Sometimes when we’re reading a passage of Scripture, the Holy Spirit directs our mind to a particular point. We may have read that passage many times before, but we had missed this insight. I had such an experience when reading Luke 15 this morning.
The chapter is very familiar, containing the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son. However, the Lord showed me some aspects of these parables I had not considered before. The one that stands out to me the most is in the first one, the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus tells the story of a shepherd having “a hundred sheep and…lost one of them” (Luke 15:3). The man searches everywhere, and “when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing,” and throws a celebration with “his friends and his neighbors” (vv. 5, 6).
Jesus then makes this profound statement:
“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7).
What makes this even more profound and gets to the point is the verses that proceed the parable. They set the stage for the particular stories and statements Jesus makes. So let’s back up and look at those:
“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (vv. 1, 2).
The Pharisees were pointing their finger at Jesus and condemning Him. They compared His actions to their own rigid formality and traditions, their own separation from the common sinful “crowd” (cf. John 7:49). Yet as they did so, they completely missed the need of the souls around them. Their righteousness was only outward. In another place, Jesus quotes Isaiah and says, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me” (Matthew 15:8). They had no real relationship with God, and cared nothing about other people having a relationship with Him.
And so, this was what Jesus was telling them. In other words, He was saying, “My Father is more pleased when one of these outcasts believes than a large group of you all and all your outward acts.” Ouch. If we are honest, we often fall into a same attitude of the Pharisees. We think God is most pleased and glorified by us staying pure, being involved in church, serving Him, etc. those are all good and important things, and they do glorify God (John 15:8).
But as the rest of this chapter emphasizes, the value of one soul coming to Christ is of incredibly high importance to our Lord. Why is it? Well, I think there are several reasons. For one thing, when a person believes in Jesus, another member is added to the Church, His bride. Another person has accepted the gift Jesus offers because of His own death in our place. Of course He is glorified by that.
The main reason which the Spirit led me to focus on is how it glorifies the Father. Absolutely, living faithfully for Jesus glorifies God and requires His power in us. We cannot accomplish that on our own. Yet there is an element of us working “out [our] salvation” (Philippians 2:12; Ephesians 2:10). We have to take part.
But when it comes to salvation, the only thing we do is believe. God is the One who calls us (romans 8:30). It is the Father who “draws” us to Christ (John 6:44). It is the Father who “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). We have been made alive by Him. Not just preserved, not just protected, but raised to life—and all by His power. This is not to deny the fact that we have to choose Christ, that we have to choose to believe, but it emphasizes how all the glory must go to God.
And so, I think this is why there is so much “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). God has made another person alive. Yes, we need to remain faithful, and God is working in us through that, and we should praise Him for His preserving work. But Jesus was correcting the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees who focused only on their own efforts to preserve their outward piety. They needed to care about the souls of those around them.
And so the challenge for us is, do we care about the lost around us? We can get so caught up in maintaining personal holiness and serving the church that we neglect sharing Jesus. Those tasks are part of our calling, certainly, but we also need to be seeking to share the gospel. We need to build and develop relationships with those around us so we can share Jesus with them. I’m convicting myself as much as anyone with this. Yet the truth remains that the Father and “the angels” rejoice when even “one sinner…repents” (Luke 15:10). Let us strive to bring God glory by sharing the gospel and praying for Him to make more people alive.