This week, we’re continuing our message series as we go through the parables of Jesus and learn from Him how to truly live life to its fullest.
A parable is a simple story that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. Jesus said that He intentionally taught using parables so that the secrets of His Kingdom would only be understood by those seeking after this revelation.
This week, we’re learning from three different parables all used to teach the same lesson. This lesson is the importance of: The One.
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Here we find the backdrop for these three parables that set the context for what they are all about.
Nothing reveals a toxic religious attitude faster than God doing the unexpected. Jesus, God in the flesh, welcoming and entertaining sinners didn’t fit inside of the God-box that the religious people had created.
To this very day, muttering still happens when God is moving in unexpected ways. We must watch ourselves in this area! Just because something doesn’t happen how we think it should or when we think it should or with the people that we think it should doesn’t mean that it is not God at work.
As we’re soon going to learn, God’s heart longs to reach the lost. Sure, He loves and rejoices over those who have already put their faith in Him. However, His focus and emphasis is on reaching those who haven’t yet. It is His compassion that is poured out on them and it is His anger that is poured out on those with the religious attitude offended by the one who hangs out with the lost.
To those people, Jesus tried to teach and explain this reality about God by using parables.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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? 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. Doesn’t she 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.”
These first two parables about the one focus on us. Unlike other parables, Jesus was very clear and literal about the interpretation and meaning of these parables. He clearly identified what each element represented. We are the shepherd and woman. The lost sheep and coin are sinners who need to repent. The friends and neighbors are other believers. The rejoicing in Heaven is exactly that.
Think about how you feel when you have lost something of importance. Think of the urgency and panic that fills your life. Nothing else matters. You frantically go looking for it and don’t rest until it is found. Your mind is consumed by where that item could be and how to find it. You pray and pray for God to show you where it is. You retrace your steps and try to figure out where you lost it. It is the most important thing to you. Then, when it is found, that panic is replaced with an equally fervent sense of rejoicing. You literally jump and dance and praise when that item is finally found.
Are our lives filled with this same sense of urgency toward those who don’t know Jesus? When we come to church, do we pray and pray for those people? While we’re going about our days, are our thoughts filled with how to reach those around us? Do we think of their needs and what we can do to meet them? When we come to church, do we praise God for the lost souls that He used us to save? This was clearly how Jesus, God in the flesh, lived. Why should we live any differently?
What is the focus of the church? Is it on the 99 who faithfully attend or on the one that is lost? Do people approach the church’s leadership team with concerns of how we can better reach the lost or do people grumble and complain about things not going the way that they want them to? Are our funds, events, programs, and services focused on reaching the one that is lost or on the needs of those already found?
These parables clearly reveal the heart of God to focus not on us, but on those who have not found their salvation in Christ alone. God plants a church in a community not for the believers in that community, but to reach the lost there in that community. God plants a church in a community not for the people there to serve the needs of the church, but for the people of the church to serve the needs of the community.
Jesus continued on to a third parable still teaching the same people grumbling and murmuring about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners about what God’s Kingdom truly looks and acts like.
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
When people take advantage of us, steal from us, abandon us, and mistreat us, how do we respond? In our flesh, we cut them off. We’re done with them. We won’t let them hurt us again!
When those same people come back to us for help after facing the consequences for their bad choices, how do we respond? In our flesh, we give them nothing else. After all, they are getting what they deserve.
In this parable, how did the father respond when his own son treated him this same way? With compassion.
We are freely given forgiveness from all of our past sins and grace to empower us to overcome those same temptations for the rest of our days. We squander it away and go right back into our old habits of sin. How does God treat us when we return to Him? With compassion. He pours out forgiveness and grace again and trusts us to continue on in our lives with the rich inheritance found in His Kingdom. He still considers us His children and not servants.
Grandparents probably understand this best. When you send your grandchildren outside well fed and clean and then they come back inside covered in mud and boogers asking for a snack, how do you respond? Your heart is moved with compassion and love. You clean them backup and give them a cookie, too. You’re not offended or disgusted by them at all. Those are the memories that you hold dear that put a smile on your face anytime that you recall them.
We need to be very cautious and careful to maintain the heart and attitude of our Heavenly Father toward those lost in their rebellion against Him. So often, we have a hardened and calloused heart just like the son who remained faithful to our father or the Pharisees and teachers of the law. We feel that we should be the ones given a party and that sacrifices should be made to bless us, not those filthy sinners. They are just reaping what they’ve sown and deserve what they are getting.
We lose sight of what is most important to God. We lose sight of the fact that we also are deserving of hell, but have been instead handed the key to Heaven. We lose sight of the fact that without the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, who knows where we would be and what our lives would look like. We are simply sinners saved by the unfailing love of a merciful Father.
In God’s Kingdom, parties are thrown for the one who comes home. This is the cause for great rejoicing. To those who remain faithful, their blessing is to live continually in the provision and safety of God’s home.
If we want to cause rejoicing in Heaven, we don’t do it by being a well-behaved good child of God who live better than those “sinners” out there. We cause rejoicing in Heaven by inviting those “sinners” to come home. We put a smile on the face of God by welcoming those people just as they are. We warm the heart of our Father by eating and drinking with them.
The priority in Heaven is not the 99 sheep, not the 9 coins, but the one who is lost. Let’s live not with hardened hearts toward the behavior of the lost, but with compassion toward them. Let’s go out there, living like Jesus, seeking and saving the lost. Let’s live lives with this priority always in mind and with a sense of urgency in our lives. Let’s be ones who fill our Father’s house with friends once lost, but now found. Let’s live our lives for: The One.