If you have been following this blog at all, you know that this spring we took a family trip to Disney World – this was the entire family – Janet and I with our two boys, Parker and Jonathan. My parents and my in-laws joined us as well. Over the course of the week at Disney, we made many memories.
Two memories from this trip stick out in regards to joy. Parker had his first ever root beer float. He had only recently discovered root beer, and the fact he could add ice cream into the mix caused him to become giddy with joy.
Jonathan provided the second example. He was finally tall enough to ride all the roller coasters. As he rode, he would laugh, cackle, cheer, scream, and at the end of the ride, ask to do it all over again. Roller coasters brought joy to Jay.
You expect to bring your kids joy at Disney World. But what I didn’t expect, in preparing for my first sermon at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church last week, was to discover how you and I can bring great joy to God.
In Luke 15:1-10, Jesus shares two parables that answer the question of how we can give God joy. The first parable is about a shepherd who lost one sheep out of his herd of 100. This shepherd drops what he is doing, finds the one sheep, and when he returns with it, celebrates finding what was lost with friends and family.
The second story is similar. A woman has ten coins, loses one, and also drops what she is doing to scour the house until she finds her lost coin. Once she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors to her house and celebrates the discovery of her lost coin.
But we not only see joy in this passage, we see the complete opposite too. In the introduction to these parables, the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling over the fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Why care about who Jesus eats with?
Tax collectors were considered traitors as they helped the Roman Empire, who occupied Jesus’ homeland. Some even exploited their fellow Jews for their own financial gain. As traitors and exploiters, tax collectors were “regarded as outcasts (especially) by the religious.”[i] Furthermore, “The sinners were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the law.”[ii]
The Pharisees and scribes were furious that Jesus chose to eat with such people.
The same thing might happen today if you were to see someone you love and respect – at a restaurant eating with a couple who is LGBTQ – or with someone drinking a glass of wine – or even worse – with someone wearing a Chiefs jersey. Even if the reasons for eating with them is right, you may feel scandalized – even when you shouldn’t!
That the Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners reveals that they held a fundamental misunderstanding of God. They believed that God would never seek out a sinner or a tax collector. They had a hard time understanding “that God is a seeking God, a God who takes the initiative” to reach the lost.[iii] Jesus is the ultimate example of God taking the initiative to seek and to save the lost.
So Jesus shares two parables to straighten them out.
One purpose of these stories was to help the Pharisees (and us!) understand that God desires for the outcasts of the world to come to repentance and faith in God. And, to go a step further, that the religious leaders (and us!) should celebrate the return of sinners to God – rather than grumble.
Joy and grumbling are on opposite extremes. One can’t be filled with joy and grumble. It is near impossible to both grumble and to bring joy to God.
In these two parables, we learn how we have the capacity to bring joy to God. In order to understand how, let’s look deeper at these two parables:
In both stories, we see that the search becomes a priority.[iv] Both the shepherd and the woman stop everything that they are doing to find what is lost. The shepherd leaves the herd – most likely with a helper – in order to find the one that is lost. The woman drops what she is doing and looks for the coin.
But the search wasn’t an easy one, it takes work.[v] It wasn’t easy for the shepherd to search for the sheep. There was always potential for danger as he wandered back into the wilderness to find the lost sheep. It wasn’t easy for the woman to find the coin. She had to light a lamp and sweep the house, until she found it.
While the search took work, it was all worth it in the end as the recovery causes rejoicing.[vi]
Jesus finishes each parable by explaining that God is the one doing the seeking – he is the shepherd, he is the seeker of the coin – and that when the lost is found, there is great rejoicing in heaven.
Notice too that there is an option for us – either we, as followers of Christ, become those who seek the lost OR we are those who grumble. Each of us will find ourselves in this parable. Either we are the ones causing the rejoicing or we are the ones who are grumbling.
Share your faith with someone this week. If you are unsure who, pray about who that person should be, and expend great effort to bring the gospel to them that we may bring great joy to God.
[i] Morris, TNTC, 255
[ii] Morris, TNTC, 255
[iii] Morris, TNTC, 255
[iv] Bock, NIVAC, 408
[v] Bock, NIVAC, 408
[vi] Bock, NIVAC, 408