In this season when we're rejoicing with the angels, it's a good thing for us to ask, “What does Jesus say in this passage that the angels rejoice over?” This week we’ll be looking at Luke 15:1-10, and Jesus answers that question for us here. In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories. The first of those three stories is about a lost sheep, and you’ll see it in verses 4 to 6. The second of those three stories you’ll see in verses 8 and 9, and it’s about a lost coin. The third of those three stories occurs in verses 11 to 32, and it talks about a lost son. We’re going to be looking at the first two stories this week.

I. Jesus Receives Sinners

Have you ever lost something that was important to you and, after you found it again, rejoiced with your friends that you had found this thing that was important to you? I remember calling all my dog-loving friends after we found our dog that had gone missing for several days a number of years ago. It's a common experience in life, and Jesus takes that common experience in this passage and He applies it to a very important spiritual use.

Jesus was being criticized by the scribes and Pharisees for associating with tax collectors and sinners. These were people that were looked down upon as immoral, and it was considered beneath a prophet of the Lord to associate with them. But Jesus wanted to teach an important spiritual lesson, and He wanted to show the Pharisees and scribes the wrongness of their own hearts. So He tells these stories: the story of the lost sheep and the story of the lost coin. In both stories, He makes the main character of the story somebody that the scribes and the Pharisees wouldn't have looked up to.

In the first story it's a shepherd. Now Jesus meant to bring to our minds all the wonderful things that the Old Testament teaches us about shepherds because, in the Old Testament, the shepherd is so often an image of God. But the Pharisees and scribes would not have thought very highly of shepherds. Shepherds in their day were typically viewed as notorious liars and not very moral people. In the second story He speaks of a woman who had a lost coin. Apparently the coins that she had were her dowry. That would not have been a very large dowry, so we can assume that this was a relatively poor woman who must have been married to a relatively poor man. For her to lose one of the coins of her dowry, which was the only thing that she brought into her marriage that was hers, was a big deal. The Pharisees wouldn't have thought very highly of a poor woman. But Jesus makes these two characters the prime characters in His story in order, again, to hold up before the Pharisees’ and scribes’ eyes what it was that they were missing in His relationships with these tax collectors and sinners.

The first important message of this passage is simply that Jesus receives sinners. The scribes and the Pharisees grumble against Jesus in verse 2 and say, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” They mean that as an insult, but the passage makes it very clear that that is true of Jesus. He receives sinners. The Pharisees looked upon the tax collectors and the sinners that Jesus was meeting with as unworthy, but they did not look upon themselves as sinners and unworthy. They thought of themselves as righteous, and Jesus in this passage is stressing that He receives sinners. That is so vital for us to understand.

II. You Cannot Hear Jesus Unless You Know You Need Him

The second truth we learn in this passage is that you cannot hear Jesus unless you know that you need Him. Look at verse 1. What are the tax collectors and sinners who are with Jesus doing? “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.” But if you look at verse 2, the scribes and the Pharisees weren't hearing Him, they were “grumbling against Him.” And if you look down in verse 7, it's very clear that the scribes and the Pharisees thought of themselves are righteous, whereas the tax collectors were sinners.

The scribes and the Pharisees did not hear Jesus because they did not think that they needed Him. When Jesus says in this passage that “heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine of the righteous who don't need repentance,” do you think Jesus is saying that there are people in the world who are righteous and don't need to repent? No. He's saying there are people in the world who don't think they need to repent and who think that they are righteous. They don’t think they need Jesus.

Jesus is illustrating a grave spiritual malady. The good news is not good news until you understand the bad news first. In this passage it's clear that these tax collectors and sinners want to hear Jesus because they understand their need and long for what only He can give them. They are hanging on every word, but the Pharisees and scribes are not listening because they don't understand their need. Do you understand your need?

III. God Himself Rejoices Over Sinners Who Repent

We learn a third thing in this passage: God Himself rejoices over sinners who repent. Look at how Jesus puts this in verses 7 and 10. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” and verse 10, “I tell you there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Jesus is telling you about the attitude of our loving heavenly Father towards those who repent. Why? Because when you really understand your sin, when you really understand who you are and what you deserve, one of the things that you fear is “If I repent, I will be humiliated and the consequences will be unbearable.” So Jesus in this passage displays the lavish love of God for repentant sinners.

What He's saying is, “Your Heavenly Father is more willing to forgive you, a sinner who deserves to be judged, than you are to ask Him to forgive you.” Jesus is telling us here that God rejoices over sinners who repent to encourage us to embrace and own who it is that we know we are, to confess that to God, and to come to Him for mercy.

This passage is pressing repentance on us. Have we repented? There are those who have repented and who have been found and there are those who have not repented and so have not been found. Do not be numbered among the lost. Be numbered among the sinners who have repented and be found. That's Jesus’ word to us. As by God's grace we repent, we find that there is a Heavenly Father waiting to be more gracious to us than we might ever dare think.