David began where he ended last week, with Jesus’ challenge:
Those listening – truly keen to hear what He had to say – included “tax collectors and sinners”, and not everyone was pleased that Jesus would welcome these undesirables.
- Do we realise our need to keep listening to Jesus?
- Do we welcome everyone who wants to listen?
In chapter 14, Jesus had dinner with a prominent Pharisee and his friends which ended in a profound challenge regarding God’s invitation to His heavenly banquet. But in today’s passage, Luke 15:1-10, Jesus shared his table with some much less sociably acceptable characters. Both times, the Pharisees are angry. Jesus teaches them why He receives these people in three connected stories in a chapter often called ‘the heart of the gospel’.
Note: Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the occupying Roman authorities, often lining their pockets at their fellow Jews’ expense, shunned and despised. “Sinners” is a catch-all term for all those whose lives just weren’t right.
The Pharisees rejected both groups, but Jesus reached out to them:
- Do we have special categories of people we think are outside God’s grace and cannot be welcomed to Jesus’ table?
- How can we behave more like Jesus towards the lost and the listening?
The stories are connected by five common themes:
- Loss: 1 out of 100 gets lost in the first story, 1 out of 10 in the second, and 1 out of 2 in the third. Isaiah 53:6 tells us that “we all like sheep have gone astray.” Statistics aren’t the issue – everyone who is lost because of their sin matters to God.
- Search: this is why Jesus came, to seek and to save the lost. It doesn’t matter that the owner still has 99 sheep or nine other coins. “God so loved the world…” So Jesus asks rhetorical questions, “Doesn’t [the shepherd] leave the ninety-nine…? Doesn’t [the woman] search carefully…?” Our loving God doesn’t want any to be lost. The greatest evidence of Jesus’ loving search for lost people is that He laid down His life for us. Because of the cross, the lost can be found.
- Recovery: we viewed a powerful, precious image of the shepherd carrying the now-found sheep homewards on his shoulders. Christ is our Good Shepherd, carrying us home, offering care and security.
- Joy: the sense of shared celebration dominates these stories: the person who finds what is lost, gathers people round them to rejoice with them. Jesus says:
As CS Lewis said:
5. Repentance: In this chapter, tax collectors and sinners were gathering round Jesus because they wanted to hear Him, and so Jesus welcomed them and sat round the table with them. When Jesus said there was more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent, the outraged Pharisees would have recognised themselves as the self-righteous, without a place at God’s table.
Here are the questions I will be considering this week in the light of Luke 15:1-10:
- How often do I consider what it means to be lost, and what it cost to find me?
- Does my life reflect thankfulness to the one who came to seek and save the lost?
- Do I harbour an attitude of self-righteousness? Do I consider myself more worthy than some others of a place at God’s table?
- Does my life reflect an ongoing repentance, a constant turning back to God?
- How much do I understand of the joy in heaven when the lost are found?
- How can I share more and more with the work of ongoing mission to seek the lost?