; they are quite safe. Back then no flock of this size was ever attended by a single person. Two, and even three shepherds, were commonly employed. When one sheep is lost and the shepherd goes to seek it, the other shepherd takes the rest of the flock home.
B By means of this parable Jesus is making a statement about Himself. He is saying, "I am the good shepherd who searches for the lost sheep."
Scripture tells us that tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around Jesus to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (vs 1-2). The Pharisees were very offended by Jesus' actions.
Table fellowship anywhere in the world is a relatively serious matter. To invite a man to a meal is an honor. It is an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table means sharing life. To share a meal with another person is to accept that person.
Every self-respecting Jew rejected tax collectors and sinners as renegades. They were lapsed or fallen Jews who had deliberately forsaken their faith. They were hated, despised, rejected. Jesus, however, ate with these tax collectors and sinners. This was a statement that Jesus accepted and forgave them. This the Pharisees could not tolerate. To eat with tax collectors and sinners is to put oneself down to their level. To eat with them is to contaminate oneself and make oneself unfit for temple worship.
By means of the Parable of the Lost Sheep Jesus replies to the muttering of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He is saying that, like any shepherd, He searches for the lost sheep. He searches for the lost sheep of Israel. And, can there be any question in anyone's mind that tax collectors and sinners are lost sheep? Of course not! Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He searches for the lost sheep.
The shepherd in the parable stops at nothing to find the lost sheep and return it to the sheepfold. Likewise with the Lord: He also stops at nothing to find the lost sheep and return them to the sheepfold.
To properly appreciate this we have to know the larger context of today's parable. Our parable is part of Luke's travel narrative which begins by the Sea of Galilee and continues to Jerusalem. Luke says,
(Lk 9:51) As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem where take place the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We have to keep in mind, then, the upcoming passion and death of Christ on the cross.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who searches for the lost sheep. He goes all the way to the cross and the grave in order to restore them to the sheepfold. In another place Jesus says,
(Jn 10:11) I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Thank God for this, congregation. Thank God, I say. For apart from Christ you and I are as lost as the tax collectors and sinners of Israel. We too are the lost sheep Christ came to find. We too are the lost sheep Christ died for on the cross.
So, in response to the muttering of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd who searches for and lays down His life for the lost sheep."
Topic: SalvationThis is a perfect description of Jesus Who searches for the lost sheep. And, by His death He breaks down every barrier between us and God.
Subtopic: Only Through Christ
Many years ago the Prince of Wales visited the capital city of India. A formidable barrier had been set up to keep back the masses of people who wanted to catch a glimpse of royalty. When the prince arrived, he shook hands with some of the political dignitaries who were presented to him. Then, looking over their heads to the crowds beyond, he said, "Take down those barriers!" They were quickly removed, and all the people, regardless of social rank, had free access of the heir of the British empire. Some time later when the prince came to that district again, 10,000 outcasts waited under a banner inscribed with these words: "The Prince of the Outcasts."
C To the scribes and Pharisees Jesus is issuing a call to share in His mission to the lost sheep of Israel. Did you notice how Jesus starts off the parable? He says,
(Lk 15:4) "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?Jesus is calling the religious leaders of Israel to share in His mission to the lost sheep of Israel. The Lord is calling the scribes and Pharisees to search for the lost, to be concerned about them, to love them.
What Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees He also says to us as a church and as individuals. He calls us to also share His mission to the lost. He calls us to seek them out, to love them, to be concerned about them.
We need to keep in mind, too, that there is such a tremendous need. As Jesus puts it,
(Lk 10:2) The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.This past week at Classis we heard about the harvest field. We learned that the population of the north San Joaquin Valley is expected to double by 2025. Right now, there are 6 communities by Sacramento that have 4000 people for every single church; we are told that a healthy ratio is 850 people for every single church. So, the fields are indeed ripe for harvest and we have a huge mission field in our own back yard. Like Jesus, we are to seek out the lost.
How are we to do this? How are we to share in the mind and mission of the Good Shepherd? We do this by faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. We do this by confronting, admonishing, and disciplining the lost in our midst. We do this by carrying the lost to God in prayer. We do this by planting new churches and supporting our missionaries. As a church and as individuals we are to stop at nothing in bringing the lost to the sheepfold. We are to be persistent in our prayers, our visits, our proclamation. We are to love the sinner even though we hate the sin.
D What is the shepherd's goal in searching for the sheep? To restore it to the sheepfold. What is the church's goal in searching for the lost sheep? To restore them to the fold. The church, like the shepherd, wants all the sheep back in the fold, where they belong. Jesus calls this repentance.
Repentance is a change of life, a change of direction, a change of heart and mind, a U-turn. The lost sheep are changed from persons opposed to God and Christ to people who seek to do the Lord's will. The lost sheep are changed from persons who hate God and Christ to people who love the Lord. The lost sheep are changed from persons who are separated from God and Christ, alienated from them, to people who are one with the Lord.
The church's goal, then, in sharing the mind and mission of the Good Shepherd is repentance, a drastic change of life, the restoration of the lost sheep to the fold. We want people to be so convicted by their sin and so troubled in their conscience, that they have no peace and come unto Christ in repentance and faith.
E Repentance and restoration is not something we can bring about; it is a work of the Lord. We see in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that Jesus equates "repentance" with "being found." We all realize, I am sure, that the sheep is not responsible for being found; it does nothing but lay down until the shepherd finds him and carries him home. Likewise, the sinner is not responsible for his repentance; he waits to be found by the Good Shepherd. In other words, it is the Lord Who brings repentance just like it is the shepherd who finds the sheep. There is a song we sing which gets to the heart of the matter:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knewRepentance and restoration involves God's electing and searching love. All that we can do is yield when the Good Shepherd finds us and let Him have His way with us.
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
it was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.
it was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.
When the church searches for the lost, when the church confronts sinners with the Gospel, it must depend upon the Lord to bring about repentance. That is why the elders ask the congregation to pray for the lost; as a church we must ask the Lord to work repentance in their hearts.
F Do you know why the shepherd of the parable searched for the lost sheep? Because it is of value. Why does Jesus search for the lost? Because they are of value to Him. Why are we to search for the lost? Because they are of supreme worth. It is a fact of life that one does not search for something not worth anything. We search for the lost, then, because they are of value. They, like us, are image-bearers; into them, too, God has breathed the breath of life; they, too, can be temples of the Holy Spirit; for them, too, Christ entered this world and died on the cross. In God's eyes they are of supreme worth and value. No wonder the Lord wants us to search them out.
II The Joy Over Repentance
A When the shepherd of our parable finds the sheep he rejoices (vs 5). When he comes home he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep" (vs 6). The shepherd and the community rejoices that the lost sheep is found. One of the community's flock has been found and restored to the fold, so there is joy.
B Jesus drives home His message about this joy. He turns to the scribes and Pharisees and says,
(Lk 15:7) 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.The scribes and Pharisees should rejoice and not murmur when one of the lost sheep of Israel is restored to the fold. There should be joy in the community of Israel when this happens. "There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents," says Jesus. So there ought to be joy on earth too.
The shepherd and the community rejoices when the lost sheep is found. The angels rejoice when a sinner repents. The scribes and Pharisees ought to rejoice that tax collectors and sinners come to Jesus. Likewise, the church and Christians ought to rejoice when a sinner repents.
C The Lord rejoices over the righteous in the church. He takes great joy in every member. He is happy when little children are presented for baptism. He is glad when someone stands before God and His people and professes His faith. But He especially delights in the repentance of sinners:
(Lk 15:7) ... there (is) more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
We, my brothers and sisters, ought to follow the Lord in this matter. We too rejoice over every member. We too are glad when children are baptized and when someone comes forward to profess his faith. But what especially ought to make us happy is the repentance of sinners. Our response to a sinner's repentance ought not to be gossip or talk or skepticism but joy that a lost sheep has been found. This ought to cause much joy because then a lost member of the flock is returned to the sheepfold.
How sad it is when a member of the flock is lost.
When this happens, the church and the Christian, like the Lord, are to search out the lost. The goal is repentance. The result, we hope, is joy: joy in heaven and joy on earth.
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