Sunday, 14 May 2017

The value of one (Luke 15:1-7)

In 1920s America there was an unusual court case.  It concerned a man who tripped over one of those large ropes they tie to ships and fell off a pier.  He cried for help but his friends were too far away.  However, there was a young man sunbathing close by.  This young man was a good swimmer.  But he didn’t want to get wet.  The man in the water drowned.

The parents of the drowned man were so incensed about this they took the young man to court.  But they lost their case.  The judge ruled that sun-bather had no legal responsibility to go to the aid of a drowning person.
That is a reasonable picture of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees believed that they knew God, but had no concern for other people’s spiritual needs.  They failed to see that our God loves to forgive and they made no effort to reach out to those who need him.  How different they were to Jesus, the good shepherd who comes looking for lost sheep! 
1.      It awful it is to be lost
For a sheep to be lost was perilous.  Unlike dogs or cats, sheep don’t have a great ability to find their way home.  In a short time that sheep would become the victim of predators.  That sheep was doomed, unless the shepherd found it.  So the shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine in a safe place and goes looking.

It is an awful thing to be lost.  The apostle Paul says that before Jesus found us we were dead in transgression and sin … and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Jesus spoke of humanity being on a wide road leading to destruction.  Lostness results in death.  Charles Spurgeon writes, ‘if you are saved yourself, be on the watch for the souls of others.  Your own heart will not prosper unless it is filled with intense concern to bless your fellow men.  The life of your soul lies in faith; its health lies in love.’
2.    Look at the lengths that Jesus to find the lost
Finding a lost sheep in the rugged Palestinian countryside would have been a very strenuous task.  Some of those predators would have been a danger to the shepherd.  Today, many tourists go off wandering in those same isolated hills and end up having to be brought home on stretchers because of over-exposure to the elements.

Not only are people lost, they have chosen to go astray.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6).  We weren’t looking for him; we were hostile to him (Romans 8:7).  The good shepherd left his heavenly home, stepped into the wilderness of a rebellious world, endured mocking and rejection and, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  This is personal.  Not only did Jesus die for a mass of humanity, he came looking for you personally.  Paul marvels, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). 
How gentle this shepherd is!  When he finds the lost sheep, after the long searching, he does not beat it.  He does not seek to teach the dumb, weary sheep a lesson.  He joyfully lifts it up.  That sheep is weak from its wandering, too weak to follow the shepherd home.  The shepherd has to carry it on his shoulders. 
Sheep are heavy creatures.  Our good shepherd is determined to bring us home.  He will not loosen his grip of us.  Having found us, he will not let us go.  Jesus says, ‘For I have come down from heaven … to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day’ (John 6:38-39).
3.     The celebration over those who are brought to repentance
The angels in heaven have an advantage over us when it comes to rejoicing over lost people being found.  You see, we are hindered by an earthy-perspective and a sinful nature.  Their viewpoint is from heaven and they are not tempted towards a harsh, unforgiving and critical-spirit towards people.  They spend their time gazing upon the splendour of our amazing God, and see just how gracious that God is to welcome sinful people as sons and daughters.  They know all about the lamb that was slain for the sins of his people.  They also are more aware of the terrors of righteous judgement that falls upon those who refuse to repent, and so delight in merciful heart of a God who rescues so many from the eternal punishment they deserve.

Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ words.  He is using irony when he speaks of righteous people who do not need to repent.  The Bible is clear that there are none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).  We live in a world where everybody is encouraged to believe that they are essentially a good person.  Such good people are enemies of the gospel.  My neighbour was telling me that he is an atheist, and then added, with a smile, but if there is a heaven he is sure to be going there.  After all he considers himself a good person.  Many sick people do not go to the doctor because they are ignorant of their illness and so miss out on the cure.
There is a quaint little story about some children who sought shelter from a storm many in a church many generations ago in England.  In that church a preacher was speaking on this morning’s verses.  He read from the King James Version, ‘And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”  One of the children went up to the preacher after the service and said to the preacher, ‘Jesus receives me!  You said that Jesus receives sinners and Edith with them.  I am Edith!’
Jesus does welcome Edith and Paul and Edwin and Joan.  This parable reminds us of the value of one.  Jesus came to rescue millions of people, but he came to rescue them as precious individuals.  He welcomes sinful people and delights in their repentance.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus used our feet to seek for the lost?  Sharing our faith is a missing ingredient in many of our lives.  I don’t speak as someone who finds evangelism easy, and I have missed many opportunities to speak about Jesus.  One writer says, ‘I’ve repeatedly found that it’s the Christians living out the unexpected adventure [of speaking about Jesus] who are enjoying the most fulfilling relationships with God.’  You see, Jesus wants you to share your faith not just because he has a love for the lost, but also because he delights to bless those he has found.
(The opening illustration, story about Edith and the insight about why angles rejoice were taken from Scott McKay, preaching at Saint John Newlands).

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