Feb 12 - Valuing What Is Lost

Valuing What Is Lost

February 12, 2017

Luke 15

 

VALUING WHAT IS LOST

February 12th, 2017

Luke 15

 

One of the odd things about Jesus is that even though he was God incarnate, even though he was a religious reformer, a religious leader, and even though he started a religious movement, he really didn’t cater to the people who were considered the most religious people of his day, nor did he draw his followers from them with a few exceptions, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea. 

 

Instead, Jesus spent much of his time with those who were not particularly religious.

 

Today I want us to look at three of Jesus’ stories, all of them well-known, in which he speaks about the reason for that.

 

All of the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near Jesus in order to hear him speak.                        Luke 15:1

 

Tax collectors are placed in a category of their own as not to insult the sinners.[1]  In the background of the picture, you can see a group of Pharisees who were watching what was taking place. 

 

And the Pharisees and the teachers of the Mosaic Law complained.  They said, “This man spends time with sinners and even eats with them.”                    Luke 15:2

 

We have to understand why this was a problem for some of the devout religious Jews.  In the Mosaic Law, great emphasis was placed upon ritual or ceremonial cleanness.  If, for example, a person touched a dead body, or a non-kosher animal (like a pig), or another person considered to be unclean (including a person with a rash or skin disease or leprosy), he will have defiled himself, he will have made himself ceremonially unclean. 

 

This was considered so significant that an unclean person would be disqualified for religious service or worship.  They couldn’t enter the temple under threat of execution (Lev 15:31).  So an unclean person had to avoid that which was holy at all costs.[2] 

 

By the time of Jesus, the rabbinical teaching had greatly widened the issue of impurity into a much more complex and burdensome system.

 

For one, the Rabbis forbade Jews to enter the homes of non-Jews.  This was the reason why those who were accusing Jesus before Pilate would not enter Pilate’s palace and Pilate had to go outside to meet with them (John 18:28).  The Rabbis forbade Jews to eat with non-Jews, something that even tripped up the apostle Peter when he visited some Gentile churches in what today is Turkey (Gal 2:11-14). 

 

Further, the Rabbis taught that devout Jews were not to have any personal contact with those Jews who were either physically or morally compromised

 

The physically compromised would be those who were those who were bleeding or leprous.  Jesus’ famous parable about the Good Samaritan included a priest and a Levite who made a wide circle around the robbed and beaten man lying on the side of the road because remaining ceremonially unclean was more important to them than helping out a person in dire need.

 

The morally compromised who should be avoided included prostitutes, tax-collectors, robbers or thieves, loan sharks or scam artists, adulterers or sexually immoral, alcoholics or idol worshippers.  Anyone really who deliberately, willfully, and persistently ignored the commandments found in the Mosaic Law

 

The Rabbis also had another category of people which they called, “the people of the Land.”  This they applied to the uneducated Jewish people who were, in the opinion of the Rabbis, lax in their observance of the Mosaic Law.  It was a derogatory term and led to teaching such as telling a devout Jewish men never to marry the daughter of “the people of the Land.”   

 

Now if Jesus had only stuck to preaching, telling all these people to repent and get with it, this would not have bothered the Pharisees all that much.  The problem was that Jesus actually spent time with them BEFORE they cleaned up their act; while they were still unclean. 

 

If Jesus was from the one and only holy God, as he claims to be, then wouldn’t he, of all people, stay clear of those who were defiled, who were spiritually inferior and morally questionable, and therefore not very important to God

 

And wouldn’t Jesus track most closely with those who were most concerned about following God’s will and who were most vocal in the synagogue and most comfortable in the temple – that is “us”, who are most important to God?

 

But Jesus didn’t function according to the kind of labels that the Pharisees or that perhaps we might put on people.  Yes, Jesus did in fact acknowledge that some people are sinners.  But one of his most basic convictions was that he was sent to the sinners, not to saints; that the sick needed a doctor, not the healthy. 

 

So Jesus deliberately touched lepers.  He touched the physically dead.  He made a point of eating with tax collectors.  He deliberately spend time with sinners.  He allowed a prostitute to touch him (Luke 7:36-38).  He entered the home of a Gentile.  He did not chastise the woman with a flow of blood who touched him. 

 

And all of this was scandalous to the Pharisees, the Rabbis, and those who made rules about how people were to keep the Mosaic Law, because all of this defiled him in their eyes … made him unclean by association.  And that, according to them, could not be sanctioned by a holy God.

 

Jesus was in the position of having to justify his actions.  And he does this by telling three stories in order to illustrate what is really important to God.  If you have a Christian background, chances are that you likely have already heard one or all of these stories. 

 

Jesus starts by first getting his listeners to track with him.  So he first tells a story about a shepherd, a very common profession, because sheep were one of the most common farm animals at the time. 

 

So Jesus told them this parable, “Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and loses one.  Wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the valley and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”                                                            Luke 15:3-4

 

In our culture, we might disagree with Jesus.  “Look, there’s 99 left, write off the one that got lost.  Don’t focus on the lost one, it’s expendable.  The predators will have likely gotten it already.  It’s not worth retracing my steps for the whole day.”

 

But that’s not how people thought back then.  They would be completely tracking with Jesus.  “That’s exactly what I would do.  After bringing the 99 to a safe place, I’d set out to find the one that’s somehow got lost in the hill country.  There is no way I would just give up on it.

 

And when he finds it, will he not place it on his shoulders and rejoice.  When he gets home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, telling them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”       Luke 15:5-6

 

So far Jesus’ audience is still with Jesus.  “Yeah, I’d be pretty stocked too if I found the sheep alive and was able to carry it home.  Not sure if I’d throw a big party, but I surely would be excited and happy.”

 

Now that’s a nice story, and we get that when we lose something of great value to us, like a sheep to a shepherd, we go to great lengths to find it.  We retrace our steps. 

 

And we also get that, if we do find something of great value to us, we’re pretty happy.  But what’s the point when it comes to spending time with and sharing a meal with tax collectors and sinners? 

 

In the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.                   Luke 15: 7

 

God’s greatest joy is when one person turns toward God, regardless of how they had lived up to that point. I have no idea what it would look like for God to be overjoyed, but it must be a wonderful and awesome sight. 

 

You may not realize, but this would have been a statement that would have offended the religious elite.  They really thought that they were above the common rabble, that they were righteous and the others weren’t, and, as a result, that God valued them much, much more than others.  

 

What, God is more interested in him, this person I wouldn’t even allow into my home, than he is in me who does his very best to do everything right?” 

 

Jesus immediately follows up this one story with another.  This time one that perhaps the women among his listeners could track with.   

 

Or what if a woman has ten silver coins.  If she lost one, would she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, will she not call together her friends and neighbours and says to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost!”                                                   Luke 15:8-9

 

Literally, Jesus spoke about a drachma, a silver coin that was worth about a day’s wage for a skilled worker.  The one coin was so important to the woman that she wouldn’t leave home with just nine.

 

The women who were listening would get this.  They could immediately sympathize with the woman:  Yes, I would keep looking and looking until I’ve found the lost coin, and then I would be really, really happy about it.  Maybe I wouldn’t throw a party exactly, but I would tell all my friends and relatives about it.

 

Or ladies, at this point you likely not thinking about your purse.  But let’s say you lost it, with credit and bank cards, driver’s license and whatever other important documents in it, would you become emotionally invested?  Of course you would! 

 

And what if you found it again ... and everything’s still in it?  How relieved would you be?  How happy would you feel? 

 

Or men, what about your wallet?  Or your keys?  You lost it, but then found it again.  Isn’t there a very powerful emotional journey attached to losing something of great value to us and then finding it again?

 

But what does this mean with regard to Jesus spending time with tax collectors and sinners?  Jesus tells them again that God is emotionally invested in the sinner, because that sinner is very important to him.

 

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.                              Luke 15:10

 

Jesus follows up these two stories with a third one.  We know it as the parable of the prodigal son.  If you don’t know what prodigal means, most people don’t.  It means wasteful or recklessly spendthrift

 

It is the story of a father and his two sons.  The older one takes seriously his duties.  However, the younger sons is rebellious and disrespectful. 

 

And Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons.  And the younger said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of my inheritance.’                  Luke 15:11-12

 

This would be like your child coming to you and saying, “Mom and dad, by the time you both die, my inheritance won’t matter to me anymore.  I’ve got plans today!  So mom and dad, let’s pretend that you’re dead already.  Just sell the house now and give me my portion of the inheritance.  Liquidate the company and give me my portion.  Just do whatever you have to, in order to give me what will be mine once you’re dead.

 

Something would be wrong, wouldn’t it?  The relationship between you and your child would be broken already.   It’s like the child never glances up from the cell phone, never takes out the ear buds, spends every minute at home in the bedroom, never participates at the dinner table, refuses to do chores, -  only interested in himself. 

 

What did this inheritance actually consist of?  Well, in that day and age, In the case of actual property, the eldest son would receive a “double portion”.  In the case where there were two sons, the younger would receive a third of the estate.  So the father would have had to pay his son the value of one third of his property, which must have been a huge sum of money. 

 

To the Jewish people listening to the story, the father would be considered a fool if he gave in to the son’s demands, and the son would be considered a good candidate for execution by stoning.  

 

But the father pretends that it is as if he had died, scrapes together the necessary funds and gives them to the son, in essence giving him the ability to depart. 

 

The kid takes all that money and goes to another land and blows it all - . we’re told he spent it all on reckless living (v.13) and prostitutes (v.30).  What likely took his father a long time to earn, he squandered in no time at all .... 

 

By the way, that’s not hard to do.  One of my family members once received a fairly large sum of money, which he blew in just a few months living it up in Rio de Janeiro, and he then racked up another $ 100,000 in debt until people figured out that he had run out of money and stopped loaning him more. 

 

We’re told that once the funds ran out, the son began to starve.  He tried to keep himself afloat as an unskilled laborer, but he was a foreigner and there were likely many locals ahead of him who would get the better jobs.  He ended up with what, for a devout Jew, would be the very worst job there was ... looking after and feeding pigs.

 

Jews were forbidden to raise pigs or to eat pork.  Having to tend and feed pigs would be the worst kind of job possible for a Jew.  We might compare it to having to empty latrines. 

 

But even then, the son wasn’t making enough money to actually keep himself fed.  He was slowly starving to death, to the point where he was tempted to eat the slop fed to the pigs, which however, he was forbidden to do by the owners of the pigs. 

 

At that point, the son realized that he was “lost.”  He was living in a country where literally no one cared that he was starving to death.  If he wanted to turn things around, if he wanted to survive, he had to somehow turn his life around.

 

The son also knew that the hired help back home had more than enough to eat.  But he also thought that he had burned his bridges with his father.  He had treated his dad abysmally to the point where his father would have lost face in whatever Jewish town he lived in. 

 

The son knew that he was disconnected from his dad, had blown the father-son relationship because of his own actions.  But while he missed home, he didn’t think that home was missing him. 

 

So what could he do?  Maybe, just maybe, his dad would hire him to work with the other laborers on the farm if he genuinely showed remorse for his actions, recognized his sin against God and his father.  Maybe, just maybe there is that tiny chance, and that would mean that he wouldn’t have to starve to death in a foreign land.   

 

The tax collectors and sinners who were listening to Jesus knew that the same was true of them.  They were disconnected from God, and likely thought that they had disqualified themselves from ever being a child of God again.  Maybe they thought that they had messed up so bad, they had made such a mess and hurt so many people, that God would no longer forgive them.  At least, that was the way that the Pharisees treated them.  As outcasts, as those who were dead to God, spiritually lost.

 

So the son takes a chance, returned to his land, and was approaching the family farm.  And what happened next would have absolutely shocked Jesus’ audience. 

 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with ... [disgust, embarrassment, anger, resentment, indignation?  No, the father was filled with] compassion.                                                    Luke 15:20

 

Jesus audience would have thought that no earthly father would have reacted in this way.  And that is likely true because they would have understood the son to be a persona non grata.  It would have been different if the son had made a fortune in a foreign land and now have come back to repay the father with interest. 

 

But it just doesn’t make sense that the father still had compassion for the son after all that had happened.   

 

He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.                                                           Luke 15:20

 

The audience gasped because the son had failed on every level, disrespect; unclean; immoral; How could this be? 

 

What had changed between the father and son?  The difference was that when the son left, the relationship with the father was already broken even though the father desired a relationship. 

 

When the son returned, that father/child relationship was now a distinct possibility because the son was seeking the connection, however furtive and humble.  And so the father ran and embraced him and kissed him.  But Jesus wanted to make this very important point to his audience:  God doesn’t hold the past against even the worst of them, he loves and cherishes each and every person, no matter how lost they may be

 

And the son said to his father,

 

Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.              Luke 15:21

 

Father, I purposefully treated you poorly.  I knowingly wasted my inheritance and squandered your hard-earned money.  It wasn’t an accident.  I wasn’t innocent.  I did this on purpose.   I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.

 

The son was not making any excuses.  He took responsibility for his actions.  There was genuine remorse. 

 

Thinking of criminals who are not sorry for their crimes, just sorry they got caught. 

 

Given the remorse, the father acts in a way that is just as surprisingly.

 

But the father said to his servants, “Quickly bring the best robe and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.”                                                                            Luke 15:22

 

In essence the father took him back as his son, not just as a hired servant.  The best robe, the signet ring and the shoes indicated that the father restored his son’s position as son

 

“And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again.  He was lost and is found.”  And they began to celebrate.                                                          Luke 15:23-24

 

We fattened the calf for an important event.  This is an important event, so butcher it and let’s celebrate. 

 

This is how God sees people.  Not as the poor or rich.  Not as the single or married.  Not as those who go to church and those who don’t.  Not as male or female.  Not as those who are connected and those who aren’t.  Not as those who lean left of right politically.  Not as minorities or majorities.  Not as the old or young.  Not as the down and out or the successful.  Not as those who are “my” people and those who aren’t.  Not even as the religious or irreligious. 

 

He sees them (and us) primarily as either lost or found.  As either spiritually dead or alive. 

 

God knows where we are at.  Even in our darkest moments he knows what we are doing.  And even during the times we are most disconnected from God, God hasn’t given up on us.  And his greatest joy is when we return to him.

 

Keep in mind why Jesus told the three stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  It was the Pharisees who were grumbling about him spending time with and eating a meal with those they had categorized as “sinners.” 

 

In Jesus’ story, they are the older brother:

 

The older son was working in the fields and when he came home and neared the house, he heard the noise of music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. The servant told him, “Your brother has come home and your father has killed the fatted calf, to celebrate that he is home safe and sound.”                                                        Luke 15:25-27

 

And the older son refused to enter the house.  His father came out to him and urged him to come in, but he said to his father, “Look, all these years I have served you and I never disobeyed you.  But you never gave me so much as a young goat so I could have a party with my friends.  But when this son of yours comes back, who has squandered your money on prostitutes, you kill the fatted calf for HIM!“                                         Luke 15:28-30

 

The older brother has written off the younger as worthless.  He could not understand why his father would throw a party for such an individual.  And that is exactly the Pharisee’s attitude toward the sinners that Jesus was addressing. 

 

Like the older brother, the Pharisees have not realized that God’s primary concern is not with those who are already connected.  Yes, God is glad that they are connected, and they will receive the double portion of the inheritance, but they are not his primary concern at this point in time

 

And the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But it is right that we are happy and celebrating, because your brother was dead but now is alive.  He was lost but now is found.                                                                             Luke 15:31-32

 

Jesus is telling his critics that the reason why he spent so much time with those who are disconnected from God is precisely because the disconnected, the lost, the spiritually dead, are so important to God.  Jesus spent so much of his time with them in the hope that they might be moved to return home to God. 

 

And of course, the danger we face even today, that those of us who think we are near to God revel in our perceived self-importance to the point where we lose sight of God’s priorities.  It becomes all about us, and maybe our children.  About God blessing us.  About others catering to our needs.  About receiving benefits for our faithfulness.

 

We lose sight of the fact that Jesus did not spend his time with all the “connected” people, but with the disconnected.  That God’s primary concern is with those who are lost. 

 

Instinctively most of us likely know this already.  It is the reason why we clap when we have a baptism.  Because baptism are a reminder of what delights God the most, when someone who is in a foreign land, alienated from God, decides to come home. 

 

We all have friends and family members who do not align with our beliefs.  But we still love them, respect them, we like them and are happy if they feel comfortable coming to church with us. 

 

I would hate for that no longer to be the case.  I would hate for us to turn into Pharisees.  I would hate for us to write people off that God has not. 

 

You know, one of the greatest hopes I have for FCC is that we, you and I, have a great reputation in the community.  That people who don’t believe, who don’t go to church, are glad that we are here.   

 

And lastly, as fallen people in a fallen world, we are in essence all homeless beggars.  Each one of us, regardless of social status or material wealth, we are in need of being restored to the One who loves us more than we can imagine.  

 

God is the one who is willing to leave the 99 in order to find the 1.  He is the father who welcomes back the prodigal son with open arms.

 

Let us never become content with who we are and in the process lose concern for those who have wandered away or who have never known the father.

 

WHAT IS GOD SAYING TO ME IN JESUS’ STORY ABOUT THE PRODIGAL SON?

 

HOW SHOULD MY LIFE REFLECT GOD’S GREAT CONCERN ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE LOST?

 

 

[1] Tax collectors were infamous for embezzlement and their cooperation with the hated Romans,

[2] An unclean person could take certain steps to return to a state of cleanness, first by waiting a set of period of time, then by undergoing some purification rite, such as ritual washings, and subsequently bringing sacrifices at the temple.