Reading the Word
Luke 15:1–7 (ESV)
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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 that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Parallel Text: Matthew 18:12-14
Understanding and Applying the Word
As we enter into chapter fifteen of Luke, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus spending time with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus tells three parables to challenge the mindset of these religious leaders who felt they were more worthy of God’s favor because of their superior righteousness.
The first parable is about a shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd had one hundred sheep, but lost one. Unwilling to lose any of his sheep, the shepherd searched until he found the lost one. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd threw a party. Jesus said this is what heaven is like when a sinner repents. There is much celebration over the lost person who is now found.
Why did Jesus say that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance? Understanding this last verse is the key to understanding this parable. The message of Scripture is that there are no righteous persons who need no repentance. In fact, Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus’ statement then was to address the mindset of the scribes and Pharisees. They believed they were righteous and had no need to repent. In actuality, they too were sinners and no better off than the tax collectors and sinners that they looked down on. Heaven does not rejoice at those who believe they are righteous because it means they are still lost and in need of salvation.
It is clear that no one is good enough to please God. We are all sinners and must call out for forgiveness. It is the only way to be saved and the Shepherd is seeking out every lost sheep.
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