Jesus tells two memorable parables to remind us of the love of God for sinners. Do we love people as He does, and do we rejoice in their salvation? Our attitude toward the gracious work God is doing in the lives of other people reveals a lot about us.
Years ago, a little boy faithfully attended a Sunday school in Chicago. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the boy still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each Sunday. When asked why he was willing to walk so far when he could attend a Sunday school closer to home, he replied, “Because they love [me] over there.”
There is no doubt in my mind that people were attracted to Jesus because they knew He loved them. He even loved the outcasts and sinners of His day. And, of course, this invited the scorn of the proud, self-righteous Pharisees.
Now as we continue our chronological study of the Gospels, we sail into Luke chapter 15 on our Wisdom Journey, where we read in verses 1-2:
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
According to the religious traditions, if you ate a meal with people who were ceremonially unclean, that made you ceremonially unclean. A Pharisee would never get near a tax collector—he would not associate with religious outcasts. Because Jesus is putting out the welcome mat for such people, the Pharisees and scribes condemn Him.
In response, Jesus delivers three parables—three down-to-earth stories with heavenly meaning. They all have to do with finding something or someone that is lost. We will look at the first two parables in this study.
Jesus’ first parable is about a lost sheep—verse 4:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
That is what a good shepherd does. No shepherd is going to say, “Well, you win some; you lose some.” Every night as shepherds rounded up their flocks, they counted them. A hundred sheep, by the way, would be a large flock. Bible scholars say this indicates Jesus is describing a community flock of sheep, where there would be several shepherds involved in their care. And that explains how one of the shepherds could leave the ninety-nine and go off searching for one lost sheep.
In his diligent care for the sheep, the shepherd would take his rod every night and part the wool to see if there were any parasites or wounds. The fleece could easily hide problems. When we speak today of “pulling the wool over someone’s eyes,” we are using an expression that comes from the world of shepherding.
Jesus says in verse 5 that when the shepherd finds the lost sheep, “he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” He then connects this with the joy of heaven over finding a lost sinner: “Just so . . . there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (verse 7).
Jesus then tells a second parable—this one about a lost coin. In verse 8 He describes a woman who loses one of her ten coins. Scholars familiar with this culture suggest that these coins were part of her wedding dowry. They would often be fashioned into a piece of jewelry worn on a headdress.
This coin, then, has great sentimental value. She sweeps up the entire house. In these days, the dirt floors of the ordinary person would be covered with straw and reeds, so she is hunting for a needle in a haystack. She sweeps up everything and then sifts through it all, until she finds the coin.
And when she finds it, Jesus says, “She calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost’” (verse 9).
Her diligent search is rewarded, and there is much rejoicing. She is so happy, in fact, that she calls her friends and neighbors together to rejoice with her in finding the coin. Jesus, of course, is illustrating the joy in heaven over a sinner being saved.
This is what the Pharisees do not understand. They think a lost sinner is worthless: “Good riddance!” Rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that God rejoiced when a sinner died. Jesus is teaching that God rejoices when a sinner is saved.
I love the analogy of one author, who wrote that this is God in His grace, stooping down to find you in the dirty places of earth; bending down and sifting through the dust and debris in order to lift the treasure of His redeemed from the garbage into which it has fallen.
Maybe you have the impression that you need to clean yourself up before coming to Christ; you need to straighten out your life before God will accept you. You have it in the wrong order. He finds you, and He makes you acceptable. He finds you in the dirt of earth, in the dustbin of sin, covered with the grime of guilt. You don’t clean yourself up before coming to Him; you come to Him, and He cleans you up.
In fact, for the rest of your life, He is going to be cleaning you up and dusting you off. Then one day His work in you will be completed, and with your glorified, perfected heart, soul, and mind, you’ll enter the presence of the Lord (Philippians 1:6). Then you’ll see your Shepherd, who searched for you and took you from the realm of the lost and brought you into the realm of the found.
You say, “I want to be among those who have been found!” You can be, but you must first admit you are lost—covered with sin and in need of a Savior.
Now Jesus says something very interesting here as He pulls back the curtain of heaven, saying, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10). He is repeating the point He made in verse 7—that there is “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Here He says there is joy in the presence of the angels.
Over a hundred years ago, J. C. Ryle noted that Jesus repeats this truth in order to meet our unbelief. We can’t believe it, but it’s true that the perfect joy of heaven experiences moments of increase.
Think about it: perfect joy in heaven actually experiences moments of even greater joy. Why? Because someone lost has been found. A sinner has been saved.
The typical interpretation here is that the angels are doing the celebrating along with God. Well, the angels probably are rejoicing, and the Lord certainly is, but that is not what Jesus says here. He says there is joy “before the angels.” Literally, they are not the ones celebrating; they are watching the celebration. So, who is celebrating?
To answer that, we need to back up a moment. The Bible says that whenever a believer dies, his spirit immediately goes to be with the Lord in the Father’s house—in heaven.
Those who are rejoicing in the presence of the angels are no doubt those in heaven who are friends and family members of that one who just came to faith in Christ—and they begin this joyful celebration.
Consider the implication of what Jesus is revealing: somehow—and we don’t know how—they learn that their unsaved friend or family member has just been saved. And their joy in heaven immediately increases and breaks into celebration.
But maybe you have always thought that when people get to heaven, they do not care about anything that happens on earth? Since they are now in the presence of God, why would they care about what is happening on earth?
Well evidently, they do care. They care about the conversion of sinners. And these believers who have died and gone to heaven rejoice when someone they knew on earth who was not a believer becomes a Christian.
That is breaking news in heaven. And with that breaking news of some lost sinner being found, a celebration begins.
 D. L. Moody, Moody’s Stories (Bible Truth, n.d.), 128.
 Ivor Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel (Kregel, 1965), 335.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke (reprint, Evangelical Press, 1975), 258.