Lost and Found: Prodigal God (1)

. 5 min read
Christ Church, Mountain Top
Psalm 14
2 Samuel 14 (especially 14.14)
Luke 15.1-10
Luke 15
      3 stories, first two set up the 3rd
Go deeper – book, group
: Bad Bart, Nice Ned, Sweet Sue, Naughty Nell
      Audience appearing in the stories
1 introduces the first group in Jesus’ audience: the “tax collectors and
sinners”.  I don’t know anyone who is
fond of paying taxes, but in the ancient world, tax collection was a job
accompanied by spite, intimidation, deceit, and corruption – and, on top of
that, it was done for the occupying power. 
And, who are “sinners”?  We can
get all biblical and quote the line “all have sinned” (Romans 3.23).  But this word was used as an expression for
those whose reputation preceded them, for those who were known to be good at
being bad.  We are told that these folks
are “gathering around” or “coming near” Jesus. 
The verb, in another form, means “join end to end”.  I imagine not just a handful or even a
cluster of “tax collectors and sinners” but a crowd, pressed together, joined
together shoulder to shoulder like so many dominoes – all of those trains
connected to Jesus.
verse 2, we meet the second group in Jesus’ audience: Pharisees and
scribes.  These folks are “good people” –
they are religious, obedient, upstanding citizens, pillars of the
community.  And complaint ripples,
muttering flows through their part of the crowd: “This guy accepts sinners –
and eats with them!”  They see the world
in good and evil.  How can Jesus be good
if he fellowships with evil people?  As
for us Pharisees and scribes, we have “no need of repentance” (15.7).  That’s beneath us, and these tax collectors
and sinners are beneath us.
the tax collectors and sinners aren’t beneath Jesus.  He replies to the muttering of the “good
Jewish people” or “good Christian people”, but indirectly in story form.  These stories were not designed to make us
feel good but to press the buttons of the righteous folks, to challenge their
assumptions.  Even today, when we look at
the details of these stories, they challenge us and our assumptions about sin
and salvation, about being lost and being found, about God and the human race.

lost: Lost in Laos:
At 4 years old, tried to catch up to Dad when he went
on a run.  Thought my life was over
(Greek term for “lost” here is also for “perish” or “destroy”.)
      I was foolish; I thought I could run as
fast as my father.  Yes, I was preschool,
so maybe it doesn’t count against me. 
Either way, I was lost.  One of
the wonderful things about this series of stories is that they provide us a
multi-dimensional picture of lostness. 
In the words of Timothy Keller, “the sheep is lost through foolishness,
the coin through thoughtlessness, and the son through willfulness.”  Are we lost like the sheep, foolish, not
paying attention, and ending up who-knows-where?  Are lost like the coin, that is, is it
something that happened to us, something out of our control?  Are we lost like the sons, willful, stubborn,
and disconnected from the Father?  How
about “all of the above”?
      Keller writes, “Sin is deeply
complex.  It is inborn in you, it is
magnified by sinful treatment, and it is deepened and shaped by your own
choices”.  (Notes for pastors, session 2).
lost keys …
Things that are lost don’t find themselves.  They need to be found.  The sheep doesn’t find its way home.  The coin, the keys, don’t leap into the hand
of their owner.  And, the son doesn’t
come into the feast without the father going out to him, or the mystery young man
in Laos brining him home.
      Religion is all about the human search for
God.  Most of us think that if we search
hard enough, if we live right enough, if we believe firmly enough, we’ll find
God.  But that’s not what Jesus says in
these stories.  The biblical story is
that we are LOST, and that God comes to us first.  When the LORD met Moses at the burning bush,
the LORD declared, “I have heard the cries of my people and I have come down to
deliver them” (Exodus 3.7-8).  John
writes, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4.19).
      In the first story, the shepherd goes
looking for the sheep.  In the second
story, the woman searches high and low for her coin, probably a piece of her
jewelry, part of her dowry, and her only status symbol.  Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel account, Jesus
describes himself as the “Son of Man” who “came to seek out and to save the
lost” (Luke 19.10).
Joy: Because the Pharisees and scribes
“have no need of repentance”, they see themselves as superior to sinners, as
people who are definitely NOT lost. 
According to Jesus, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who
repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need of
repentance”.  The writer to the Hebrews
tells us that it was for this joy of finding us, “for the joy set before him”
that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12.2).
      “More joy in heaven”.  I think the Pharisees and scribes sensed this
in Jesus.  They were grumbling because
Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them”, but it really got under their skin
that Jesus enjoyed it, that Jesus just loves being around sinners, that Jesus
takes pleasure in being with people who are good at being bad.
      “More joy in heaven”.  When we are found by Jesus, when we repent
and “come near” to him, God is throwing a party!  Have you sensed that pleasure, that joy of
Jesus over finding you and bringing you home? 
If not, today’s a good day to get over your goodness, to get over your
righteousness and come home.
      “More joy in heaven”.  If you have found your home in Jesus, then it
is our greatest privilege to play “match maker”, to introduce people to Jesus,
the lover of our souls.  We speak of our
mission as to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the
world”.  There is no greater joy that
being part of introducing people to Jesus. 
None of us do it alone.  We are
always part of a larger story.  But no
matter what part we play, we bring joy to Jesus, joy to all of heaven “over one
sinner who repents”.

Keller, The Prodigal God and notes
for pastors