E100 -February 19, 2017

“Sinners Welcome” – Luke 15

Epiphany 7 – February 19, 2017

Introduction: neat and tidy

When God is looking for people to populate His kingdom, His church, is He looking for religiously neat and tidy people, or for people with a messy spirituality?

Have you seen the latest craze in folding clothes? Marie Kondo Basic Folding Method (video). So how many of you have neat and tidy drawers and closets like Marie?

It obviously doesn’t happen at our school – Lost and Found bin.


  1. The Audience and Three Stories

In Luke 15, which is our essential Bible passage for the day, we find the answer to our question in the brief context that leads to three parables from Jesus that flesh out the answer in detail.

The chapter begins with this introduction: “Now the tax-collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear [Jesus]. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” The term ‘sinners’ refers to notoriously evil people – people like adulterers and robbers – who refused to follow the laws of Moses. So, there you have it… sinners are welcome to hang around with Jesus. And then He illustrates with the three stories.

The first story is about a man who goes out to find one of his 100 sheep that was lost. When he finds it, he brings it home and calls his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him.

The second story is about a woman who sweeps her house clean until she finds one of her 10 silver coins that she lost. She also celebrates with her friends and neighbours. At the end of each of those two stories, Jesus draws out the spiritual meaning by saying that there will be rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents.

The third story is about a young man – one of two sons – who asks his father for his share of the estate. This is essentially like wishing his father were dead. He leaves home, and spends the entire inheritance in wild and reckless living, which ends with him feeding pigs and wanting to eat the pigs’ food. He comes to his senses, realizes that his father’s servants have it better than he does, and comes to that place where he knows he needs to go back home, confess his sin to his father, and ask for mercy.

The father, who seemed to be waiting for his son to return, runs out to meet him, embraces him and welcomes him home. He calls for a robe, a ring and some sandals for his son’s feet. Then he sets in motion a party – complete with a fattened calf BBQ – to celebrate that “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile, the older stay-at-home brother returns home to the sounds of rejoicing and becomes jealous that his father is throwing a party for that no-good, property-squandering brother of his. The story ends with the father reminding the older son that the father’s property belongs to him, and that it is good and right to celebrate the return of his brother, no matter how repulsive was the journey he had traveled.

Let’s explore what Jesus wants us to know about Him (and about us) in these three stories.


  1. God’s Passion is Lost People

The first thing is that God’s passion is for lost people. Jesus tells three stories to emphasize that point.

Just before we unpack that, let’s consider the term ‘lost.’ Our small group is studying a book called unchristian – What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. It is based on a Barna Research study of the critiques that 16 – 29 year olds have of Christians. They say things like… we are too sheltered, judgmental, hypocritical and a few other terms. David Kinnaman, the author, talks about the difficulty that we have in identifying those who are not Christians. He says that labels like pagan, non-Christian, non-believers, the lost, seekers, often have baggage that comes with them, so they are not particularly helpful. He settles on and consistently uses the term ‘outsiders.’

“Outsiders” could have been a reference to those tax-collectors and sinners that hung around with Jesus and that were despised by the Pharisees and the religiously neat and tidy people. Luke’s Gospel is especially full of Jesus’ interactions with those who would be considered to be on the fringes of the covenant people of Israel. Some examples are:

Jesus healing the servant of a Gentile Roman centurion

Jesus forgiving an obviously sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfume

Jesus going to have dinner with the cheating tax-collector, Zacchaeus

Jesus making a hero of a Samaritan in last week’s parable of a man who was left half-dead at the side of the road.

Those weren’t the neat and tidy religious people. The Centurion and the Samaritan were ethnic outsiders; Zacchaeus and the woman were moral outsiders.

But in His Luke 15 stories Jesus did use the word ‘lost’ to describe the condition of both the sheep and the coin. In the third story, most often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus doesn’t use the word ‘lost’ to describe the younger son. The word ‘prodigal’ isn’t used either, but it does mean ‘reckless’ or ‘wasteful,’ but not necessarily lost. He wasn’t literally lost, and unable to find his way home. But he was emotionally lost, having willfully separated himself from his father. ‘Lost’ is the term the father uses to describe him: “He was lost and is found.”

The shepherd, the woman, and the father all represent God. The shepherd looks for that one lost sheep until he finds it. The woman sweeps her house until she finds that one lost coin. And can’t you just picture that father sitting on a rocking chair on the veranda watching and waiting for his son to come home. God cares deeply that lost people return to him.

We have all been spiritually lost in some way. None of us is so neat and tidy that we don’t need God in our lives. Each one of us has our own messy spirituality. [By the way, that’s the title of a book by Mike Yaconelli.] We might identify with the younger son and the tax-collectors and sinners, having really messed up our relationship with the Father in some way in the past. We might identify with the older son and the religious leaders, looking down our noses at others and pridefully thinking that we deserve everything from the Father for how good we are and how long we have followed and served Him. The truth is that we have all been spiritually lost in some way. But God cares deeply that we return to him. He searches us out. He waits until we come to our spiritual senses and realize how good we have it when we are living under the Father’s roof and under the Father’s will.


  1. God’s Joy in Finding the Lost

The second thing that we recognize from these three stories is God’s joy in finding the lost. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home to rejoice with his friends and neighbours. When the woman finds the lost coin, she calls her friends and neighbours to party with her. When the wayward son comes to his senses and comes home from his adventures gone awry, the father immediately puts in place a plan to feast and celebrate his return.

Again, since those three parable personages all represent God, we know that God rejoices when lost people return to Him. We may not notice every time that a lost sheep is found, we may not know that God is doing a little happy dance in heaven, but that’s the reality on a spiritual level. After the lost sheep story, Jesus concludes “there is rejoicing in heaven.” After the lost coin story, Jesus concludes “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God.” Music and dancing accompanied the celebrations at the return of the once lost and dead younger son. When we do notice a lost sheep being found, we want to be the friends and neighbours that God calls together to rejoice when there’s a soul saved.

  1. God’s Eagerness in Forgiving the Repentant

The third thing that we notice, especially from the third parable, is God’s eagerness in forgiving the repentant. The sheep and the coin did not willfully separate themselves from the shepherd and the woman. There was no mention of repentance. They were just lost.

But the younger son… now that was a different story. He was living in fellowship with his father, and he rebelled. He took his inheritance, left his father’s home quite abruptly and with apparent finality, and then proceeded to spend and waste everything that he had been given. When he came to his senses, and when he decided that home was the best place to be, he also realized that repentance needed to be part of the equation in his return to dad’s place. He had wronged his father in taking his inheritance early. He had wronged his father in leaving in a huff. He had wronged his father by wasting everything. So, in his mind, he composed his heart-felt confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Are your daily or weekly confessions authentic and heart-felt? Do you conduct a fearless moral inventory as you acknowledge that you have sinned against God and against others?

Remember the picture of the father eagerly awaiting the return of his repentant son. That’s a picture of God waiting for you. Jesus shows us that God is far more interested in repentance than in punishment. The father didn’t send his son away. He didn’t take him out back to the woodshed for a good whipping. He didn’t scold him. In fact, he wouldn’t even let his son finish his rehearsed repentance. He heard the beginning. He knew it was genuine. He interrupted and called for the servants and for the party to begin.

God, your heavenly Father, is just as eager to forgive you! Before you even took your first step back to your heavenly Father’s house, He took the first step to forgive. He sent His own Son, His only Son, to this earth to interrupt our confession and to set in place the plan for the forgiveness of our sins… ALL our sins! Through His life and teaching and ministry, Jesus hung out a “Sinners welcome” sign as He invited tax-collectors and sinners, Gentiles and Samaritans, adulterers and idolaters into His kingdom. Through His death on Calvary’s cross, Jesus hung out that “Sinners welcome” sign to invite each and every person who has ever lived to come to his/her senses, to compose their confession, and to hear the Father interrupt with His words of grace: “Your sins are forgiven! Let’s party!” Messy spirituality, or neat and tidy, we all need God’s forgiveness in Christ.

One curious thing about the third story is that some of Jesus’ words actually apply to Him. When the father said, “This Son of mine was dead and is alive again,” – well, those were words that the heavenly Father would say on Easter Sunday about Jesus: “This Son of mine was dead and is alive again.” Jesus was dead and became alive again so that all who were lost would be found, and alive again.

  1. Conclusion

The church isn’t a club for those who have it all together spiritually – or at least who think they do. Jesus’ image of the church was more like a lost and found bin. The whole reason that Jesus came was to reclaim lost and broken people, people with a messy spirituality. Especially in the third story, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God – He loves sinners and is waiting for them to return to him. And when one does… He rejoices with all His heart and calls us to do the same. Sinners are welcome here! Amen.

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