Today: [Luke 15] Jesus Hangs Out with Publicans and Sinners: In Luke 15 the Pharisees are pulling their hair out because they don’t like the company Jesus keeps. Have you irritated a Pharisee lately? In this chapter Jesus lays out a very specific strategy for winning the lost and it has little in common with evangelism as the church understands it. Are you willing to have a meal with a notorious sinner? Then you are on your way to being an soul winner as Jesus defines it in this chapter of the gospel of Luke.
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[Luk 15:1-32 KJV] 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. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
In the opening verses of chapter 15 of Luke we find the Pharisees again frustrated with Jesus’ behavior. The word murmur here carries the added meaning of holding a grudge and for that reason expressing discontent and disapproval. Why were the Pharisees disturbed? Because they didn’t like the company Jesus kept. Have you tweaked the melon of a Pharisee lately? If you want to aggravate a Pharisee, be seen hanging out with publicans and sinners. Now we know what a sinner is (don’t we?), but what is a publican? A publican was a local man hired by the Romans to forcibly collect taxes from the people, by whatever means necessary. We would equate a publican to an IRS agent who liked his job. In the Ozarks where I grew up, there was a deep-seated hatred for what they called “the revenuer”, who worked for the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who was constantly raiding the moonshine stills of the local people. If you peppered the backside of a revenuer with birdshot, you were a hero. For some reason, these people were particularly drawn to Jesus and He to them along with notorious sinners.
Something about Jesus drew these undesirables, what was it? Verse 2 says that Jesus not only ate with these people, but He “received them”. That word receive describes for us the attitude Jesus demonstrated toward the marginalized and the rejected. It means to “welcome with open arms”. It means:
“To accept deliberately and readily, receive kindly and means to welcome as a friend, or a guest into your house. To accept with open arms, minds, and hearts, even going beyond normally expected gracious hospitality.
To accept favorably into your company, to give access to and to receive to welcome with friendliness.”
This is Jesus attitude toward those that were universally rejected by society in the world that He lived in. Does this describe your posture toward the despised in our culture? Homeless people? Homosexuals? Drug users? Drunks? Prostitutes? Obnoxious unbelievers? Atheists? Agnostics? What kind of vibe do these people get off of you when you are around them? The disparity between the attraction Jesus held for these people and the vibe they pick up from us is a metric for the degree to which the cross has yet to do its work in our lives. In this setting, do we have more in common with Jesus, or the Pharisees, and what are we prepared to do about it? Does the church or spiritual community we live in, or the political party we identify with, or social group we call our own have affinity with the Pharisees here or with Jesus, standing with His arms draped around some of the most hated people in Jerusalem? Isn’t it time we rethink the religious values we have masqueraded as spiritual qualities in our minds? The church world and Christian culture is not going to change. It is up to us. We have a decision to make. Are we going to Jesus as the writer of Hebrews exhorts:
[Heb 13:13 KJV] 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
Or are we going to keep on doing the same thing, hanging with the same people, listening to the same tired old sermons, and political diatribes and convincing ourselves it is gospel truth? The billions of people plunging headlong into hell will constitute an incitement at the judgment if we foolishly think we can keep on smiling and say or do nothing any differently than we have in church and Christianity as we know it or as the world knows it. Every 60 seconds over 100 people die throughout the world. According to the statistics of worldwide religious faith, 72 of them go into eternity without God. That means that 103,000 people go to hell every day, while the church is more distracted with politics and its own personal agenda than spreading the gospel. What is the answer? We must take responsibility for ourselves. Forget the institution of the church, it is hopelessly adrift and completely out of touch with the heart of the one it claims to serve. You are a reformation of one, and the revolution begins today!
The Pharisees stand seething as Jesus shares a meal with these horrible people, and looking up, Jesus gives them a parable. Why is He speaking to them in parables? In Luke 8:10 Jesus makes it clear: He isn’t giving a parable to make it simple. He is giving them a parable that “seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand…” In other words, if you are still scratching your head by the time Jesus gets to the parable, you are in far more jeopardy than you could ever know. What is the parable in question here? It is the parable of the ninety and nine. If a shepherd has one sheep in a hundred that is out there in the night wandering, what is He going to do? Wash His feet and sit down to ESPN? No, He is going to go find that sheep, and upon locating it, throw a party with His friends because that which was lost is now found. One thing we need to understand is, that Jesus portrays Himself not only as the shepherd of the ninety and nine, but also of every lost sheep outside the fold.
How many members do you have in your church, pastor? 50? A 100? 300? The most successful churches in America reach far fewer than 10% of their cities. That means for everyone person in the fold there are 9 out there that God says are your sheep also. Given that fact, isn’t it obscene that the most visible activity of the church a group of people sitting around for a pep talk before going about their selfish lives? I tell you, that church has lost its way. That church has proved itself irretrievable! What are we going to do about? Have another pancake breakfast? Heaven help us!
Jesus goes on to give the parable of a woman sweeping her house and searching it with a candle to find 1 coin in 10 that is lost. In other words, she has one valuable something that she can’t find, and she will not rest until it is located. Today the calculus is 9 coins out of 10 are lost and church culture somehow justifies its existence when it’s impact upon humanity is so marginal as to be largely non-existent in many parts of the world. Listen, Islam is not the problem. Secularism is not the problem. These are simply those things that appear in the vacuum the church has left in its lukewarm, self-satisfied entrenchment in the status quo. You can forget waiting for church culture to reform itself. It is up to you. What will YOU do differently today, tomorrow, and next week to become more like Jesus?
What does that mean? Do we grab our passport and our bible and run screaming with our hair on fire to the nearest airport, to go preach the gospel, shrieking on a side walk in Saudi Arabia? Nothing so extreme. Jesus is making these statements, sitting down and simply having a meal with those He considered His friends. Listen, just invite a sinner to lunch. Can you do that? Of course you can. Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God Almighty will handle the rest!
Then in verse 11 Jesus gives the parable of the Prodigal. A father has a wayward younger son, and a prideful, angry older son. Which one needs a savior more? Have you ever been the prodigal? Let me tell you I have done my time picking pig food out of my teeth. I know what it is literally to come to myself lying in a ditch with my father standing over me ready to receive me unto himself. I have also been the other guy, mad because some wet behind the ears newcomer is having a party with Jesus and I don’t feel like I have been invited. When the Father saw the prodigal a long way off and ran to him, falling on his neck and kissing him, the elder brother should have been right there with him in a big, sloppy, slobbering group hug. Instead, like the Pharisees, the elder brother stood back grumbling his disapproval. Do you see what it happening in this parable? The real rescue mission is in v. 31 when the Father looks at His elder son with tears still streaming down His face, saying “son, you are ever with me and all I have is thine…” come on, let’s join the party!
We tend to portray Christian evangelism as some somber faced affair, with suffering and deprivation all round, but over and again in this chapter Jesus gives the example of four total celebrations, inclusive not just of those we approve of, but welcoming the rejected, the angry, the downtrodden, the misdirected, the hated and despised in such a way that they don’t feel like you are trying to sign them up to Amway, but that you genuinely love them. Can you become that friend of Jesus? Is that simple meal, and attitude of celebration, an evangelism initiative you can get behind? Then call the caterer, hide the silver and get cracking, there are some hungry sinners out there with big appetites just waiting to hang out with you.
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