Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Bible Book: Luke  15 : 1-10
Subject: Jesus, Love of; Witnessing; Evangelism; Soul Winning

Why seek sinners? Luke, chapter 15 contains three linked parables that explain why Jesus associates with sinners. Jesus associated with sinners who recognized their need of salvation and because their repentance brings great joy to heaven (CIT). Jesus introduces the importance of sinners in the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. The parables’ drama is built on the tension of an attempt to find something that has been lost. If the lost were important to Jesus, they should be important to His disciples.

Do you remember your first time you were lost as a child? Perhaps you’ve been hopelessly lost as an adult. I have. On one occasion I was lost during a snow storm on a ranch in the breaks of Kansas while surveying for an oil exploration company. Another time I was lost in the Amazon River Basin while doing missionary work. Most of us have lived through those traumatic experiences of being lost and being found.

Anyone who has lost anything or loses anything on a regular basis can also identify with the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In our house it is keys, the TV remote control, and my glasses that most often go AWOL. At such times an all-points bulletin sends us on a hunt for what their absent-minded father has misplaced. When it is found, all are relieved.

It is in terms of being lost and being found that Jesus talks about heaven or the kingdom of God. It is the best explanation Jesus can give us to help us understand something of what coming into the kingdom is. We must admit we are lost and in need of repentance in order to be found (CIT). Great rejoicing occurs in Heaven over each and every sinner who repents and turns to Jesus.

I. Jesus Associates with THOSE WHO LISTEN, 15:1-2.

Verse 1 begins to establish the context for the parables by noting who was there and who was listening to Jesus. “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.”

Jesus tells these parables to the religious as well as tax collectors and sinners. These stories offer comfort, especially in the face of the Pharisees and scribes' grumbling that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them (5:30, 37; 7:34, 39). The fact that tax collectors and sinners “listen” to Jesus while the leadership does not is why Jesus would associate with them rather than associating with those whom cultural norms mandated. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places. The issue of listening to Jesus is a major one in Luke mentioned at least 17 times (5:1,15; 6:17, 27, 47, 49; 7:29; 8:8-18, 21; 9:35; 10:16, 24,39; 11:28,31). To experience God's blessing, we need to listen to Him.

Verse 2 contrasts the religious folks understanding or chiding with that of the listening sinners. “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The religious folks regularly criticized Jesus. They here question His associations. Didn’t He who knew so much know what kind of people they were? Didn’t He know their reputation? He needed to get away from them before they brought Him to ruined. But to the disgust of the religious leaders, Jesus associated with those who were thought of as hopeless and “sinners.”

Jesus is going to tell a story to let them and us know how out of harmony with heaven the self-righteous attitudes are. [One of my mentors, Bob Anderson, advised me not to place value on the opinion of those who do not value the Word. Jesus certainty didn’t.]


In response to the charge that Jesus receives sinners He tells the parable(s) that follow beginning in verses 3 & 4. “So He told them this parable, saying, [4] “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?

Jesus wants to illustrate that sinners are the object of divine seeking because they are lost and in need of repentance. He begins with a pastoral scene that would have been familiar in Palestine. A shepherd had a hundred sheep [fair sized flock]. Such flocks were an economic resource, since they provided wool and mutton. During the count as he gathers the sheep at day's end, the shepherd notices that one is missing. Love for the lost sheep is so strong that the ninety-nine are left while the search is on. The sheep needs to be found; otherwise it may be permanently lost or attacked by hungry predators. It is risky to be a lost sheep, or a sheep without a shepherd. [Bock, Darrell. The IVP NT Com. Luke. InterVarsity Press, Dover Grove, IL. p.257.]

The results of the careful search are given in verse 5. “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

The search proves fruitful as the shepherd finds the straying sheep. Expressing care and concern the shepherd lifts it onto his shoulders to bring it home. [Compare Isa. 40:11; 49:22. Shepherd imagery in the OT is rich- Ps 23; Jer 31:10-14; Ezek 34:11-16; Mic 5:1-4; in the NT see Jn 10:11-12.] Given the possibility that the sheep could have been devoured, the shepherd rejoices at finding it [Bock, p.257.] and bringing it back to the fold.

In verse 6 we find the shepherd calling upon his friends to share his rejoicing with him. “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!’

Having found the lost sheep what do you do? Party! Celebrate! Rejoice! Gather all your friends and neighbors and share the good news with them. The point of the parable is that if you value something, when it is lost you will seek it our diligently, and when it is found you will rejoice.

The parable pictures God's desire to find sinners and bring them back into the fold. That is why the owner throws a party, asking his neighbors to celebrate with him since the lost sheep is found. Jesus will apply this attitude toward the lost to God in the next verse. [Evans, Craig. New International Com. Luke. 1995. Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody, Mass. p. 232.]

CHARLES COLSON was convicted and sentenced to jail. It seemed all was lost. Yet God found him in prison and gave him a whole new direction and an exciting ministry. We can also be lost in immorality. If we repent in order to find forgiveness and acceptance, it’s like the lost being found. Depression and mental illness can be forms of lostness. J. C. PENNEY, the famous storekeeper, was seriously depressed as a young man. He tells of being confined in a mental hospital suffering such severe depression that the doctors had given up on him. One morning, on hearing a commotion down the hall, he put on his bathrobe and found his way to the chapel where some people were singing about putting your trust in the Lord. Penney was the son of a Baptist preacher. He had heard all about Jesus and decided once again to trust Him. His whole life changed, and from that point until He died at ninety-five, the Lord was the center of his life. The lost was found. That story has occurred countless times in the course of human history.

In verse 7 Jesus drives home the celebration that repentance brings in heaven. “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.

The idea of celebration, joy and laughter in heaven may sound a bit irreverent. But when we look at the details of this familiar chapter, it's hard to get around the fact that Jesus was talking about people who threw a party when something lost had been found. And then He compared those celebrations to the joy in heaven.

Jesus says that repentance causes great joy in heaven. Ninety-nine self-righteous people who keep the rituals and rules bring no joy to heaven. One sinner confessing his sin and repenting sets off a festive time in heaven. God is concerned about the lost and wants them to admit their lost condition and turn to Him. He wants people to put their sinful life behind them and follow Him. Pharisees never do this. Why? They won’t admit that they are lost. They always count themselves among the saved, even though they have never repented of their sins [& begun to listening to and follow Jesus].

Do you want to start a party in heaven? Repent of your sins and be saved and heaven will explode in celebration at your spiritual birthday party. When a sinner turns to God, heaven throws a party. The prospect of such joy keeps Jesus associating with sinners. [Butler, Trent. Holman NT Com. Luke. 2000. Broadman & Holman Publishers. Nashville, TN. P. 249.] He keeps seeking the lost so that they may be found.

Someone has said that if you really I want to know a person's values, look at the things that make them happy. Thanks to Jesus' wonderful parables in Luke 15, we know one thing that brings heaven joy is the salvation of lost souls. That's because God values people more than anything else. The occupants of our future home break out in rejoicing each time a sinner is brought to faith in Christ.

[Jesus was not saying the other 99 sheep were not important. Instead, He was emphasizing that the one sheep not in the fold corresponded with the sinners with whom Jesus was eating (vv. 1–2). The 99 righteous persons refer to the Pharisees who thought themselves righteous and therefore not in need of repentance.]


The second parable of the Lost Coin reiterates Jesus’ point in the first which is that divine initiative is taken to recover that which is lost and, when the lost is found, there is joyous celebration in heaven. So Jesus gives another perspective, hoping his hearers would get the idea in verses 8 & 9. In verse 8 we learn that a silver coin has been lost. “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

A woman had saved her meager wages and amassed ten silver coins, her wages for ten days. [A silver drachma, equals a denarius, a day's wage for the average worker.] Tragedy struck; she lost one coin.

So faced with the same dilemma as the shepherd, she must decide "Do I spend time and energy on the one when I still have nine?” Of course she does! As with many things that are dropped and lost the search begins with the certainty “that it must be here somewhere.” She instigates out of season spring house cleaning. She sets out the brightest lamp she can find, lights it, takes her broom, and earnestly sweeps the floor all the while hoping it will turn up. As she sweeps the house clean she searches carefully to discover what the broom reaches.

[This message is the same as the first (similar wording in vv. 6, 9) but it emphasizes the thoroughness of the search. The woman continued to sweep the house and search carefully until she found the coin which was a thing of great value. The point would have been clear to Jesus’ listeners: the sinners with whom He was associating were extremely valuable to God.]

Verse 9 reveals the outcome of her diligent search. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

After her thorough search she finds the coin. We can almost hear her exclaim "there it is!" in relief as the search ends successfully. She reaches down and snatches it up. Like the shepherd, this woman calls her friends and neighbors to celebrate together the discovery of the lost coin.

Is there any significant difference between the two parables? At their most basic level they make the same point. The second parable, however, stresses the search a little more than the first. Recovering a lost sinner can take diligent effort. But the effort is worth it when the lost is found. The thought is that sinners should know that God is diligently looking for them.

For emphases in verse 10 Jesus repeats the message of verse 7. “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Both these parables drive home the point that it is natural to rejoice when something is recovered. The courts of heaven are full of joyous praise in a far far greater way when a sinner turns to God. There are no greater joys in heaven than when a sinner turns to Jesus in repentance.

Notice the phrase “over one sinner who repents.” Many Christians have succumbed to the false notion that their witness to one individual doesn't count for much. But that certainly isn't supported by what we read in the Gospels. Even though Jesus’ public ministry was limited to a little more than 3 years, He wasn’t "too big" or to deal with one person or too rushed to overlook one person.

Jesus never lost sight of the value of one soul! How encouraging to read of His conversation at night with an individual named Nicodemus (John 3); of His visit with one woman at the well of Samaria (John 4); and of His personal interest in one little man Zaccheus, who was sitting up in a sycamore tree (Luke 19).

If you are ever tempted to minimize the value of your personal, individual witness to a single soul, remember Jesus' example. The Bible says there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents!

We can also be discouraged when we think of the multitudes of non-Christians we encounter in the task of telling others about Jesus. Then when we consider the number of people around the world who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the job before us. But when we begin to feel hopelessness, we can be encouraged by the fact that people are saved one at a time. We can not reach everyone, but we can reach someone, and each and every person is important to God.

To underscore this point let me share they story of a boy walking ON THE BEACH. An older fellow was out at dawn one morning walking the beach. He noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left there for the morning sun. ‘But the beach goes on for thousands of miles and there are multiplied thousands of starfish,’ countered the man. 'How can your effort make any real difference?' The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. 'It makes a difference to this one,' he said." [Hugh Duncan, Leadership Journal.]

I love that youth’s perspective. Sometimes the task seems so great that we don't even try to witness. But just as a huge wall is built one brick at a time, so the church, the body of Christ, is built one soul at a time. Speak therefore of Jesus to your neighbors. Tell the good news to that person God has brought into your life. Think of the eternal difference it will make if he or she receives Christ. That's the importance of one.

So Jesus has taught us that a repentant sinner brings great celebration and joy to heaven. The question lingers “Does it bring the same joy and celebration to me, or to you?” Do you share God’s feelings of love and mercy for sinners? Is your heart truly concerned for the lost, for their eternal soul so that when one repentance your heart swells with exuberant joy? My prayer for you is that this week the results of your witness will flood heaven with exuberant joy.


These parables both explain and justify Jesus’ actions in associating with tax collectors and sinners [in response to v. 2]. Is our attitude toward sinners more in line with the heart of heaven or is it more like that of the Pharisees?

Jesus associated with sinners who recognized their need of salvation and because their repentance would bring great joy to all of heaven (CIT). Because of Jesus example, His disciples should diligently engage in the search for sinners on behalf of the Master they serve. Jesus provides a clear example for us to follow. Jesus involved Himself with sinners; so should disciple. Finding lost "sheep" and missing "coins" is a disciple's priority. Remember that the salvation [and homecoming] of one lost person causes great rejoicing in heaven, and it should bring us great joy as well.


Perhaps God has laid someone on your heart and you want to come to the altar to pray for them. Perhaps the salvation of no one is on your heart; then you need to come to the altar and ask God to give you Jesus’ heart for the lost. Or perhaps you’re a lost sheep in need of repentance or a lost coin in of finding. You come, as the Spirit leads, for the Good Shepherd is seeking to find you right now. Are you listening to Jesus? Is Jesus reaching out to you? Then you come, take up your cross and follow Him.