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For now, however, it is our great joy to turn to the 15th chapter of Luke's gospel again.  And this is message number two in this storied and rich chapter, Luke, chapter 15.  And, obviously, we are starting with the first section in the chapter, which runs from verse 1 down through verse 7.  Let me read this again so that you have it in mind.

Luke 15 and verse 1: "Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to Him to listen to Him.  But the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'  So He told them this parable saying, 'What man among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'"

Our God, the one true, living God, the God who is not only the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Scripture, the true God, He, along with all of heaven, rejoice at one great occasion that takes place on this otherwise sin-dominated earth.  And that is the salvation of one lost sinner.  That revelation that we read in verse 7 is really the theme of this entire chapter.  It is about heaven's joy recovering the lost.  In verse 10, at the end of the second parable, it says, "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  And in verse 32, at the end of the third parable, "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of ours...of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found."  The characters change. A shepherd finds a lost sheep, a woman finds a lost coin, and a father restores a lost son, but the theme doesn't change and the main point is the same.  The main point is the joy of heaven over lost sinners being restored.  That is what starts the celebration in the presence of God.  We can say, then, that anyone who does not rejoice over lost sinners being found and brought to God is totally out of touch with God.  And that is exactly the case with the proud and self-righteous religious leaders of Israel identified here as the Pharisees and the scribes; scribes being law experts who basically were the scholars who provided all the data that was needed to sustain the Pharisaic religion.  What sets off this whole chapter is the outrage of the Pharisees and the scribes over Jesus receiving tax collectors and sinners and not only receiving with...receiving them but eating with them.  This was an outrage to them.  They prided themselves on being separated from such lowlifes.  And, therefore, they are utterly out of touch with the heart of Christ, utterly out of touch with the heart of God.  They know nothing of the joy of heaven over the recovery of the lost.  Jesus, you remember, went to the cross, according to the writer of Hebrews, for the joy that was set before Him.  He paid the extreme price of suffering and death and feeling alienation from His Father and the full weight of divine wrath on the sins of all who would ever believe and He did it for the joy that would come in the recovery of lost sinners.

This brings us in touch with one of the favorite subjects of mine that you have heard me often talk about.  One of the most blazing elements of the...of the glory of God, one of the features of God's character, which is specially near and dear to my own heart, and it is this, that God is, by nature, a Savior, which sets Him apart from all the gods of men and demons that the world has ever manufactured.  He is, by nature, compassionate, tenderhearted, kind, patient, forbearing, merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving.  He is, by nature, a Savior, and not at all reluctant.  This is a true expression of God and His character.  It is God, you remember, who rejoices and all the angels around Him gather in His joy and all the saints in glory are added to that joy when one sinner is brought home.  You can't question that God is a Savior because even in the birth of His Son, when His Son came into the world, His parents were told to name Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins, Jesus being a New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew name “Jehovah saves.”  And those wonderful verses that we're so familiar with in John, chapter 3, verses 16 and following, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life; for God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."  God is no reluctant Savior.  God is a relentless Savior.  He weeps over the lost.  He weeps through the eyes of the Old Testament prophets.  He weeps through the eyes of His own Son.  He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but He does rejoice in the salvation of sinners.  This is heaven's joy.  We are told by the apostle Paul concerning the character of God, these words: "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  In Titus, God is called, "God, our Savior," in chapter 1, "God, our Savior," in chapter 2, "God, our Savior," in chapter 3.  This is true to His nature.  And why does He save? Because it brings Him joy, because it makes Him celebrate; and all the beings of holy Heaven celebrate with Him.  In 1 Timothy chapter 4 and verse 10 is a very important insight into this aspect of God's nature, where it says there, God, "the living God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers."  God, "the living God is the Savior of all men, especially believers."  Some people, who look at the record of Scripture and even look at human history, wonder if God is, in fact, a Savior.  I was asked just this week by an unbeliever the question: If God is a God of love and He can stop the disasters in the world and the death of children and the horrible things, why doesn't He?  Why doesn't He?  What kind of God, people ask, calls for the complete extermination of the Canaanites?  What kind of God brings death, opens up the ground, swallows people?  What kind of God allows disasters, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, crime, disease?  But that's not really the question.  Death is inevitable in a fallen world.  The question is what kind of a God lets sinners live.  What kind of a God allows the sinner to sin and sin and sin and sin knowing that the wages of sin is death and “the soul that sinneth it shall die”?  God has the right at any moment to step in and take the life of every sinner the first moment they are born, the first breath they take, for they bring into this world their fallenness inherited from Adam.  The question is: What kind of God lets sinners live?  What kind of God lets the rain fall on the just and unjust?  What kind of God lets them enjoy the beauty and the wonder of His creation?  What kind of God is so patient and forbearing as to demonstrate that He is, by nature, a Savior of all men on a broad sense in that He lets sinners live, that is, He shows His saving nature by saving them physically and temporally from what they deserve when they deserve it?  The only answer to that is a God who is, by nature, a Savior.  What kind of God says to Adam, "In the day you eat, you die," and Adam lives over 900 years?  A God of patience and compassion.  That is God who is our Savior.  He is the Savior of all men in a broad sense, temporally and physically, but especially is He a Savior of those who believe, spiritually and eternally.  And why does He save?  Why does He want to lead sinners to repentance and salvation?  For this is His joy.  Why else would He give His Son so as to redeem us with His death?  It is God who tells the elders in Ephesus to make sure they shepherd the church of God because He's purchased it with His own blood.  It is God who reminds us in 1 Peter that we're not redeemed with things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, a lamb without blemish and without spot.  Why does God endure our sin?  Why does God patiently wait?  Why does God proclaim the message of salvation throughout the world? Why does God recover lost sinners?  Because He finds in it His joy.  This calls not only into question the Pharisees who were totally indifferent and disinterested in the lost, who needed to be recovered, in the unclean and the sinful and the wicked of that society, but it calls us into question to ask us what is the source of our joy.  Where do we find our joy?  What is our highest joy?  What brings us the deepest satisfaction and the greatest fulfillment?  Someday, when we all gather around the throne in heaven, it will be very clear.  We're going to sing a new song, says Revelation 5.  "Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals, for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  And "You made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God and they will reign upon the earth."  And then all the angels begin to chime in and all of Heaven says, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."  And then, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."  And that's what Heaven is going to sound like as it's an eternal celebration of the recovery of the lost.  We need to be understanding heaven's joy.  It should be our joy.  So Jesus is indicting these false leaders for their absolute indifference to the sinners who were coming to Him from whom they separated themselves so that they would not, quote-unquote, "be polluted by the unclean."  Our Lord surrounded Himself with them because He was here on a recovery mission to bring joy to God.

The first story He tells is a simple one about a shepherd who lost a sheep and found it and brought it home and had a celebration.  As simple as it is, it is profound.  This story, as well as the others, really breaks into four simple categories.  There is a story.  It has an ethical component.  Everybody would understand the story and the ethical element.  But then it has a theological and even a Christological application.  They know the story.  They understand it.  It's familiar stuff to them.  They understand the ethical question, but what they need to understand is the theological and Christological meaning.  As we saw last time, the Pharisees and the scribes wanted nothing to do with sinners.  Jesus wanted everything to do with sinners.  These two parables draw the Pharisees in.  Jesus draws them in by making the first two parables questions.  Not only are they questions, but He draws them in secondly asking the question of them, in a sense, as if they were the person in the story, drawing them into the experience and the thinking of the main character so that they really play the role in their minds.  And once they have been drawn into the story, and once they have affirmed in their own minds what is the right thing to do, they have then trapped themselves in a corner to be the recipient of a clear and unmistakable application.  As we saw in verses 1 and 2, they were grumbling and complaining and criticizing Jesus for the kind of people that He received and the kind of people He spent time with.  This is nothing new.  This is the same old thing that we've been seeing all the way through the ministry of Jesus, this criticism.  Sinners came to Jesus because He came to seek and save sinners.  They came, He received them, He embraced them, He loved them, He forgave them, He gave them eternal life, and this outraged the religious leaders.  They become very clearly exposed in the first story.  Four little points in the outline:  lost, sought, found, celebrated.

We started into that last time.  Let me take you back.  Look at the text starting in verse 3.  "So He told them this parable saying, 'What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them..."  Now, that brings up the issue of the lost sheep.  Now, this is about a shepherd.  OK?  But the word is never there.  But it's clearly about a shepherd.  Shepherds, you remember, were the lowest people. They were the lowest of the Am Ha’Aretz, the people of the earth, the earthy people, the lowlife, the scum, the unacceptable, the outcasts, the unclean in the society of the Jews.  Of all the legitimate labors, they were at the bottom.  That's what made the appearance of the angels to announce the arrival of Messiah to shepherds so astonishing, rather than to the religious elite.  Jesus was always doing what He needed to do to humble because God gives grace to the humble.  And He was always striking at the self-righteous pride of the false leaders of Israel.  And so what He says to them is so interesting.  "What man among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them..."  This is offensive to them because He speaks to them as if they were the shepherd in the story.  Which one of you?  That in itself was an offense because they would then have to think of themselves as shepherds.  They didn't want any pollution on their bodies and so they stayed away from these kinds of people.  But they also, as I pointed out last time, didn't like any pollution in their minds.  And the very thought of putting them in the role of a shepherd would be very offensive to them.  No law-abiding Jew, no Jew of any respectability, no Jew who was a Pharisee or a scribe would ever become a shepherd, nor would any Pharisee or scribe even like to think of himself hypothetically as if he were a shepherd.  That would be demeaning and unclean in their minds.  Sure, they knew that God was described several times in the Old Testament as a shepherd. Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Isaiah 40, verse 11, Ezekiel 34:31.  There are times when God is viewed as a shepherd.  And they would see the analogy there leading...God leading Israel to feed and...and water, in a safe place.  They would understand that.  God protects Israel from enemies.  They would see the picture of the shepherd that illustrates something of the nature of God.  Also, Moses was a shepherd for a while for his father-in-law when he was in Midian.  But even though they would still give honor to God and see a connection there and still give honor to Moses, their great leader, they actually despised shepherds, real shepherds who lived with sheep, the dirtiest of all animals.  And they had established in Jewish society that anybody who was a shepherd was unclean.  According to Jeremias, a historian, they were believed to be dishonest.  Basically, as a lot, they were dishonest.  They were thieves.  They encroached on land that wasn't theirs to feed their sheep.  Because they took a role that put them at the lowest level, they tended to be the lowest level of people who had the least expectation for themselves and they tended to live up to their reputation.  And, certainly, no Pharisee would ever, ever be a shepherd, nor would he like to even conceive of himself in a hypothetical sense as a shepherd.  But they can't help that because Jesus has put them in the story by the rhetorical question.  And so, now, whether they are offended or not, they're in the story and they're going to have to deal with the ethical issue that arises.  What man among you, if you were the shepherd, and you had a 100 sheep and lost one of them...

Now, let me just talk about this a little bit.  Most families had maybe up to as many as fifteen sheep.  These are peasant people, poor people, living in village life.  These are not Bedouins who roam and have no village and no home.  We're not looking at a Bedouin kind of lifestyle.  We're looking at peasant life in a village because you remember that verse 6 says the shepherd comes home.  He comes back to the village.  He brings the sheep back to the village.  So this is a peasant kind of life.  These would be people who were peasants living in a village, typically, anywhere in Israel.  And as I said, one who was doing very well might have up to fifteen sheep, but no one person typically would have 100.  But what happened was the village would consolidate their sheep in one great flock and they would have some shepherds who would take care of their sheep.  They...They didn't like to hire a shepherd from outside the village or outside the extended family because, as Jesus points out in John 10, hirelings tend to destroy.  Hirelings tend to kill.  Hirelings tend to steal.  You don't want strangers doing that.  So they would... They would pick somebody who was at the lowest level of their social structure in the village and who needed the work and didn't mind that it was an unclean kind of outcast job and they would hire them.  Also, it was safer to hire somebody in the extended family because that person had a vested interest in the value of the sheep.  And so, here is a hypothetical flock of a 100 sheep being cared for by two or three shepherds.  A hundred sheep, you'd have to have two or three shepherds.  One of the sheep is lost.

Now, there weren't a lot of rules about shepherding, but there was one very dominant rule and that is, you don't lose sheep.  That was the big one.  And if one goes away, you find it and you bring it back alive or dead or you bring back a piece of it snatched from a predator's mouth.  But you don't come back without a sheep.  Everybody knew that.  The Pharisees knew that.  That's what shepherding was.  It was making sure that you took care of those very, very valuable sheep.  The one you lost may have belonged to a family who only had two.  And so you took on that responsibility.  And so when He asked the question, "What man among you..."  Let's say you're shepherds.  That just must have irritated them so deeply.  But let's say, for the sake of a question that you're shepherds and you have 100 sheep you're responsible for and you've lost one of them.  What man "doesn't leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?"  Nobody's going to say, well, we got ninety-nine left.  It’s no big deal. Everybody knew what a shepherd's responsibility was.  Everybody knew that.  The sheep, during the night, would be in the village in a pen.  But during the day, in the morning, they would go out into the open pasture and they would feed and they'd bring them back at night.  But when you lose one in the open pasture, you are called to an immediate responsibility.  You don't go back and come the next day.  You go look for the sheep and you leave the sheep in the pasture with the other shepherds.  And what man among you would do any different than that?  I mean, He knows the answer to the question and they all know the answer to the question.  He must leave.  He must.  This is his duty.  This is his responsibility.  And he goes, end of verse 4, "until he finds it."  You bring it back alive, you bring it back dead or you bring a piece of it back out of the mouth of a predator.

That leaves us moving from lost to sought in verse 4.  He goes after it.  Everybody would say, of course, he goes after it.  Of course, everybody knows that.  No man among us would do anything different than that.  If we were shepherds, God forbid, that's exactly what we would do because that's what shepherds do.  And no sacrifice would be too great and no time and effort, enterprise would be too demanding.  You go and you find that lost sheep.  Lost sheep get the attention of the shepherd.  Lost sheep, by the way, are in grave danger.  Sheep are stupid.  They are defenseless.  Do you know a sheep has no self-defense mechanism?  None, zero.  If they fall over on their side, they can't get up by themselves.  They are hopeless and helpless.  So the sheep that's wandered off would be in danger from predators, in danger from a fall, from exhaustion, from dehydration. The land is rugged. It is demanding. Rocks are everywhere.  All kinds of potential issues could beset that lost sheep.  We're told by people who work with sheep in the Middle East that when sheep become afraid — and they do, they get very nervous and very fearful — they lie down and die.  That's right.  They can't get up.  They become so despondent and discouraged.  The Pharisees knew all that.  And they knew the shepherd had to go and do whatever was necessary.  It wouldn't be easy.  Sheep look a lot like rocks.  A dirty sheep is about the same color as rocks in the land of Israel and there are so many of those the rabbi said when God distributed the rocks He made a mistake and dumped them all in Israel.  So the Pharisees and the scribes would buy into the story and they would understand the necessity of the action that the shepherd took.

That takes us to the third element, which is “found,” verse 5, "when he has found it."  He lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  "When," because there is no option. Not "if,"  "when," because he has no alternative.  This shepherd is not lazy.  This shepherd is not indifferent, nor can any shepherd be.  This shepherd is not afraid.  He understands the wilderness.  He spends his days out there.  He understands the animals and he seeks until he finds it, no matter how rigorous is to look.  And when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders.  And what they would do would be to take the sheep — and they would weigh up to seventy to seventy-five pounds — and put the belly of the sheep against the back of the shepherd’s neck, take the four legs, pull them around his neck and take a cord and tie the feet together.  So he now has a seventy- to seventy-five-pound burden on his back.  You might think verse 5 would say, when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, miserable or painfully.  But, no, rejoicing.  And everybody would understand that, too.  He's found the sheep.  The sheep has value.  The sheep provides wool.  Wool provides clothing.  And sheep provide wool year after year after year after year to clothe.  And so he finds the sheep helplessly, hopelessly, perhaps, nearly lifelessly, lying somewhere.  And he picks it up and puts it on the back of his neck and rejoices, even though he knows the hard part is ahead.  It's one thing to look for the sheep; it's something else, having found the sheep, to go back over the same track, carrying the sheep.  But he's rejoicing as he starts the hard part, going back home where the rest of the flock has, by now, been taken, which means it's night.  And he has to go back, as it were, in the darkness.

That takes us to the fourth element: lost, sought, found, and celebrated.  He has some private joy going on on the way back.  But verse 6 says, "When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"  This is a village, as I told you.  After an...And after an arduous and demanding journey over the rugged land bearing the full weight of that sheep, he's finally home.  The Pharisees and scribes would, of course, know the scene well.  They lived all over the land and the villages and towns.  And they would know he did the right thing.  And they would also understand his joy and they would also understand the celebration when he came back.  The family and the village would have been waiting, wondering if he would find the sheep and in what condition he would find the sheep.  The old men in the village, typically, we are told, would sit somewhere in the center of the village at the end of the day and rehearse all the stories and tell all the tales and speak of the things that happened that day as people commonly do even today.  These would be people who shared in the ownership of the flock, perhaps.  And they wanted to hear that the sheep was found.  That was the news they longed to hear.  And so it would become a wonderful event of joy in the village when the shepherd showed up with the sheep.

At this point, Jesus has them completely absorbed in His story, just like we are; very familiar to them, much more than to us.  They have bought into the story because it's a normal story.  It's not a bizarre story; it's just normal, common stuff.  They have bought into the ethical responsibility of the shepherd because they are people of high ethics and...and you're supposed to do your duty and do what's right and that's what shepherds should do even though they're disdained by them.  But what they're about to get is a devastating application of the story.  Whatever they understood about the story itself and the ethics of the story, they were about to get the theological and even the Christological content.  Verse 7, "I tell you that in the same way," the same way that there is joy in a village over a lost sheep that is brought home, "in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."  This is a very clear implication and a very clear application.  Nobody could miss it.  It was just too obvious.  The whole story is about the joy of God when a lost sinner is sought and found and recovered.  And the point is, how is it that God can be so eager, that God can be so desirous, that God can be so concerned to seek and save the lost, and you, who claim to be God's representatives on earth only despise the lost?  How can that be?  Another way to say that was: You couldn't be further from the heart of God.  You despise the lost and God rejoices over them.  You don't want to go near the lost and God pursues and finds and carries them back.  And how is it that you can respect the shepherd, an unclean shepherd, who goes out to find an unclean animal and bring it back?  How is it that you can take the lofty, ethical posture on the fact that he did the right thing and condemn Me for rescuing eternal souls?  How warped are you?  You are far from the heart of God and you are caught up in superficiality and triviality while souls all around you are perishing.  Matthew, chapter 9: Jesus was teaching and doing His miracles and delivering people from illnesses and diseases and it says He was moved with compassion because He saw all the people as "sheep without a shepherd," nobody to come and find them, nobody to rescue them, no one to come and pick them up out of their hopeless, helpless, wounded, nearly lifeless condition and carry them back.  What hypocrites the scribes and Pharisees were!  They know nothing of God.  They know nothing of shepherding.  Quickly, with that application, the whole story would recycle in their minds.  And they would be exposed and indicted and the knife would go in and it would go in deep.  Applauding an outcast shepherd for doing what is the rightful duty of a shepherd to save the life of an unclean, stupid animal while condemning the Great Shepherd for rescuing unclean sinners.  The sad reality is, of course, in Israel, as everywhere, like people, like priests.  They had no shepherds.  They had no leaders.  They knew nothing of the heart of God, nothing of divine shepherding.  In fact, they were so far from God that when He sent His own Great Shepherd, they killed Him.

Looking back at the story, filling in a little theology and Christology, God in Christ is the Shepherd who seeks the lost.  God incarnate in Christ is the Shepherd who seeks the lost.  Luke 19:10, "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."  It is God in Christ who not only seeks but finds.  As Peter says, it is He, it is the Great Shepherd of our souls who comes after us and finds us.  And then I love this.  It is God in Christ who bears the full burden of restoration.  That picture of God incarnate in Christ putting the sheep on His back and carrying the sheep all the way home through the darkness is the Christological center of the story.  Surely, the atonement is there, surely.  It is Christ who seeks the lost.  It is Christ who finds whomever He seeks because He knows His sheep.  And it is Christ who bears the full burden of their restoration.  In fact, in that very act, the shepherd was making a tremendous sacrifice, the pain, suffering, to bear the full weight of the sheep back home.  And so Jesus Christ bears the full weight of our recovery, the full weight of our restoration.  He finds us when we are lost and lonely and hopeless and helpless and nearly lifeless and He comes to us and He picks us up and He puts us on His back and there was nothing the sheep could do or did do.  He says in John 10, "I am the Good Shepherd."  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  Verse 14 again, "I am the Good Shepherd."   Verse 15, "I lay down My life for the sheep."  He is the Shepherd who pays whatever the sacrifice is to bring the sheep back.  It reminds me of Isaiah 53, that wonderful Messianic chapter.  Listen to these words.  "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried. He was pierced through for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  The chastening for our well-being fell on Him and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.  But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."  He bears it all.  It's all of grace.  It's all of Christ.  All we can do is acknowledge our lostness and our helplessness and our hopelessness and yield in faith to the Great Shepherd who picks us up.  The Shepherd does the seeking, the Shepherd does the finding, the Shepherd does the lifting, the Shepherd does the carrying, the Shepherd does the restoring, and the Shepherd leads the celebration.

When you think about Christianity and you think about a symbol. You might think about a cross.  Right?  I would say that if we were to sort of identify any one symbol in Christianity it would be a cross.  That's what we have behind us, pretty typical.  But it wasn't always that way in Christian history.  It wasn't.  In fact, in early Christianity believers didn't use a cross.  Once in awhile they used a sign of a fish but that was more in the Gentile world.  Early Christians used the image of a shepherd with a sheep on his neck.  That was the earliest Christian symbol, beautiful.  In fact, if you've ever been to Israel and you've gone to all those little stores they take you to where they've got all kinds of things carved out of olive wood. You find that one thing appears there perhaps as much or more than anything else and it is little wooden carvings of shepherd...of a shepherd with a sheep around his neck.  In fact, as I was thinking this through this week, I looked above me and there's a little shelf over my little window in my desk where I study and sure enough there was one of those shepherd with an oversized sheep around his neck.  People in that day, probably, only weighed about 130 pounds, maybe.  That was the early symbol because the early church understood the meaning here of being carried by Christ back to the Father's presence.  And in ancient of the things...if you follow that through a little ancient art, these were very, very common.  Next time, if you get an opportunity to go to Israel, look around and you'll find them.  In fact, we might start a trend.  Forget wearing a cross and start wearing a shepherd with a sheep around his neck.  People are going to say, what is that?  And you're going to say, He found me when I was lost and He carried me to the Father.  But in ancient art they did an interesting thing and I saw some of the imagery of this.  Whenever they would do this, very frequently they would make the sheep disproportionately large.  And when I first saw things like that through the years I thought, well, that's kind of out of whack.  You know, I'm not into extreme things.  I like art to look like reality.  And I used to wonder about why...why did they make a sheep almost as large as the man?  And the point was they were exaggerating that.  They created a disproportionately large sheep deliberately to convey the extraordinary difficulty and effort and sacrifice of the Good Shepherd in bringing us home.  Well, that's pretty magnificent stuff but as magnificent as it is, it's still not the main point of the story.  It doesn't say, I tell you in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents  than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance because of the work of a...He's not rejoicing because only of the work of Christ.  He's not rejoicing only because a sinner is delivered from sin.  The whole joy of heaven is predicated on the fact that God is filled with joy.  Sure, it all fits together, but our joy should come from God's joy.  Why do I evangelize? Satisfy the work of Christ, yes, to bring joy to the sinner.  But even beyond that, the transcendent motivation for our evangelism is that we can be instruments in the joy of God.  You know, that is just such an overwhelming thought to me because, as a Christian, you're the same way that I am, I know.  You spend most of your time grieving, because you disappoint God.  Right?  I mean, it gets old.  And the older you get, the longer is your track record of disappointments. Something to be said for being young, you don't have as many failures to deal with.  You think God must be unhappy with me.  I must make God sad every day.  But here, I can participate in the joy of God and I can not only make God rejoice, but all of Heaven rejoice if I allow myself to be an instrument through which the Great Shepherd recovers the lost.  What a glorious way to view your life.  This is the Great Commission.

And, of course, He closes the story by saying, "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."  That last line is pure sarcasm.  Of course, we couldn't be talking about you, because you don't need to repent.  The sinner who repents is like the sheep: helpless, understands his helplessness, danger, weakness, need, desperation, and recognizes only a hope for life and a hope for rescue and trusts himself into the arms of the Great Shepherd, and rests fully on His back until He brings him home.  That's in stark contrast to the ninety-nine righteous persons who don't need to repent.  They're already holy.  What a privilege it is for us to participate in the divine recovery process.  The Pharisees and the scribes had nothing to do with the purposes of God, nothing to do with the work of God.  They were deluded into thinking they needed no repentance.  They are the ninety-nine who are the self-righteous, self-made legalists who know nothing of God.  They are saying with the Pharisee in Luke 18, I thank you that I am not like these vile lowlifes.  On the other hand, there are those who are lost and they know they're lost.  They're desperate.  They're carried home.  And then an amazing thing: They become the tools and the instruments and the means by which the Great Shepherd continues to rescue other lost sheep.  This is our high calling and heaven's high joy.  Let's pray.

We feel, in a sense, Lord, like we've only touched the surface of what is here in this rich, rich section of Scripture and yet we feel at the same time that we were standing there when it all unfolded because we understand it.  Help us, Lord, to respond as You would have us to respond.

While your heads are bowed for just a moment, if you are one of those lost sheep, it's time for you to cry out to the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd.  Call out to Him, ask Him to be merciful and to pick you up and carry you to the Father.  If you're a Christian but your priorities are all messed up, it's time for you to ask God to give you joy that's commensurate with heaven's joy in spending your life for the purpose of finding the lost.  Some of you haven't been baptized. Some of you haven't yet joined this church. Some of you have other issues in your life you need to deal with.  Whatever the Lord is saying to you, we want to be of help.  And after our final verse of a hymn, the prayer room in the front to my right is open.  If you want to reach out to the Great Shepherd, He will hear your cry.  If you want to be committed to this work of recovering the lost and being a tool that the Great Shepherd can use, if you want some help and some prayer, if you want to join us as a church and serve with us in this great gospel enterprise, whatever's on your heart, we're here to serve you and to counsel and to pray with you.  Come to the front after the hymn to my right through the exit sign.

Father, we pray now that as we sing a final hymn that we would seal in our hearts a fresh new commitment to be faithful to You and thankful to our Great Shepherd who carried us home.  In His name we pray, amen.

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Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
Since 1969


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