Heaven rejoices when the lost are found

When I was in high school, I started driving. I got my license in the month of December, and the first "longer" trip I ever took alone was to go to my grandmother's house and give both my grandmother and my aunt a ride back to our house because they were going to celebrate Christmas with us. I know my mother was nervous about me doing this, but she needed my help to get them, so off I went.

As a passenger, I had traveled that route many times, but the roads look quite different once you're the one who's actually behind the steering wheel. Unfortunately, I made an error on this journey and got on the wrong highway without realizing it. My grandmother's house was an hour away, so about an hour into my journey I started wondering why I wasn't seeing her exit (and why nothing was looking familiar to me). At first, I attributed my unfamiliarity with my surroundings to the fact that it was dark. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that I had gone the wrong direction and was nearly in a different state. Once I admitted to myself that I was lost, and got pointed in the right direction, I arrived at my grandmother's house and calmed the nerves of my very worried family.

Getting directionally lost isn't pleasant, but living in a spiritually lost condition is even worse. It was because we were spiritually lost that Jesus came into this world to find us. Many people were critical of Christ's willingness to seek the lost, but Scripture shows us that Heaven rejoices when the lost are found.

I. Don't let your critics set your agenda

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
— Luke 15:1-2, ESV

In our present day, who would you say seems most familiar with the content of the Bible? Pastors? Seminary professors? Authors? Older Christians who have spent decades reading it every day?

I always find it interesting to observe how people reacted to Jesus during the course of His earthly ministry. It's oddly fascinating to realize that those who seemed to know the Scriptures best, also seemed to be the most distant and critical of Jesus, while those who didn't place a high value on God's word seemed to flock to Him. That dynamic is at play in Luke 15. The Pharisees and scribes who had major portions of the Bible memorized didn't recognize the fulfillment of prophesy when it was taking place right before their eyes, but the tax collectors and sinners came running to Jesus, received His teaching gladly, and joyfully dined with Him.

Oddly enough, this dynamic is still at play. This world, and sometimes even the church, is full of critical people. Critical people in our day have something in common with critical people during previous eras. They're so convinced of their own self-righteousness that they end up minimizing their need for Christ's righteousness, and they criticize anyone who doesn't meet their artificial standard of perfection.

Jesus was dealing with that issue in this passage. He was being criticized for associating with people who had "colorful" reputations. He was being criticized by people who had an agenda. Don't be surprised if you experience something similar if you're intent on following Jesus. Through the years, many friends in Christian ministry who were inspired by Christ's example have confessed to me the harsh nature of the criticism they've received as they've served the Lord. And if I'm honest, I can say I don't ever remember being as harshly criticized before becoming a pastor as I have since answering that call. The greater the risk you take to openly serve Jesus, the more arrows you're likely to receive.

But please observe the way Jesus handled this so you'll know what to do when your time comes. Jesus understood His mission. He knew what He was here to do. He understood the timing of what He was here to accomplish. And with that all in mind, He didn't let His critics veer Him off course. Jesus didn't let hard-hearted or self-righteous critics with a selfish agenda set His selfless agenda.

For good reason, one of the most widely circulated quotes on critics came from Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a doer, not an observer. But when you take risks, step out on faith, and do things that others are afraid to do, you're almost guaranteed to take a few shots on the chin.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

How closely are you seeking to walk with Jesus? What has He prodded your heart to do that others just don't seem to understand? What have you done when your critics emerged? Critique from those who love you is helpful, but criticism that's meant to harm you from those who sit on the sidelines rooting for you to fail, shouldn't be the dominant voice you allow your heart to heed. Christ didn't let His critics set His agenda, and neither should we.

II. Jesus isn't waiting for His sheep to find Him

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.
— Luke 15:3-7, ESV

One of the most effective ways to illustrate a point or teach a principle is with a story. Our minds remember stories because they impact us on multiple levels. While we're learning information, our emotions are also being tugged and our desire to take action is being stirred up. When Jesus taught, he would often use short stories or parables to make His point. Sometimes He did so to conceal information from His critics, but often He did so to help confused people gain an understanding of deeper truths.

In this passage, Jesus told a story about a shepherd. Keep in mind that He is often referred to in Scripture as a shepherd, and in this case, He was speaking to leaders who were supposed to be leading the people entrusted to their care with the heart of a shepherd.

How many sheep can one shepherd effectively keep an eye on in the open country? A reasonable number for a skilled shepherd would probably be around one hundred or so. At the end of the day, it would also be likely that a shepherd would do a head count to make sure he still had the same amount of sheep he had at the start of the day. Jesus speaks of the shepherd in His example coming to the realization that one of his sheep was lost. That caring shepherd went after his missing sheep. He sought it out, carried it back, and even invited his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him.

What sort of deeper truths do you suppose Jesus wanted anyone who heard this parable to understand, whether they be His critics or His family? I think He was trying to communicate the fact that He doesn't wait around for those who are lost to find Him. Rather, He comes looking for them. He came to this earth, was born in the flesh, and interjected Himself into all aspects of the human experience in order to reveal Himself to the lost and rescue all who would be willing to trust in Him.

And if Christ didn't seek us, we would have never come to know Him. In fact, we're reminded in the book of Romans that, "No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God." (Romans 3:10-11, NLT)

We weren't seeking God, but He came looking for us. He didn't wait for us to clean ourselves up and start looking for Him. He came and found us while we were covered in the filth of living in the pit we had started to call home. We didn't realize we needed Him. We were trying to fill the void in our souls with things that were killing us. Yet Jesus loved us enough to find us and offer Himself to us. This is what He demonstrated by eating with the tax collectors and sinners, and this is what the Pharisees and scribes found so unpalatable.

III. Your heart is revealed by what you celebrate

“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.”
— Luke 15:8-10, ESV

The Christmas season is a time of year filled with celebrations. Churches celebrate. Employers celebrate. Families celebrate. Students celebrate. Some people celebrate financial bonuses, food, gifts, quality time with family, or much needed rest. Those are certainly all enjoyable things, but for those who know Jesus, we're given the privilege to celebrate His sacrificial intervention in our lives. In Christ, the lost are found.

The things we celebrate can be quite revealing about what's actually going on in our heart. In this parable that Jesus shared about the woman who found her lost coin, He demonstrated that that object was of great value to her. A silver coin would have been something of great value to a woman living during that era, particularly if she didn't have very many options by which she could support her financial needs. Assuming these coins were essentially her life savings, you could imagine the frantic nature of the search that would commence to find one tenth of her earthly wealth if it was lost. We could also empathize with the relief she would have felt and the joy she would have expressed once the coin was found.

But the bigger point Jesus was making here wasn't about personal finances. He was ultimately talking about lost people being connected to their Creator. He was demonstrating the great value even one human life has in the eyes of God. And Christ wanted to make it clear to us that even the holy angels rejoice when a man or woman repents of their unbelief, trusts in Christ, and walks with Him by faith. That doesn't go unnoticed by Heaven.

I came across an article not long ago that spoke about how common it is for people to minimize their value to God, and go through various seasons of the year, particularly the month of December, convinced that they are unloved and overlooked. I don't know if you've ever wrestled with those emotions, but if you've been preaching a message to yourself that tells your heart that you are unnoticed by God or not valuable to God, how does that message line up with what Christ clearly communicates in this passage? If the angels of Heaven rejoice when just one lost person is found by Christ, we should never let our hearts adopt the belief that we are unseen, unloved, or lacking value in the eyes of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
— Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
— Romans 5:6-8, ESV
“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”
— Song of Solomon 4:7, ESV

Heaven rejoices when the lost are found. Christ came seeking us, and when He finds us, He carries us on His shoulders, imputes His righteousness to us, and calls us one of His own forever.

© John Stange, 2018