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1. Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3. And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4. What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5. And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
8. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9. And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
11. And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
I want us to look at this tremendous experience of Jesus on a particular day when there are crowds of publicans and sinners; the people who are counted as unacceptable in the society of Israel. The scribes and Pharisees would look down upon these people as being way beneath them in every way: religiously, especially religiously, socially, and perhaps other ways as well. They looked upon them with disdain and did not want to have anything to do with them. Here they are pressing great crowds of them, sinners pressing to hear Jesus and to hear Him talk and teach and preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scribes and Pharisees are complaining and murmuring and saying ‘This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.’ I’m glad of that statement, aren’t you? I’m glad that Jesus Christ receives sinners. That’s what this whole chapter is about. In answer to what they were saying and what they were murmuring and thinking in their own hearts, Jesus gave three outstanding parables: the one of the lost sheep, one of the lost coin, and one of the lost son. To say beyond any doubt that yes, it is true that this man does receive sinners and He does associate with them and He does eat with them and He does welcome them, one of the newer translations says that this man welcomes sinners. I’m glad that He does, even to this hour. That is one of the characteristics of our Lord and Saviour. You cannot take that away from Him, that He came to this world to give His life so that sinners can be drawn to Him and His love and they could be forgiven and pardoned and set free and liberated from the bondage of Satan. They can have their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life and people who are lost could be found. People who are blind could see. People who are outcasts could be brought in to the family of God. We rejoice and we celebrate the fact, especially during this Christmas season, we celebrate the fact that this is why He came. He came to save the lost, to receive sinners and accept them.
He will say in each of these cases that when a lost one is found, there is great celebration. The fact is, there is celebration here on earth, but there is also great celebration in heaven among the angels. He said there is more rejoicing among the angels over one sinner that repents more than over the ninety and nine just persons who do not need any repentance. That lets me know that somehow or other the greatest celebration that ever is carried on in heaven apparently, is when a sinner comes to Christ confessing his sins and repenting and he is accepted and pardoned. I don’t know if there is any word that goes out when people fall or when they fail. I don’t know if heaven or the angels or the saints that are there are even aware if somebody falls or goes back on God or turns away or backslides. I don’t know about that. I don’t think we have any evidence in Scripture that they pass that word around or that they know about it or that they talk about it. I don’t know if they news goes out. God know, of course, but I don’t know if it is broadcast, but I do know this. According to the Scripture there is a great celebration that takes place every time a lost soul comes to Jesus and is cleansed by the blood and has faith in the Son of God for his salvation and his eternal life. Thank God for the celebration!
I don’t know if you had a lot of birthday celebrations in your life. As a child growing up I don’t have much memory of birthdays. I only have one memory as a child of a birthday party that was had in my honor when I was a child. I only remember one and I think the reason I do is because there was a beautiful little girl in our church and she and I had the very same birthday and we were the same age. On this one particular year, incidentally it’s December 31, her parents and my parents got together and gave us a birthday party together and that’s the only one I remember receiving when I was a child. Of course, since I married my wife, she has always made my birthday something special and she makes these beautiful cakes. Her birthday is in December also. It is December 24, just the day before Christmas. We have always had a time giving attention to our birthdays because of Christmas. Christmas overshadowed our birthdays and we just sort of skimmed right on by them, but since we’ve been married, we’ve made it a point to try to celebrate our birthday. Well whether or not you get a big celebration for your birthday, you create a tremendous celebration in heaven on your spiritual birthday when you come into the kingdom of God. The angels in heaven rejoice because of what the Lamb of God is doing.
That reminds me of a song I heard recently when I went over to the Conn Center sometime back to hear the Kingsmen Quartet. They have a song that says ‘The cross has won again.” I want to read you the words to this song. It was written by Larry Gatlin, a country singer but who grew up in spiritual atmosphere and used to sing in a gospel singing quartet all the time. It says this: “Lord, just turn just a little to your left and whisper in your Father’s ear that another wayward child is coming home. Lord, turn just a little to your left (you know Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father on high) and whisper in your Father’s ear that a wayward child is tired of being alone. Then turn and tell the angels around the throne to let the celebration begin because the cross has won again. Tell God, our General, His forces march forward in victory and the powers of hell are in retreat. Then tell Him that heaven has another soldier and the demons of hell lie in defeat. So, turn and tell the angels at the throne to let the celebration begin because the cross has won again.” Beautiful, beautiful song with a great message. That is precisely what happens when a lost sinner comes to Christ. Somebody sounds the word. It may be Jesus indeed speaking to the Father and saying to the angels Let the celebration begin. That’s what I want to talk about tonight, “Let The Celebration Begin.”
To show that indeed Jesus received and welcomed sinners, He gave three special illustrations or parables to show exactly that that was true, that it was the case. This was one time their accusation was absolutely true. He owned up to it and the fact is, He rejoiced about it. He first tells about a lost sheep. He said if there are any of you, you who are doing the murmuring, who had a sheep that wandered astray or was lost, you wouldn’t rest until you saw the ninety and nine safe in the fold and you left them in safe hands. You would leave them protected and you would leave them safe and you would not rest until you had gone out and sought out that one who had strayed or was lost. When you found him you would place him on your shoulder. You would take him to your bosom and you would come rejoicing. When you got home you would call together your friends and your neighbors and say ‘Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.’
I don’t know if I can imagine such a celebration over a lost sheep, but Jesus is saying to them, If you do that, if you care that much for one sheep, that this is what you would do. This is the way you do when you go and find that one little wandering sheep and you bring it in. You treat it with care and loving kindness and you bring it in to safety. Then you call in your friends and you rejoice over finding that one sheep. He said if you do that, why in the world can’t we go out and seek lost people and bring them in? Because, He said in verse 7, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Joy in heaven! Joy in heaven! That’s hard for me to comprehend. I can understand joy on earth. I can understand the joy when people see their loved ones coming into the fold and coming to Christ and oh, what a time of rejoicing that is. I don’t think there is anything more wonderful than that in all this world.
We don’t understand how God works, but I will tell you that you never give up. The Lord is still seeking the lost. The Holy Spirit is still reaching out and you may have lost loved ones. It would be the greatest victory and triumph and joy of your life to know they had come to the Lord Jesus. Yes, we can understand. We can clearly identify with the rejoicing that takes place in a church when people have prayed and labored and worked with love for the lost and they come in. What a beautiful and wonderful experience that is!
But at the same time, there is joy in heaven. When we are celebrating, when we are rejoicing, when the Holy Spirit is filling our hearts and we are thankful and we worship over the salvation of the lost, it is going on in heaven as well. Thank God. I’m glad Jesus let us in on that.
Then He went on to talk of another parable. He is still addressing this crowd of self-righteous people, and He is doing this in the presence of a great throng of sinners and publicans. He says if any woman of you was laying by certain coins that had to do perhaps with her dowry or with her looking toward her wedding, and she would lose it, (this is a very special coin), she says she would light a candle, she would sweep the house, and she would seek diligently until she found it. There is not one place that she does not look until she finds it. So, here is a woman who is absolutely distressed if she has lost one of her valuable coins that has to do with her future. It may have something to do with her wedding, her marriage. She is frantic. She goes to extreme lengths until she finds it. She does the same kind of thing. When she found it, she called her friends and neighbors together saying ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise I say unto you (Jesus said) there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. I think this must be important that Jesus has these people understand that Yes! I receive sinners. I welcome them. That’s why I came to this earth and there is joy in heaven. If you can have joy and rejoice over finding a coin or finding a lost sheep, why in the world can’t we rejoice at a sinner coming to the Lord?
And then He mentions the most outstanding story that we are perhaps very familiar with. It is the story of the prodigal son. It seems as if the sheep may have strayed or there may have been some carelessness about the shepherd that caused the sheep to be lost. Or he may have dumbly walked away. It may just been through carelessness – just not paying attention and wandering off. The coin was lost by somebody else by carelessness. That is for sure. We don’t know exactly what causes people to be lost. Some, I think, is through carelessness. Some, I think, is because of neglect or some do not have proper protection or leadership perhaps. I don’t know why people are lost, but when they are lost, it doesn’t matter why. The idea is that somehow they are to be found.
The prodigal son became lost out of his own rebellion, his own stubbornness, his own indifference, his greedy demanding attitude in the world. I would assume that there will be a lot of people who will be lost because of that attitude. He demanded what was rightfully his. The Father without any hesitation gave to him his inheritance. You know the story. He went away and riotous living and he wasted it. After his money was gone, he went down, down, down, down. His so-called friends left him and he was tending hogs and feeding them and almost living on what they lived on.
I think the songwriter had that in mind when he said that sin will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. It will cost you more than you could possibly ever imagine. That’s true of this man. Jesus is talking about people who deliberately walk away from the Father’s house. I know that we often refer to this to one particular person and that is the story as Jesus told it. I’m sure there was an absolute case like that. There is an application here that goes beyond one individual and that is the whole concept of the people of Israel themselves who are greedy and grasping and rebellious and who leave the Father’s house and they go to do their own thing in their own way and they come to absolute poverty. They come to absolute squalor. That is the history of Israel again and again, going into captivity. Assyrian captivity for Israel on the north. Babylonian captivity for Judah on the south. That’s repeated over and over again as nations ran over them and subjected them even in the time of Jesus. The Roman Empire subjected them to slavery to some extent.
He was lost because of his attitude, his greed, his impatience with life, not wanting to follow any kind of wisdom of his father, taking matters into his own hands. He returned to the father’s house. Yes, He receives that kind of sinner as well; not only the lost who may have been lost carelessly or strayed or somebody who was lost because of something else. But the people who have done it themselves, now this to me is one of the greatest truths about Jesus’ attitude toward sinners, that even His love and His grace and His mercy follows people who go to the nth degree. And then they come to themselves and they begin to confess and begin to repent and begin to turn to come back to the Father’s house. That is what this young man did. He came back. Well, we would expect that this young man would be chastised and that the rules would be laid down to him in a harsh way and said ‘Already you can come back but if you stay under my roof, you’ve got to do this or that. You don’t have the status that you did before.’
But aren’t you glad it’s not that way with our Heavenly Father? Aren’t you glad He sees us even when we are far off, even if we have strayed? I’m glad that He does because as a young teenage boy straying away from God and running from God, I’m glad the day came when He saw me afar off and welcomed me and treated me just like family. The writers of the New Testament give a lot of commentary of what this is like. In Ephesians there is such beautiful language that talks about us being accepted in the beloved, that we are adopted and chosen, that we have been redeemed and bought with a price, that we have been welcomed in to the family and given an inheritance and the Holy Spirit is the absolute guarantee of that inheritance and what is going to come to pass. When you have the Holy Ghost that is the down payment and the guarantee that God gives you that the rest is coming. The inheritance is coming to the fullest extent. You don’t have to worry about it. You can count on it. You can believe it. The rest is coming because the gift of the Holy Spirit is the down payment. Paul said it is the earnest of our inheritance.
That’s the way he was treated. He was welcomed home as a son. I suppose we’ve heard a number of times about the elder brother, the self-righteous one, the one who was so good, the one who was so faithful, the one who was so holy and righteous in his own eyes. He came up out of the field and he heard the celebration. The father said ‘Let the celebration begin. Kill the fattened calf. We’re going to have a feast and a celebration.’ They started with it. There was music and singing. The man was reinstated and clothed and cleansed and received. The elder brother came up. He heard the sound. He didn’t like what he heard. Can you imagine anyone not liking the sound of celebration that goes on when somebody comes to God? Can you imagine anybody being jealous? He wouldn’t go in. ‘Well, if they are going to do him that way, I’m not going to go in. I’ll show them.’ Isn’t it strange how when people do things for spite and out of jealousy they don’t hurt anybody but themselves? They cut themselves off from blessings and from joy and literally shut themselves outside of the celebration. He wouldn’t even go in.
Jesus is zeroing in. He is about to put the last twist on the arm of these scribes and Pharisees because now He is drawing their picture. He is saying ‘Here you are. I’m getting ready to receive sinners and for them to be saved, and you are going to fuss and pout and be jealous because I’m receiving them and the Father is receiving them and there is rejoicing in heaven over these that repent. Here you are. You’re standing outside all puffed up and angry and mad. You claim to be heirs of the promise. You claim to be the children of God and yet you don’t participate in the joy. You don’t participate in the rejoicing. You’re not part of the celebration. You’re not in on it. Your heart is not there.’ How sad for people to miss out on heaven’s greatest times of celebration and rejoicing. So he says to his son ‘Look, all that I’ve ever had is yours. You’re not cut out of anything. You’re no less an heir than you were. Treating this son good and welcoming him back won’t take a thing away from you.’
Oh, I want to tell you, God has grace, such bountiful grace and love that it is impossible to exhaust it. When he pours forth love on one person it doesn’t take a thing away from somebody else. Aren’t you glad it is that way? Just because God blesses somebody else in the church doesn’t mean that He is going to have to take a thing away from us. He put it like this. He said ‘I want you to rejoice with us because our son, your brother that was dead is alive again. He was lost and now is found.’ Now here’s where the teaching of Jesus zeros in to touch the very heart of the religious people. He is saying you are jealous because a door has been opened to the lost, to sinners, especially to Gentiles. You look down your nose at it and you don’t think God would do this. But there were dead, but now they are alive. They were lost, but now they are found. You of all people should be rejoicing and participating in this great celebration.
Well, in the words of this gospel song, I’d say Oh Lord, let the celebration begin. Let this Christmas season be a time when the Holy Spirit will quicken people’s heart to the realization of why Jesus came to this world. Let it be a time when the lost will come. I hope and pray that the true message of Christmas with the salvation through Christ will really reach the hearts of people and we can see our lost loved ones really opening up their lives to the Christ of Christmas who gives life.
I’m going to ask you tonight if you have a loved one who is indeed lost, we don’t know for what reason. Ezekiel says that some have strayed, but some were driven away. There are all kinds of reasons why people are lost. Let us not worry about laying the blame about that tonight. Could we take our attention and focus away from that and simply say ‘Oh, Lord, let the celebration begin because You are touching my loved one who is lost and bring them into the fold?’
Would you stand for prayer. I want you to call names, if you will. If there is someone in particular, would you whisper that name to the Father and pray ‘Oh Lord, let the celebration come,’ because they come to the Father’s house.
Let us pray.
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