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  • Not Even Close (Life Group discussion notes)

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    By telling three short parables in Luke 15, Jesus was trying to teach the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees that they were a long way off from understanding what is wrong with the world and what the solution is. For much of this new preaching series we will be looking at the third parable about the two sons, but to help set the scene we’ll be focusing here on sheep and coins.

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    1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying,“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
    3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:3-10)

    Sinners and Tax Collectors

    Though the Jews would have been considered themselves and everyone as sinful and in need of God’s forgiveness, there was a group of people marginalised by rest of society labelled as ‘Sinners’ for whom their sin was their identity. They were trapped in a downward spiral of harmful behaviours that defined and confined them.

    These people were attracted to Jesus who afforded them the same respect and love that he showed to everyone else. They were also drawn to His message of forgiveness and purpose. There’s no partiality in Jesus, and He is drawn to those who want to hear.

    Scribes and Pharisees

    In contrast, the scribes and Pharisees hadn’t come to ‘hear’ Jesus, they had come to critique. They were religious leaders who wanted people to change and live holy lives but tried to do this by showing them up rather than lifting them up. They set lots of little rules and then kept to them to motivate people by feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

    It’s Worse Than You Think

    These parables are a passionate appeal from Jesus to help the scribes and Pharisees see that people can’t be changed by setting rules and making them feel guilty for not keeping them. That would be like giving a map and a complex set of directions to a lost sheep!

    The problem is far more complex than they knew. In giving three pictures of lost things, Jesus is sharing a multi-dimensional understanding of what is wrong with people. Take for example a man who is regularly angry and abusive towards those closest to him. Why is he like this? Is it…

    1) Because of genetics? There’s something in his DNA that means he reacts angrily because of a chemical imbalance in his brain - just like the sheep who is hard-wired to seek grass even if it means going half-way down a treacherous cliff to get it.
    2) Someone else’s fault? Maybe it’s because of poor parenting or abuse as a child - in the same way that the coin was ‘mismanaged’ by its guardian.
    3) Something spiritual? Maybe there’s something wrong with him that doesn’t have a physical root or explanation. Is there a selfish pride that leads him on a downward spiral of poor decisions that harm others - as with the rebellious son in the third parable?

    With these three metaphors, Jesus is saying that sin is deeply complex. It is inborn in you, it is magnified by sinful treatment, and it is deepened and shaped by your own choices. Moreover, Jesus is telling them that the fatal wound in people can’t be self-cured; people can contribute about as much to their salvation as sheep or a coin can to their rescue.

    It’s Not Just ‘Them’

    In painting the picture of lost people being like lost sheep, Jesus would probably have made the scribes and Pharisees think of Isaiah 53:6:

    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to our own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.

    Gently, Jesus is helping them to see that He’s not just talking about ‘younger brother’ rebellious types. He’s also telling these ‘older brother’ religious types that they are just as lost. As He gets to the second parable about the coin, it’s clear that Jesus is drawing the attention away from the lost things and towards the owner and rescuer.

    The God of Grace…

    I love the line in the first parable that describes the shepherd as one who will search for the sheep ‘until he finds it’. Until he finds it; full commitment; failure not an option; nothing held back.
    The only way for us to be rescued from the complex sin that holds us in a death-grip, is for someone, motivated by love, to put everything on the line in order to search and rescue.
    Jesus is the shepherd who was willing to take the full weight and burden of our rescue on His shoulders; giving everything for us, enduring the cross and bearing the wrath so that we would never have to. Salvation is given to us as a free gift, dependent on Jesus’s work alone.

    ...and Joy

    In hearing the grumbling of the religious leaders, Jesus must have been grieved. People would have looked to these people to understand what God is like, and here they are skulking around as miserable grumblers. I think that’s why Jesus mentions joy and rejoicing so much in these two parables. A short time after telling these parables, Jesus knew that he would have to endure the cross, but as Hebrews 12:2 says, He was happy to do this ‘for the joy set before Him’. He was looking ahead to a time when sinners could be made new and enjoy the love and fellowship that He had been enjoying with Father and Spirit for eternity. He wants people to realise that God is a happy God. With ungrudging delight The Father gives us The Spirit so that we can experience the joy of adoption.

    Once____, now_____

    Once lost, now found. Once dead, now alive. Once a sinner, now a child of God. Jesus is the God who brings about complete change and new identity in an instant. All we need to do is hear with faith, express this faith in repentance, and then receive the joy of adoption and the incredible indwelling of The Helper - the Holy Spirit who empowers a new life where our sin now longer defines and confines us.

    Questions:

    1) Is there anything from Sunday that God really highlighted for you or that you’re not sure of?

    2) Are you or have you ever been defined and confined by a bad reputation?

    3) What defines you most now? Your job? Your relationship/family status? Your identity in Christ?

    4) Are the broken and marginalised attracted to you? Are you drawn to them?

    5) Do you tend to fixate of small things or slip into trying to earn your salvation like the scribes and Pharisees? (read Matt 23:23-24 if you have time)

    6) Do you regard God as a happy God? Do you know in your gut that the Father rejoices over you? Can others see evidence of this joy in you? (read Zephaniah 3:17 if you have time)

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