The Heart of the Father, Part 1
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Luke 15:6-7 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.
Over the next few days and weeks, I want to share a few of my thoughts on one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. I always loved Luke 15: The Parable of the Searching Father (or "Lost Sheep"), the Parable of the Lost Coin and then the Parable of the Waiting Father (or Prodigal Son).
I don't know yet how many blogs this will actually fill. I'll just get started today, and we'll see when I'm finished.
So let's set the context right: Luke 15 is one of those days where Jesus is scandalizing the religious teachers. Verse 1 says that the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus. It's amazing to me that during Jesus' ministry on earth, very often the most broken people seem to be the most attracted to Him. It wasn't those who seemed to have it together. It wasn't those who lived a relatively good life. The people who were most eager to draw near to Jesus were those who fell through the religious system at the time.
This day of Luke 15 is no different. Jesus makes Himself available, and it's the irreligious people who draw near to Him. Now that catches the attention of the religious leaders. Because in verse 2, they complain about that. They basically say: "Jesus, don't you know the law? You claim to be the Son of God. But you're breaking all the laws, you're not keeping our traditions. So clearly that's a contradiction. You can't be who you say you are!"
So Jesus has all these irreligious people drawing near to Him, and at the same time the religious leaders complain about that.
Now Jesus seems to be in a dilemma. Because if He simply ignores the Pharisees, and only focuses on the "sinners", then they will say "Well, He doesn't have an answer to our accusation." If Jesus tries to argue with the religious leaders, then He misses His chance to minister to the people who are waiting for a personal encounter with Him. What can He do?
Well, as always, Jesus found the perfect solution. In this case, His solution was to simply tell three stories. Three Parables. And in these parables, Jesus reaches out to the tax collectors and sinners, He rebukes the religious leaders, but at the same time, He also invites them back in and gives them a chance to be ministered to as well.
So let's dive into the first parable. Jesus starts talking about sheep and shepherds. Clearly Jesus is talking directly about these two groups of people. The religious leaders at the time were the shepherds of Israel. They understood that. They knew that was their responsibility. The Old Testament made it clear that the religious leaders were the shepherds of the nation. So when the religious leaders heard that Jesus was talking about "shepherds" they perfectly knew that Jesus was addressing them.
At the same time, everybody also understood that the nation of Israel was considered the flock of God. Now when we hear that the first time, we can easily think of this in a romantic way. After all, sheep are cute, nice and lovely animals. So many people initially very much like the analogy and think of themselves as "lovely animals of God".
However, that's not really what Jesus is getting at here. He's addressing our neediness. Sheep are absolutely lost without a shepherd. Sheep can't even get up if they are lying on their back. They can eat grass, put their nose in the ground, and fall off a cliff, since they don't have much common sense. So sheep are helpless without a shepherd.
However, they are REALLY good in one thing: They know their shepherd. They trust their shepherd. They know his voice. They trust his voice. And they follow what the shepherd says. That's pretty much all sheep are good at. They know what will happen to them without their shepherd. And they know that they need to be with the shepherd and listen to him to survive.
That's us! Not these cute little animals that are kind of likeable. We are the needy sheep who are completely lost without our shepherd, Jesus.
So Jesus by using this analogy calls both groups of people back to their identity. To the religious leaders, he is basically saying this:
You guys are the shepherds of Israel. You know that. And you know how shepherds are supposed to take care of their sheep. Now go back, and treat your flock the same way!"
Jesus found the nicest possible way of calling the religious leaders back to their true identity. He doesn't confront them, He doesn't lecture them about their shortcomings. He simply tells them: "You are the shepherds. This is how shepherds ought to take care of their sheep. Now: Do what you are supposed to do!"
Why did Jesus have to say that to them? Well, because the religious leaders have set up a religous system that is a completely distortion of what God the Father is truly like. The religious leaders have built a system where people have to work their way into the system. As Jesus once put it (paraphrased from Luke 11:46): "You guys put so many of your own laws on the people that they can't keep up with them. But you yourself don't keep them either!" The whole system was built on separation. The whole system was built on "holy people do not associate with those who are not good enough to keep up with our laws". And of course the message was also that God is like that. The people learned from the religious leaders that "God doesn't want to be with you, because you are not good enough".
But Jesus does not agree with their teaching. Jesus is saying: "You know, shepherds don't work that way. God doesn't work that way. And you shouldn't work that way either! When one sheep gets lost, then you should go after that one! Don't just leave it out there to die. Go out, find it, bring it back in. And then celebrate!" And Jesus of course modeled exactly that when He welcomed the crowd of people that the religious leaders would have rejected. Jesus is confirming His teaching with His actions. "God is not like that! I welcome broken and sinful people, because my Father welcomes them!"
And that of course also gets the attention of the tax collectors and sinners. Though the parable is really spoke to the religious leaders, Jesus is also giving hope to those who have been disqualified by the Pharisees. Because He is indirectly saying: "You guys have felt disqualified by your shepherds. But God isn't like that. God still loves you. He is still looking for you! And if you allow Him, He will find you as well, bring you home, and then He'll throw a party. Just for you!"
Jesus brilliantly solves the situation. At first it seemed like he's in a dilemma. But by telling a parable, He was able to address the complaint of the Pharisees. Jesus told them: "God isn't a good who abandons sinners." He is calling the Pharisees to their true identity by saying: "You should act like true shepherds." And then He draws in the sinners and tax collectors, by saying: "God hasn't abandoned you. He's still waiting for you!"
What a brilliant reply to a seeming dilemma.
In the next post, we will then look at verse 7, comparing the one lost sheep with the 99 who didn't go astray.
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