Summary: Jesus not only eats with sinners, He runs down the road and drags them in for the meal; they need only accept that they have been found.
Let Jesus Find You
A Sermon on Luke 15
You may have heard of Thomas Kinkade. He is often called the “Painter of Light.” You’ll recognize his paintings by their quaint cottages, horse drawn carriages, or cobblestone bridges, but above all, their fantastic use of color and light.
And if you take the time to look, you’ll notice in the lower corner, next to his signature, there is a fish symbol - and the words John 3:16.
Of course, that is a scripture reference. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Thomas says that when he began adding that reference to his paintings, it was “more than a logo or … indifferent tradition. It’s the … core of all that I am. My paintings are nothing more than an extension of God’s love and grace to me.” (Kinkade, p.75)
God is the Embodiment of Love
Truly our heavenly Father is the embodiment of love. As we draw near to Christmas, we are reminded again of His great love – a love so great that He gave His very best – His one and only Son. He gave Him to be born into poverty, in the violent age of first-century Roman-ruled Palestine. He chose to let Him grow up in a time and place where prejudice, hatred, and oppression ruled the day.
Kinkade asks, “Why would He give such a gift? And leave it in such a place?” (Kinkade, p. 76)
He did it because of love. Because of John 3:16. Because He doesn’t want His people to perish, but to believe. And He came to such a place because that’s where His people are – in a violent land where prejudice, hatred, and oppression rule.
Without Christ, we face eternal separation from the joy of God’s presence. And the world we live in offers no hope. But because of God’s incredible gift, we have the opportunity to possess eternal life with God – the opportunity for life, and hope, and joy.
We all have this gift before us. But we don’t always recognize our need, and we don’t always recognize God’s burning desire to see us accept His gift.
And we are not alone in that. But Jesus wants us to understand. And He wanted the sinners, as well as Pharisees of His day, to understand too.
Today I want to look at the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15. If you have your Bibles with you, I invite you to turn there with me now.
Here we read of a time when Jesus was accused by the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, of receiving sinners and eating with them (Lk 15:2). They looked down on Jesus because no self-respecting Rabbi would defile himself by eating with sinners.
And it is in response to this accusation that Jesus tells three parables. They all seem to have the same point with varying levels of intensity.
In them, Jesus does not deny the accusation. Rather each parable states rather bluntly, “Yes, I do.” “I do receive sinners.” And yet, at the end of the day, it is the Pharisees who are left to examine themselves.
The Lost Sheep
The first parable Jesus tells is about a shepherd who lost a sheep. He says:
"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 is lost until he finds it? 5 "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 "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 which was lost!’ (Luke 15:4-6, NAU)
The sheep had no hope of returning home if the shepherd had not gone after it. There was nothing it could do on its own to be found. Once separated from the flock, the sheep could not make its way home on its own. But the shepherd recognizes the value of the sheep and expends the energy to find it.
And then Jesus tells us that
in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7, NAU)
Heaven rejoices when a sinner repents.
But what does ‘in the same way’ mean? The sheep did nothing – it was merely found. How is that to be likened to a repentant sinner?
Is it possible that Kenneth Bailey’s understanding is correct – that Jesus is defining repentance as ‘the acceptance of being found?’ We will consider that as we look at each parable.