The 99 and the one
This week we begin a new series, but more than that, we invite you to join us in a challenge — a challenge to do two things: read your Bible and do what it says. This is who we want to be as a church — and when I say “church,” I mean as a community of people seeking and following Jesus. At Life Bridge, we want it to be about those two things: reading the Bible and doing what it says. We want to be one of “those” churches that lives out the heart of Jesus in the picture of the shepherd that leaves his 99 sheep to go find the one who is lost (Luke 15:4).
This morning, we are focusing on a few stories (parables) Jesus told about the lost. We want them to define who we are as a community of followers, and we want them to challenge both the 99 that fill our seats week after week and the 1’s who might walk in our door only once, or who we must go out into the streets of our communities to find. We so often talk about the lost as “out there,” but I’m wondering after considering what Jesus says a little more closely, if some of those “in here” will have their eyes opened to a type of “lostness” they had not considered before.
Sheep and Coins
We’ll spend most our time with a very familiar story Jesus told about a prodigal son, but there are two others that Jesus told right before that one which also reveal truths and His own heart for those who are lost. The first is of a shepherd and his response to the 100 sheep under his care:
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.” 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.
So, what do we learn here? We learn that the religious establishment looked at the lost as undesirables. They grumbled about the people Jesus was hanging out with. He was with the lost, the sick who needed a doctor (Mark 2:17). Is this true, even today? I would say that it is.
We also learn that the heart of a true shepherd will leave the 99% percent who are faithful followers to walk the full length and risk of the path to find the one who is lost. And in finding them, will pick them up and carry them to safety, rejoicing the whole way that the one has been found. I love the imagery of that final sentence. I love the close-your-eyes-and-just-picture-it truth of what heaven looks like when the one who was lost is found. This is a story Jesus is telling about who He is as our shepherd. This is a story of the kind of heart He wants us to have for the ones who are lost.
Jesus tells another story of an old woman and her ten coins:
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.”
Again, the heart of Jesus and the joy of heaven for the lost and found.
The final story we consider today is a very familiar one. I described it above as the story of a prodigal son, and that’s how most of us know it and would describe it. We connect with the lostness of the prodigal — the youth who desires the pleasures of the world, strikes out to find and enjoy them and ends up face down in pig slop (quite literally). This lost soul is confronted with his sin, repents and turns from it, and runs back into the arms of his waiting father with the expectation of consequence for his foolish choices. The father forgives, but doesn’t do so begrudgingly. He says, “let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:23b-24) This is our story, right? This is a “lostness” we identify with and a forgiveness we have received from our Father. But this is only a small part of the story. There is a lostness that is not so obvious in this story, and I wonder if any of this will sound familiar.
While the father is overjoyed at his young son’s return, not everyone is so happy. Consider now, the older brother.
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
I wonder how many of you, in reading those verses, see a reasoned frustration on the part of the older brother. I wonder how many can relate to how he feels. He’s the good son — the one whose always sacrificed and done the right thing. He’s worked hard, and never once has the father rewarded him for that loyalty and obedience. He was angry with his selfish little brother when he took his portion of the inheritance and skipped off into the sunset, and he is really angry now! I wonder if you can hear more “colorful” language coming out of his mouth when he comes running to find out what all the commotion is about.
You might think this anger is justified, but I’d suggest this is just a different (and more dangerous) kind of lostness. If you look more closely, you’ll see that the older brother is not doing the right thing for the sake of the right thing. He is desiring the same thing as his younger brother (the wealth of the father), it just looks “better” the way he’s going about it. Problem is, it really isn’t any better, in truth. It’s still selfishness, it’s still sin, it’s still being lost. Can you hear the words of the older brother coming out of your own mouth? Have you lived your life doing the right things, expecting to get attention from your Father, only to be angered by the foolish people stealing yours? How does it make you feel when the death row inmate confesses to Jesus at the hour just before his execution? How does it make you feel when your dead-beat sibling gets praise or forgiveness from your parents, when you get little more than a polite pat on the back for being the “good” son or daughter?
This “lostness” is real … and it’s real dangerous. People don’t as often get convicted by their older brother lostness. It tends to eat at them and consume their whole life. If that’s you, please don’t let it! See your lostness in this tale of the older brother. Be a prodigal yourself — repent and turn from your older brother ways and go running back to the Father. I promise He will celebrate as lavishly as when the one sheep, one coin and one brother were found in Jesus’ stories. May the party planner in heaven be forever made busy by the ones who are found!