Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Luke 15 tells us that tax collectors and sinners gathered around Jesus to listen. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” The Pharisees were Bible-study experts who had created a system of literal interpretation and developed detailed rules for doing exactly what the Bible said. They were offended that Jesus wasn’t more careful about interpreting and obeying the Bible, and they were shocked that he associated with low-lifes who thought parties were more important than Bible study.
Responding to this criticism, Jesus told three stories about people who lost something, and then threw a party when they found it.
Today, let’s look at the first story. It’s about a shepherd with one hundred sheep. One of the sheep wandered off and got lost. So the shepherd left the ninety-nine in the open country (I hope there weren’t any wolves about), and he hunted for the lost sheep until he found it. Then he joyfully brought it home on his shoulders and threw a party, saying, “Rejoice with me, I found my lost sheep.”
Jesus said, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who changes his mind and comes home to God than over ninety-nine righteous people who are certain they’ve got God figured out and aren’t about to change their mind.”
The story has at least two pointed messages and a number of loose ends.
Jesus’ first message is to his critics, the Pharisees. He tells them, “You think you have God figured out. You think he wants everybody to be like you, living sober, rigorous lives, keeping all the rules and getting everything right. But you’re wrong about God.” Jesus told them what God wants most is to find people who are lost, so he can throw a party when they come home.
The religious people had built their own road to God. They knew they weren’t lost, and they knew they weren’t wrong, so they didn’t appreciate Jesus’ suggestion that they were both lost AND wrong! Like the T-shirt that says, “Don’t mess with my faith, my family, my firearms, my freedom”, the Pharisees had locked themselves into a whole worldview about what was right and necessary. And on pain of death, even Jesus wasn’t permitted to mess with that.
Jesus’ second pointed message is that everybody is lost–both the wandering sinners and the competent middle class who’ve studied how to get it right. John Newton’s famous hymn says, “Once I was lost, but now I am found.” But my experience is that we all keep wandering off and getting lost, and we need Jesus to keep finding us.
Jesus, we have tried to be good Christians. We have studied the Bible and interpreted it and built books of rigid doctrine and a whole system of religion that tells us how to get God’s approval. We pray the right prayers and keep the right rules. And we are sure that God will notice us and reward us with a place in heaven. And that he’ll keep the bad people out.
Jesus, what are you saying about lost sheep? And about people who need a change of mind? And about party-time in heaven? We had our change of mind when we exited the party scene and put on our religious straightjacket. Have we lost our way again? Is your story an invitation for us to change our mind again?
O Jesus, lift us up on your shoulders and carry us home to God.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.