Words of Faith 10-9-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Someone once did a survey among Biblical scholars and Interpreters asking the question: "If you could keep only one chapter out of the whole Bible, what would it be?" That is a hard question! Such magnificent texts come to mind. Who could pass up Psalm 23 telling of God as our Shepherd? Or 1 Corinthians 13 and the meaning of Agape love? It would be hard to pass by John 20 and the story of resurrection Sunday. And what about Revelation 21 and the picture of the New Jerusalem? But the winner? Luke Chapter Fifteen.
Chapter Fifteen of Luke's Gospel is nothing less than a rich field of diamonds that provides what many have called the "Gospel within a Gospel." Just about everything you need to know about God is here in this chapter. We have here three of the most familiar parables of Jesus, and by far the single most familiar parable-- the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or the lost son, or the loving father depending on how you name it!). We could camp out in this field of diamonds for a while verse by verse but first let's read and hear the whole chapter as a continuous teaching of Jesus, the way it was first heard on the way to Jerusalem.
 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
 Then Jesus told them this parable:  "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.'  So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
In Chapter Fifteen Jesus talked about several "lost things" that varied in value. Some of the lost things would not even seem terribly valuable to us today, others were obviously valuable. All of the lost things were searched for or watched for until they were found-- a sheep, a coin, and a son. In these three parables, we see more of the heart of God than in almost any other scriptural place. It is a rich vista from which to contemplate the love of God.
But one problem with Chapter Fifteen is that we can lose the main point that Jesus was trying to make. We quickly see that God loves us enough to leave the ninety-nine and search for the one. He loves us enough to sweep the house in search of one lost coin. He loves us enough to stand waiting for our return from the far country and then run to greet us as He plans a big party. While this very much reflects the heart of God, this was not really the main point Jesus was attempting to make.
If you have not heard that God loves you, I hope that you will hear it from this text. But the big idea of this teaching is directed to the Pharisees. Luke tells us that the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were muttering, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." What prompted this whole chapter was a bunch of religious people who were disturbed that the riff-raff was coming around. Everything Jesus said was in response to this context.
Jesus exposed the great danger of religion, which is that religious people can lose God's heart for the lost. Judaism began when God called to Abraham in an effort to save lost people. But the Pharisees had somehow forgotten the vision of God in Genesis 12 that the Jewish people were blessed to be a blessing and would be a light to the Gentiles.
What God dreamed of as a great Messianic banquet at the end of time had become a private religious party with select seating! The Pharisees had so separated themselves from "sinful" people that God could not use them to reach those He wanted to reach. Such is the danger of religion.
Our first reading of Chapter Fifteen should be through eyes and ears of a Pharisee because one of the great dangers in the church today is that we will create yet another religious party of the Pharisees. The heart of God is for the lost. God loves the church and has washed her by the water and the Word, but the heart of God is for the lost. God loves the church as the community He is using to reach the lost. If the church does not have a heart for the lost then it does not have the heart of God.
Jesus used three parables to demonstrate something very simple: God rejoices when the lost are found. If you search through the Scripture to find references to times when God rejoices you will discover there are not many. There are many places where God "delights" in His people and His care for them but rarely does the Scripture say that God rejoices. Chapter Fifteen show us when and where He rejoices.
We may think that God rejoices when we praise Him. Praise is great as we rejoice in God. But God really rejoices when a lost soul is found. That is when praise is driven by the rejoicing of God. We may think that God rejoices when we serve Him. Servanthood is wonderful and is the core of Christian lifestyle. But God rejoices when a lost soul is found. We may think that God rejoices when we discover deep scriptural truths. Scriptural truth is a joy to our soul. But God rejoices when a lost soul is found.
All these subjective things are tremendous but the objective truth is that God rejoices when the lost are found. If we want to rejoice with the heart of God we will rejoice when those who are lost are found.
Father, give me Your heart for the lost. Let not another day go by that You do not put on my heart a lost person who needs to be reached. Teach me the joy of salvation and the rejoicing that comes when the lost are found. In Jesus' name.