There are so many beliefs about God that are present in our day? What is God like? What does God “do” and “not do” in relation to His creation, in relation to people? How you answer these important questions can most likely be traced back to who you have listened to in your life. I have met people who grew up being told the reason they were sick or going through difficult times was because God was angry with them or punishing them. I’ve met people who grew up being taught that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, but Jesus, in the New Testament, is a God of love. As if Jesus is working to overcome the wrathful nature of God the Father and restore the “brand” of the Trinity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve met so many people who have said they believe in Jesus, but they live however they want to live. They say things like, “Well, I think God understands” or “I think God wants me to be happy” or “God forgives.” I’ve heard some crazy beliefs about God through the years that have left me scratching my head and wondering, “How did they come up with that?”
Just this past week I was talking to one of the other pastors here at Britton Christian Church. He was telling me about a person in one of his Bible studies that is having a very difficult time overcoming beliefs that were planted deep in her heart when she was growing up in her home church. This got me to thinking about the importance of God’s Word in forming our beliefs about God. If you want to learn about God, His character, how He relates to people, then you will find no better source than the Bible. Even within the Bible, in the pages between Genesis and Revelation, you will find no better authority on the character of God than Jesus, who was God in the flesh. Jesus not only taught the people of His day what God is like, but He showed them by His life what God thinks and how God acts. That leads us to our parables for today. Let’s read together from Luke 15:1-10 and then we’ll talk about them.
1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then 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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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. 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? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In 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 NIVO)
In Luke 15 Jesus taught three different parables, I call them the parables of the lost. There is the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the most recognizable of the three, the lost son, better known as the parable of the prodigal son. We will study the parable of the lost son, the prodigal son, at a later time.
I want to set the scene for you this morning before we dig into our parables. The religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, had some very strong opinions about the people of their community. William Barclay writes,
The Pharisees had a phrase by which they described the ordinary, simple people who did not observe the thousands of regulations of the ceremonial law. They called them, ‘the People of the Land;’ to them they were beneath contempt. To marry a daughter to one of them was like exposing her bound and helpless to a beast. The Rabbinic law said: ‘Six things laid down about the People of the Land: Entrust no testimony to them, take no testimony from them, trust them with no secret, do not appoint them as guardians of an orphan, do not make them custodians of charitable funds, do not accompany them on a journey.’ It was forbidden to be a guest of one of the People of the Land, or to entertain such a person as a guest. Where it was possible nothing should ever be bought or sold to one of them. In their proud aristocracy and intellectual snobbery and spiritual pride, the Pharisees looked down in contempt on ordinary people. (Barclay, William. We Have Seen the Lord: The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. pg. 64)
Isn’t it interesting that the very people the Pharisees despised, avoided at all costs, those were the very people that Luke tells us “gathered around Jesus.” Look at verse one with me.
1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. (Luke 15:1 NIVO)
Can you picture it? A crowd of tax collectors and sinners were pressing in to hear, leaning into Jesus, hanging on His every word. Where were the religious folks? Luke tells us in verse 2. Read it with me.
2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 NIVO)
That word, “muttered,” is an interesting word. The Greek word, “??????????” (diagogguzo) means, “to murmur” and it is always used to describe “indignantly complaining.” It’s only used twice in the New Testament. Here, in Luke 15:2, and again in Luke 19:7 when Jesus told Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, “I’m going to your house today!” Luke tells us,
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” (Luke 19:7 NIVO)
The same word is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, nine different times. The Hebrew slaves, just released from over 400 years of oppression under the heavy hand of the Egyptians, muttered against Moses in Exodus 15:23-24. Read it with me.
23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:23-24 NIVO)
The Hebrews were grumbling about not having water, but the Pharisees were grumbling and muttering about sinners and tax collectors wanting to hear from Jesus. Fussing, muttering, grumbling, griping, groaning, whining, and bellyaching…now that should be every person’s response to people who want to hear Jesus right? Jesus is so amazing. He didn’t dress down the religious leaders for what He saw taking place. instead, Jesus told them a story, and He put them in the middle of it. Read it again with me.
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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:4-7 NIVO)
Jesus’ parable was really directed at the Pharisees and teachers of the law. While Jesus told a story about a lost sheep, He taught about the very nature of God. Our God is a seeking God. I’ve thought about this so much this week. The very thought drops me to my knees. Our God is a seeking God. He has always been a seeking God. He didn’t become a God who seeks those who are lost at the arrival of Jesus. He has always been a seeking God.
I’ve shared the story with you many times through the years, but I want to tell it again. While I was in college I would go to FCA rallys at high schools and share my testimony with the athletes at the schools. I would tell them about growing up not going to church, thinking Jesus was for nerds and little old ladies, and then I would tell them about when I “found Jesus,” and the changes that Jesus had made since I “found Him.” One day it dawned on me that I hadn’t found Jesus at all, Jesus found me. I was lost, and like the lost sheep and the lost coin, I had no idea I was even lost.
The focal point of the two parables we are taking a look at this morning should not be the sheep or the coin. We need not pay too much attention to the sheep or the coin, but we must focus our hearts and minds on the one who left the ninety-nine sheep to go looking for the one lost sheep and on the woman who tore her house apart looking for the lost coin. The reason for focusing on the one who sought them out is because Jesus gives us a picture, a crystal clear picture, of God in these parables.
For those who grew up with the idea of an angry God who is just waiting to catch them, get them, and pounce on them; these parables should shatter any such notion. I want to show you a powerful prophecy given to Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 34, that shows God’s seeking nature, His intimate concern for all people, and His willingness to go to the ends of the earth to gather His own. Turn with me to Ezekiel 34. The entire chapter is about shepherds and sheep, God’s leaders and the people He has placed under their care. If you will look at the first six verses with me I want to point out how God’s shepherds were failing His people. God says His shepherds were only concerned with themselves, they were neglecting the flock, and then He lists the specifics.
- They have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, or bound up the injured.
- They have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.
- They have ruled the sheep harshly.
As a result of the neglect of the sheep and the all-consuming focus on themselves, God says, in Ezekiel 34:5-6,
5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (Ezekiel 34:5-6 NIVO)
What should God do? What would God do? Fire the shepherds, hire a headhunter, and replace the bad shepherds with good ones? That would make perfect sense wouldn’t it? Of course! Fire the people who aren’t getting the job done and replace them with shepherds who’ll care for the sheep. That’s not what God did. Look at Ezekiel 34:11-16 with me.
11 ” ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16 NIVO)
God Himself will search for the sheep. He will care for them. He will rescue them from the places where they have been scattered. He will tend them in good pasture. He will search for the lost and bring back the strays. He will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. He will shepherd the flock with justice. This is a theme that is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible.
Can you think of a more powerful image of our God than the image of a Shepherd who will stop at nothing to find His lost sheep? How far is He willing to go to find those of us who are lost? That’s a relevant question isn’t it? Let’s think about this for a moment. If a shepherd has ninety-nine other sheep how long will that shepherd search for the one lost sheep? How far will he travel before he calls off the search and heads home? What risks will he be willing to subject himself to in trying to retrieve the lost sheep? At what point will he say, “It’s just not worth it?” I don’t have the answer to that question because it would depend on the shepherd, but I do have the answer when it comes to the Great Shepherd of our souls, as Peter calls Him in 1 Peter 2:25.
In Isaiah 53:6, we learn that “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us have turned to his own way;” No truer statement has ever been made. Now, there are those like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who couldn’t believe Jesus would associate with sinners, but the truth is, they were in a worse place than the sinners gathered around Jesus. Some of you may have a difficult time digesting that thought. You may look back over your life and conclude that you have always been a “pretty good” person. You’ve never really gotten in trouble, your parents took you to church when you were a kid, and you’ve continued to try and do the right thing throughout your life. In your mind you are not as needy, not as much in need of Jesus’ grace and mercy, as “those” people. May I ask, “What people you have in mind?” You say, “You know, ‘those people.’ The ones who hang out on the corner of Memorial and Penn begging for money so they can go buy some Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20. The men and women who go to Celebrate Recovery, AA, or NA because they can’t even manage their own lives. The swindlers, cheats, and backstabbers that will do you over just to get ahead. The ones who have made a mess of their lives. You know, those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, but I’m certainly not like those people.” Oh, now I get it. Jesus said,
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIVO)
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” We are all lost my friends. There is no one righteous, no not one. From the preacher in the pulpit to every single person seated in the pews, as well as those who have never darkened the church door, we are all lost until He finds us, takes us into His arms, and claims us as His very own. It’s not that we were in need of His grace and mercy, we will be forever be in need of His grace and mercy.
Just how far is He willing to go to find us? I mean, we can find ourselves in some pretty bleak, dark situations can’t we? You better believe we can. I read a story this past week that I had never heard. James Cash Penny wanted to go to college and become a lawyer, but his father’s death forced him to get a job. He took a job working at a clerk in a Golden Rule store. The owners were impressed with his work ethic and he was able to buy a portion of a new store they were planning on opening. By the time the owners retired, in 1907, James had bought all three of their stores.
James changed the name of the Golden Rule stores to J. C. Penny and he proved to be a genius. By 1929 he had 1,400 stores nationwide. Then, that same year came the stock market crash and James lost everything. He had to borrow against his life insurance policy to make payroll. The financial setback took its toll on him, he seriously contemplated suicide, but instead he checked himself into a mental hospital. James was in his 50s when it all crumbled. He said,
I was at the end of my rope. My business had crumbled, my communications with colleagues had faltered, and even my…wife and our children were estranged from me. It was all my fault. (J.C. Penny)
One morning in the mental hospital James couldn’t sleep so he got up to walk the halls. While he was walking he heard a hymn being sung, a familiar hymn he remembered from his childhood. It went like this:
Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you
All you need he will provide
God will take care of you
James followed the sound and found doctors and nurses in the chapel singing. After the song, someone stood up and read a Scripture. “Come unto me all you that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Penny later wrote,
At that time something happened to me which I cannot explain. It was a life-changing miracle, and I’ve been a different person ever since. I saw God in his glory and planned to be baptized and to join a church. (J.C. Penny)
He said, “I cried inwardly, ‘Lord, will you take care of me? I can do nothing for myself!’ …I felt I was passing out of darkness into light.” Will God make His way all the way to a mental hospital to find His lost sheep? You better believe it! I’ve got one even better than that.
I share with you a Scripture from Isaiah 53, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us have turned to our own way…” That’s only part of the story. Let me share more with you.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIVO)
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” So the King of Glory laid aside His royal robes of righteousness and became one of us. He became a man, born as we are born, subject to the frailties of humanity. He traveled near and far to search for the lost, the broken, the destitute, the despised. Like the woman who tore her house apart looking for the lost coin, He will continue to pursue you to the ends of the earth my friend. He knows those who mutter, those who look down upon you, those who despise you, are disgusted by you, but He loves you so much He has willingly taken all of your sin, everything despicable you’ve ever done upon Himself. He has paid the price that He might hold you in His arms. And this very morning He has arrived at the door of your heart..and He’s knocking. He’s knocking. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus said,
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 NIVO)
He’s knocking. Will you open the door? Please, please open the door my friend. You’ve got questions? So I do. Open the door. What will others think? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. Open the door. You’re afraid you’ll fail, not be able to live up to the commitment of following Jesus? I’ve failed a million times and each time He brings me back. Open the door. Don’t allow anything to keep you from opening the door this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 11, 2018