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Follow Me... Rejoicing With God Over Finding the Lost

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One of the most challenging aspects of Jesus Christ's invitation of “Follow Me” is revealed in Luke 15. Here, Jesus uses three parables that build on one another toward one powerful climatic conclusion.

Jesus' underlying purpose in the passage is to open our horizons to experience emotions as God does. He lays out in this chapter the important assignment that allows us to not only know and believe the gospel or “good news” He brought, but to experience joy over good news within the broader gospel—to literally rejoice alongside God when others who “were lost are found.”

“This Man receives sinners”

Let's step up to the front of the crowd gathered around Jesus as the chapter begins and hear directly from Him.

Those assembled are a diverse group—drawn to the young Rabbi by His unique teachings and healing touch. His wide audience spans religious folks who think they've heard it all and know it all to those who believe they've compromised their lives so much and for so long that God's door has seemingly been closed in their faces. Yet here is a man who speaks of hope and redemption and a way of return to God not expressed by others.

Thus, “the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him” (Luke 15:1 Luke 15:1Then drew near to him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
American King James Version×
). And at the same time, “the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, 'This Man receives sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2 Luke 15:2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners, and eats with them.
American King James Version×
).

The starchy, well-to-do (at least in their minds) religious folks here are aiming not merely to diminish the rest of the audience and pummel them back into place, but to tarnish Jesus' reputation. They're basically accusing: “What are they doing here? Who let them in!” Well, guess who?

Going after the one

Jesus looks around and surveys their hearts—indeed, all hearts. He knows what needs to be spoken and commences with “What man of you … ?” as He proceeds to share the story of the good shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to “go after the one which is lost until he finds it” (Luke 15:3-4 Luke 15:3-4 3 And he spoke this parable to them, saying, 4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
American King James Version×
).

As Jesus' audience understands, every sheep is precious, and at day's end when all the shepherds come home from the field except one, the entire village knows what he is doing. A sheep has gone missing. The man is out there and won't come home until he secures the little one. Anxiety and anticipation runs through the village until his return, for the wilderness is fraught with challenge for both the sheep and his master.

Jesus concludes the story with the shepherd appearing with his little one that was careless and strayed, the hero proclaiming, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” (Luke 15:5-6 Luke 15:5-6 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
American King James Version×
). The man solicits a communal and collective response from all who understand what has just occurred.

But then Christ magnifies the example of the strayed animal and figuratively opens a window to heaven, exulting, “Likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7 Luke 15:7I say to you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
American King James Version×
).

Searching until she finds it

The body language of some in the audience, however, shows that Jesus will need to go further.

“Or,” He then says, introducing a new story of a woman who loses a single silver coin among a collection of 10—possibly her dowry collection—and proceeds to turn her house upside down and inside out to find it. He comments how she will “light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it” (Luke 15:8 Luke 15:8Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, does not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
American King James Version×
).

All of us can identify with this when we've lost a wallet, purse, keys or vital documents. When she finally recovers that which is valuable to her, she's unable to keep such thrilling news to herself and says to all her friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!” (Luke 15:9 Luke 15:9And when she has found it, she calls her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
American King James Version×
).

Then Christ again gives us a peek into God's throne room: “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 Luke 15:10Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
American King James Version×
).

As before, the story elicits thoughts of sustained focus and energy, because “the search is on,” and nothing but finding that which is lost is truly satisfying. And this is to be shared and experienced by others in a communal and collective response, knowing we have all been there ourselves.

Narrowing down to one on one

Jesus now moves to yet a third story, delving deeper to give His answer concerning the initial tension between the “do-gooders” and the castigated sinners of His audience (recall: “What are they doing here?”).

Up to now we've been dealing with analogies of livestock and money, precious as they may be. The contrasts presented have been one out of a hundred and one out of ten. The sheep was careless and wandered off, and the coin was lost, not on its own but by someone else. The lamb and the coin couldn't return by themselves. They had to be sought after, as they were—with results.

But now Christ sharpens the focus to one on one, person to person, as He tells the story of a father and his prodigal (wasteful, reckless) son.

The son asks for his inheritance up front before his father dies (Luke 15:11-12 Luke 15:11-12 11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me. And he divided to them his living.
American King James Version×
). The problem is not in what he asks and the portion given. It's what he does with it. Leaving home, he blows what he's been given on “wine, women and song,” and His life crashes down around him by his own doing—made worse by a famine (Luke 15:13-14 Luke 15:13-14 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
American King James Version×
).

He ends up feeding pigs—a loathsome task for a Jew—and comes to a point where the food he dispenses to them looks pretty good and more than he could hope for (Luke 15:15-16 Luke 15:15-16 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave to him.
American King James Version×
).

“But when he came to himself …”

The young man has finally hit bottom! Verse 17 mirrors the experience of all who begin to make their way back from the abyss of human nature: “But when he came to himself …” It's then that he states, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son …'” (Luke 15:17-19 Luke 15:17-19 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, 19 And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.
American King James Version×
).

Then, one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture follows in verse 20: “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 Luke 15:20And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
American King James Version×
). An embrace for the ages! The father had never closed his door and waited with the same anticipation, hope and fortitude that mirrored the energy of the shepherd and woman of the previous parables regarding their loss.

And is it any wonder concerning the father's joy when his son humbly confessed to him in verse 21, “I have sinned against heaven [that is, God] and in your sight, and am not worthy to be called your son”? (Luke 15:21 Luke 15:21And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son.
American King James Version×
)

So often repentance is incomplete and evaporates because we are simply saying we're sorry to those in front of us to gain momentary favor rather than seeking forgiveness at the highest level from the Giver of life. Until we readily address that highest level of relationship and start there first, we're doomed to stay on the treadmill of human disappointment.

The father is overwhelmed and fully reinstates his son as a family member. The father desires all to know that his son is back in place—just like the previously mentioned lamb and coin—and everyone is invited to experience his joy alongside him (Luke 15:22-27 Luke 15:22-27 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring here the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, Your brother is come; and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.
American King James Version×
).

But is everyone happy? No! His brother is furious. The story says: “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (Luke 15:28 Luke 15:28And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
American King James Version×
). He complained to his father: “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time … But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him” (Luke 15:29-30 Luke 15:29-30 29 And he answering said to his father, See, these many years do I serve you, neither transgressed I at any time your commandment: and yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this your son was come, which has devoured your living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf.
American King James Version×
).

The father replied: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32 Luke 15:31-32 31 And he said to him, Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
American King James Version×
).

Revelation and inescapable conclusion

This trifold lesson leaves us with one incredible revelation and one inescapable conclusion for those who would take up Jesus' invitation to “Follow Me.”

First, these parables reveal a God who literally seeks after those precious to Him. He remains an active force and intervenes in our lives. This revelation by Christ separates our Heavenly Father from any humanly manufactured deity. No other exists with this quality of seeking after what others have given up on! Only His love can love the unlovable, help the helpless and give hope to the hopeless.

Our God is One who seizes the initiative to guide us back to Him. He is at work in incredible ways that we cannot fully fathom. But we can grow in faithful assurance that when we or others have strayed, He is still seeking after us.

Secondly, the inescapable conclusion here is that God desires that we rejoice alongside Him as He rejoices. This comes by appreciating and embracing the mission Christ revealed of Himself in Luke 19:10 Luke 19:10For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
American King James Version×
: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Thus, we must reject the view of the scribes and Pharisees and the older brother of Luke 15. It's not our job to choose the members of God's family. Rather, it's our job to accept them. Perhaps it's only in having been lost and apart from God ourselves and then being found and rescued by Him that it's possible to rejoice in the finding of others.

Christ continues to search hearts just as He did that day recorded in Luke 15, when He was surrounded by a skeptical crowd belabored with all their issues. Perhaps the antidote for what's bothering you about someone right now—maybe wondering how God could ever use him or her—lies in a story attributed to President Abraham Lincoln.

The Civil War was in its last days, and the North was the apparent victor. An aide approached the president and inquired, “What shall we do now that the South is conquered?” Lincoln replied, “I will treat them as if they never left.”

Embrace that thought. And embrace the joy of the shepherd, the woman and the waiting father as you rejoice with God as He rejoices in finding the lost.

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    Comments

  • cjgennaro

    Excellent article! this is an attittude we must all strive to have

  • stuart 46

    What a superb article and something the ministry and members should strive to help those who have gone a stray to return to Gods hands and salvation.
     Great.

  • Ken Murray

    Thank you Robin.
    You have been inspired to write this very valuable article …for all of us to ponder and apply, with loving compassionate heart…

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