Who’s Who Among Followers of Jesus

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.”

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  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.” (Luke 15:1-7 NASB)

One of the the things that bothers me about the “cost of discipleship” Luke records Jesus describing at the end of chapter 14 is how impacts evangelism.  I am to share my faith, what does that mean, and how is that done exactly?  In fact, it’s really easy to simply lift Luke 14:25-35 out by itself and construct a picture devoid of evangelism; how could you evangelize if Jesus puts such impressive barriers before would-be “disciples”?  So, this next section of three parables is really important as a balance to the expensive cost of discipleship.

Before diving into the three parables though, I want to point out two thins: 1) Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 that someone who will not return from sin is to be treated as a “Gentile and tax collector”, and here that such were following Jesus.  And 2) Pharisees and scribes made up part of those following Jesus.  We think of them as entirely adversarial, when it is probably more accurate to say that those following Jesus fit a spectrum of sinners all the way to “righteous”; including many in the middle of that spectrum.  The question is how committed were they to being “disciples”.  That’s how this passage connects to the previous one.

The context is the grumbling of one group following Jesus about another group also following Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus cavorting with the sinners and tax collectors they scrupulously avoid.  Jesus explains the issue with three parables.  The first is about a lost sheep.  Ironically, this parable has a parallel in Matthew 18, where we find “church discipline”; and also where we seem to fail to connect the two dots.

The parable is about one who, having 100 sheep, loses one along the way somewhere.  He leaves the 99 in the field to find the lost one.  He’s secure in their safety in the flock.  Keep in mind this is a parable, and not necessarily a picture of actual events.  For once finding the lost sheep, the shepherd throws a party rather than returning to the flock in the story.  The point is that the shepherd rejoices and parties over the found one, not the 99 still in the flock in the field.

But keep in mind that the explanation includes a concept I will need to return to at some point, repentance. The party in heaven is over those returning to the faith, those who’s mind’s have changed to align with God’s mind; they’ve swapped their paradigm for His.  Having done that, the party begins.  What I question is whether all along their sinful path their acceptance had always been assured, but their enjoyment of the benefits of such acceptance had not.  In other words, had they excluded themselves from the benefits of the household of God, even while the access had always been available?

I ask for this reason, I wonder when or where along the spectrum of life with God, are people considered “saved”.  Although, as I read Scripture, I become more convinced that this is probably the wrong question.  I am becoming more convinced that the real question should be whether my relationship with Jesus is present or absent.  Am I enjoying the benefits of His acceptance, or have I rejected such benefits to pursue the enticements of the world.  Paul writes of Demas a few times, one of which includes a return to the faith and fellowship with Paul.  So, perhaps the issue should be about recovering those who have had a relationship and wandered off.  In which case, these parables are not about “evangelism” in any sense, but about recovery of followers.

On the other hand, the categories of tax collectors and sinners versus Pharisees and scribes argues for a more indistinct option.  These categories have more to do with fellowship within the worship of God by Israel than within the “church” so to speak.  In other words, the relationship is different.  Jesus seems to be teaching throughout that fellowship with Him restores fellowship with Israel and Israel’s worship of God.  What needs to be done is to extrapolate that and apply the concept to fellowships of believers.

Sorry for the abrupt ending, but here’s where you share what you find in this parable.  What do you find here?

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