Mark Buchanan writes the following in, “Your God Is Too Safe” -- The Lord is deeply and passionately committed to our joy. Where did we get the idea that religion is a stiff, dull, flat business, all pursed lips, furrowed brows and gloomy outlooks? Where did we get that portrait of the religious type as sour, harsh, brooding, scolding? However did we forget to dance and laugh and play and live? We can actually see religion, of course, as gloominess in the Pharisees and religious rulers of Jesus’ day. The people came into town alongside Jesus, singing and skipping and clapping their hands. “Shut these people up,” the chief priest ordered. Jesus said, “If they remain silent, the rocks themselves will sing.” The Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong people, going to all the wrong places. “He eats with sinners,” they said, aghast. They called him “a drunkard and a glutton.” He kept comparing himself to the groom at a wedding feast, said that now was the time to party. The religious leaders of the day hated it (as some do today). They found Jesus irreverent, frivolous and irresponsible…a threat to public order and decency. Stop that dancing! Stop that laughing! Stop that singing! Stop that eating! Stop the playing! Stop having fun! Stop it! Stop It! Buchanan concludes – who is it that we imitate?
In Luke 15:1-7, Jesus tells a parable concerning a lost sheep, but the parable really is secondary to the drama that is revealed through the parable. In the parable, He is teaching concerning the Kingdom of God, in general, and "believers" in particular...at least what "believers" are supposed to look like. For the record, He is “receiving sinners and eating with them.” He met people where they were at and invited them to come to know God. He didn’t “go out of His way” to do these things – it was His way. It is not insignificant to note that Jesus attracts sinners to Him, while the Pharisees repel them. Lost sinners come to Jesus, not because He caters to them or compromises His message…but, because He cares for them. They know that He will love them in a genuine and unbiased way. Among some of these people, the tax-collectors, are not highly regarded...for they not only help the hated Romans in their dealings with conquered lands, they also enrich themselves at the expense of their own people. The sinners are “the immoral people” or those who work in occupations that the religious regard as "incompatible with the Law." Jesus understands their needs and tries to help them, while the Pharisees criticize them and keep their distance. The Pharisees have knowledge of the Law and a desire for personal purity, yet have no love for lost souls.
The big picture here is that Jesus is sharing the parables in order to answer the accusations of the Pharisees and Scribes who are "being caused to stumble" because of His behavior. It is bad enough that Jesus welcomes these outcasts and teaches them, but He goes so far as “to eat with them”…which to the religious leaders implies recognizing them as legitimate people; it also signifies fellowship. The Pharisees do not understand that Jesus has come “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Even more so, they are still blind to the fact that they themselves are among the lost. This is an important point of fact. One thing is clear…there is one message of salvation – God welcomes and forgives repentant sinners. Whatever is the case with these Pharisees, etc….these sinners have heard Jesus’ uncompromising demand for whole-heartedness -- He has shown them what it means to follow Him (Luke 14). They have been challenged to come to hear and understand the meaning of discipleship!
Understanding all of this, we now come to the actual story of the lost sheep. It is a story that touches all people, because it is about “joy”. Everyone can rejoice, because a sheep that once was lost now is found. Why was the sheep lost? Because it is a sheep. Sheep have a tendency to wander away and this is why they need a shepherd to provide guidance for them (Isaiah 53). The Pharisees have no difficulty seeing publicans and sinners as “lost sheep.” But, they can not apply the message to themselves…because they think they are “good, godly people.” In reality, they are arrogant and self-centered; they are more concerned about keeping traditions than caring for people. The true shepherd is responsible for each sheep. If a sheep is missing, the shepherd has to pay for it, unless he can prove that it has been killed by a predator. This is the important reason why he leaves the flock and goes to search for the missing animal. He begins his search, and makes more than a token search – he looks for the sheep until he finds it. The ninety-nine left behind are safe…they are not in danger, but the stray most certainly is in trouble, because it is alone where the predators can attack it. The fact that the shepherd goes after one sheep proves that each animal is dear to him. Jesus rejoices over the returning sinner more than the over those safely in the fold. There is joy when the lost sinner comes to the Savior. There is joy for the person who has done the finding, and there is certainly joy in the heart of the person who has been found. In addition to all of this – there is great rejoicing in heaven.
Passages such as this tend to make people uncomfortable. The fact that many “sinners” today are repelled by churches instead of feeling welcomed says far more about the churches than it does the sinners. Some churches have a “country club” mentality…they will welcome people who look like them, talk like them, and have a similar economic status. Many Christians have forgotten that they are lowly sinners saved by grace. And so, this is why so many of our churches are declining, because they are better at being "exclusive" with one another and others, than they are at being "inclusive." In short, whether they really believe they are or not... by their attitudes and practices...they give people the "stiff arm" rather than "open arms." We can see over and over again that Jesus is constantly battling religious people (scribes and Pharisees) who are just like this themselves in their practices, while Jesus Himself is continually in the presence of and loving people who were very different from Himself. He, likewise, wants his people to be ministering to all people…those who are like us and those who are different from us. This is Jesus’ way. I think we have a lot to learn.
The great news, as we see, is that when a person who is “lost” comes to Jesus, there is great rejoicing for everyone! Likewise, whenever we help one who has wandered away from the Lord to find His way back home to Christ, there is, once again, great joy. You may be lost – God is searching for you. He wants to find you. Seek Him and He will find you…and you will find salvation in the Good Shepherd. For us, let us make the most of opportunities with those the Lord brings our way, and let us continue to make it our way to be Jesus to them…to be Jesus to the world. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDkokw07mOQ&feature=related