Conversations with Jesus – Luke 15
How do you feel when you lose something? Panicked, worried, distressed, frustrated? Maybe you can’t relax until you find it. It depends on what you’ve lost-if it’s something valuable or not. One time one of our kids lost their blanket when we were shopping. Not just any blanket-but the blanket. If it wasn’t found, we weren’t sure if our child was ever going to fall asleep again-and if we would never sleep again! Our shopping was put on hold as backtracked through all the stores we’d gone to until we found it lying on the ground in the middle of the home furnishings section of a department store. Whew! Our child’s sleeping agent was recovered!
But maybe you’ve lost something really priceless or important. I always see signs for lost pets-dogs and cats-they usually say do not chase. I hadn’t planned on! Anybody ever have a returned pet based on a sign? Or what about a missing bike? But here’s my favorite lost bike sign-pic. Whether you offer the reward or not is a key part to it. But no matter if you lost something big or small-if it’s important you’ll put everything on hold while you look for it. Who’s good at finding lost things? I want to take a poll. Are you someone who looks and looks and looks until you find it? Or are you someone who looks once, you glance around-and say it’s lost and give up? Looking for lost things becomes the focus of the next conversation we’re going to encounter from Jesus. Open your Bibles to Luke 15-where we’ll pick it up. Something has gone missing and the search has begun. Luke 15:1-2. Now we’ll get back to that shortly because it functions as the context for this conversation and why Jesus is going to say what He wants to say-v. 3-4, 8. Two different people-with two different sets of lost things. And for this woman, the coin wasn’t somethings small like a missing penny or nickel. No big deal-I’ll find some loose change in the couch. This was a Greek drachma-and maybe it’s footnoted at the bottom of your Bible-but that’s equivalent to a day’s wage. You don’t want to lose out on a whole day’s pay. That’s why she’s frantically looking-for this woman that’s valuable income. Similarly, the shepherd considered his lost sheep valuable. He didn’t say-Oh well-I’ve got 99 other sheep-what does 1 amount to. It’s a 1% loss-I can afford it. Rather, what does it say he does in v 4-leaves the 99 in the open country. That’s a risky move because something could happen to those 99-wolves, thieves, a thunder storm-any number of possibilities. But that’s the chance he’s willing to take.
Now Jesus isn’t suggesting that leaving the 99 in the open country means he’s an irresponsible shepherd. Instead, Jesus is highlighting the fact that the shepherd was very determined to have that lost sheep back. He was completely focused, willing to do whatever was necessary. Because look how long he searched-back to v. 4. And then look back at v. 8. Would you be that diligent-willing to sweep down the entire house? Or is it a quick, cursory glance and you’re done? That’s some intense, dedicated searching! But this woman, just like the shepherd, is willing to do whatever is necessary to find what is lost. Neither will abandon the search until it’s recovered!
And we realize that Jesus is using this parable to describe Himself. Look at His mission-John 6:39 NIV. Jesus isn’t about to lose any sheep or coins He has-meaning He’s not about to lose any of His followers. Therefore the starting point for these two parables is Him. He’s the main character. He is the shepherd whose sheep has wandered off; He’s like this woman whose coin has disappeared. Something valuable has been lost-but here’s where this conversation hits home. What’s lost is you and me-and thankfully Jesus is good at finding lost stuff!
I want you to think back to the last time you were lost. Let’s be honest-with GPS on our phones it’s hard to get lost these days. You may turn down a wrong street or be directed to the wrong place-but often the GPS is recalculating or rerouting you. The last time I felt like I was lost was in the Rambles at Central Park. Those are some windy paths back in there-you forget you’re in the middle of NYC and feel like you could out in some forest in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe you’ve been lost or separated from your family in a crowded place-and had that moment of fear when you don’t see anybody you’re with but just a bunch of strangers around you. One time on a missions trip to India myself and our team got separated in the market place from our driver. We had no idea where we were at-and of course we didn’t have cell phones that worked in India-so as a team we had that moment fear that if we don’t find our driver we’ll be lost in India eating curry the rest of our lives! But when Jesus talks about being lost He isn’t describing a geographical problem-but a spiritual problem. Take a look at how some of these verses describe being lost-Isa 53:6a; Hosea 11:1-2, 7a; Rom 3:10-12. So while the lost coin may have dropped from the ladies purse and rolled across the floor and under the couch, the lost sheep wandered away on its own. It saw a pathway, a hole in the fence, a place to to run away to-and it did. And that’s like you and me. These verses describe the condition of our hearts. Ever since Eve fell for the serpent’s lie that she could obtain her own happiness apart from God, you and I have been doing it ever since. God, I don’t need to obey your Laws, I’ll determine for myself what’s right or wrong. That path looks interesting to me-I think I’ll go that way. Don’t spoil my fun, Lord, don’t ruin my creativity or put a damper on my life. I know what’s best for me-so I’ll go get it. And what we’re really saying is-Lord, I don’t trust you for my happiness; I trust myself. You’re trying to ruin my happiness-so I have to get it myself. And that’s the essence of what sin is-a heart following it’s own ideas instead of God’s. It’s turning away from Him. God says go this way-and you and I go our own way. And the result is that we’re not following the purpose for why He’s created us-which is to live in relationship with Him going down the paths He says-instead we’re lost. We wandered away from God’s plan into whatever sinful delight we can devise, whatever sinful road we want to cruise down.
The problem these days is that a lot of people won’t admit they’re lost. I’m just trying to find my own way, trying to do the best I can. Everybody needs to discover their own truth to follow. You do what works for you. You see one of Satan’s best strategies is to convince people they’re not lost. You’re okay, you’re doing fine. You’re not perfect-but who is? Don’t worry about it. It all works out in the end. Everybody makes it to heaven. No one is too far gone. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here in Luke 15. The sheep and the coin weren’t just wandering around somewhere nearby-they were separated and lost-and unless someone earnestly and thoroughly searched for them they’d remain lost. And that’s the case for you and me. Unless somebody goes looking for us, we’ll remain lost and dead in our sins. Just like that little sheep would have no hope being lost in the wilderness, neither would we. So Pt1:The God who rescues us-instead of rejecting us. And I find this truth remarkable. Why would this shepherd bother to go find 1 lost sheep when he already has 99 safe ones? Why would this woman turn her house upside down for 1 silver coin when she has 9 others. Put in some overtime and she’ll make up for the lost wages. This is the analogy Jesus is making-and on a much greater scale than sheep and silver coins-is our situation. Why would God bother to search and look for lost and sinful people who rejected Him? We got ourselves into the situation-shouldn’t we be the ones to get ourselves out? If we’re the ones that turned away from Him, shouldn’t He be waiting for us to get our act together and turn back and say we’re sorry? That would make the most sense-but that’s not how God operates. He doesn’t wait for us to return to Him because a) He knows we never will since we’re lost, 2) He’s a God of grace-and that’s precisely what grace is-undeserved love that searches and finds us when we’re at our worst.
Having just had Halloween, maybe you saw someone dressed up as Frankenstein. He’s sort of a classic Halloween character-along with Dracula. But if you’ve ever had the chance to read the actual book by Mary Shelley it’s one of my favorites. The main character is Victor Frankenstein who takes various body parts and puts them tougher to create life. We always think of the creature with the flat head and green face as Frankenstein-but that’s the scientist’s name. The creature-as soon as Dr Frankenstein sees him-is ugly and freakish-probably is the flat head! But he’s horrified by what his scientific achievements have created-so he calls him a monster instead of a person. Dr Frankenstein rejects his creation saying I want nothing to do with you-and the monster runs away and ends up causing lots of destruction mayhem. But Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t want to see or find his creation ever again. He wants to hide from the monster and pretend it never existed because of all the damage it’s done, the horrifying thing it’s become. And that story isn’t far off from the story of our lives. Dr. Frankenstein represents God our Creator-and it would have made sense for God to reject us considering all the damage we’ve done. God could have easily recognized what kind of monsters we’ve become, the horrific ways we’ve acted. And He could have said I reject you and never want to see you or find you again. But He doesn’t do that! Instead of rejecting us-even though we’ve become monsters in our sin-He goes out to rescue us. It couldn’t be more opposite. We deserve rejection but receive rescue. That’s the gospel-and as we said it’s all based on God’s grace and love for us. Dr. Frankenstein had no love-only hatred and remorse towards his creation-but our Creator isn’t like that at all.
Here’s the truth you can’t forget-you are valuable to God even in your lost condition, even when you’re at your worst. You may have made a mess of things in life, decisions or actions or words you deeply regret, things you wish you could undo or take back or change-but despite all of that you have a God who goes out to search for you. This sheep made a bad decision to wander off-you and I have made equally bad decisions to wander off. But we have a God who goes to where we’re at and seeks to restore us and forgive us. And that’s Pt2:The God who finds us-instead of forsaking us. Look at how this unfolds-Luke 15:5-6, 9. And I love that visual description-it’s like the woman holds up the coin and the whole neighborhood is cheering. A party for 1 coin-but now she has a bunch of people to help her move all the furniture back in place-so that worked out. But these 2 scenes represent the moment of salvation in these parables. This is when God takes the initiative and finds the lost sinner, drawing him to Himself-instead of forsaking that lost sinner by saying too bad, you blew it, you got yourself lost, you’ll never measure up anyway.
And this theme is woven throughout our Bibles. Look at Ps 107:4-9; 10-15. God could have certainly forsaken those who spurned Him. What sort of relationship do you have with people who’ve spurned you? Probably not very good. But in grace, God goes out and finds the lost and saves them. How did Jesus summarize His mission in Luke 19:10. When He seeks, He finds, and when He finds, He saves. Jesus said these words to Zacchaeus. In fact, just before this He said-Today, salvation has come to this house. Meaning the house of Zacchaeus. Jesus went and found Zacchaeus and then saved him. But look at the description of Zacchaeus-Luke 19:2. Zacchaeus wasn’t just any old tax collector but the chief tax collector. It would be like saying He was the chief of thieves, the ringleader of the crime circuit. And the description saying he was rich is important because he got rich swindling and stealing people’s money. Zacchaeus oversaw all the other tax-collectors and made sure they were taxing the town’s people to the hilt. If there was anybody to blame, anybody to reject and forsake-it was Zacchaeaus. People were poor and starving so he could sit at home rich and well-fed. So why would Jesus go out and search find someone Zacchaeus of all people? Why seek such a slimy, greedy guy like him? Shouldn’t Jesus have acted like Robin Hood and taken all the money back from Zacchaeus to give to the poor? Why show him grace? Look at how Jesus described the search-Luke 19:5-7. That’s exactly right. It’s ironic that their statement is made with sarcasm and contempt-but it’s correct. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He went and was the guest at the house of a man who was a sinner. But that’s what Jesus’ mission is all about. Zacchaeus was as sinful and lost as anybody could be-therefore his salvation is truly remarkable and a testament to God’s underserving grace. That’s why Jesus saved him. He goes out to find the lost because in the face of sin, grace is truly glorious. He saves those who don’t deserve it. And it’s no different for you and me-Pt2. We weren’t in any better of a situation than Zaachaues when the Lord came into our lives. And if you think you were, if you think you were somehow more deserving or a better person or better behaved, and not nearly as lost as other people-than you’ve missed it, just like the Pharisees missed. They couldn’t get their head around Jesus’ mission-so they grumbled about it. Why would Jesus go have dinner with such a lost and unworthy person like that? And that same grumbling is found in the passage we’re looking at this morning.
Here’ the context of the conversation when Jesus tells these 2 parables-Luke 15:1-2. Same issue, same question. Why would Jesus spend time with undeserving people like that? Because in their minds only the good people, the religious and obedient people who haven’t done anything too bad deserve saving. But sinful people, lost people are out. They have the opinion that before you come to God you have to clean yourself up. Put away all the sinful actions and bad habits, get yourself straightened out, and then God will accept you. But as we’re reading this morning, that kind of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. So Jesus very purposefully tells these two parables about a sheep and a coin that are lost. A sheep and a coin that are stuck doing nothing. And in their state of lostness-what happens? Someone goes out to find them. They don’t return of their own accord. The sheep doesn’t end up making his way back to the sheep pen to rejoin the flock so the rest of the sheep are like-good to see you buddy! The shepherd goes and searches far and wide, the woman sweeps every corner of the house-until she finds it. And that’s our hope spiritually. Jesus doesn’t demand that you find your way back to Him. He doesn’t ask you to clean yourself up first or try hard to make yourself acceptable to Him before He’ll receive you. Rather, in your state of brokenness and lostness, He comes to find you. Once again-Jesus is good at finding lost things-and that includes you and me. I think of John Newton’s great words that we just sung-Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me (meaning a sinner like me). I once was lost but now I’m found. Found by a God who loves to save.
Because we cannot miss the reactions in these parables-v. 5-7; 9-10. And that’s Pt3:The God who saves us joyfully-instead of begrudgingly. Nowhere in either of these parables does it say that the shepherd and the woman had to force themselves to look for what was lost. Nowhere does it say this was drudgery or a chore. Certainly it took work-the woman searched and swept the house diligently-but it was with joy in mind. I desperately want to find what is lost-because it’s so important to me. And that’s how God sees you. I think we tend to believe that God saves us because He’s obligated to do so since He’s God-but that deep down He’s not really happy about it. Have you ever thought that or felt that way? You know your life, your heart, the choices you’ve made. You may try hard to look good on the outside-but you know yourself-and you think there’s now way God was excited to save you-that He must have rescued you out of sheer obligation; that He must have saved you because it’s His job. Okay, fine-I’ll save that guy but I’m not happy about it. If it was up to me I’d let him be. But God doesn’t save us out of obligation or out of requirement or even begrudgingly. He saves us joyfully! It is a case of great celebration and rejoicing when a sinner repents. Jesus talked about these people calling their friends and neighbors together for a party, He talked about joy in heaven-in God’s presence-when the lost are found. I’ve read this quote before-but it’s so good and always stands out to me-Bridges, 62.
Live in the sunshine and joy of God’s forgiveness. Let it flood your soul. The Lord is throwing a party because you are His. If you’ve trusted in Jesus-you went from hopelessly lost to graciously found. He’s eager to make you His-and as His child you will never be lost again. That’s what I love about these parables. Jesus makes no mention of this sheep or this coin being lost again. He’s quite definitive that they’ve been found-once and for all. Maybe you’re someone who loses your keys all the time. Oh no-not again! And you’re constantly searching for your keys. But Jesus never loses those who are His. Nothing can separate you from Him-Rom 8:35-37. None of that stuff will take you away from Him. You are eternally secure in Him-never to be lost again.
Now you might still wander away at times (in fact you probably will). You might fall off the path, stumble and trip up, lose your way-even feel at times like you’ve gotten lost somewhere on the journey. But if you’ve trusted in Christ and repented then He will always find you and bring you back. He has loved you, called you, saved you, delivered you, cleansed you, healed you and will one day welcome you home. Look at the progression of this from earlier in Rom 8:30. There is no mention of someone getting lost again in that process or falling through the cracks. Instead-predestined (He knows you are His), called you (there’s the searching and finding), justified (that’s when you’re saved and declared righteous in God’s sight), and glorified (that’s when He welcomes you home). God does all that for you. That’s the trajectory you are on if you’re trusted in Jesus and repented of your sins-and because of that there’s great joy in heaven. Back to Pt3.
But the Pharisees in chapter 15, the religious do-gooders don’t see that. They fail to see the incredible work of God’s grace because they only see their own prideful efforts. Look at all the things I’ve done for you, God! Aren’t I one of the good ones! Look at how devoted and diligent I am-good for me. No doubt you owe me a pat on the back, God! But that isn’t the gospel-and that kind of thinking leads to resentment and anger-it’s exactly as they’ve said-v. 2. Why have you saved that person, Lord? Did you forget the stuff they’ve done, the ways they’ve acted? Because I sure haven’t. They’re no good. Just last week I saw them up to their old ways again.
You see the main difference with the person of Pharisee tendencies is that they don’t rejoice when God saves someone, they judge them. They hold their past against them and find it hard to believe God would save someone like that-Well, we’ll see about your new faith-we know who you are. And their goal is to constantly remind them of their past mistakes, maybe even giving them the cold shoulder at church. People probably thought that about Zacchaeus. Now what’s this tax-collector guy doing at church? He’s cheated a lot of people out of a lot of money. I’m sure a lot of eyebrows went up after hearing about Zacchaeus’ faith. Or what about the Prodigal Son? Remember him? The younger son who blew the family inheritance on wild and frivolous living until he was homeless and broke-but then is graciously welcomed back by the father who puts on a grand celebration for him-v. 32. This is precisely the moment to celebrate-when what is lost is found! But the older brother wanted nothing to do with it. He didn’t want to celebrate the grace that had been shown to his younger brother-instead it was all about his pride so he stayed away and wallowed in his own judgmental attitude-v. 28-30. What’s he saying? How dare you show grace to a terrible sinner like that! He doesn’t deserve it! And certainly the younger bother didn’t deserve it. But the older brother has forgotten two crucial truths-that grace is the essence of the gospel-and that he in his own moral efforts to try and please God-is just as lost.
Let me say it like this-if grace is a hurdle you can’t get over-then the gospel really hasn’t saved you. If you find yourself talking like this older brother, or grumbling like these Pharisees-can’t believe Jesus would eat with people like that-then you’ve missed the gospel. How did Jesus describe the heart of heaven-v. 7. And the reality is that those people don’t exist. There aren’t righteous people who don’t need to repent. We’re all in this boat together. We’re all desperate for the Lord’s grace-and we should all celebrate that grace when it transforms someone’s life.
Has that grace transformed your life? That’s the big question to wrestle with this morning. Have you wandered away, gone done your own path, held your hand up to God and said I’ll do it my way and ultimately found yourself lost? If that’s where you’re at then there’s no better time to be rescued by the Lord who seeks and saves the lost. To turn to Him in repentance, trusting that He alone can save you. Or maybe you have been saved-but lately you find yourself struggling with grace. That you’re having a hard time with bitterness towards others or judging others. You’re looking down on people while you’re trying to elevate yourself. If that’s you, ask the Lord to remind you of how you were saved in the first place. To release any false thoughts of self-salvation and see that God alone has saved. And He’s done it through His Son Jesus-the one who’s telling us these parables in the first place. And that’s what these are-they’re parables, stories-because in reality Jesus didn’t come down to earth with a flashlight or lantern searching to and fro for lost sinners. He wasn’t sweeping the house looking in every corner. Hello-is anybody out there? I’ve come to rescue you. Jesus wasn’t on a search and rescue team. In order to find you and save you, Jesus laid down his flashlight and broom and picked up something else. His mission was far more costly than just searching and looking, what does it say in John 10:11. He’s not just a shepherd who searches for us, He’s a shepherd who dies for us. He says it twice more-John 10:14-15, 17-18a. Not only would Jesus go however far or necessary to find you-but He would do whatever’s necessary to save you-and that means offering up His life in exchange for yours. And do you remember what we said earlier-Jesus wasn’t obligated or forced into doing it. Saving you wasn’t done begrudgingly or against His wishes-No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. Jesus willingly lays down His life for you-so that as He says in Luke 15:5. Let’s celebrate and have a party!