REJOICING IN HEAVEN
Luke 15:1-10 (K. V.: 15:10)
“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Last week, we had one of the toughest and scariest messages by Dr. Jason regarding Jesus’ discipleship. To be his disciple, we were told to hate every loved one, including our own self, which actually means to put priority on Jesus. To be his disciple, we were also told to be ready to pay the price, even a long-term commitment like that toward tower-building or warfare. As his disciples, we are to keep our saltiness to be tasty and fresh. Surely, being his disciple is not just difficult but seemingly impossible. Yet, today’s passage will empower and motivate us to be his disciple as we hear how God’s love toward sinners is like. May God grant us joy as His love moves our heart and make us shed our salty tears.
The Lost Sheep (15:1-7)
Look at verse 1. What kind of people were gathering around Jesus? Unlike the previous chapter where the disciples and aspiring crowds flocked to him, this chapter begins with public sinners surrounding him. How so? Perhaps one high-ranking tax collector, like Matthew, invited his fellow tax collectors along with other sinners to his dinner as Jesus became the guest of honor at his house. Or those tax collectors and sinners heard about Jesus’ great message of hope and love and were collectively drawn to him like iron objects being drawn to a magnet (KJV says “drawn to him”). When they came to him, Jesus embraced them all and had a wonderful fellowship with them. Some of them already felt the heavenly bliss and decided to change their life. But there were other kinds of people who did not like this blessed occasion. They were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, so-called religious police figures, who observed every activity of Jesus and those sinners to find fault with them.
What did they say about Jesus? They complained, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” According to the rabbinic rules, “one must not associate with an ungodly man.” Even Apostle Paul strongly suggested to the Corinthians that they should not eat with ungodly believers. Eating with someone is not just about eating itself. You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together. You open your heart, share joy and concerns, and plan together at the dinner table. Basically, you become like family members for a brief moment. Now Jesus was accused of something that should not have been done, that is, eating with sinners. What was Jesus’ response to that? Look at verse 3. Jesus shared with them a parable so that they might understand what God’s heart toward the sinners is like.
Verses 4-6 are about the contents of the parable. This parable of the lost sheep could be very much relatable to them as they all were in an agricultural society. In the parable, one shepherd has a hundred sheep. A hundred is a sizable number. The shepherd might not be super rich but might be considered as a successful cattle-business man. Then, he loses one sheep. This sheep might have been easily and often lost. Now the shepherd has a decision to make. From a cost-effectiveness point of view, risking those ninety-nine sheep in the open country for finding one lost sheep does not make sense. You possibly lose more than finding one. However, to this shepherd, that one lost sheep is not a number or a percentage. It is more than an animal but is like a child to him. He feels the pain and loneliness that this lost sheep might be going through. He cannot forget this often-lost sheep. He then makes a very difficult decision. In doing so, he does not calculate. His focus is only on the lost sheep and by going after it, he trusts the lives of the ninety-nine in the hands of God. He searches high and low for the lost sheep. It is getting late and yet he never stops his search. Finally, when he finds it at the edge of a cliff, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. He does not stop there. He even calls his friends and neighbors together and have a party with them, saying, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
Verse 7 reads. “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.” This is the meaning of the parable. Note the phrase, “in the same way.” If the shepherd does not care for his sheep and counts only the numbers and profits, he is not going to know what true rejoicing means. The reason why he is so rejoicing is that he cares for the sheep and that his heart is toward the sheep, particularly the one lost sheep. God’s heart toward us, the sinners, is the same. Even though He hates sins and even demanded sin-offerings in the Old Testament times, He does not hate sinners. Rather, He deeply cares for the sinners and initiates the search effort for the lost sinners. His ownership as the Creator and his relationship as the best friend with the lost sheep continue to enable him to search. He is not tired, or hungry or thirsty. That is why there will be greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over many multitudes of righteous people.
In our Friday meeting, we shared how we rejoiced over the new-comers in the Summer Bible conference times when they genuinely shared their heart-felt testimonies and repented. Surely, we shed tears together, laughed together and ate together at the time of the Summer Bible conference. We foretasted the heavenly rejoicing on earth and are looking forward to it at this Bible house.
This parable also teaches us the importance of one person. In this materialistic and calculation-first world, one person does not seem to matter. However, one person really matters to God. When that person seems lost, it might be burdensome to take care of him. Yet by remembering how much rejoicing there will be, we gladly accept the difficulties of serving the one person until he is found. After all, we have been lost but found by our respective shepherds, and ultimately, our Great Shepherd, Jesus, when we were lost. May God enable us to taste this joy and thus make us good shepherds.
The Lost Coin (15:8-10)
Look at verse 8. This time, Jesus brings about another parable relating to the lost.
It reads. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” Here, ten silver coins are ten drachmas, each worth about a day’s wages. In our Friday meeting, someone pointed out that one drachma may be worth more even up to five- or ten-days’ wages. Considering Chicago’s minimum wage being boosted to 15 dollars, one lost silver coin could be worth hundreds of (100 to 500) dollars. Moreover, in those days, women usually did not (or could not) work by getting a decent job. It would have been very difficult for a woman to earn this much amount of money. Bible commentaries say this might have been her life savings from her early age on or her bridal gift from her family. Hence, one lost silver coin out of ten means more than just the monetary value. It means part of her life journey and the memory of her good people around her. According to the customs, those coins were strung together as ornaments in the headdress and the women would wear it wherever they would go. So, chances are the lost coin might have fallen off from the headdress when one of strings breaks. Now, what can she do? She’s got to find it no matter what because it is so precious to her. She knows it must be inside the house as she is seldom outside. She then begins to search every nook and cranny by sweeping her house. Finally, when she finds it, she is so overjoyed that she calls her friends and neighbors together to have a lost and found party with them.
Our God called and still calls us as His treasured possession (Ex 19:5). We are part of His redemptive journey and a good memory to Him. We are like a jewel in the crown of God. If it falls off from the crown, God will definitely search it and will never stop finding until He finds it. Look at verse 10. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This time, even the angels would join the joy of God’s finding the one lost sinner.
One of the most renowned preachers of all time, Charles Spurgeon once prophetically said that in heaven, when one sinner repents, the tear of God so overflows that it becomes a rushing river, and His angels would be swimming or canoeing in that river. I was very much touched by this imagery and tried my best to invite people to the Bible study.
In conclusion, God’s heart toward the sinners is like that of the shepherd and that of the woman who lost their valuables. The shepherd does not calculate like percentage or the cost-effectiveness and the woman does all her efforts like sweeping to find their lost ones. As the shepherd and the woman rejoice at their finding, God rejoices when one sinner repents. May God help us to be found, participate in search and rescue efforts and have great joy with Him.