After Jesus declared to the multitudes the high cost of discipleship, that to “come after” him meant nothing less than hating one’s very life and bearing the cross, he said: “He who has ears to hear to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-33). Soon after Luke tells that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him” (15:1). So God gave “ears to hear” to the most unexpected of people, despicable tax collectors and immoral sinners. And Jesus welcomed them!
It was more than those grave and godly men of Israel, the Pharisees and scribes, could stomach. So they grumbled, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (v.1). A disgrace, a scandal, an outrage! What would a preacher of God’s Kingdom and righteousness have to do these lawbreakers, this scum of the earth?
Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ murmuring by telling three parables (the third of which is the maybe the most famous parable of all, the Prodigal Son). The first two parables, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, both feature a person who actively seeks something that’s gone missing. A shepherd loses a sheep from his flock, and leaving the 99 behind he seeks and finds the one that had been lost. Then a woman, having lost one of her ten silver coins, turns her house upside down looking for the lost coin until she finds it.
Both the shepherd and the woman are symbolic of Christ and of his redemptive work in coming to our world. And of course, we are the lost sheep and coin. In our sin and rebellion against our Maker, we have cut ourselves off from eternal life and the prospect of heaven. We are lost in our sin, dead to God, and without hope.
But just as the shepherd and the woman did not sit down, throw up their arms in despair, and bemoan their loss, but rather sprang into action to seek and find what was missing, so in response to our sin and alienation Christ took the initiative to save us. The Son of God became man, lived a holy life, and suffered and died on the cross as a sin-bearer on behalf of his people. And having been raised from the grave and exalted to the right hand of God the Father, Christ sends his Spirit powerfully into the hearts of his people, to draw them to himself through the preaching of the gospel.
In this way Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks and finds his lost sheep. The One who calls us to “come after” him, first “goes after” us (14:27; 15:4). If anyone responds to the gospel message with faith, and turns to Christ for life, it is because he has been sought and found by Jesus. That’s why our Lord has been called the “Hound of Heaven.” He is the Seeking Savior.
And why did the Son of God leave heaven in order to seek and save his lost people? Hebrews 12:2 provides the answer: it was for “the joy that was set before him,” that Jesus “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). And the parables paint a marvelous picture of the heavenly joy that ensues each time a lost sinner is found by the grace of Christ. Just as the shepherd and the woman invite their neighbors and friends to celebrate with them, so Jesus says there is “joy in heaven” and “joy before the angels of God” when a sinner repents.
The Pharisees and scribes new nothing of that joy, because they knew nothing about God’s saving work through Christ. In their pride and self-righteousness, they were the truly lost – not the tax collectors and sinners who came to Jesus for life.
How about you? Do you understand that you are lost in sin, and in need of a Savior? If you do, and believe that Jesus lived, died, and was raised for you, then know that you also have been found by Hound of Heaven. He sought you that his joy – and your joy – may be full.
Soli Deo Gloria,