If there’s one thing that leaps off the page in Luke 15 (other than the well-known prodigal son) it’s the joy of salvation. But not just the joy of those people being saved!
Much of the joy of salvation we see here is about the joy that takes place in heaven when someone becomes a Christian. More, we’ll see how heaven’s joy of salvation is also to be experienced by other Christians across God’s church.
Three connected parables
Luke 15 has three parables all connected by similar themes of things that are lost and found, and the joy of finding them. They were all spoken by Jesus to people who were amazingly joyless.
Read Luke 15:1-2.
- Jesus has been teaching about how someone comes to the kingdom of God throughout chapters 13 and 14.
- He made it clear that your sin (the wrong things that you’ve done, or thought, or said) will keep you out of God’s kingdom.
- You can’t fix that. Doing good won’t undo your wrong.
- But Jesus is the narrow door through which you can come to God.
- Repent of the sin that would exclude you, and come to God for forgiveness.
- That was chapter 13; in chapter 14 he described God’s kingdom as a great feast, a banquet that God himself is hosting – and you’re invited!
- But your attachment to the things of this world will distract you and keep you away.
- Still, God stands with arms open wide as an invitation to you. He invites everyone!
Obviously, if your sin and your attachment to the world keep you from the narrow door (from entrance to God’s kingdom through Jesus), you need to leave them at the door when you do come.
And that is more demanding than we realise (last week).
People who think they’re ok won’t come to Jesus. But if you know you’re not, if you know you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness, then you’ll come to him: “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him.” (v1) Of course they were.
And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Of course he does. That’s the good news.
What’s going on?
But look what’s going on:
- “The kingdom of God is for us nice, good, upright people – not that load of scally ne’er do wells!”
- No rejoicing among them, just complaining and grumbling.
- So Jesus corrects them with three parables.
The first is the shepherd who has lost one of his 100 sheep. He searches for it, he finds it, rejoices, and invites his friends to celebrate with him.
The second is the woman who lost one of her 10 coins. She searches for it, finds it, rejoices, and invites her friends to celebrate with her.
When someone repents of their sin, says Jesus, there’s joy in heaven like that. Joy in heaven. No complaining anywhere.
Then he gives the parable of the prodigal son, though obviously there are two sons. (‘Prodigal’ means reckless and wasteful.)
- The younger son said to his father, “Give me my inheritance now.” Almost: “I wish you were dead.”
- So the father divides the inheritance between the two.
- Off the son goes, blows the lot, and realises the mess he’s made. He decides to crawl back to his father in genuine humility – as a servant, no longer a son.
- On his return, there’s joy. Lots of it.
- The father runs out to him (unseemly in that culture, but he doesn’t care). He has compassion and passion, and it’s lovely. There’s a big celebration. His son lives!
- But not from the older son.
- His lack of joy at the younger son’s repentance keeps him from the feast!
- The older son has his share of his father’s property, but none of his father’s compassion or love.
- He is as self-seeking as his younger brother was.
Rejoice that salvation is of the Lord
The phrase “salvation is of the Lord” is a Bible phrase (Psalm 3, Jonah 2) that reminds us that God is the one who saves from start to finish.
- He chose his people in love, in Christ, before the foundation of the world.
- While we were yet sinners, Christ died to take the punishment of death that your sins deserve.
- Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and that is what you are. He came to save you.
He is the shepherd searching for his lost sheep, or the woman searching for her lost coin – he won’t give up, and he will succeed in finding all his people.
You know you are a sinful person; there’s much you’ve done wrong. You also know that there is a God who is righteous and just and must punish all sin.
- The wages of your sin is your death – physical death, yes; but also eternal death, eternally separated from God.
- You can’t undo that.
- But salvation is of the Lord, so God the Father sent his Son to the earth as a man to collect your wages – to die for you.
- Turn from the sin that excludes you: Repent!
- Trust Jesus to have died for you, ask for his forgiveness.
Then you will suffer physical death, but not eternal death. From the moment you become a Christian, you are joined to God in Christ – the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you.
Step through the narrow way
That inevitably feels like quite a journey for you, and then you realise the miracle, the wonder of it all:
- God has been searching you out all along.
- He was always going to find you.
- He knew you, and loved you from before you were born.
God gave you Jesus to be the narrow way into the kingdom of God.
- As you approach that narrow way, over the door you (as it were) you see the words, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest for your souls.”
- As you step through and look back, on this side over the door you see, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
It’s God’s work from start to finish. And you’re invited. God generously invites you and everyone to come to enjoy the feast of his presence. And when you come, you come like the younger brother, humbly and with trepidation. But God is like that father, “filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.” God himself rejoices and delights in your salvation.
Enter into the Father’s delight
Make no mistake about this: These parables very much emphasise God’s own delight at your salvation!
- Luke 15:10 I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.
- Because repentance is the only way to come to God for forgiveness of sin, entrance through the narrow door.
Why does that need saying?
There’s a sense from some atheist quarters that the God of the Bible is some sort of vindictive, unjust judge who just loves to throw people in hell. But this is what the Bible actually says:
- Ezekiel 33:11 As I live—this is the declaration of the LORD God—I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?
- 1 Timothy 2:3-4 speaks of how God loves you to pray for everyone because that “pleases God our Saviour, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The delight you see in these parables (the shepherd, the woman, the father with his son) all reflect God’s pleasure at finding / saving you.
When you become a Christian, there’s tremendous delight for you. There’s delight for God and for all the angels before him! But there’s more:
- As the Holy Spirit enters into you, you come into union with Christ, the Son of God.
- God the Son is in you, and you are in him.
- You have ‘union with Christ’.
- Even more, you are adopted by God.
- Salvation is far more from being kept from hell.
- It is about entering into family union with God.
- He is your Father. You are adopted.
Union with God
And get this: God dwells in his own unimaginable, unchangeable happiness and bliss.
- He cannot change; he cannot become more happy or more blissful than he is – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- And you have union with that God, with that eternally unchanging bliss.
When I say, “enter into the Father’s joy” I mean two things:
- Repent of your sin, know his forgiveness, and experience his joyful acceptance of you.
- And enjoy him, as you participate in him, experience his strengthening, his love, his help, his presence in time of need. Your union with him puts you in union with unlimited, eternal bliss.
- While you struggle through this life, he will help you because he loves you.
- And the prospect of your eternal life is one of joy in God, with God, to God forever.
This is something of the joy and feasting that Jesus is hinting at in these parables. And so, united to God by faith in Christ, you have fellowship with him. Which means you will increasingly find joy at what he finds joyful.
And that is the lesson those Pharisees and scribes needed to know. They were actually complaining that Jesus was welcoming sinners. They were like the older brother, totally out of step with the joy of the Father at a sinner’s repentance and return.
Have humble delight
It’s easy to think of yourself as the younger brother, if you’re a Christian.
- You’ve repented of your sin and gone to the Father for forgiveness.
- You discovered him to be running towards you, with arms outstretched, welcoming you and inviting you to a feast of joy and welcome.
But here’s an uncomfortable truth: Over time, you can easily become more like the older brother! Out of step with the Father. You’ll feel it in how you relate to visitors, seekers, and younger Christians.
Imagine that younger brother coming to this church. He won’t be quite the same; but the effect will.
- Someone with a messed-up life.
- They might say things that are offensive, or even swear.
- Everyone has baggage; no-one has a perfect life.
- But Jesus welcomes sinners; God rejoices over their repentance.
- So don’t get grumpy if they’re not what you want them to be. All 3 parables ended with collective rejoicing. Don’t stand outside of that.
The older brother had stuck with dad. He’d seen that ‘loser’ brother go off and blow half the family estate.
Not him. This was his place, and no-one would spoil it.
Don’t be the older brother!
It’s easy to get in a frame of mind that this is somehow “your” church, or your job, or your seat. Sinners spoil things for you.
- My wife and I visited a church where I was speaking and when my wife sat down she was asked to move because “that was so-and-so’s seat”.
- The person asking didn’t know she was with me; she could have been anyone in off the street in real spiritual need, or a hurting sinner in need of compassion.
The blessing and bliss of God flows outwards from him to us. When a broken sinner comes to God, and comes to church, rejoice as the Father does. Welcome, as the Father does. Jesus welcomes sinners.
Do you ever complain that someone can’t sing, or makes too much noise, or says inappropriate things, or… [whatever]? Rejoice that they’re here.
Do you find that you’re more of a complainer than a rejoicer? Be very careful.
When people are added to the church, rejoice. They will change us all; when two families are joined by a marriage both families are changed.
- One family doesn’t “absorb” the other.
- When someone is added to a church, the church changes. And everyone added to a church brings baggage – needs, hurts, history, expectations. They’re different from you.
Be sure to celebrate. Don’t be like the older brother. Have the Father’s compassion, passion, love and joy.
And share God’s feast, joyfully, extravagantly, freely with all all and sundry – to the very great glory and joy of God himself.