Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Bethany Bullet - January 4, 2011

Christmas and New Years have come and gone. Another season of office parties, cookie baking, gift-wrapping, champagne toasting, and merry making is over and done. As you look back over the past few weeks, are you happy? Is your heart still filled with the joy of the shepherds, or the wonder of the wise men? Are you still ready to rejoice?

Perhaps, you are ready just to relax, to take a break. Or could it be that your happiness has only been superficial? Down deep you are hurting, joy is not the norm. The grief has returned. The guilt that seemed to take a break is back. The great feeling of loss continues to confound.

Go to another party? Write up a bunch of invitations? Forget about it! I am still trying to clean up the mess from the last one. The feeling of happiness that seemed to be so close has been lost.

If this does not describe you now, I bet you remember a time when it did; a time where you seemed to feel lost, empty, alone.

Sunday’s text is from Luke 15. We have three stories. Each story speaks of something lost and of something found, and at the end of each one Jesus describes a party, a celebration.
• The Shepherd throws a party for the lost-now-found sheep.
• The Woman throws a party for the lost-now-found coin.
• The Father throws a party in honor of his lost-now-found son.
Three parables, each with a party; three stories, each with the appearance of the same word translated as joyfully, rejoice, and be glad.

Regarding the shepherd, Jesus says, “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (v. 5-6)

When the woman finds her coin, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” (v. 9)

And the father of the prodigal son explains to the reluctant older brother, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (v. 32)

The point is clear. Jesus is happiest and all of heaven rejoices when the lost are found. For Him, no moment compares to that moment when someone comes to faith. The rejoicing in heaven begins not when the saints arrive, but when the journey of faith begins.

The moment one dons the garb of grace; heaven pours the punch, strings the streamers and throws the confetti, as Jesus says, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (v. 15)

How do we explain such joy? Why such a stir? You’ve got to admit the excitement is a bit curious. We aren’t talking about a nation of people or even a city of souls; we are talking about joy, “over one sinner who repents.” How could one person create that much excitement? We can live and die and leave no more than an obituary. Dare we think that God is paying attention? According to this verse, He is!

To our sinful minds this is remarkable. As far as we know from scripture, heaven throws no party over our other achievements. When we graduate from school or open our business or have a baby, the celestial bubbly stays in the refrigerator. So why the big deal when someone comes to faith?

We don’t always share such enthusiasm, do we? When you witness a baptism here in church, or hear of someone who comes to faith, do you drop everything and celebrate? Is your good day made better, or your bad day salvaged? We may be pleased, we even clap in church at a baptism, but exuberant? Come on! Do we feel the urge to call out the band and cut the cake and have a party? But when one sinner repents, the heart of Jesus becomes like Times Square on New Years, filled with cheer and hope and great rejoicing. Can the same be said about us?

It was a party of a different sort that was the reason for all of this. It was a party filled with selfishness and sin that cried out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It was a murderous party that brought Jesus to trial and soon celebrated as He climbed Calvary. They rejoiced in seeing the troublesome Rabbi punished. They mocked Him upon the cross. They reveled in what was done. And the revelers in that party include you and me. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

But in the midst of our sinful celebration, the heart of Jesus is made evident. Even when we don’t fully realize the horror of hell, Jesus does. As He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows the utter loneliness of separation of the Father and He does not desire for us to know what that is like. As Jesus breathed His last, He secured for us a spot in the heavenly celebration. That is quite a bit of excitement from one person.

Imagine that party…a place where God isn’t. You think people are cruel now, imagine it without the presence of God. You think there is loneliness, despair, and guilt now, imagine life without the touch of Jesus:
o No forgiveness, no hope, no acts of kindness, no words of love;
o No more food given in His name, no more songs sung to His praise.
o No more deeds done in His honor, no joy, and no celebration.
o No one to comfort you and no music to soothe you.
Not a party I would enjoy.

Why do Jesus and His angels rejoice over one repenting sinner? Can they see something we can’t? Do they know something we don’t? Absolutely!

They know what heaven holds. They’ve seen the banquet table, and they’ve heard the music, and they can’t wait to see your face when you arrive. At last you will have a heart like His. You will love with perfect love. You will worship with a radiant face. You will hear each word God speaks.

Your heart will be pure, your words will be like jewels, and your thoughts will be like treasures. You will be just like Jesus, at long last, have a heart like His—guiltless, fearless, thrilled and joyous, tirelessly worshipping, flawlessly discerning, celebrating eternally. A happy heart comes to us in the One who defeated death and rose on Easter. All of heaven rejoices at the idea of a celestial celebration with no weeping or gnashing of teeth. And that joy is ours today.

Our hearts can be happy because Jesus brings the victory to us and forgives all of our sinful celebration as He invites us to the celebration of His banquet table on earth, for this is a place of true joy, a place where happiness comes to us, a place where the lost are found.

Can you see now why the angels rejoice when one sinner repents? Jesus knows what waits, and He wants us to know that as well. To have a heart like his is to look into the faces of the saved and rejoice!

Not only does Jesus invite all to the celebration, He sends us on a mission to deliver the invitations. To have a heart like Jesus is to know what the angels know, celebrate with the saints and send invitations to those who may not have heard the Good News. Everything we do should be as an invitation to the party and when we hear that the guest list has increased, celebrate with reckless abandon for “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

We may feel lost at times, but we have a God who finds us, and celebrates with us, whose heart is happy at the thought of spending eternity with His children, a God who is here to give us a heart like His. So rejoice, celebrate, for we have been found!

Pastor Seth Moorman


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