by J. C. Ryle
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners, and eats with them. And he spoke this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, does not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
The chapter which begins with these verses, is as well known to Bible readers as any. Few chapters perhaps have done more good to the souls of men. Let us take heed that it does good to us.
We should first observe in these verses — the striking testimony which was borne to our Lord by His enemies. We read that when "all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him, the Scribes and Pharisees murmured, saying: This man receives sinners, and eats with them!"
These words were evidently spoken with surprise and scorn — and not with pleasure and admiration. These ignorant guides of the Jews could not understand a religious preacher having anything to do with wicked people! Yet their words worked for good. The very saying which was meant for a reproach — was adopted by the Lord Jesus as a true description of His ministry. It led to His speaking three of the most instructive parables which ever fell from His lips.
The testimony of the Scribes and Pharisees was strictly and literally true — the Lord Jesus is indeed one who "receives sinners." He receives them — to pardon them, to sanctify them, and to make them fit for Heaven. It is His special office to do so. For this end He came into the world. He came not to call the righteous — but sinners to repentance. He came into the world to save sinners. What He was upon earth — He is now at the right hand of God, and will be to all eternity. He is emphatically the sinner's Friend.
Have we any sense of sin? Do we feel bad, and wicked, and guilty, and deserving of God's wrath? Is the remembrance of our past lives, bitter to us? Does the recollection of our past conduct, make us ashamed? Then we are the very people who ought to apply to Christ — just as we are, pleading nothing good of our own, and making no useless delay. Christ will receive us graciously, pardon us freely, and give us eternal life. He is the One who "receives sinners." Let us not be lost, for lack of applying to Him that we may be saved.
We should observe, secondly, in these verses — the remarkable figures under which our Lord describes His own love towards sinners. We read that in reply to the taunting remark of His enemies He spoke three parables — the parables of the lost sheep, the lost piece of silver, and the prodigal son. The first two of these parables are now before us. All three are meant to illustrate one and the same truth. They all throw strong light on Christ's willingness to save sinners.
Christ's love is an active, working love. Just as the shepherd did not sit still bewailing his lost sheep, and the woman did not sit still bewailing her lost money — so our blessed Lord did not sit still in Heaven pitying sinners.
He left the glory which He had with the Father, and humbled Himself to be made in the likeness of man. He came down into the world to seek and save those who were lost. He never rested until He had made atonement for our transgressions, brought in everlasting righteousness, provided eternal redemption, and opened a door of life to all who are willing to be saved.
Christ's love is a self-denying love. The shepherd brought his lost sheep home on his own shoulders — rather than leave it in the wilderness. The woman lit a candle, and swept the house, and searched diligently, and spared no pains — until she found her lost money. In the same way did Christ not spare Himself, when he undertook to save sinners. "He endured the cross, scorning the shame." He "laid down His life for His friends." Greater love than this, cannot be shown. (John 15:13. Hebrews 12:2.)
Christ's love is a deep and mighty love. Just as the shepherd rejoiced to find his sheep, and the woman to find her money — so does the Lord Jesus rejoice to save sinners. It is a real pleasure to Him to pluck them as brands from the burning. It was His "food and drink," when upon earth, to finish the work which He came to do. He felt constrained in spirit until it was accomplished. It is still His delight to show mercy. He is far more willing to save sinners — than sinners are to be saved.
Let us strive to know something of this love of Christ. It is a love that truly surpasses knowledge — it is unspeakable and unsearchable. It is that on which we must wholly rest our souls, if we would have peace with God in time, and glory in eternity. If we take comfort in our own love to Christ — then we are building on a sandy foundation. But if we lean on Christ's love to us — we are firmly on a rock.
We should observe, lastly, in these verses — the wide encouragement which our Lord holds out to repentance. We read these striking words, "There shall be joy in Heaven, over one sinner who repents." We read the same thought again after a few verses, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner who repents." The thing is doubled, to make doubt impossible. The idea is repeated, in order to meet man's unbelief.
There are deep things in these sayings, beyond doubt. Our poor weak minds are little able to understand how the perfect joy of Heaven can admit of increase.
But one thing, at any rate, stands out clearly on the face of these expressions. There is an infinite willingness on God's part to receive sinners. However wicked a man may have been — in the day that he really turns from his wickedness and comes to God by Christ — God is well-pleased. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked — but God has pleasure in true repentance.
Let the man who is afraid to repent, consider well the verses we are now looking at, and be afraid no more. There is nothing on God's part to justify his fears. An open door is set before him. A free pardon awaits him. "If we confess our sins — then God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9.)
Let the man who is ashamed to repent, consider these verses, and cast shame aside. What though the world mocks and jests at his repentance? While man is mocking — angels are rejoicing! The very change which sinners call foolishness — is a change which fills Heaven with joy.
Have we repented ourselves? This, after all, is the principal question which concerns us. What shall it profit us to know Christ's love — if we do not use it? "If you know these things — blessed are you if you do them." (John 13:17.)