“Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him, Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”…This man welcomes sinners. Now, I wasn’t there, and I didn’t catch the tone of the pharisees and the teachers of the law mutterings, but from what we know based off passed interactions with Jesus, this muttering about Jesus likely wasn’t quiet admiration full of compliments. These were the hushed mutterings, grumblings of voices full of disdain, a critique of God’s Son. This guy welcomes sinners. Yeah, yeah, he did.
And those sinners kept coming. They kept gathering. They followed Jesus. For what purpose? “To hear him.” You see Jesus had a message for these sinners. One that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had no interest in knowing and no interest in sharing. The message was quite simple, he loved them. He loved the tax collector and he loved the sinner who gathered around him. He loved people whom many – like these Pharisees and Teachers of the Law – would deem unlovable.
In response to their mutterings, Jesus told a story, two stories really. He spoke first of a shepherd tending a large flock of sheep, a hundred total. That shepherd spent a great deal of time with his sheep. He knew them by name. He knew every weak lamb, every foolish sheep, and every stubborn ram. But one day, he discovered one sheep had wandered away to look for something else, maybe hoping to find some tasty green tufts of grass. The shepherd – this is my favorite part – immediately, he didn’t hesitate, immediately leaves behind the 99 other sheep to find that one lost sheep. And he doesn’t stop, not until he finds that one lost sheep. The second story is similar.
A woman loses a coin, one of ten, and she searches for it. She lights a lamp. She scourers her home. She doesn’t stop looking until she finds that one lost coin. It’s that important to her. That precious.
A mother of multiple children was once asked a very cruel question. “Which of your children do you love the most?” That’s a cruel question, right? To make a parent think of one child that he/she loves more than all the others, that’s not possible. Although, children here today, sometimes you make it very easy for us parents to love you less or more depending upon your behavior. But this mother she had a wise response to this question she said, “I love all my children, all the same, all the time.” That’s a pretty good answer. I wish I had thought of that.
However, that answer didn’t satisfy the person asking the question, so they pressed mom. “Come on now, we know, there’s got to be one, one child that captures your heart, tugs on your heart strings…come on mom…one child that captures up all your attention.” The mom paused and said, “You know, you’re right. Absolutely right. If one of my children is sick, I probably show more care and attention to that child. If one of my children is lonely, I probably give that child more love than the rest, same if one is sick or sad.” You see mom’s answer? Even though she loved all her children all the time, sometimes she individually focused her attention and love on one of her children who needed it more at the time.
That’s the love we see in this story from Jesus. If we were to ask Jesus, “Jesus whom here in this room, which of your children, do you love the most?” He might answer, well haven’t you read John 3:16? “God so loved the world – That’s all of us right? – that he gave me” Jesus might say that! But if you had to press him on it, right here in Luke, Jesus gives us an answer just like that of the mother. But let’s step back for a moment, who are we in this lesson?
Where do you find yourself? Are you one of the tax collectors, the sinners, gathered around Jesus, whose arms are open wide welcoming you in? Or are you a Pharisees, a teacher of the law muttering, grumbling, disturbed that the Savior would be so welcoming to people who don’t deserve him? Neither answer paints us in a good light. We are either terrible sinners, or terribly self-righteous. But it is both the sinner and the self-righteous who hear these two stories from Jesus.
Now, certainly, Jesus’ words here were directed toward the pharisees and teachers of the law, but his message was surely heard by the other sinners around him. And what did both hear from their Savior? That the lost, all the lost, are precious in his sight. He welcomes them; he welcomes sinners. That message impacts us all in different ways. Maybe you are one of those lost sinners right now. And there is a reason you are lost, and the reason is you. It is incredibly difficult in those moments when we see all too clearly how we rejected God – how he stood there with open arms and we walked away enjoying and living in a sin without hesitation – it is incredibly difficult to think that he would ever take us back.
The parable of the lost coin adds to this because there are times when we can’t come back, not on our own. A coin doesn’t just roll around looking to be found. Where it lands is where it lies. It needs someone to find it. That might be how lost we are at times and, you know, we may not even know we are lost like that. Look again at our lesson, there stood those Pharisees and teachers of the law, maybe some of them saw Jesus as their Savior – I can’t see into their hearts – but I wonder how many of them had no concept of who was right before their eyes. They were themselves lost and didn’t even know – maybe you know someone like that. It’s an even sadder picture as you hear their mutterings about some Savior who welcomes – Welcomes! – sinners. Oh, what they were missing.
Yet there was Jesus, speaking his answer to that cruel question, “whom do you love the most?” “…does he not leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost sheep until he finds it…does she not light a lamp and search carefully until she finds it…” Jesus, whom do you love the most? Them. You. Us. We who are lost and were lost. And you see, as much as it pains us to confess the reality of our “lost-ness,” it is only once we’ve made that confession that the true beauty of these stories comes into focus. The emphasis of Jesus’ parables isn’t on the lostness of the sheep or the coin – rather the emphasis is on the effort and energy of the one who seeks and ultimately finds them.
That’s what we see as we look from a distance at that crowed of sinners gathered round Jesus. There he is! There is God in human flesh, who we saw last week became your relative, a brother, who lived a perfect life that you and I lost the moment we were conceived, and in his urgency, his need to find you, he walked all the way to a cross. There he, Jesus, took your sins, upon himself and suffered the eternal lostness of hell in your place. Jesus came to this earth so that he could welcome you and me, a sinner, into his family. I might have been the most ardent atheist-unbeliever, I might and do daily lose that battle with my sinful flesh, but here I find a loving God who finds me and with joy puts me on his shoulder, so that he can bring me home. A lost sheep now found.
That seeking and finding all starts with Words, with stories, like this. It is Jesus’ Word, God’s Word, that finds us when we are lost. When we gather here at church and hear these Words like today, when we meet in small groups for bible study, or in bible class, and when we read our bibles in our homes, Jesus is seeking you. He is seeking to lead you back to him. To turn you, to lead you to repent of your sin, that you might be not eternally lost, but eternally found, home with him in heaven. And he rejoices, oh, he and all of heaven rejoices when you are found!
See that joy in these stories! “Then he calls his friends and neighbors and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep…I have found my lost coin…I have found Steve, I have found Lauren…I have found you…’ It’s not a chore, brothers and sisters, for Jesus to save us. He wanted to do it, so that he could welcomes sinners, so that he could make us saints. And one day he wants to bring us home. And he wants our home to be filled and joyful.
“This man welcomes sinners!” The Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered. Great! Thank God he did. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. We’d still be lost. But Jesus, he does welcome sinners. That’s a message we can share, and God sends us to share it. And here is why he sends you, because in you a once-lost sinner, he is clearly seen. You are a living example of his mercy and patience. He did not sit by and let sin destroy you. He sought you. He found you. He rejoices in your repentance and your faith in him. Now, who do you know who needs to hear that? Because you see, from time to time by our sharing of Jesus and the Word, we will witness by God’s Spirit a successful lost to found rescue. And as all of heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner now found, so will we. Amen.