This is the first of three sermons preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church on the theme of lost and found. The parable of the lost sheep is the first one in Luke 15. It is worth noting that Jesus tells the same parable in Matthew with a different context. Therefore, a sermon on this parable in Luke should be different than a sermon on the very similar parable in Matthew. I debated about whether to preach the parable from Matthew first since it tied into last week’s sermon more directly but decided not to do so. In the next two weeks I plan to preach the next two parables in Luke 15. New audio link.
A title like “Lost & Found” may evoke for you a picture of the place in a school, church, store, or the like where those items that one person lost and another person found will be left until they are claimed. But usually the items in a “lost & found” are things that do not have much value to anyone and sometimes they can sit there for years unclaimed. However, our passage today is a parable of something lost that is very valuable to the shepherd. When we lose something of great value to us we go looking for it. Any shepherd who had 100 sheep at the time and lost one of them would leave the ninety-nine and go search for the one that is lost until he finds it. The Pharisees and scribes, who were the shepherds of the people of Israel, would not have hesitated to do so for a sheep. But they did not see any value in the person who had wandered away from God and His people to become a tax collector or a prostitute, which the Gospels euphemistically call prostitutes “sinners.” They had no compassion for someone who decided to take such a dangerous path in life. Modern equivalents might not only include prostitutes but also drug dealers and child abusers and other sinners that respectable Christians often despise. The Pharisee valued his sheep more than these they thought of as ungodly scum clearly unworthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. Thus to the Pharisee it was scandalous that Jesus associated Himself with sinners and ate with them. Religious people today might think the same of you when He sends you to go seeking for the lost. So Jesus told a parable. Hear the word of God that by hearing creates faith and drives the Pharisee and the respectable Christian to repentance:
I. One way that this parable encourages the “righteous” Pharisee to repent is to change from grumbling over the salvation of the lost to rejoicing when the lost are found.
- Pharisees then and today do not like parties, but your God rejoices and invites you to join Him anytime the lost are found. Maybe you can sympathize with the Pharisee who had a hard time having compassion for the tax collector and the prostitute. Such a sheep did not go missing because he was left behind somewhere but because he walked away. You might not like the IRS but tax collectors in that day were thoroughly despised for really good reasons. The tax collector cheated their own people out of money while collecting some for the Roman government. [I expanded on this thought to stress how they were corrupt and traitors.] And while today you might be able to appreciate some of the reasons that young women might get caught up in prostitution or you might have compassion for those who at a very young age were kidnapped and brought into the world of sex trafficking, you can surely sympathize with the Pharisee who would agree that deciding to be a drug dealer or child abuser makes you a pig rather than fully human. Yet imagine if someone has chosen such a path and then hears the good news: “you are forgiven in Jesus’ name” and they believe it. Can you even imagine that? Do you really believe the gospel or do you think that grace is only for pretty good people? Or we could make it more personal, imagine losing your own child to a drug overdose and their dealer believes the gospel. Most people will not be quick to join Jesus at the party. Indeed, can you imagine how hard it would be not to complain about a party for such a person? So the Pharisee is not the partying kind, but Jesus shows us that God rejoices when the lost are found.
- Of course if the “righteous” need to turn from their sinful grumbling and turn to godly rejoicing then they too are unrighteous. Indeed there are not 99 people in the whole world who need no repentance, there are not even 9 people in the whole world who need no repentance, there is not even one person in the whole world who needs no repentance: all have sinned and like sheep have gone astray (Psalm 14:3, 53:3; Isa 53:6, Rom 3:12). So the way that Jesus explains the parable is ironic when He says that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. The goal of the parable was to lead these 99 “righteous persons” to see their unrighteousness and repent. The tax collectors and prostitutes may have had a corner on disreputable sins – sins that made them look ugly to everyone – but the Pharisees were experts at one of the most deadly of respectable sins: grumbling or complaining. It is a socially acceptable sin among religious people but it is a way that people try to wander away from God and those who are His people. After all, worship includes rejoicing because of your salvation accomplished by the crucified Jesus Christ and also the salvation of the most unlikely of peoples gathered all around you. If we were to complain rather than rejoice, it would ruin the party atmosphere. People enjoy going to parties when everyone is having a good time, when people lower their inhibitions and sing out, and when everyone is not sitting around complaining about their significant other. But the Pharisees, who believe they are married to God, were grumbling about Him rather than joining in His party. Yes, we need to stop and celebrate when someone comes into the church. But it doesn’t end there. We need to keep rejoicing for our own salvation and the salvation of others. Here’s the thing – when you realize that you too have sinned and like sheep have gone astray then you will rejoice every time you repent of a sin. [“Celebrate all wins CAW” illustration] Hopefully this means a lifetime of celebration for you. (But the repentance that Jesus can imagine does not stop there.)
- Jesus can imagine the “righteous” Pharisee not only rejoicing when the lost are found but even going and seeking out the lost.
- Recognizing your own unrighteousness, which may be easier to overlook when you are a pretty good person, can lead you to then have compassion for other sinners and to go find them. The Pharisees were God’s undershepherds and should have been out looking for the lost but instead they were serving the 99 churched people who thought they needed no repentance. So the Pharisees did what made them popular among the 99 “righteous” people in the synagogue, offered the programs that the 99 “righteous” people wanted, and catered to the tastes of the 99. The Pharisee did what made them popular like the motivational speaker who praises people and their works that were done for show [I thought about mentioning the difference between this and the call to confession I usually use, “if we say we have no sin…” (1 John 1:8)] The Pharisee offered programs popular with the 99 “righteous” people for them and their children. The Pharisee catered to the tastes of the 99, like music. There is a reason that the Pharisees are talked about so much in the New Testament—most Christians are recovering Pharisees. But Jesus forgives you and the elders of His church for not seeking out the lost and forgives us for getting caught up in a model of ministry designed to comfort the 99 and avoid taking risks to evangelize others. And Jesus sends us out with our shame as our testimony (CAW) to seek out the one sheep who isn’t any different than us because we both have wandered away from God in our own ways. Jesus sends us into the world just as the Father sent Him into the world. He went looking for the one lost sheep. Incidentally then you need not despair when there are not multitudes of new converts streaming to join the party—He went looking for the one. As you are going this week look for one lost sheep, maybe someone who has gone astray from Christ after having been in the church for some time, but He is sending you to go find that one sheep that belongs to God, tell them you are a fellow sinner (your shame is your testimony), listen to their story, and say, ‘Jesus loves and forgives you.’ If you share with 100 people you may only find one that hears and believes the good news. But that one person is worth it. Searching for that one person might make you less socially acceptable among religious types because it might mean you have to look at a known drug dealer’s home. It isn’t like you are going to find that one person in a designated area labeled “lost & found.” It will take some serious searching. Nevertheless, the best church growth plan is to seek out that one ungodly sinner.
- The remarkable thing is that reaching that one ungodly sinner will make a difference in the life of the 99. When you stop and think about it there were 100 sheep in Jesus’ parable but the shepherd went looking only for one of them. Yet the goal of the parable is to lead the 99 sheep and their shepherds to repentance. Indeed, seeking the one lost sheep might just cause the 99 righteous to be saved because they will be jealous of what has happened for that one. Thus if you want to save the 99 people you know who are pretty good and not totally convinced that they need Jesus, then go share the good news with the one lost sheep. You might be feeling like that one lost sheep today or feeling like a Pharisee who did not go searching for the lost or like one of their 99 church members who doesn’t enjoy parties but having been confronted by how you are not like the Good Shepherd you need to hear that message: “Jesus loves and forgives you.” Believe it and maybe you will go looking for that one lost sheep who isn’t in the room and is the last person you would expect to believe it. May God get the glory! Amen!