Sunday, June 21, 2015

Partying in Heaven

Partying in Heaven

Third after Trinity
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10 (KJV)

1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

I lose things - keys, wallet, glasses, cell phone, remote control. If I have it, there’s a good chance I’ll lose it. I would probably lose an arm or leg if they weren’t permanently attached. Happily, I am married to a finder. I lose; she diligently seeks; she finds; I rejoice; she asks why I can’t stop losing things.
Jesus told two lost and found stories to his critics, the Scribes and Pharisees.
1. Setting
Luke 15 begins by telling us about a group of people who showed great interest in Jesus. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
The group included tax collectors. The Roman tax collection system was a contract system. Locals contracted to collect Roman taxes. An example was Matthew, who had a toll booth in Galilee where he collected taxes on goods that moved along the road. Tax collectors were despised for two reasons. First, they were Jews who served a government that oppressed their fellow citizens. Second, they often abused the system. They collected the government’s taxes and were allowed to add to the total to cover overhead and profits. But many gouged the public.  So they were outcasts, regarded as traitorous and dishonest men.
The group also included “sinners.” When the Jews referred to people as “sinners” they did not mean it in the sense that all people are sinners. They put Jews in two classes - the righteous who were diligent to keep the law of Moses, and the sinners who did not keep the law. The righteous would be included in the coming kingdom of God while the unrighteous would be excluded along with the Gentiles. One group among the sinners were immoral women, many of them prostitutes.
The Pharisees and scribes did not like what they saw happening with Jesus and these people.  The Pharisees were one of two religious groups involved in the religious and civic affairs of Israel. The Sadducees were centered in Jerusalem, controlled the temple, were politically minded, and accommodating to the Romans. The Pharisees were more scrupulous about Moses’ law and the traditions of the rabbis. They enjoyed more respect and influence among the common people. The scribes were allied with the Pharisees and copied, interpreted, and taught the Old Testament.
These groups complained and murmured that Jesus kept company with such people and even ate with them. When Matthew to Jesus’ call and began follow him, Matthew threw a party for Jesus and invited his friends. The scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus’ disciples and asked, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:27-30). On another occasion Jesus accepted the invitation of a Pharisee, named Simon, to eat with him. While they were eating, a sinner woman, came into the house, knelt at Jesus’ feet, shed tears on Jesus’ feet, dried his feet with her tears, and anointed his feet with an expensive perfumed ointment. This much offended Simon who said, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39).
This is how the Pharisees and scribes saw tax collectors and sinners and what they thought about Jesus’ association with them. Do you and I identify with the tax collectors and sinners or with Pharisees and scribes? I expect we identify with both. Sometimes, when we really see our sin and sinfulness and need for Jesus, we take our place among the sinners. But too often we forget our sin, and become self-righteous Pharisees and scribes. We see ourselves as better than others; we want to keep only respectable company with people like us; we get offended with others, even Jesus, when they associate with the wrong kinds of people.

2. Stories
In response to the murmuring critics, Jesus told two stories.
Lost Sheep. The first is about a man with a flock of one hundred sheep. Periodically he counted to be sure none was missing. My wife used to do something very similar when we would take our five boys to the beach. She watched over them all the time, but she also counted, literally 1-2-3-4-5, to make sure all were safe. On one count the shepherd discovered one sheep was missing.
What does he do? Rather than writing off one as a loss, he left the ninety-nine in the open area where they are grazing and began a search for the lost one. The lost might be killed by predators and dangerous terrain and lost forever. So he searched till he found the missing one.
When he found the lost sheep, he put it on his shoulders, and, rather than complaining about having to carry the sheep, he rejoiced. That night, when all the sheep were safe in the pen, he invited his friends and neighbors to his house, and said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
Lost coin. The second story is about a woman who has ten silver coins. This is not wealth, but not a little for a person of modest means. This silver coin is the amount a laborer would be paid for a day’s work. This was what her husband would earn for a week and three days and may be what she had managed to save.
When she counted her money, she found one coin missing. What did she do? She diligently searched. Houses in those days had no windows, so the house would have been dark even in daylight. She lit an oil lamp so she could see better. She also got out her broom and swept every nook and cranny.
She found the coin! She was thrilled, so thrilled she invited her friends and neighbors over.  You can hear her saying, “Imagine my panic when I found I had lost one of my ten coins.  I looked and looked, and when I when I reached my broom that corner, out came with my missing coin! Rejoice with me!”

3. Significance
What is the significance of these stories?
People. Since the Fall, all human beings are lost.
They may not be aware of it. They may feel comfortable, safe, and at home. Or, they may feel alienated and confused in a scary universe. People can be irreligious and shake their fists in God’s face, and be lost, but the Pharisees and scribes demonstrate that people can be very religious and be lost. People can be ignorant of the Bible and be lost, or people can know the Bible and theology and be lost. The natural condition of all is lostness: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We are lost to God and lost to eternal blessedness.
God. God seeks the lost.
We look for what is valuable to us - for instance, children who run away. We love them, and we can’t stand it till we don’t know they are safe. We will turn heaven and earth upside down to find them. Even if they are rebellious, disappoint us, and willfully run away, we want to find them and have them home. Often there is no explanation for what we do except that they are our children, and we love them.
The reason God sent Jesus was to find the lost and bring them home. When Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he passed through Jericho where a tax collector named Zacchaeus lived. This little man climbed up a tree so he could see Jesus. When Jesus came to that tree, he stopped and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus scampered down and joyfully received Jesus. And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus throughout his ministry was seeking the lost; he died and rose again so they could be brought home to God’s house. Today, by the preaching of his Gospel and the work of his Spirit, he is seeking, finding, and bringing home those who are lost.
Heaven. Jesus says that when one sinner is found God and the angels party in heaven.
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance... I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Those who cause rejoicing in heaven are sinners who repent - not “good” people who don’t think they need to repent, but sinners. Repentance means to turn around and go back home to God. The reason anyone repents is because Jesus finds them and takes them back home by the gift of repentance. It’s not worthiness on our part but grace on God’s part. It’s not our seeking after God, but the Good Shepherd seeking and finding us. And when we repent there is a whole lot of happiness in heaven.
The questions we must ask ourselves are: “Are we on the same page as God? Would we be happy to have sinners show up for church? Do we rejoice when some thoroughly worthless and reprehensible person is found by Jesus, repents, and goes home to God?’

We are about to come to the Lord’s Table. The only ones who can come are sinners. Here Jesus receives and eats with repenting sinners.
"Jesus sinners doth receive:"
Word of surest consolation;
Word all sorrow to relieve,
Word of pardon, peace, salvation!
Naught like this can comfort give:
"Jesus sinners doth receive."

When a helpless lamb doth stray,
After it, the Shepherd, pressing
Thro' each dark and dang'rous way,
Brings it back, his own possessing.
Jesus seeks thee, O believe:

"Jesus sinners doth receive."

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