My notes from Kevin DeYoung’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)
When I was first asked to speak on Luke 15, my first thought was, “Awesome, I know what’s in Luke 15.” My second thought was, “Ugh, everyone knows what’s in Luke 15!”
I want to tell you one thing you need to know to understand these three parables, two things about God and three things we need to do with it:
There’s a deliberate pattern where some event or some question will prompt Jesus to give a teaching or tell a parable. Looking back in Luke 10, a Lawyer comes to Jesus and asks “what must I do to have eternal life?” And Jesus tells him, but the lawyer seeking to justify himself asks, “who is my neighbor?” And this prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the good Samaritan. Or the scribes and Pharisees who are clamoring for the seats of honor and it prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the wedding banquet… Luke is very helpful to us in that he gives an introductory statement to so many of Jesus’ parables, and he does so here in Luke 15. The sinners and tax collectors were drawing near to Jesus, and the scribes and Pharisees grumbled.
They didn’t like the company he was keeping.
Sinners and tax collectors.
“Sinner” is a pretty broad term—it could mean non-Pharisees, non-Jews, those who aren’t walking with God… in short, they’re people who sin. They’re not obeying the commands of God.
Tax collectors is a narrower term and it’s not a compliment. These were people who bid to Rome to collect taxes in Judea. The problem with the tax collectors is not that they collected taxes, but that they were cheating and swindling the people. They were almost always thieves and swindlers—they could do just about as they pleased.
The closest analogy might be the old city bosses or the mafia who had bought all the authorities and were virtually untouchable by the law.
In the Mishna, a Jewish document written about a century after Jesus, it mentions thieves, sinners and tax collectors in the same breath. The liberal and conservative wings of Judaism both agreed it was acceptable to lie to tax collectors.
But here’s Jesus—not just ministering to them, but receiving with them. Eating with them.
It would be like setting up to hand out literature at an abortion clinic and seeing your pastor walk about of the clinic saying, “See you at seven, okay?”
We all have our categories. we have “sinners,” and we have our “tax collectors.” You love the poor, but do you love the rich?
Two things we learn about God
The main point of these parables is to learn something about God. The point is not to say that God is a man, woman or Father. The point is the analogy—if the man is like this, the woman is like this, the father is like this, how much more is God?
Two things we learn, a minor theme and a major one:
1. God seeks out sinners.
The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep. He is active about seeking out the lost. In my neighborhood, every lamp post has a sign about a missing dog or cat… and you might feel bad for a while. But then as time goes on, the sign gets faded, and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s actually searching for the dogs.
God doesn’t put up a sign and say, “Hey if you see it, let me know.” No, he leaves and seeks it out.
And the woman who lost the coin, she sweeps and lights a lamp and searches diligently. She searches like a mother, not like the kids do. Moms know how to search—they know where everything is.
They search diligently because you lose something that’s valuable. The woman, the shepherd seek diligently what has been lost.
Then we have the Father—we could say that the Father didn’t go and seek his son, but we see that while the son was still a long way off, he ran to him and kissed him.
God is seeking the lost. He is diligently searching.
Depending on your context, it’s easy to lose heart. We see people in our communities who are lost—our churches maybe aren’t growing. But we need not lose heart. There is one in our communities who is seeking the lost more diligently than we can imagine.
And when we see the lost, who say we’re hateful and bigoted, who attack the Truth, they may be the lost coin or the lost sheep or the lost son who God is seeking.
What is Jesus’ mission? He has come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous.
We see this in his reactions to the Pharisees, in his interaction with Zaccheus where he says, “the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” This means we better have a category of lostness—we have brokenness and seeking… but we have to remember, the biblical category of “lost.”
It’s an offensive category, but we have to say what Jesus said.
The hard thing is most lost people don’t know they’re lost. They’re absolutely convinced they’re in the right place—and we need to have a category for lostness and a passion for reaching them.
Jesus is right now seeking out sinners. And he will save some.
That’s the minor theme; here’s the major one:
2. Not only does Jesus seek sinners, Jesus rejoices when they are found.
Each parable ends in divine joy—and it’s public. The shepherd calls to others and says “rejoice with me.” The woman calls to her neighbors and says, “I found my coin, rejoice with me!” The father says, “My son was lost but now is found—kill the fattened calf and rejoice!”
There’s something powerful in rejoicing together—in sharing joy together. Just notice that there’s a great desire to share in joy. God shares it with the angels.
Why does God rejoice?
There is divine joy over repentance and restoration. All three parables involve repentance. Repentance is absolutely delightful to God because a true act of repentance is such an amazing evidence of God’s grace.
It’s an amazing act of God’s grace for one to repent, just as much as it is not to sin in the first place.
This isn’t worldly sorrow, but godly grief—it’s a sorrow for being wrong in God’s eyes, not for losing face. It’s saying, “God, I am wrong and you are right.”
There may be nothing beautiful about you, but your repentance is oh so beautiful to the Father.
It makes a difference to God to have even one small thing missing. And when that small thing is found, God calls to the angels—”Michael, Gabriel, all the other names we don’t know—Rejoice!”
Every sinner who repents—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit never tire of celebrating! Another sinner has repented, another sheep has been found, another lost coin, another son has been restored. And if we rejoice over these—how much more will God rejoice in the repentance in the lost?
God revels in the repentance of sinners!
Three things we need to be mindful of as we respond.
Three points of application:
1. Let us be mindful of the need for both relationships and repentance.
Can you see how hard these things are going to be in the next few years with the way the culture is changing? It’s easy to have a church that’s good at relationships. It’s easy to have a church that’s good at telling people to repent.
It’s hard to have an attitude like Jesus—Jesus attracted sinners to him; they were drawn to him. He was charged as being a friend of tax collectors and sinners and a drunkard.
I’ve been called a lot of things, but I’ve never been charged with being a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of catching something? We must not think of relationships with non-Christians primarily as dangers, but as opportunities because he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.
But Jesus didn’t call sinners to eat drink and be merry—he was calling them to repentance. Jesus never tolerated sin; he wasn’t passive about confronting sin. No one has been more inclusive of repentant sinners and no one has been more intolerant of sin than Jesus.
What we need in our day is courage—we need courage to spend time with sinners and courage to call out sin.
2. Let us be prepared to seek and find all kinds of lost people.
This parable is really the parable of the two sons—both are lost, though the younger son’s sin is easier to see. But the older son is equally lost; those like him want to shout their “nevers” when God wants to shout his “always.”
The son says, “You never gave me a goat to celebrate… you never did anything for me…” And the Father says, “You are always with me and all I have is yours.”
Some of us don’t like prodigals and others don’t like the older brothers—but it’s possible to be both. And God seeks after both equally. The Father runs to the prodigal son and to the older brother he says, “You can have a party anytime you want so long as you celebrate repentance.”
Are we prepared to seek and find the lost, all kinds? Are we prepared to love the prodigals and older brothers? To forgive those you despise?
3. Let us be marked in our lives and our churches by the experience and expectation of joy.
The kingdom is not present where joy is absent. There are seasons of lamentation and questioning, but if there is no mark of joy in your life and church you ought to wonder if the kingdom has really come in your life.
God is radically committed to your joy and His. Do you believe that God is seeking and He will find some?
This is the good news of God’s sovereignty—that he is seeking and he will find. Do you have an expectation of joy? Are you waiting for something amazing?
Have you lost the joy of your salvation? Has it been a long time since anything in the Christian life felt worth celebrating? Are you pleased with repentance—and are you rejoicing over those who never left?
Do you rejoice little sheep, who has been found? Do you rejoice, little coin, who has been found? Do you rejoice, lost son, who has been found?