The Lord speaks his three parable-stories of the "lost," in which he explains his reason for loving and receiving the sinful.
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 . "But," the Master went on to say, "what I looked for in vain on earth, see, I have found in heaven. What men coldly refused me, the celestials have joyfully given. These understand me. They love both me and my work, do the holy angels." This coldness, even opposition, on the part of the Pharisees and the religious men of Israel to himself and his works, to his teachings of mercy and love, seems certainly to be the reason why Jesus emphasizes, both here and in the next parable, the sympathy which he receives, not on earth from men, but in heaven from beings, inhabitants of another world. Men, have, however, asked—Why do these heavenly beings rejoice over the one more than over the ninety and nine? It is utterly insufficient to say that this joy is occasioned by the getting back something that was lost. Such a feeling is conceivable among men, though even here it would be an exaggerated sentiment, but in heaven, among the immortals, no such feeling could exist; it partakes too much of the sentimental, almost of the hysterical. This higher joy must be due to another cause. Now, the shepherd, when he found the wanderer, did not bring it back to the old fold, or replace it with the rest of the flock, but apparently ( Luke 15:6 ) brought it to his own home. This would seem to indicate that sinners whom Jesus has come to save, and whom he has saved, are placed in a better position than that from which they originally wandered. This gives us the clue to the angels' joy over the "found one" more than over those who were safe in the old ibid. The Talmudists have taught—and their teaching, no doubt, is but the reflection of what was taught in the great rabbinical schools of Jerusalem before its ruin—that a man who had been guilty of many sins might, by repentance, raise himself to a higher degree of virtue than the perfectly righteous man who had never experienced his temptations. If this were so, well argues Professor Bruce, "surely it was reasonable to occupy one's self in endeavouring to get sinners to start on this noble career of self-elevation, and to rejoice when in any instance he had succeeded. But it is one thing to have correct theories, and another to put them into practice … So they found fault with One (Jesus) who not only held this view as an abstract doctrine, but acted on it, and sought to bring those who had strayed furthest from the paths of righteousness to repentance, believing that, though last, they might yet be first."
The parable of the lost sheep.
Of these three parables, illustrative of the grace of Christ shown to lost human souls, the first brings into view—
I. THE GREAT FOOLISHNESS OF THE WANDERING SOUL . It goes from God as a foolish sheep strays from the fold. So doing, it leaves security for peril. In the fold is safety; in the wilderness are many and serious dangers. At home with God the soul is perfectly safe from harm; its life, its liberty, its happiness, is secure; but, apart and astray from God, all these arc not only gravely imperilled, they are already forfeited. It also leaves plenty for want. In the fold is good pasture; in the wilderness is scarcity of food and water. With God is rich provision for the spirit's need, not only satisfying its wants, but ministering to its best and purest tastes; at a moral distance from him the spirit pines and withers. To go from God is an act of uttermost folly.
II. THE STRAITS TO WHICH IT IS REDUCED .
1 . It is on the point of perishing. Without the interposition of the seeking Shepherd, it would inevitably perish.
2 . It is reduced to such utter helplessness that it has to be carried home, "laid upon his shoulders."
(1) Under the dominion of sin the soul draws nearer and nearer to spiritual destruction; and
III. THE LOVE OF THE DIVINE SHEPHERD . The strong and keen interest taken by the human shepherd in a lost sheep is indicative of the tender interest which the Father of our spirits takes in a lost human soul. The former is more occupied in his thought and care with the one that is lost than he is, for the time, with the others that are safe; the latter is really and deeply concerned for the restoration of his lost child. And as the shepherd's sorrow leads him to go forth and search, so does the Father's tender care lead him to seek for his absent son. Christ's love for us is not general, it is particular; it reaches every one of us. He cares much that each one of the souls for whom he suffered should enjoy his true heritage, and when that is being lost he desires and he "seeks" to restore it.
IV. HIS PERSISTENCY IN SEEKING . "Until he find it." The shepherd, in pursuit of the lost sheep, is not detained by difficulty or danger; nor does he allow distance to stop his search; he goes on seeking until he finds. With such gracious persistency does the Saviour follow the wandering soul; year after year, period after period in his life, through several spiritual stages, the good Shepherd pursues the erring soul with patient love, until he finds it.
V. HIS JOY IN FINDING IT . The shepherd's joy in finding and in recovering, shown by calling his friends and neighbours together, saying, "Rejoice with me," etc., is pictorial of the Saviour's joy when a soul is redeemed from sin and enters into the life which is eternal. He rejoices not only, not chiefly, because therein does he "see of the travail of his soul," but because he knows well from what depth of evil that soul has been rescued, and to what height of blessedness it has been restored; he knows also how great is the influence, through all ages, which one loyal and loving human spirit will exert on other souls.—C.
Murmurs on earth, and joy in heaven.
Our blessed Lord, in his progress towards Jerusalem, had shown the same kindly interest in the outcast classes which had always characterized him, and his love was beginning to tell. Publicans and sinners gathered eagerly around him to hear his tender, saving words; while the reputable Pharisees and scribes eyed him from a distance with self-righteous suspicion. Their murmurs, however inaudible to mere man, were audible to him to whom all things are naked and open, and he exposes their criticisms by a trinity of parables which are without peers in literature. Stier thinks that the trinity of parables is intended to present the Persons of the adorable Trinity in their respective relations to our salvation. The first would thus represent the Son's shepherd-care; the second, the Spirit's maternal solicitude for the restoration of lost souls to the heavenly treasure; and the third, the Father's yearning that prodigal sons might come home. £ This view is certainly commendable, and not too artistic for such a weighty Preacher as the Lord Jesus Christ, and such a reporter as St, Luke, Leaving the third and greatest of the parables for separate treatment, let us, in this homily, discuss the other two; and as they are so similar, we need not separate them in our treatment.
I. WE ARE HERE TAUGHT BY CHRIST WHAT UNFALLEN BEINGS THINK ABOUT THEMSELVES . (Verse 7.) A door is opened by these parables into heaven, and we have glimpses of the celestial world. Jesus is here testifying about heavenly things ( John 3:12 ). Now, we must know, in the first place, who are meant by the ninety and nine sheep which never went astray, and by the nine pieces of silver which were never lost. They cannot mean self-righteous souls such as the Pharisees and scribes. For they needed repentance, and over them no celestial ones would think of rejoicing. Hence they can only refer to unfallen beings. £ Now, the parables imply that there is joy over the unfallen. Why should there not be? To us who are fallen it appears but right that the most intense joy should be taken in the unfallen and sinless. They are a new type of beings to us. We have only had one of them in this world. The sinless Saviour broke the law of continuity, and constitutes the marvel of human history. £ Ninety and nine unfallen beings would seem to us a marvellously interesting group. A sinless city, such as the new Jerusalem is, appears to our comprehension such a novelty, such a new notion and thought amid the sad monotony of sin, that we almost wonder how those who have got within the city could ever think of aught beyond it. And yet to the unfallen ones themselves—sinlessness being the rule, and no exception being found within the celestial city—there must come over the joy with which they contemplate each other a certain monotony, which must keep the joy down to a certain uniform level. Where everything is exactly as it should be, and no tragedy is possible, the joy of contemplation must be so uniform as to partake almost of what is common. The sinless ones contemplate one another with rapture, doubtless, but the joy is not of the intensest type by reason of the monotony and sameness associated of necessity with it. We may make sure of this by simply contrasting the complacency of the self-righteous with the consciousness of the sinless that they never can be more than unprofitable servants, for they can never rise above the sphere of duty. Nothing corresponding to the self-satisfaction of the Pharisee, who thanks God that he is not as other men, can be entertained by the celestial world. They are not absorbed in self-admiration. That is only possible with lost men! So that the joy of unfallen beings over one another is modified by the thought that their sinlessness is nothing more than should be expected from those possessed of such privileges as they. Unlost sheep and money receive but moderate admiration.
II. WE ARE HERE TAUGHT WITH WHAT INTENSE INTEREST UNFALLEN BEINGS CONTEMPLATE THE CAREER OF LOST SOULS . (Verses 4, 8.) The problem of sin comes upon the sinless as an exception to the rule. They contemplate the career of the lost as a tragedy added to the monotony of life. They hover over the lost ones with intense interest. They follow their career and study its issues. We must not regard the celestial world as walled out from the tragedies of this earth. All, according to Christ's idea, is open to the celestial side. We may not see with' our dull eyes the city of the Apocalypse; but the celestials can follow our terrestrial careers and note the lessons of our different destinies. "The bourne from whence no traveller returns" is the celestial country. The lack of tidings is here, not there! The majority beyond the shadows may seem all silent, like the grave, to us; but the din of our voices reaches across the void to them, and constitutes a study of unfailing interest.
III. THE UNFALLEN ONES HAVE SENT FORTH MESSENGERS TO SAVE THE LOST . (Verses 4-6, 8, 9.) Angels hover around us, and with intensest interest contemplate our sin-burdened, sin-stained careers. But the celestial world did not contemplate the problem from a distance, and allow the wanderers to die. Two, at all events, came forth from heaven in the interests of lost men—the shepherd Son of God, and the Spirit, with all womanly tenderness. The Second and Third Persons of the adorable Trinity have come forth as messengers to save lost men. In addition, there are multitudes of ministering angels who exercise a mysterious but real ministry, and aid the heirs of salvation in their pilgrimage home. To the celestial visitants, however, who are set before us in these parables, we must meanwhile give our attention.
1 . The good Shepherd. He follows the lost sheep over the mountains into the wilderness, up the rocky steeps, wherever lost souls wander and are waiting to be found. It was arduous work. It involved the exchange of Paradise for this wilderness-world, and a life of privation and trouble of many kinds, and all that the lost sheep might be found and brought home. Christ's work was self-denial and self-sacrifice in the highest degree. He had to lay down his life for the rescue of the sheep.
2 . The painstaking Spirit. Like the housewife Who searched so thoroughly the dust of the house until she found the lost piece of money, so the Spirit comes down and searches in the dust of this world for lost souls, that he may restore them to the heavenly treasure. There is no work too severe or too searching for the Spirit to undertake in the rescue of our lost souls. As Gerok puts it, "No trouble is too great for God to undertake in seeking out a soul."
IV. THE JOY OF THE CELESTIAL WORLD OVER REPENTANT SOULS IS GREATER THAN THEIR JOY OVER THE UNFALLEN . (Verses 7, 10.) Our Lord represents the joy of heaven over one repentant sinner as greater than the joy over even ninety and nine unfallen beings. No angel of light amid his sinless glory ever caused such rapture to the heavenly world as does a sinner repenting and returning to God. "Gabriel," says Nettleton, "who stands in the presence of God, never occasioned so much joy in heaven. We may number ninety and nine holy angels and then say, ' There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over those ninety and nine just persons.' The creation of the world was a joyful event, when ' the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.' But this is not to be compared with the joy over one sinner that repenteth The joy of angels is most sensibly felt every time one more is added to the company of the redeemed. The ninety and nine already redeemed seem to be forgotten, when, with wonder and joy, they behold their new companion with whom they expect to dwell for ever. Could we know, as well as angels do, the reality of a sinner's repentance, we should know better how to rejoice." How important, consequently, should we regard the repentance of a sinner! Instead of our indulging in Pharisaic suspicion and murmuring, should we not join the joyful companies above in their ecstasy over the lost being found? And does it not further help us to understand why evil has been permitted, seeing that grace can translate it into so much joy? In all the assemblies of the saints we have reason to believe angels are present, watching with intense interest the exercises and noting what repentances result. The interest we take in such services is, we must believe, as nothing to the interest of the heavenly world. How they must wonder at so much indifference on our part! How they must wonder at the cool and matter-of-fact way we receive tidings of credible conversions to God! The joy of heaven over penitent sinners is a standing rebuke to our murmurings or apathy! May the thought of it lead to a better feeling and a better life!—R.M.E.