Jesus’ Pursuit of the Lost
My beloved parents believed dancing was a sin, all dancing. And, as I remember it their convictions caused me a little anxiety growing up. As I approached middle school and high school I began to worry, “What would I say if a boy asked me to a dance?” But, of course this only happened once and I didn’t want to date this particular boy anyway. So, I guess you could say their beliefs were helpful to me, except that today when asked to dance by my sons or my grandchildren I still have no rhythm.
After I started college I began working part time at a local hospital where I encountered a larger sphere of people who thought very differently than my parents. I remember specifically two ladies who were my mother’s age and yet, they loved to dance. Every time I helped or assisted them with a project they would both say the same thing. “Oh, thank you so much. When you get married I will dance at your wedding.” I wasn’t sure why this was a compliment, but I knew they meant it to encouragement me, and I also knew there would be no dancing allowed at my wedding.
After I began reading Luke 15, and I saw the parties enjoyed at the end of each parable, I was reminded of my conversations with these ladies. In reflection I think my co-workers wanted to share in some communal delight at my wedding. Their joy gave me fresh insights into Luke 15
Some students of the Bible enjoy dissecting a single Greek or Hebrew word found in a passage, almost as if they were putting it under a microscope. But, another valuable way to study the Bible is to pull back the lenses and look at a passage from a greater distance. I call this view the airplane method. It is similar to climbing aboard an airplane that will take us far above the earth. This analytical observation helps us find the major themes of the Bible. Both methods are useful and legitimate ways to study the Bible, but today we are going to climb in the airplane.
Look at Luke 15:1-2
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” ESV
1) What do you these verses reveal about the Pharisees’ interest? Why do you think they were upset?
These next three parables in Luke 15 are going to reveal Jesus’ interest. Each of these stories are similar and yet different, but it is the way that they are the same that will expose to us the most about the Jesus’ heart. So, as the chapter continues look for the ways these parables are alike.
Now look at Luke 15:3-32
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, or this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” ESV
Jesus loves us with a missionary heart. Jesus is not like us. He loves people before they know him. Jesus left the safety of heaven to seek and to save those who are spiritually lost. We fall in love with people because they are kind or generous or have a good sense of humor, but Jesus is not like us. He sees the value of someone before they see their own value. He seeks out those who don’t know him, as a Shepherd would seek out his lost sheep, as a woman would search diligently for her lost coin, and while it might not be evident at first, even in the story of the prodigal, we will see it too is a story of Jesus searching for the lost. We don’t look at people the same way Jesus does, because we do not posses his missionary heart.
2) If God gave us a missionary heart like his what might change?
Jesus loves us by initiating true repentance. We cannot come to Jesus unless he enables us. In each of these parables we will see that genuine repentance is first initiated by Jesus. Jesus’ love will prove to be extremely costly in each story. The good shepherd will have to leave the ninety-nine sheep he owns and search across the wilderness for the lost lamb until he finds this wandering one. Then he will place this sheep, who could weigh up to seventy pounds, on his shoulder and carry him back home. The woman who is the second picture of Jesus in this chapter has to light a lamp in a dark house and search for her lost coin on her hands and knees until she finds it. She does this at great personal effort because that coin is worth a days wages.
In the story of the father, the last picture of Jesus told in Luke 15, it will be important to look for the sacrifices the father makes for his son. At this time in history during the day people worked outside of the town in the fields they owned, but at evening they returned to a home they lived in within a walled city or fortress for protection. A man of status might even have a roof patio or balcony that would allow the father to see his son drawing near to the town from a great distance. When he saw his son the father in this story breaks will all cultural tradition set for a dignified middle-eastern patriarch, hikes his robes, and runs to meet him. Yes, the son started home on his own volition when he got hungry, but true repentance is more than wanting to escape sin’s consequences. God initiated repentance will woo us with the compassionate love of Jesus. The father in this parable will not be satisfied with the younger son’s desire to repay him by working as one of his hired hands. Only the restoration of his child to true sonship will please the father.
In each parable the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, the person or object found has one response in honest repentance and that is a willingness to accept Jesus’ finding them. We learn from these parables that we cannot even come to Jesus unless he draws us to himself. True repentance is always Jesus’ idea.
In John 6:44 Jesus teaches this clearly when he said,
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. ESV
And, in Romans 2:4 Paul wrote,
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? ESV
3) Jesus is the initiator of true repentance and we are helpless to bring about repentance. So, how might understanding this truth change the way we pray?
Jesus loves us by inviting us to join him in his salvation celebrations. Jesus gets excited when people repent. Heaven has a party each time a sinner is found and Jesus wants us to enter into these joyous celebrations just like the neighbors, family and friends did in each of these three parables. Heaven in these parables is portrayed as a communal joy where even the angels join in the music and dancing, delighted for those who are now safe in God’s arms.
4) How can we join in heaven’s celebration of repentance?
In closing look at what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:8-9,
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ESV