C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” * No doubt he was right. The stories Jesus tells in Luke 15 give us some insight into that serious business of heaven’s joy. The context is set up for us by Luke.
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.”
The self-righteous see sinners and reject them. Jesus never affirms us in our sin, but he sure enjoys the company of sinners. And they seem to consistently enjoy him. He illustrates his attitude toward them, first with a story about sheep.
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 neighbors, 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.
For Jesus and for his Father, it was joyful seeking and saving the lost. A sinner who repents brings joy to heaven. We probably can’t fathom the full extent of the serious business of such joy. Jesus goes on.
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 neighbors, 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.”
Again the lost is found. The sinner repents. Again, according to Jesus, heaven and the angels of God get down to the serious business of joy.
If we want to make heaven joyful, we should be asking ourselves what the best sort of repentance looks like. Jesus makes it clearer in his next story. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 to learn more.
The shepherd, the woman and the father in the stories all stand for God. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost – that is, the prodigal – son all stand for the sinner who repents, who is lost, but is then found. We need to all see ourselves in the place of the prodigal, the lost sheep or the lost coin. God seeks us out, and when he finds us, we repent and turn to him.
So yes, there is a sort of tension between God doing the seeking and finding and our repenting. He does something and we do something. It isn’t one or the other, it is both at the same time. We need not worry about whether God is going to do his part, but whether we do, that is another question.
Let’s make heaven rejoice by turning wholeheartedly back to God. Saving sinners is serious business and a serious cause for joy. It took Jesus going to the cross to accomplish the task. Does that sound joyful to you? In a way, it was. Let’s close with Hebrews 12:1-2.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
* in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 93.