Monday, December 16, 2013

Ninety-nine Percent isn't Good Enough For God.

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which was lost until he finds it? Luke 15:4.

Have you ever lost something?

Naturally that is a rhetorical question because we've all lost things in our lives. Whether it is the TV remote, our car keys or even something less mundane, we often misplace things that are important to us. What ensues is usually a frustrating series of events to include tossing the couch and living room, rummaging through pockets and disgorging the contents of closets until the lost item is found.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells a series of parables to show that God is no less dedicated to the search for lost things than we are. In fact, His search goes over and above the effort we would put forth for all but the most valuable of things. For now, I want to focus on the first two parables in this chapter because they are very, very similar and the third is the parable of the Prodigal Son and requires it's own post.

At the opening of the chapter we find that Jesus is being surrounded by, not only curious Pharisees and scribes, but also tax collectors and "sinners." I do find it somewhat humorous that tax collectors often fell into the same category as "sinners." Oh how the same sentiment lives today!

The religious elite were, as always, flabbergasted that Jesus would associate with the dregs of society but their grumbling would only lead to another teachable moment for the entire crowd. Both the Pharisees and the sinners were in desperate need of the message that Christ was about to bring through two, easily accessible parables.

The two parables are that of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both carry the same core message but with slightly different details. In the parable of the lost sheep the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine which are safe and goes after the one which is lost. In the parable of the lost coin the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the entire house to find the one lost coin out of ten. The divine application would have been clear and earth-shattering to the hearers that day.

Why would such an obvious statement to us be so revolutionary to the people in Christ's day? The answer lies in the Pharisees' understanding of God. To them there was no question that God would welcome people to come to Him, so long as they cleaned up their act first. Naturally, the Pharisees would have considered themselves righteous in their own eyes and in the eyes of God. They had done a stellar job of following the law so they believed God would eagerly welcome them into His Kingdom. However, there would be no way that God would want to have anything to do with an unrighteous sinner. In their mind mankind had to seek after God.

What Jesus is teaching here is that their concept of God was completely backwards in this area. Not only, He teaches us, does God seek after the lost sinner but, there is no man who truly does seek after God. Romans 3:9-12 makes this truth abundantly clear.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one." 

This is, of course, a reaffirmation of the truth God already spoke in Psalm 14 but clearly someone needed a refresher course. The really intriguing thing to me is thinking that Paul wrote his words to a Christian church in Rome. Perhaps the early Christians there had already fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees prior to them. Just as the Pharisees believed they were seeking after God because of their adherence to the Law, so these early Christians may have started thinking more highly of themselves than they should have.

The point that Jesus is making to both the Pharisees and the sinners is that God, in His love, actively seeks those who are lost. Let us not forget that He has been doing this from the very beginning of time. After Adam and Eve sinned and decided it would be good to make some clothes for themselves God came looking for them in the garden for their evening stroll. "Where are you?" he asked them. Now, God has never once lost us in the sense that He doesn't know where we are.

The word translated "lost" in both of these parables comes from an ancient word that carries the meaning of "destroyed" or "perish." We can understand this because if we lose our car keys they may as well be dead to us because they are of absolutely no use in their lost state. This helps us understand the sense in which we are lost to God. He knows where we are but because of sin our relationship with Him has been severed. Ephesians 2 puts it this way;

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins...but God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

To be lost is to be dead. To be lost is to have a broken relationship with God. However, He loves us so much that He refuses to let us continue in our lostness without offering us a chance at being found. These two parables show us to what lengths He is willing to go to in order to find us.

1. The parable of the lost sheep tells us that God is willing to put Himself in danger in order to find us. The shepherd had no idea what kind of mess the lost sheep had gotten itself into. It could have fallen in a ditch, made its way into a terrible bramble patch or even attacked by wild animals (remember what David had to fight off when he was a shepherd). The shepherd was willing to face whatever may come in order to save the sheep. Likewise, God sent His Son into danger to rescue us. Philippians 2 tells us that Christ was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.

2. The woman who lost her precious coin tore her house apart until she found the lost coin. In the same way, God will move heaven and earth to get an invitation to His feast into our hands. What we do with the invitation is completely up to us but He'll do His part in getting it to us. Also, nine out of ten coins wasn't good enough for this woman just as ninety-nine sheep out of one hundred weren't good enough for the shepherd. God never thinks to Himself, "Well I've got 99% and that ain't so bad. I'll forget about the 1%."

The final thing that I want to point out about these parables is the reaction of God to finding that which was lost. In both instances the person rejoices greatly when they have successfully found what they were looking for. Friends, know this, God wants to find people and when He does there is rejoicing like we can hardly imagine. In the first parable the rejoicing is described as "in heaven." This tells us that the entirety of the heavenly host throws a party when one person gets saved. Their rejoicing is so great because the angels of heaven know far better than we do what we are being saved from and what we are being saved to. In the second parable the rejoicing is said to take place in the "presence of the angels of God." This tells us that someone else is involved in the party and that someone is God Himself. Nothing makes God happier than seeing the people He loves so dearly accept the invitation to His great feast (salvation). He does not begrudgingly welcome people into His Kingdom, He does so with joy unimaginable. Why? Because His love for us is so vast and limitless.

As we continue headlong into this Christmas season let us take time to consider the love that God has for us. So great a love that it would drive Him to actively search for the lost and rejoice when you and I have been found.  

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