Monday, July 21, 2008

Lost Sheep and Coins

Since I'm sitting at the mechanic's awaiting repairs, it seems like a good enough time to do some more blogging. And there was much rejoicing (yay!). Last time we looked at the setting of Luke 15, that many people were coming to Jesus, repenting of their sin, and turning to faith in God. The religious leaders, so overjoyed at seeing desperately lost sinners embracing the hope of the gospel, declared a feast throughout the land to proclaim the goodness of God and celebrate his grace. Er, no, that's not right. They actually hated what they were seeing, and started slandering the Lord in an attempt to discredit his ministry. Instead of being overjoyed at the sight of sinners repenting, they were resentful, spiteful, and even jealous. After all, they had worked their whole lives to show how good they were, while these sinners had been... well, openly sinning for so long. Yet Jesus, obviously a man of God, looked past the Pharisees (or even spoke to their condemnation) to bless the 'sinners' who simply repented. How unfair!

Jesus overhears their grumblings, and decides to make a decisive statement showing the full extent of their evil and folly. And he decides to do it by telling a series of parables which illustrate the way God treats repentant sinners - and highlights the wickedness of the Pharisaical response. Today we'll look briefly at the first two, before diving into the last in greater detail later.

So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that 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 his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

First up, a lost sheep. This parable is pretty straightforward: a shepherd loses a sheep, not an unusual occurrence seeing as how sheep are spectacularly stupid creatures. This would be a pretty clear illustration for the listeners, some of whom would be shepherds, and the others would at least be familiar with the profession. They would no doubt know what you do when a sheep gets separated from the herd: it will never find its way back on its own, so you leave the herd someplace safe and go find it. And when you do find it, you celebrate.

The lesson is obvious. If this is what you would do for something as insignificant as a single sheep out of a herd, and nobody would think it the least bit odd, how much more will God rejoice when something as valuable as one of his lost children is recovered?

One thing in this parable that often gives people problems is the mention of "ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Who is Jesus talking about here? From the context, it's clear he's talking about the Pharisees and scribes. But were they really righteous? Of course not, and this is shown very clearly later. At this point in the discourse, Jesus is saying it as a rhetorical device, and possibly sarcastically - they clearly thought of themselves as righteous, and saw no need for their own repentance, so Jesus for the moment takes their assumption and uses it against them. We see him doing the same thing in Matthew 9:10-13, where they complain about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus responds that since they're apparently well, they don't need a doctor, but these sick people do. Again, Jesus is simply pointing out that, according to their view of things, they have no need for repentance or mercy, so why should they be surprised when he spends time calling those who do need it?

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The second parable makes the point even more clearly. In this parable, the woman is most likely a widow, and all the money she has left is ten coins. Losing one coin - 10% of her entire net worth - is it conceivable that she wouldn't search for it like crazy? And when she finds it, how ecstatic must she be? Nobody would begrudge her for having tremendous joy and sharing that joy with others - she had lost something of tremendous value to her and found it again! How much more should we expect there to be joy when a lost sinner repents and returns to God?

And how wicked must a person be who would see this woman celebrating finding her lost coin, and instead of being happy for her, ridicules her for her joy, or hurls insults at her? Yet this is exactly what the Pharisees were doing with Jesus, who openly celebrated when sinners came to faith. And so in these two short parables, the Pharisees were shown to be thoroughly illogical, and utterly wicked as well.

Next time: we look at possibly the most famous parable (one so famous, people who have no idea what it's about refer to it all the time!), the Prodigal Son. Until then, a few questions for thought. What is your reaction when you see someone truly repent and come to faith? When you hear of thriving ministry at a different church - are you jealous more than you're joyful? Perhaps most importantly, do you remember that you were once the lost sheep or the lost coin, completely hopeless of ever returning to God? Have you forgotten that you once needed to repent every bit as much as the worst tax collector or sinner Jesus ever encountered? If you've come to faith, do you remember that, but for the grace of God, you'd still be lost and helpless, or have you started to think of yourself as if you were never lost and never needed to repent like "those people" do?

No comments: