(Article originally published the week of 9-17-2008 AD)
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). In recent articles, I have been labouring to set before you the Biblical doctrine of repentance. Repentance is one of the main and indispensable evidences of regeneration. All men are commanded to repent, yet God must grant repentance. Jesus began His earthly ministry calling on sinners to repent. No one is saved apart from repentance, yet repentance itself does not save. Only the atoning work of Christ can put away sin. A sinner could cry the Gulf of Mexico full of tears, and it would not be enough to wash away his sins. But the precious blood of Christ will wash away the foulest and blackest of sins.
Now here is a wonderful truth about repentance- there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents. In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a parable to illustrate His doctrine of repentance. Actually , it is a three part parable. The first part of the parable is the part of the man who had a hundred sheep and one was lost. Then the second part is the woman who had ten pieces of silver and lost one. And then the third part of the parable is that we call the Parable of the Lost Son. Each of these parables is teaching us something significant about repentance.
First of all let us note the occasion for which Jesus spoke this parable (or parables). At the beginning of Luke 15 we read that the publicans and sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him. Because of this, the Pharisees and Scribes murmured against Jesus. They were astounded that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. My poor sinner friend, are you not indeed glad that Jesus receives sinners? Why, here is the good news of the gospel- Jesus receives sinners! But the religious people could not rejoice in that because they did not perceive they were sinners. So Jesus began to speak the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. He illustrated His grace that brings salvation as like a man who had a hundred sheep and one was lost. The man left the ninety and nine “in the wilderness” (Note, “in the wilderness” , not in the fold), and went to find the lost sheep. And when he had found it , he called his friends to rejoice with him, for he found his lost sheep. And so he says there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, than over ninety and nine persons who “need no repentance.”
Now here is the first point we need to see from the parable. There are no “ninety and nine persons who need no repentance.” The Pharisees and scribes certainly thought they were in the category of folks who need no repentance, but they were dead wrong. And so Jesus always leaves such folks right where they are- “in the wilderness” , in their own self righteousness to go on to hell with their smug self satisfaction. But, praise be to His sovereign grace, He goes and finds those who are His lost sheep, those who are sinners and know it. The ninety and nine sheep in the parable illustrate for us all those who feel good about themselves and have no need of a Saviour because they are (as they suppose, though eternally wrongly), “just persons which have need of no repentnace. ”The one lost sheep illustrates for us those to whom Christ grants repentance and goes and finds them and saves them.
Now my dear readers, how do you see yourself? Are you a lost sheep who needs a sovereign Saviour to come and find you, or are you a “just person who needs no repentance” ? May the Holy Spirit give you the answer.