January 10, 2010
1Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
a. Luke 15:8 Greek ten drachmas, each worth about a day's wages
For the Joy Set Before Us
For just a moment I want to talk about “celebrations”; you know, partying, joyful gatherings, festivals, merriment.
What causes us to celebrate?
Nations Holidays…. Together we celebrate
o the New Year,
o famous President’s & Leader’s birthdays,
o the heroism of soldiers,
o our nation’s independence,
o a day of thanksgiving,
o mothers and fathers
o we even celebrate our work (labor).
In truth, we may not really “celebrate” these holidays as much as we “observe” them. What we really celebrate is time off from work/school, or a great sale at Macy’s.
There are of course
Religious Holidays … the holidays we seem to more sincerely celebrate as Christians such as Easter & Christmas. Liturgical Churches have even more events to celebrate such as the Feast of Saint Stephen, and All Saints’ Day.
We also celebrate gathering with family/friends… birthdays and anniversaries, cultural traditions.
We certainly celebrate unexpected good fortune, luck, and providence when it comes our way.
And we are good at celebrating achievement: Goals reached, work completed, tests passed. We celebrate graduations and other milestones.
But, what I really want us to ask ourselves this morning is, what causes us to really “let loose”? You know.. to celebrate with all our might?
_________ _________ ________
New England Sports-lovers have had a good decade worth of such celebrations:
Go Patriots!… Superbowl champions 2001, 2003 & 2004
And how about those Red Sox?
We tend to really let loose when we finally receive something we’ve been denied for a long time, don’t we? In 2007 we celebrated a Red Sox World Series victory, but was it as sweet a celebration as their 2004 World Series Victory… 86 years in the making? Images of that celebration are still alive in my mind.
But the image that first came to mind, when I thought of “extreme celebration”; of really “letting loose” was that old black & white LIFE Magazine photograph taken in Time Square on VJ Day. A sailor is kissing a nurse… two complete strangers caught up in an over-the-top celebration of peace; the end of WW II.
Maybe some of you remember that day when a nation’s blood sweat and tears finally yielded an end to the second of two wars and the beginning of rebuilding nations and reconciling peoples. It was one of those moments which seemed to put all other “celebrations” into perspective.
I mean, you can celebrate another year of life or another year of marriage; you can celebrate your favorite sporting team’s victory….. but on VJ Day the celebration took on another dimension altogether!
And yet, I suggest to you today that even that celebration pales in comparison to the celebration described for us in today’s reading from God’s Word.
This morning God’s Word takes us to an even higher plane of celebration; it takes us to a heavenly celebration.
Now scripture reminds us that heaven has many reasons to celebrate:
Luke records a heavenly celebration over Jesus’ birth:
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
In his Revelation, the Apostle John describes a heavenly celebration because Jesus is worthy to open the 7 seals of God the Father’s scroll.
9And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."
Also in Revelation we are given the vision of heavenly celebration as God’s faithful children gather
1Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
And there will also be celebration at Jesus’ return for His Church
6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
In short, heaven loves to celebrate God’s salvation plan, and today we are given an insight by our Lord Jesus into what causes heaven to really “let loose” in celebration.
For as much as Heaven celebrates all the elements of God’s salvation plan, through the two parables we’ve read this morning we are told of their exceeding joy when a person who is spiritually lost is found.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons
who do not need to repent.
Do you recognize this ultimate joy of heaven?
While people on Earth, even the most righteous of followers, may wonder at times what God's will is the particular situation, the angels of heaven know God's will. They have seen "the big picture"; God's creation of man and woman, God's love for them and his provisions for all their needs. But they also know of our sinful rebelliousness.
Can we even begin to imagine the angels of heaven looking down upon history and trying to understand why it was and why it is that human beings reject God's love and provisions? God’s angels see the ever widening gulf between God's holiness and human sinfulness, but they also saw Jesus coming into this world; they saw again the extent of God's love for humanity in the invitation from God to respond to His love, to trust in his salvation and to receive eternal life with him. Do you recognize why the angels rejoice so when a sinner is found?
Do you grasp what is at stake?
The angels in heaven understand what is at stake. The angels of heaven understand that the "default" setting for humanities eternity is hell; literally hell, that godless existence devoid of hope but abundant in suffering.
Angels know that while God, in his love, pursues all people, their rejection of him by bowing to themselves or bowing before other useless idols of this world means their rejection of him for all eternity. The angels in heaven know that unless something is done in this lifetime to change this situation, humanities "default setting" is an eternity in hell.
And yet, God's love manifested in Jesus Christ, offers us heaven.
Angels understand what is at stake, and that is why there is such celebration in heaven when even the one sinner repentance.
Tell me something, have you ever been in a large gathering of Christians praising God together? If our youth were here this morning and not off on a retreat in New York State I would remind them about CHIC. I know there are men here who have been to Promise Keepers, and I would guess that most of us have experienced the exhilaration of hundreds if not thousands of Christians praising God in song. If you have been in such a setting it is very easy to imagine God’s smiling face and the joy He would have in seeing so many of his children gathering and worshiping him.
But it is nothing compared to the joy of heaven when just one lost person is found; when one sinner discovers forgiveness and accepts God's salvation.
As we live our lives here on earth do we see what the Angel's see; do we grasp what is at stake for people to live their whole lives here on earth and to never put their trust in God; their faith in his salvation?
Do we accept the reality that God invites us to participate in that which generates “over the top”, “let loose” heavenly celebration?
Remember, salvation from God. Jesus is the author of our salvation, and the Holy Spirit is the power behind people coming to faith, but God has chosen to work through all whose hearts are open and obedient to him, to draw people closer to Him and His salvation.
The Bible tells us that some of us will be lead by God’s Spirit to prepare the good soil (build a building), some of us will be used to sow the seed of God’s Word (preaching & teaching, mentoring & discipling). Some of us will water the ground (love, nurture, fellowship) and some of us will reap (gather in) the harvest (be there to pray with a new believer). And the Bible says that the sower and reaper will be glad together. (John 4:36)
All of us will be glad, but heaven will be "busting loose" because they understand what is at stake.
Can we see how God has arranged everything so that his Spirit can work through us to find those who are lost?
He has given us a supportive family of faith to encourage us to take our celebration of God’s salvation beyond the walls of the church.
He has placed us in differing neighborhoods and in workplaces and in schools so that heaven can rejoice.
He has given us the freedom and opportunities to interact with older and younger generations and people of differing traditions, so that we can love them, get to know them, and listen carefully for the ways God’s Holy Spirit is working in their minds and lives.
God has given us great questions in the teachings of Jesus to draw people toward God the father's heart
o What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:18-27)
o Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37)
Jesus gave us concrete examples of God’s love when he touched people, and sat next to them, and talked to them, and invited the loss into his life and filled them with hope through their repentance. (Luke 23:42-43; Luke 19:1-10)
When we note the level of celebration in heaven, do we grasp what is at stake and accept that we are called to participate in God's will?
So tell me…
Have you entered into the joy of heaven?
In his book Are You Fascinated? management consultant Ken Tucker shares a story very similar to one of today’s parables:
Ken Tucker writes about Bill Adams, a CEO of a large hospital in Virginia, who received a frantic call from a woman who told him, "My mother came into your hospital with her wedding ring, and now we can't find it. "I want to make an appointment to discuss this with you." …
At the meeting this woman explained that her mother had died a few days earlier as a result of cancer. With tears welling up in her eyes, she described how her father and mother had been married for 50 years and what a wonderful loving couple and caring parents they had been together. Then she told Bill how the day before, her dad, with tears in his eyes, had said to her, "It would mean so much for me to be able to slip that ring back on her finger before we bury her."
"So," the woman continued, "I was hoping that there was some way you could help me fulfill his dream of putting that ring back on my mother's finger. Is there anyone you can think of who may be able to help us find that ring?"
Bill was deeply moved by the woman's story and her sad, but calm, manner, and he promised to do all he could to locate the lost ring. "In my heart, I yearned for aRefresh Editor way to help them," Bill told Ken Tucker.
So Bill left his office and stopped by the ward where the lady had spent her final days. The staff told him how the deceased had lost so much weight during the time she was there that they suspected her ring might have fallen off her finger. … They had looked on the floor underneath the bed, around the room, and in the bathroom. They had searched everywhere they could think of, but it was all to no avail. Bill went back to his office disappointed. But he was restless and not ready to give up. He just had this strong sense that there was something more he needed to do.
Then he got an idea. He went into the basement of the hospital and located the laundry chute. He climbed into the bin and tumbled amidst the wet, soggy, dirty laundry. To his surprise, he found the ring. He almost cried right there and then. He said to Ken Tucker, “I will never forget the look on that woman's face or on her father's face when I handed them the ring the next day."
Ken Tucker, Are You Satisfied? (BookSurge, 2008), pp. 55-56 (mod);
Do you feel God’s heart enough to jump into that wet laundry hoping to find that which is lost? Can we even begin to imagine the look on God's face when he looks upon those who obediently went after the loss people of this world? Although it is His salvation, and it is by His power that people come to faith, He invites you and me to search, and when we find those who were lost, to rejoice with the Angels with heaven.
But you know as well as I do the sad truth; that there are Christians filling up pews and chairs in churches around the world who are content to celebrate their religion and celebrate Church traditions but never consider God's calling upon them to seek and to save the lost. They have been invited by God to enter into the joy of heaven, but have instead decided to stay outside.
Do you see why Jesus told these two parables before telling the parable of the “Prodigal Son”?
Over the next five weeks we will be reading the Parable of the Prodigal every Sunday. Each week we will be asking God to speak a fresh Word to us about some element of the story.
This week I invite you to listen as I read it, listening for Jesus’ reason for telling this story when He did, and to whom He did.
After this reading I will leave you with some questions to ponder for next week.
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
This week, keep these three parables in mind, the two we read earlier and this last one which we will be examining over the next 5 weeks, and allow God to speak to you about these questions:
When was the first time you heard the parable of the “Prodigal Son”?
If you have read or heard this parable before, what if anything new jumps out at you this week? (What was something you never noticed before?)
With whom do you identify more; the younger or elder brother? Why?
How close is the father’s celebrative feast to your idea of heaven?
Citation: These questions were modified from some published in Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (r).
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.