Jesus said, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). Because we are one of many people who have been saved, we could wonder if our salvation is meaningful to God. But there is joy in heaven, not just over hundreds or thousands of people’s salvation, but over one sinner who repents.
Table of Contents
- There Is Joy in Heaven Over One Sinner’s Salvation
- What Brings God the Greatest Joy in Heaven?
- God’s Joy in Heaven Over Just One Lost Sinner Being Found
- The Lord Seeks and the Sinner Repents
Luke 15:7 “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. 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.” repents.”
The silver coin is a drachma, which was a Greek coin roughly equivalent to the Roman denarius, which was equal to the pay for one day’s labor. When Jewish girls were married they received ten silver coins as wedding gifts. They would wear the coins in a headband to show that they were married. Losing one of the coins meant more than just the loss of financial value, because the coins also held sentimental value. It might be like losing one of the stones in your wedding ring.
Ancient houses were dark because they didn’t have lights in them like we do. If this woman was going to find her lost coin, she was going to have to “light a lamp” to do so. Just as a woman would rejoice over a stone missing from her wedding ring, so too would a woman rejoice over finding one of her ten lost coins.
But this parable this isn’t primarily about a woman searching for and finding a lost coin. It is primarily about how hard Jesus works to find lost sinners. He lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and seeks diligently until finding them. We only need to think about Him hanging on that cross to see the full length He would go to seek and save the lost.
There Is Joy in Heaven Over One Sinner’s Salvation
Just to make it abundantly clear that the parable is not primarily about a woman searching for a coin, Jesus spelled it out: “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Rejoicing over lost sinners is not something that is only important to people on earth. All of Heaven wants to see people saved.
I want to draw your attention to something that I don’t think would be initially obvious. Look back at verse 5…
Luke 15:5 And when he has found it (the lost sheep), he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:6 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.’
It makes sense that the shepherd rejoices when he finds the lost sheep, but doesn’t it seem excessive? He calls together his friends and neighbors and tells them to rejoice with him. This is what we would expect for something major like a wedding or graduation.
It’s the same in verse 9: “She calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'” Imagine a woman finds her lost wedding ring. Can you imagine her calling her friends and neighbors and telling them to rejoice with her? This is what we might expect for a child that was missing and then returned, but not for a lost coin.
Jesus often spoke with hyperbole, or exaggeration to make a point: “Cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, a camel goes through the eye of a needle, hate your parents and children.” This is another example. Nobody would act this way over a lost sheep or lost coin being found.
Why present such an absurd situation? For the same reason Jesus always used hyperbole: to make a point. He wanted to show the Lord’s joy over lost sinners being saved. Verse 10 says, “There is joy BEFORE THE ANGELS.” This isn’t simply saying there’s joy in heaven. This is about God’s joy, because He’s the One before the angels! We should also rejoice over lost sinners being saved. To do so is to be like God.
What Brings God the Greatest Joy in Heaven?
There are two themes in these parables. The first is joy. The word joy or rejoice occurs five times in verses five through 10. Have you ever wondered what brings God joy? I’m sure:
- When we have marriages that reflect Christ and the church it brings God joy.
- When we raise our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord it brings Him joy.
- When children obey and honor their parents it brings Him joy.
But it seems clear that one thing in Scripture brings God more joy than anything else, and that is lost sinners being saved. Sadly, William Barclay said many of the religious people in Jesus’s day had a saying, “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.” The thinking of the day was that the Lord rejoiced over people’s condemnation. This is not hard to believe considering the religious leaders’ criticism of Jesus in verse 2: “The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus preached the parables in Luke 115 to show the opposite is true.
The religious leaders’ grumbling is contrasted with the Lord’s joy:
- Luke 15:2 The Pharisees and the scribes GRUMBLED, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
- Luke 15:5 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. 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.”
There is complaining on earth but rejoicing in heaven over the same event. This shows how far the religious leaders’ hearts were from God’s heart. More than likely these parables served as subtle criticisms of the religious leaders. The shepherd and the woman call together their friends and neighbors to tell them to rejoice over the lost sheep and lost coin that are found. Likewise, the religious leaders should be rejoicing over lost sinners being found. Instead, they grumbled.
God’s Joy in Heaven Over Just One Lost Sinner Being Found
The parable could be about the shepherd finding lots of lost sheep, or the woman finding multiple lost coins. But instead, the emphasis is on one:
Luke 15:4 “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?…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…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?…10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over ONE SINNER who repents.”
With so many people throughout history, it is easy to feel like we are not special to God. We are one of so many who have been saved, it is easy to wonder, “Could my salvation really be that meaningful to God?” These parables answer that question. There’s joy in heaven, not just over the salvation of hundreds or thousands, but over one sinner who repents!
Jesus wants us to see the joy the Father experiences, not when hundreds of sheep are found, or an entire coin collection is found, or every rebellious son repents? This is the joy when just one sinner repents. Each and every person matters this much to God the Father. The repentance of one person gives the Lord this much joy!
If you ever start to feel like you’re one of millions of Christians, and therefore not important to the Lord, turn to Luke 15 and see the joy He experienced when one sinner was saved. Consider that’s how He felt when you were saved!
God’s Joy Is Our Reward
We might not often think of God rejoicing, or experiencing joy, but we should, because this is far from the only place in Scripture that presents God this way.
The parable of the talents is about a man who represents the Lord. He goes on a journey and leaves people with talents, which represent the different gifts and abilities God gives us. He expects us to use the talents for His glory. When He returns, we will give an account of our faithfulness. The first two servants were faithful and if you weren’t familiar with the account, what would you expect the master to say when rewarding them? I would expect him to say, “Enter into heaven,” or even “Enter into THE JOY of heaven.” Instead, it says, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into THE JOY OF YOUR MASTER’” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Although I am sure we will experience joy when we enter heaven, interestingly, their reward isn’t the joy they themselves will experience. Their reward is experiencing the master’s joy with him. They are offered the master’s joy. It is possessive. The joy belongs to the master. He experiences joy over their faithfulness, and He offers that joy to them as a reward.
God Rejoices Over Us
Isaiah 62:5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, SO SHALL YOUR GOD REJOICE OVER YOU.
This is a beautiful verse. Aside from perhaps the way parents rejoice over their children, few things cause people to rejoice as much as a groom rejoices over his bride. Yet this verse says that God rejoices over us the way that a groom rejoices over his bride. That is incredible!
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU WITH GLADNESS; he will quiet you by his love; he will EXULT OVER YOU WITH LOUD SINGING.
Sometimes we might be more likely to think of God being annoyed or irritated with us, but in this verse He “rejoices over us with gladness and exults over us with loud singing.” We don’t often think of God singing, but He does, and He sings over His people. This is how much joy and delight God takes in us: He breaks into song! That’s a pretty wild thought, isn’t it? God singing loudly over us! Spurgeon preached:
Think of the great Jehovah singing! Can you imagine it? Is it possible to conceive of the Deity breaking into a song: Father, Son and Holy Ghost together singing over the redeemed? God is so happy in the love which he bears to his people that he breaks the eternal silence, and sun and moon and stars with astonishment hear God chanting a hymn of joy.
The Lord Seeks and the Sinner Repents
The second theme in the parables is repentance. Lost sheep and lost coins find it impossible to repent, so Jesus added these verses so that both the religious leaders and the sinners who heard Him knew that repentance is important for lost people:
- Luke 15:7 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.
- Luke 15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who REPENTS.”
This brings some balance by emphasizing man’s responsibility. Christ seeks and saves the lost. He is the initiator. Sheep don’t do anything to be found. They can’t find their way back to their flock. Similarly, coins don’t get up on their side and roll back to their owners. But this doesn’t mean we have no responsibility. We are responsible to repent. It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “If you want to be saved, you repent when you are found.”
Who Are the Righteous Persons Who Need no Repentance?
There are two ways to view the phrase “righteous persons who need no repentance” in Luke 15:7. One view is that it is rhetorical, such as when Jesus [said], “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). These verses shouldn’t be understood as though there are some people who don’t need a physician, or aren’t sick, or don’t need to repent, because they are healthy or righteous. Instead, Jesus is talking about people who think they are righteous and don’t need to repent. In that case, Jesus is talking about religious leaders criticizing Jesus for hanging out with sinners, because they don’t think they are sinners.
The other possibility is Luke 15:7 is literal. There are righteous people who need no repentance, because they already repented. Jesus is not talking about self-righteous people. He’s talking about people who have been imputed with Christ’s righteousness. I lean toward this interpretation primarily because the 99 righteous people seem to be associated with the 99 sheep who are part of the flock.
We Need a New Nature Versus More Effort
When we repent, we receive a new nature.
There was a scorpion that wanted to cross a river, but it couldn’t swim. So, it asked a turtle to carry it on its back. The turtle said, “Do you think I’m crazy? You will sting me while we are swimming and I will drown.”
The scorpion responded, “If I stung and you drowned, I would drown with you. Where is the logic in that?”
The turtle said, “You’re right, go ahead and hop on my back.”
The scorpion climbed on the turtle’s back and they began to cross the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stung the unsuspecting turtle. Sure enough, they began to drown. The turtle asked, “You said there was no logic in stinging me, so why did you do it?”
The scorpion said, “It has nothing to do with logic. It is just my nature.”
The scorpion didn’t sting the turtle, because that’s what it chose to do. It stung the turtle because that’s what’s in its nature. Scripture speaks similarly about us regarding sinning:
- We don’t lie and become liars. We lie because we are liars.
- We don’t steal and become thieves. We steal because we are thieves.
- We don’t covet and become coveters. We covet because we are coveters.
We sin, because it is in our nature. We have a sinful nature that we inherited from Adam.
Job 15:14 What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?
We want to think that if we try hard enough we can change. We can go from being impure to pure, from unrighteous to righteous. But we can’t change because it is our nature to be sinful.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Despite what the world says, we can’t heal ourselves. We have as much potential to change our sinful nature as an Ethiopian does of changing the color of his skin or a leopard does of changing his spots. We can’t put forth enough effort that we suddenly get rid of our sinful nature and become sinless.
The solution is repentance and turning to Christ. When we do that, He begins changing us. He gives us a new nature:
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
God’s kind of change happens from the inside out. When our nature has changed, we begin to see changes in our lives.
People have asked me how to tell when people have repented. I used to say they have changed. But I wouldn’t say that, or at least not just that, any longer. Scripture is clear that people can change temporarily. Think about the parable of the unclean spirit that leaves the house and then returns (Matthew 12:43-45).
Three Characteristics of True Repentance
- Earnestness to do what’s right. “Earnestness” has to do with speed. When we have truly repented, we don’t drag our feet making changes. We don’t wait until next year to change. We focus on changing now.
- Indignation toward sin. “Indignation” has to do with our attitude toward sin. When we have truly repented we are indignant toward sin, or we have a hostility toward our sin.
- Time is necessary. We must see change that stands the test of time.
When we see these three elements, we can be confident in repentance in other people’s lives and in our own.