Fourth Sunday after Trinity June 27, 1999
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In the name of the triune God, whose #1 concern is the task of saving all people, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
I’ll be the first to admit: I hate losing things, especially when it’s something important, a valuable item that is difficult to replace. Once the object is lost, the frantic search begins. You may have gone through the same thing in your own experience. You retrace your steps. You comb through your drawers. You double-check your pockets, your purse, the floor of the car, and many other places. Finally after much effort, you find what you’re looking for. Now think back—what’s the feeling that you get when the object is found? You feel that sense of relief. Your worries go away. You even feel happy. This thing of value, whatever it might be, is no longer gone from your possession.
We could say, on the basis of our text, that God has a similar reaction. Jesus shows you something that makes God celebrate every time it happens.
Let me ask you a somewhat personal question; it has to do with our occupations. Why do we do the work that we do? Is it simply a job to make ends meet? Are we in it for the money, as they say? Is there some other satisfaction that we gain from our career, our job, our business? As you think about that, please understand the Lord’s motive in doing His work, the job of saving the world. There was no money to be made, no business to build up. Jesus wasn’t thinking about personal gain when He left behind His wonderful state of glory in heaven. The driving force that brought Him into this sinful world and spurred Him onto the cross was nothing less than a deep, profound, universal love that He had and still has for all people. Jesus said it best: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
This love of Christ—surely it was the driving force in everything that He did. But strangely enough, we don’t see the motive of love displayed in our text. We see something else. Jesus talks about joy. Let’s focus on the main substance of the two parables—the lost sheep found by the shepherd, the lost coin found by woman. They both have a common feature. Both of the characters say to their friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.” This common feature was meant to illustrate one basic truth about God and His attitude toward us: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
Jesus would carry out His work for more reasons than one. Yes, He was motivated by the greatest love there ever was and also by the quest for joy. It made Him happy to save human souls. It made His Father happy too. These two members of the Trinity, along with the Holy Spirit, had a common goal. They were after the same thing. They wanted to save us, because we were lost from them; we were gone from their possession. God had made us to be His own. But Satan stole us away. Therefore God was determined to win us back. Nothing else would satisfy. The triune God was seeking the greatest joy possible—the joy of finding the lost.
We should never doubt the Lord’s intent. He was certainly driven in His work. There would be no half effort, no going through the motions. He would involve Himself directly through personal one-on-one contact. He would help not only the group, but also the individual. Think of the various encounters Jesus had with people in the Bible. How often did He get a mixed reaction or negative reaction from the crowd? But with the individuals He was truly finding the lost. The Samaritan woman at the well converted by the Lord’s preaching. The Pharisee Nicodemus taught by Jesus at night. The tax collector Zacchaeus won over by a personal visit that Jesus made to his house. The thief on the cross rescued by the dying Savior. Jesus never counted up the numbers to see if it was worth the effort. He came to seek the lost, even if it meant going after them one person at a time.
In the business world they operate on the principle of cost-effectiveness. That means that you only spend the money, you expand or invest only if the actual results are worth more than the total expense. Thankfully, Jesus Christ did not operate on the basis of cost-effectiveness. His attitude is clearly seen in the first of our two parables. When the shepherd discovered that one of his sheep was missing, he did not accept it as a mere 1% loss, because 99 of the sheep were still safe. The one missing sheep was too important to write off. He would search high and low, all for the sake of one.
That is also the Lord’s policy when dealing with human souls. His willingness to search and to find was never based on numbers. He came looking for sinners one at a time, even when the experts criticized His approach. The well-respected scribes and Pharisees could not believe that this man would “receive sinners and eat with them.” How could He associate with people of such ill-repute? Why didn’t He wash His hands of these men and women and associate with the good and decent pious folk?
How misguided can a person get! Unfortunately, this attitude lingers on today. There are those who look upon others and evaluate them as either worthy or unworthy of belonging to the church. “What is she doing here?”, they think to themselves about the person with a bad reputation, who comes into their midst. They forget what the church is about. It’s not a museum to honor the saints. It’s a hospital to save the sick. Jesus did not come for the so-called “good” people. He came to help those who are stuck in their sins, weighed down with a heavy load of guilt. As far as the Lord is concerned, we are all the same: we’re lost without a Savior. Every one of us is stuck in our sin, if He doesn’t come and pull us out. Thankfully, the Lord does not leave anyone behind. He doesn’t make us pass a test before He comes to the rescue. If you’re one of the lost, He’s looking for you. If you’re one of the found, then He wants you to join in the search.
We can never be like the Pharisees and resent what God is doing for the convict in prison or the person who finally believes on his deathbed. It makes the Lord happy to save anyone who is lost. How can we have a different attitude? God gets excited when the lost are found. For the joy of saving souls, Jesus is looking for the lost individual. We should carry on what Christ has started. Keep looking for individuals who are lost. Keep your eyes open for that one person who needs to know the Savior. When the lost are found through the power of the Gospel, it’s time to celebrate. We can echo the same joy that we find in our text, the “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
We have the tendency to rank things according to quality. We evaluate products and judge them as poor, mediocre, good, or excellent. Jesus, on the other hand, sees everyone at the same level—people in need, equally lost, equally desperate, equally valuable. Why else would He do what He did? For the joy of saving every soul, He makes every effort.
In Valentine we used to get the Omaha World-Herald, a daily newspaper with a thick Sunday issue every week. In the Sunday want ads, you could find many opportunities for employment. In many cases the employer was looking for a certain type of worker—people with dependable characteristics like self-motivation, diligence, concern and attention for detail. That is the kind of Savior that God had to line up for you and me. He couldn’t send a “slacker” to be the Messiah. The Messiah would have to be self-motivated, diligent, paying close attention to every detail contained in God’s Word. When Jesus conducted His ministry, He had to be thorough, leaving no stone unturned, doing whatever it took to carry out the mission and live up to His job description.
The Lord’s quality of diligence is illustrated by the second parable, the story of the woman who lit the lamp, swept her house, and looked very thoroughly until she found the lost coin. It’s a picture of how Jesus worked in His ministry. Notice the way He conducted Himself as a prophet and a healer. He traveled extensively throughout Palestine and beyond. He met with Jews and Gentiles too. He brought His message to all kinds of people. When the truth became a point of controversy, He did not back down. Yet He always worked on the basis of love. Even when dealing with those who opposed Him, He was seeking what was good for them, not what was good for Himself. The Lord was especially diligent when it came to those who were troubled by their sins. He did not send them away with a cold rebuke. He spent time talking to them, becoming familiar with them, applying the Gospel to their personal situation. He made every effort to get them to repent and receive the healing of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus did this work of ministry with great persistence, even when it made him tired, hungry, penniless, and unpopular. It shouldn’t surprise us to see the same diligence on the cross. Talk about effort! Those hours on the cross were the greatest exertion of effort ever done by man. Here was a flesh and blood person who did not deserve the punishment He received. Here was a person who could have stopped what happened to Him for the simple reason that He was God. Yet He suffered the punishment voluntarily. He took the pain and the torture without complaint. He would go through human death to save human life. He would suffer the torments of hell to keep us out of hell. He would be rejected by God that we might be accepted by God. He would take the punishment of our sin so that we could have His righteousness, the precious covering that we need to pass the requirements necessary for eternal life.
Going through the agony of the cross was the hardest thing Jesus ever did. He did not ease the pain by using miraculous power for His own benefit. He did not shorten the time of suffering to get it over with. He did not silence the taunts of His enemies. He persevered under tremendous strain, without giving in to anger or any other sinful outburst. What in the world would drive Him on to be so dedicated under so much difficulty? It had to be the love, the concern, the desire to save human souls. It had to be what the Bible says in Hebrews: “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)
I remember a news telecast where they interviewed a man who helped out with summer camp. This man wore a T-shirt that displayed a picture of Christ on the cross, wearing the crown of thorns on His head. Across the top of the picture was a slogan that said, “When He was on the cross, His mind was on me.” What a wonderful, personal way to express the motive of our Savior! He died for me. You can say that about yourself. Jesus died for you, the lost individual. He made the greatest effort to save you personally. He paid the greatest price for each one of us.
And best of all, the effort was a success. After the Lord died, He rose. He sealed our redemption with victory. He lives today to assure us that the rescue mission is truly effective. It takes away all of our sins. It replaces the fear of death with the promise of our own resurrection. It reverses the curse of hell with the hope of heaven.
The dedication of our Lord did not end with the cross. After His resurrection He sent forth His Word as the power to save souls wherever and whenever it is preached in this world. Jesus is still making the effort today, reaching out through His believers. He commanded His disciples to take the Gospel to every nation and every type of people. As the Gospel is shared by human messengers, the Lord is busy, working on the heart, causing the individual to believe.
In many cases, He brings about conversion where you and I would never expect a good result to happen. Who would ever guess that Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, would someday become a believer and a preacher of the Gospel? It just goes to show that we could never say anyone is hopeless. We cannot predict what kind of person will believe in Christ. Because of the same dead, sinful condition of the heart, no one has the capacity to believe even a little on their own. God has to do the miracle of faith in all of us. To say that one individual has a greater potential to believe than another is simply no t true. God has to make all the difference through the power of His Word.
God is still seeking the lost today. And He still gets excited when the lost are found. Heaven cheers when the baby is baptized. Heaven cheers when the Christian enters eternal life through Christian death. Heaven celebrates the joy of salvation every time that one person repents of his sins and turns to Christ. May this attitude of God rob off on us, as we join in the task of finding the lost and sharing the same excitement when the lost are found. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.