All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 He told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent. 8 “Or what woman who has ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, would not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
When I lose something, it drives me crazy until I find it. Maybe you’re like that too. Certainly, the woman with the silver coin was like that. So was the shepherd who lost his sheep. Some years ago, I lost a Finnish cross that I had worn every day for about 25 years. I noticed it missing after shopping. So I retraced my steps. I went to the lost and found at Walmart and asked at the dollar store. I searched parking lots for it. I never found it. I had to buy a new one finally. Jesus is like that when it comes to people. Every person is precious to Him, and all people are lost by nature. Jesus wants to find them all! Not just the shiny silver coin types. He wants the tarnished ones too!
That bothered “the Pharisees and the experts in the law.” They were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They thought that was awful! But it should make us jump up and down and shout for joy, because we are sinners. We and all people are lost by nature. But Jesus loves us. He came to die for us. He wants us to know how much He loves us. And now that He found us, He wants us to join His search for the lost.
Jesus Is Looking for the Lost
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 He told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home.
Like the Shepherd in His story, Jesus is looking for the lost because He cares deeply about every last person. Jesus is Mercy and Love personified. The religious folks in Jesus’ day didn’t get that. They didn’t realize they were lost. They didn’t see themselves as sinners. That made them all judgmental and harsh toward others they didn’t think were as good as them.
We can be that way ourselves sometimes. When Jesus and the disciples passed through a Samaritan town one day that didn’t treat Jesus warmly, two of His disciples, James and John, asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:4). That’s what earned them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” “But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” Good thing they listened and learned. But the Pharisees didn’t want to listen and learn from Jesus. They didn’t like Him. They especially didn’t like His gracious and merciful attitude.
It’s not that Jesus didn’t teach God’s righteous judgment on sin. He most certainly did. We heard it last week. Jesus warns those who reject Him of the fires of hell more that any prophet or apostle in the Bible. But even more He taught the love and forgiveness that God sent Him to earn and give as a free gift of grace to all who trust in Him. Jesus came to find and save the lost.
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law should have known better. After all, they studied the Scriptures. There they would have seen how gracious and merciful God was to sinners who repent also in the Old Testament. When David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, the Lord mercifully sent His prophet to shake him up and call him to repentance. And when David did repent, God forgave him—immediately. That’s why David wrote the words of Psalm 51 which we sang this morning. Even the wicked and terrifying ancient kingdom of Assyria was offered mercy by God, who sent His prophet Jonah to preach to Nineveh that they should repent. The Holy Spirit worked through Jonah’s words, and miraculously, they did repent. When they did, God immediately relented from destroying them as He had threatened because He is merciful. That’s when Jonah got upset that the God he worked for as prophet is too merciful! Jonah showed how we believers can never be as loving and merciful as the God who mercifully forgives our sins. But we ought to be! May God mercifully forgive us for that sin, too!
Jesus told these two little parables to explain His mercy. He wanted us to see what lengths He is willing to go to, to save an individual who is lost. The shepherd leaves his ninety-nine on the plain and searches high and low until he finds the one sheep that wandered off. The woman whose coin went missing, lights a lamp and searches into the wee hours of the night through every nook and cranny of her little house until that coin is finally back safe in its proper place.
But the Pharisees “complained.” How striking that people can be unhappy that Jesus is this kind of a Savior! How unmerciful! But that’s what happens when we think we deserve God’s blessings. What is mercy, after all? It’s something we beg for when we’re guilty. What is grace, anyway? It’s the undeserved love of God. How dead wrong the Pharisees were, and how sad and unhappy their wrong-headedness made them!
Scripture teaches that “no one is righteous, not even one.” That includes you and me, too. Like the Pharisees, we are tempted to counter with our own “good works” as an argument that’s God’s grace isn’t entirely undeserved. But Scripture has that argument covered too. Isaiah wrote that even “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” God demands perfection. Anything else is dirty in His eyes.
But we like to compare ourselves to others, especially really “bad people”—the kind you read about in the paper or see arrested on the evening newscast—because they make us feel extra good about ourselves. But God never tells us to compare ourselves to others. He tells us to compare ourselves to Him, and to His Ten Commandments. We can go right on down the line with them and see how in need of mercy we are. He tells us that He expects us to love Him perfectly—with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind. We don’t do that. He tells us we haven’t even begun to keep the 5th commandment until we love and help our neighbor in every bodily need. He tells us we’re adulterers if we don’t have only pure thoughts all the time. He tells us we’ve broken the 8th commandment whenever we tell less than the whole truth, or whenever we use our tongues to hurt somebody else. And so it is with all the commandments, right on down the line.
Do you share Jesus’ mercy and concern for people—even people you don’t think too highly of? Do you want to change and become more like Jesus? The best thing you can do to change and become more merciful, is to acknowledge your own need for mercy, and rejoice that when you were lost, Jesus found you. As the hymn writer put it:
We deserve but grief and shame,
Yet His words, rich grace revealing
Pardon, peace, and life proclaim;
Here their ills have perfect healing
Who with humble hearts believe—
Jesus Sinners Doth Receive.
That Leads to an Attitude of Genuine Joy Over Finding the Lost
What a privilege to know that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them” and that that means me too! And what a joy it is to join Jesus in His search for others who are lost! Jesus said: “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The rejoicing of the angels is in such stark contrast to the grumpiness of the Pharisees! It just didn’t seem fair to them at all that these tax collectors, notorious for cheating and over-collecting, were getting treated like actual people. And the other ‘sinners’! Whew! Everyone knew that they were bad guys! And here’s this Rabbi, Jesus, whom the ordinary folks regarded so highly, setting an awful example and hanging around with them! A good person should shun and avoid people like that!
That was bad enough, but the showstopper—what really got their goat—was that at the same time that Jesus “welcomed sinners and ate with them” they were incensed that such a famous teacher didn’t single them out for praise! He didn’t butter them up and pat them on the back and build up their egos for how religious they were. After all, the Pharisees had not only tried to keep the commandments, but they’d also even written all kinds of their own laws—and kept those too!
But they should have remembered how God warned through His prophets, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God has always looked at what’s in the heart. He’s not fooled by the outside. He knew they didn’t love Him, and that they disdained so many others. Even worse, God knew that they hated His only-begotten Son Jesus—their only hope for salvation.
Don’t be grumpy like the Pharisees. Don’t get upset when God is gracious, merciful and longsuffering toward others! Recognize his mercy toward you! Yes, God hates sin. But even more, He hates self-righteousness. Jesus accepted the prayer for mercy of the terribly sinful Publican in the temple but rejected the very religious Pharisee who prayed “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men.”
Can we think like Jesus? Can we learn to think mercifully day in and day out? Can we become as obsessed with finding the lost as the shepherd was about his sheep and the woman about her lost silver coin? Only if we take God’s Word to heart so the Holy Spirit can change us. Mercy doesn’t come naturally to us. It has to be taught to us by our Merciful God.
It’s kind of amazing in a way that the Son of God came down to earth and was accused of being too earthy. But really, it shouldn’t surprise us if we realize how deeply self-righteous we are ourselves. We need to see ourselves as the lost sheep and the “public sinners” that Jesus ate with. Only then can appreciate how merciful God has been to us. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, your and my personal sins were a heavy part of the load He bore and paid for with His innocent death. To the thief who asked for mercy, Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And for those who hadn’t yet repented, Jesus lovingly and merciful prayed while dying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” May we who like the thief have been forgiven, share the love and mercy of Jesus and pray for and search with Jesus for the lost, so they too may be forgiven. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Buelow
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Lake Havasu City, Arizona