Here are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, September 22, 2019.
Bible Passage: Luke 15:1-7.
OUR GOD IS COURAGEOUS
In Luke 15, Jesus was in conflict with Israel's religious elite the Pharisees and teachers of the law (of Moses). These men considered themselves God's men. They believed they met his standards and were acceptable to him. But Jesus knew better. He considered them far from God, full of pride and self-righteousness. They were lost.
This elite group rejected Jesus, who was the incarnation of God. They criticized his teaching. They condemned his outreach to the unworthy masses; those written off by religious leaders as hopelessly lost and far from God, the tax collectors and sinners.
But the tax collectors and sinners were the ones who welcomed Jesus and his message. They knew their need and they wanted to come home to God. Luke observes that "the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus" (verse 1).
Little wonder then, that Jesus was in conflict with the religious elite. Luke says they "muttered" (verse 2) about Jesus' bad company, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." In those days, who you invited to dinner drew the line between the worthy and unworthy. But Jesus defied convention. He invited himself to eat with the sinners Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10). There's no doubt whose company he preferred.
By loving the outcasts, Jesus revealed the courageous love of God. He risked rejection. He endured disapproval. He neglected his reputation. He reached down. He befriended "bad" people. God's love is courageous enough to risk reaching out to all of us.
This revelation of God's courageous love led Jesus to tell three parables: one on a lost sheep, one on a lost coin and one on a lost son. The stories are different, but their point is always the same. Jesus summed it up in another place (after eating with a notorious tax collector), (Luke 19:10) "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
Today, I want us to receive the revelation of God's courageous love in the story of the lost sheep. Then, I want us to respond with two commitments.
THE COURAGEOUS LOVE OF GOD
A. COURAGEOUS LOVE PURSUES THE LOST - verse 4.
(Luke 15:1-4) Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
God is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 23; 80:1-3). The title represents his loving care and protection. The kings of Israel were also called shepherds, Unfortunately, they neglected and abused the sheep and led them away from God into pagan idolatry and the prophets condemned them (Jeremiah 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34:1-10).
(Jeremiah 23:1-2) Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.
Do you think the Pharisees and teachers of the law got what Jesus was saying? "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them" (verse 4). He was connecting them to the bad shepherds of Israel. He was provoking them, but it gets worse. The prophets also promised that God would search for his lost sheep. Jesus identified himself with the fulfillment of the promise:
(Ezekiel 34:11-12) For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (Also, Jeremiah 23:3-6)
Use your imagination and picture the shepherd walking through the dangerous Judean desert. It's a rocky wilderness, full of wild beasts and bandits.
By starting the parable in this way, Jesus said to the religious elite, I am the Sovereign Lord who has come to rescue my scattered sheep. That's an in-your-face provocation and it eventually led to his crucifixion. Jesus' claim is a revelation of his courageous love for lost people.
It's so clear what Jesus wants us to know. Jesus was God in human form, who risked his own safety to find spiritually lost people. God's love is so courageous that he is willing to risk everything to pursue lost sinners. No one is so lost, so bad, so unworthy, so rejected, so condemned, that God will stop searching for them. (Matthew 18:14) "Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish."
B. COURAGEOUS LOVE RESCUES THE LOST - verse 5-6a.
(Luke 15:5-6) And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law placed impossible religious burdens on people's backs - rules upon rules; expectations, duties, standards they could never reach. Jesus warned his disciples:
(Matthew 23:3-4) They do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Their impossible codes of conduct drove people far from the synagogue and deeper into spiritual darkness. But Jesus' parable reveals the Shepherd-God who picks up his lost sheep and carries her home.
(Ezekiel 34:16) I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak ...
We were lost, but Jesus, our Shepherd-God, shouldered our spiritual burdens and brought us home. This is such an evocative picture of Jesus carrying the burden of our guilt and shame to the cross. We were helpless, so he reached down:
(1 Peter 2:23-25) When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Such love. Such courage. In his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, our God suffered. He was rejected and mocked. His crown was thorns. His scepter a stick. He became sin for us, unclean, unrighteous, lost. He was wounded; he bled and died for us.
This reminds me of Isaac Watt's beautiful hymn: "Alas! and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?" Yes, yes, he did. This is the courageous love of God.
C. COURAGEOUS LOVE CELEBRATES REPENTANCE - verses 6-7.
Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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.
Jesus decided to take one more shot at the religious elite who were off to one side criticizing him. He poked them in the eye when he told them there was a party going on in heaven. God was rejoicing, but he wasn't rejoicing over them. No, they saw no need to repent (See Luke 5:31-32; 18:9-14; 16:15; Proverbs 30:12-13).No party for them.
God was rejoicing over Jesus' band of rogues, the tax collectors and sinners who were gathered around him. These were the same people rejected by religion because they did not measure up. They welcomed their Shepherd-God in Jesus. They repented, reorienting their lives around Jesus, receiving his love and his teaching. They knew they were lost sheep and they looked to him for rescue. He saved them.
And heaven partied.
At our staff meeting on Wednesday, we talked about ramping up our mission to the Blue Water community. There are spiritually lost people living and working all around us. Can you picture heaven's party when they turn to Jesus? Here are some ideas our staff came up with to give heaven a reason to celebrate:
Prayer walks in communities asking, among other things, for the Lord to bring people across our path.
A booth at the Psychic Fare offering prayer, prophecy and dream interpretation. It sounds terrifying to me, but I think it might be a great way to connect with people.
Prayer hour at the church building. Say, Sundays at 12:30 PM, anyone can drop in and receive prayer. We're still planning the Healing Prayer Rooms idea.
Hooking up with the Blue Water Men's and Women's Mission.
Replicating our out of the area on mission trips in our community and make connections that are ongoing.
TWO COURAGEOUS COMMITMENTS
ONE: LOVE LOST SHEEP AND BRING THEM TO JESUS
Wine turns into vinegar when a bacteria known as acetobacter gets into it. This bacteria is everywhere: in the air, on fruit, on grape presses, etc. When acetobacter gets into your wine it slowly turns the alcohol into acetic acid, which is basically vinegar.
True spirituality can slowly turn into vinegar if we allow the bacteria of self-righteousness to creep in. We forget that we are still sheep in need of a Shepherd. We start looking down on people who don't measure up. We turn into Pharisees.
Here's the cure for spiritual vinegar: Remember where you came from. Remember what it cost Jesus to bring you home to God. Remember what it you felt like the moment you first repented. If you can remember where you came from like that, your heart will break for every lost sheep still out there. You'll do what you can to bring them to Jesus to rescue them. And you'll celebrate every lost sheep that gets found.
I'm asking you to commit to love lost sheep and bring them to Jesus. It takes courage because you'll be criticized; you'll risk rejection; you'll face discouragement. You'll prevail as long as you remember the courageous love of Jesus, our Shepherd-God.
TWO: COME TO JESUS FOR RESCUE.
It takes courage to admit that you are lost, especially when you're a religious person or you're a good person who does good things. Maybe you've been part of the Cornerstone family for years and everyone thinks you belong to Jesus, but you know your heart: You know it's never happened, you've held back, it's just never clicked for you. Now you're faced with a choice: keep your reputation intact and miss out on Jesus or admit your need and finally meet the only Shepherd who can rescue you.
The devil will try to tell you to keep on faking it. Or he'll convince you it's too late, your heart's too hard and Jesus has passed you by. Or he'll lie that you are too lost to be found. Or he'll take you deeper into self-righteousness so you genuinely believe that you don't need rescue. Close your ears and your heart to such nonsense.
Repent - reorient your life to Jesus. Reach out and take his hand as he lifts you out of the pit. Let him carry your burden and bring you safely home to his flock. Let's party!