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Entries in Sinners (1)

Thursday
Apr162015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part I

Today we will pick back up in the Gospel of Luke 15:1-10.

This chapter has three parables that are in response to a complaint by the Pharisees regarding the fact that Jesus allowed sinners to be around him.  They were not wrong that these people were sinners.  However they were wrong in understanding how God wants us to interact with them.

Now it is never easy to be told that you are damaged goods.  Whether you are being rejected by others in a relationship, or being looked over by those who are looking for skills and abilities, or even a certain genetic makeup, there will always be those who are not acceptable in the eyes of others.  This creates a natural division between the haves and the have nots, the pure and the damaged.  Yet, the message in the Bible makes all of these distinctions moot.  God says that all mankind (yes even Mother Theresa) have been damaged by sin and are in need of healing.

In our passage today we will look at the first two parables that give parallel pictures of God’s heart for the sin-damaged soul.

Jesus Did Not Despise And Reject Sinners

When Jesus taught, it was not just religious people who showed up to listen to him.  Many people who had long quit following the Laws of Moses, AKA “sinners,” also came to hear him.  This was not normal.  When religious teachers were teaching, generally only the devout would come to listen to them.  Sinners tend to avoid environments where they are reminded that they are sinners.  The Pharisees obviously expected Jesus to run them off or have them removed.  But, instead Jesus let them listen and even ate meals with them.

Notice that many sinners were drawn to Jesus.  He was different.  Instead of rubbing their sins in their face and pushing them away, he spoke the truth in love and invited them in.  His teaching promoted righteousness as the heart of God for mankind rather than the disqualification of the sinner.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Jesus was in some ways stricter than the Pharisees.  Imagine being in the crowd the day he says that to even think with lust toward a woman was committing the sin of adultery.  The shock of such a statement blasted past any pretense and moral superiority and stripped all as bare and naked, lacking any real righteousness with which to clothe themselves.

So how do we explain the approach of Jesus who did not compromise truth, yet wanted sinners to come to him?  The reality is that sinners need to know their true situation.  God is just and will judge everyone, even those self-righteous types who outwardly look devout but inwardly are full of every kind of sin.  Yet, Jesus knew that God was trying to draw people towards Him, not push them away.  They really wouldn’t come to hear Jesus if God wasn’t working on their heart already.  And, they wouldn’t stick around long if they wouldn’t accept the truth.  Yes, we can point to the popularity of Jesus and castigate the Church today.  However, to be intellectually honest, we must recognize that the multitudes of sinners did not stay with Jesus for long.  The closer he came to the cross the less people who decided to stick with him.  In fact, his disciples basically fell away and later had to repent of their doubt.  Jesus wasn’t trying to control how people responded and force them in a mold.  The truth would either draw them in or push them out.  It is their choice.  Judas becomes a perfect picture of this.  We never see Jesus pushing him away.  But in the end the reality of who Jesus was and the truth that he taught caused Judas to betray Jesus.  We should not change the message of Christ to draw people.  Rather we need to change our attitude of trying to control the response of others.  In such an environment of freedom, the Spirit of God is free to work on the hearts of men.  Some will believe and many will walk away.

In each of the parables Jesus will emphasize that the friends of God will rejoice when a sinner repents.  Thus he turns the complaining of the religious leaders back on their own heads.  Their spirit of offense and anger at his interactions with sinners was itself proof that they were not true friends of God.  Otherwise they would be rejoicing in what Jesus was doing (and they would have been doing it themselves).   The truth is that they are lost sinners themselves in need of hearing the truth and repenting.

A Lost Sheep & A Lost Coin

Although these three parables (#3 is the Prodigal Son) underline the same spiritual message there are some contrasts worth noting.  We have three very different characters that represent the heart of God: a shepherd, a woman, and a father.  Some have pointed out that this is most likely to emphasize the work of Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, the woman with the lamp, who is the Church aided by the Holy Spirit of Truth, and the father, who represents God the Father.  This demonstrates how all are working together to accomplish the same goal.  Secondly we have three very different lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  Again we can see three different facets of how mankind is “lost” from God.  A sheep is a living being but has no understanding.  It wanders out of ignorance is dear to the shepherd as that which is a creature.  However, in others ways we see the lost coin represents the immense value that each person who is lost has to God.  The person has value, but they are separated from him and may spend an eternity stuck between floor boards.  Lastly, the most tender picture is that mankind is like a wayward son that has turned its back on a loving father and squandered everything that he has supplied for them.  In each we hear the same echo: yet, God loves them and wants them back.  Do you believe that today?  God loves each sinner and desires greatly to have them back to himself.

Thus the reality in these parables is that sinners really are lost from God.  The term “lost” summons a picture of hopelessness and despair; and on our own that is very true.  But Jesus does not share it as a pejorative in order to put us down.  Rather, it is a statement of why he is working so hard to reach sinners.  Lostness has nothing to do with intellectual ability, or genetic material.  It is a description of our separateness from God and His ways.  Sinners are lost because they are not walking in fellowship and harmony with God.  As such, they are in dangerous territory and subject to great harm like a sheep that has run off from the shepherd.  Sinners are also a great value that is squandered in the darkness and hopelessness of life, like a coin that has fallen into a crack only to be forgotten.

Yet, in both cases, the lost thing is not forgotten.  It is not expendable to the shepherd or the woman.  Yes, the shepherd has 99 other sheep and the woman has 9 other coins.  But God will not let it go.  He will go out after that which is lost and seek to reclaim it.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life.  What in the world is God doing right now?  God is seeking throughout this world for lost sheep that He can bring back into His fold.  Every one of us enters life innocent of sin and yet quickly we turn to paths other than God’s.  Yet, God diligently goes out after each of us in order to bring us in.  No, we are not lost to Him in the sense that He doesn’t know where we are.  Rather, we are lost to Him in the sense that there are barriers that keep us from Him.  Those barriers are our desire for sin, but also our wounds, feelings, and twisted ideas.  Those barriers are all the lies that we have come to believe about the world and about ourselves.  So God is seeking us in that He is trying to break through those barriers and draw our hearts towards Him.

Each of these parables ends with great rejoicing when the object is found.  Even just one sinner repenting is enough to cause God and all the angels of heaven to rejoice.  Though we cannot see it and may even doubt it, we have the world of Jesus himself saying so.  Notice that the goal is not to get sinners to hang out with Jesus.  The goal is to bring them to repentance.  We can eat all the meals we want with those who are still lost but if we never give them the message of truth, they will not know their need of repentance.  If they do hear the truth they will feel the polarizing affects of it.  Truth forces us to face reality and make a decision.  Jesus is happy that sinners are coming to Him, but he is also sad that so many will eventually walk away and cling to their sins instead of embracing the truth.  His true joy is when we repent.  To repent is to reject our way of life and our “truths,” and then to turn towards the way of Jesus.  He is the Truth, and the Life and the Way to peace with the Father. 

It is not our job to force the choice.  Part of seeking is finding the words and the issues that will speak to the heart of the lost person.  We have to learn how to discern the hurts and wounds that serve as barriers between them and God.  However, in the end their choice is between them and God.  God pleads through us to them, but ultimately it is He who pleads.  Why do we get so uptight when people don’t respond as we want?  Perhaps if we did not take so personal the slowness of response and even flat out rejection of the message, our spirit would much more pure and much more alluring.  Yet, some believers do not seem to care about the lostness of others.  If we really understood how much joy it brings our Lord, we would be more patient and persistent in our attempts to help Him find the lost and make them “found.”  Ask God to place His Spirit upon you  and light up your life in such a way that sinners will see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

Heart For That Which is Lost audio