Joy – Completing it
Luke 15: 1-7
How many of us would rather read an e-book instead of an actual book? I myself prefer a real book. Why? Because I can underline and scribble notes in the margins. If I underline something it stands out as being important. In rare cases I will actually underline something twice. Very significant. We will look at a portion of a chapter in Luke’s gospel where Jesus underlined something three times!
In this chapter Jesus says the same thing using three different parables or stories that convey truth. Jesus is telling us to ponder the purposes of God as revealed in the priorities of God. God loves to go after lost people. Jesus underlines this priority three times. He speaks of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. All three stories have to do with the joy God has in finding what is lost. (Read the text)
The Bible text that we will be looking at deals with joy.
When grappling with a parable it is important to understand the context in which it was spoken. The context will often reveal how to unlock the meaning of the parable.
The context is this. The religious leaders of the day were muttering. They were complaining about Jesus’ behavior. They said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The tax collectors and other “sinners” were the object of God’s joy as evidenced in Jesus’ behavior.
Tax collectors were Jews who colluded with the Romans. They made themselves rich by extorting their own people. Thus they were hated by the common Jew of the day. “Sinners” was a catch phrase of labeling people who were morally unclean.
What was Jesus doing? He was welcoming these people and even eating with them. This raised lots of eye-brows. To eat or recline with someone meant that they were like family. They came under one’s protection; were considered friends.
Think of someone that you saw in Frankfurt this week that you would never conceive of inviting into your home. Do you have that person fixed in our mind? THAT is the person Jesus would love to be with.
1. The object of God’s joy is perplexing
The religious leaders were consternated. They were muttering or complaining. We would too. Isn’t religion for the upright and moral person? That may be true for religion, but it’s not true for Christianity.
Know this: We are all dirty. The question is where is our dirt to be found? The dirt of the tax collectors and sinners was on the outside. You could see that these were bad people. But the dirt of the people in suits is on the inside.
Jesus addressed the internal dirt of morally upright religious people – people like you and me, by saying this: Woe do you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matt 23:25-26).
What is also perplexing is how Jesus does not judge the tax collectors and sinners but welcomes them. His compassion is perplexing.
Whether your dirt is on the outside or on the inside, Jesus loves you. He is not repulsed by the dirt. He is drawn to you!
The object of God’s joy is perplexing. But secondly, we see that He seeks out the disenfranchised. Now we get into the parable itself.
2. God seeks out the disenfranchised
A shepherd has 100 sheep. He is a small business owner with some wealth. One of the sheep gets lost. The lost sheep represents one percent of his wealth. And if he waits a couple of months, his herd will increase as new baby lambs are birthed.
Now, think of what your income was last year? What is one percent of your income? Do you have the figure in your head? Would you loose sleep over losing one percent of your income, knowing that you will probably increase your income this year by ten to twenty percent?
God’s math does not make sense. Why not cut our loses and move on? Why not give our full attention to the 99 sheep that we have and forget about the one that was lost? Our accountant would tell us to write the one sheep off.
But God is not an accountant. God is proactive in reaching the lost. Why is that? To the business person the one percent does not really matter. But to the lost sheep, to the one percent, it matters supremely!
At Journey Church, we will always be about seeking those who are lost. Why? Because God’s priority is those outside of the fold.
Tony Campolo, professor of sociology at Eastern College, tells the story of his visit to Honolulu for a Christian Conference. On his first night there, he awoke sometime after three (a six hour time difference had confused his sleep pattern) and left the hotel in search of a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny coffee shop. He walked in and sat down. here is his description of the events:
The fat guy behind the counter came over and asked me, “What do you want?” I told him I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut. As I sat there munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door suddenly opened, swung wide and to my discomfort in marched 8 or 9 provocative and rather boisterous prostitutes. It was a small place and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was garrulous, loud and crude. I felt completely out of place. I was just about to make my getaway when I heard the woman sitting next to me say, “You know, tomorrow is my birthday. I’m going to be 39.” Her friend responded in a rather nasty tone, “So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Do you want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?” “Come on,” the women sitting next to me said, “why do you have to be so mean? I’m just telling you that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you that it is my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”
Campolo goes on; “When I heard that,” he said, “I made a decision. I sat and waited until the woman left and then I called over to the counter to the fat guy and asked him, “Do they come in here every night?” “Yeah,” he answered. “The one right next to me”, I asked, “does she come in here every night?” “Yeah,” he said, “that’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why do you want to know?” “Because,” I replied, “I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say we do something special for her? What do you think about throwing a birthday party for her, right here in the diner?” A cute kind of smile crept over that fat man’s chubby cheeks. He answered with measured delight, “That’s a great idea. I like it. That’s great. Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind. I don’t think anybody has ever done anything nice and kind for her.” “Well, look” I told him, “if it is OK with you, I’ll be back here tomorrow morning at 2:30. I’ll decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake for her.” “No way,” he retorted, “the birthday cake, that’s my thing. I’ll bake the birthday cake.” Two-thirty the next morning, Campolo reports, I was back at that diner. I picked up some crepe paper and other decorations at the store, and made a sign of big pieces of cardboard that read, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” I decorated that diner from one end to the other. I had that diner really looking great.
The word must have gotten out on the street because by 3:15 that next morning every prostitute in Honolulu was in that place. There were wall-to-wall prostitutes – and me. At 3:30 on the dot the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready; after all, I was sort of the informal master of ceremonies of this whole affair. It was my idea, so when they came in we all jumped up and screamed and we sang, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” And you know, I’ve never seen a person so flabbergasted, so stunned, so shaken. Her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, her friend had to offer her arm to steady her, and I noticed she had started to cry. When the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, that’s when she just lost it. She started sobbing. Harry, the fat guy, behind the counter he gruffly mumbled, “Blow out the candles, Agnes, blow out the candles.” Then he handed her a knife, and he ordered, “Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake.” Agnes looked down at that cake, and then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I, I mean, if I don’t, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?” Harry shrugged and answered, “Sure, Agnes, that’s fine, you want to keep the cake, keep the cake, take it home if you want.” “Oh, could I?” she asked. Looking at me she said, “I live just down the street a couple doors; I want to take the cake home, is that OK? I’ll be right back, honest.” She got off her stool, she picked up that cake, and she carried it out of that diner like it was the Holy Grail. She walked slowly toward the door, and we all stood there just speechless.
When the door closed behind her, there was stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray together?” Looking back on it now, it seems more than a little strange that a sociologist from eastern PA would be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But I prayed. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her. And when I finished, Harry leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice he said, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher. What kind of preacher are you anyway? What church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered him quietly, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry thought a moment, and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t; there is no church like that. In fact,” he concluded, “if there was, I’d join it.”
(Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party)
God goes after the most unlikely people, people like you and like me, and like Agnes, and people in suits. We don’t deserve His attention, because we’re all dirty. But Jesus sees past the dirt into our hearts.
Remember: ponder the purposes of God as revealed in the priorities of God. You are God’s priority, that’s why He sent Jesus into the world – to seek and to find you! Why? Because . . .
3. You were made for joy!
- The Bible, in a nutshell, is a “circle of joy”
- Joy (creation)
- Sadness (sin)
- Rescue (Israel/Jesus)
- Joy (restoration / re-creation)
- The path to joy-completion
- Confession: I am lost (disconnected from God) – Reality
- Repentance: I turn toward Jesus (and away from me at the center) Luther: “repentance is a joyous business”
- Trust: I place myself in the care of Jesus my Shepherd
- Result: Joy!
Suppose you were to underline something in our book. That would be important. Suppose you underlined something twice. That would be extremely important.
Jesus underlined something three times! To Him nothing matters more that to have you enter into His joy. Why not do that tonight? What could be more significant? Let’s pray.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you! You were within me, and I was outside; and I sought you outside and in my loneliness fell upon those things that you have made . . . But you called to me and cried to me and broke my deafness; you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness; you breathed your fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now I pant for you. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you.
Augustine, describing his heart before and after his conversion. Joy complete!