Focus Text: Luke 15.1-7
“Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So He spoke this parable to them, saying: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.’” Luke 15.1-7.
Luke’s inspired account as recorded in today’s focus text records an event in which Jesus directly addressed the issue of how God treats sinners. In fact, the impetus for the parable of the lost sheep was the charge, doubtless thought to be scurrilous by his accusers, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Though it will be outside the scope of today’s message, the charge of the scribes and Pharisees against Jesus gave birth to three rapid parables, all of which respond to the charge, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Each of these parables answers at least a part of the question, “How does God treat sinners?” In time we will address each of these parables, but for now, just note that they directly speak to the subject matter of this entire series.
It is of great interest to note the contrast between the attitude of Jesus toward sinners and the attitude of His accusers. The fact that Jesus received sinners was considered by the scribes and Pharisees a tremendous and self-indicting negative trait of Jesus; on the part of Jesus, this trait was a positive point, one in which all humanity ought to rejoice. The contrast in thought is the point of today’s message. Perhaps the charge itself was intended to shock any that would listen, shock them into looking at just how unrighteous and mistaken Jesus was; “Why, He even receives sinners!” In all likelihood, it was thought to be one of the lowest accusations that His detractors could make. Yet, in reality, that which was thought to be the greatest negative was in fact, the greatest positive! The greatest detraction in the mind of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees was the greatest attraction in God’s plan to redeem mankind.
What this parable illustrates is the fact that man’s thoughts and God’s thoughts are sometimes literally poles apart! This parable illustrates the reality of God’s declaration through Isaiah, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55.8-9).
So does He receive sinners? You bet your life He does! And is that a negative? By no stretch of the righteous imagination! Rather, it is the world’s only hope of salvation. Through the parable, Jesus gives us a peek of the heart of God and the fact that “…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
1. What was the likely motive behind the accusation of the scribes and Pharisees in saying that Jesus receives sinners?
2. How did Jesus react to their accusation? Did He deny it? If not, why not?
3. In the parable, who/what represents Jesus? What has that to do with events “in heaven”?
4. Should we consider all accusations of men to be a negative? Are any of them a commendation? Can you give other biblical examples of this principle?
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