The Value of a Soul to God
Preached on Sunday, July 10, 2011 by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours 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 repenteth.(Luke 15:8-10)
In the Coen Brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, there is a scene in which a young man is describing how he had spent the night at a crossroads to sell his soul to the devil so that he could become a great guitar player. Delmar, surely one of the great characters in recent movie history, says, “Oh son, for that you sold your everlasting soul?” The young man replies, “Well, I wasn’t using it.” I can’t think of a better commentary on how people regard their immortal souls. Our souls are of no value to us. We think that we aren’t using them, so why not part with something that has so little value to us. In this Parable of the Lost Coin that we read just a few minutes ago, we see that our souls should be valuable to us, for they are of great worth in the sight of God.
The Parable of the Lost Coin, sandwiched between the Parable fo the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Son, is the second in this famous trilogy of parables about things that are lost and then found. This parable shares many things in common with the parable of the lost sheep. In both parables, there are people who search diligently until they find that which is lost. Then, after they find the lost object, they invite friends and neighbors to rejoice with them for they have found that which was lost. Joel Green has noted has noted that as we go through this trilogy of parables, the value of each lost thing gets a little greater (573). The value increases on the scale from one sheep, to one coin, to one son. Then, we see the value in comparison with one’s possessions that were not lost. There is one lost sheep out of a hundred, one coin out of ten, and one son out of two. In each parable, it seems the value of each lost item is increasing.
In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we see a sense of urgency that perhaps we don’t see in the parable of the lost sheep. It would have been tragic to lose one sheep out of a hundred, but for a woman such as this, to lose one coin out of ten would have been an incredible loss. The value of ten coins doesn’t sound great to us. Such coins would have been valuable to some of us when we were growing up, because, when I was a boy, we could get into the movies for a quarter. A quarter doesn’t mean much to children now. One of my grandsons flashed a 20 dollar bill at me the other day and said, “I want to go spend some of my randon money.” For him, 20 dollars is just “random” money to spend very quickly at a toy store or video game store. But one coin to this woman in our parable was very important, because she is very poor. Evidently, the house that she lives in has no windows, because we are specifically told that she lights a lamp to look for it. This lighting of a lamp is mentioned because it probably wasn’t night when she lost the coin. If it was night, the lamp would have already been lit. In these days, a poor person’s house had no windows, so a lamp would have to be lit to find such a coin even in the daytime.
We are told that the woman had ten coins, and these ten coins may have represented her lifetime savings. Bible scholars tell us that these coins would have amounted to about 10 days in wages. The coin is called a drachma, which was about one day’s wages. When you were this poor, losing just one of those coins would have represented a substantial loss. Finding a coin like this could mean the difference between eating and not eating, so it was very important that she should find it.
As you read the different commentaries on this parable, there is much discussion about how she lost the coin. Some have suggested that she carried the coins in a little bag, with a knot tied at the top. For some reason, the knot became loose, and one of the coins fell out of the bag. Others have suggested that this coin was part of a wedding ornament. In these days, there was a kind of ornament that women wore that consisted of 10 coins strung together. The ornament would not only have been valuable from a financial standpoint, but would have also had great sentimental value. It has been said that a poor girl would save all her life to save those ten coins, and when she finally had them, she would wear those coins around her head. She would have valued it the way young women now value their engagement and wedding rings. These head rings were so precious, that it was a law that it could never be taken from her, not even to pay a debt. As you can see, this coin was a great value to this woman.
Surely, one of the lessons we learn from this parable, as well as the other two is, that though we are sinners, we are of great value to God. You remember when Jesus told us not to worry because God feeds the sparrows. He says, “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). We do have value. Sometimes in our expressions of humility, we need to exercise a little caution. It is right and proper to think of ourselves as sinners, and pile many adjectives in front of that word to describe ourselves. Words such as “wretched” and “miserable are appropriate to describe our sinful condition. But there is one adjective that we should probably not use, and that is the word, “worthless.” It is right to say that we are “unworthy” sinners, but to say that we are “worthless” would not be correct. It is true than when our worth is compared to the infinite value of God, we are worthless in comparison. But when we think of the great love that God has for sinners and the lengths he was willing to go to in order to redeem us, we can see that God places a great value even upon the sinner. To say that we are worthless would be an insult to God, for we have been created in his image. We are sinners, but God loved us so much he sent his Son to die for us. These parables are designed to show us how God searches for that which is lost. This woman is searching for something that is very valuable to her. When God seeks us in our lost condition, he is seeking something that is very valuable to him.
We are far more valuable in the sight of God one coin out of ten, as valuable as that might have been to this woman. If this was a ring of coins, think of how the woman would have felt each time she looked at that ring. There would have been a gap in the ornament. She would never forget that one of them was missing. So it is with God. God does not forget those who are lost. We are cold and heartless, and we turn God into someone who is cold and heartless, if we think God forgets those who have been lost. Far from forgettng us or ignoring us, God seeks that which is lost.
In this parable, we get a sense of how important it is for God to find the sinner. We see that concern illustrated for us in the manner that she searches for the coin. Everything she does suggest a sense of urgency, as though she is saying, “I must find it.” Jesus says that she does three things in order to find the coin. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully. In the parable of the lost sheep, the emphasis is more on the obstacles that the shepherd must overcome in order to find that which is lost. He goes out and faces the dangers of the wilderness to bring back his sheep. In the parable of the lost coin, what is emphasized is the thoroughness of the search. The floor would have been a hard dirt floor covered with dry reeds. If you dropped a coin into this kind of floor, in a dimly lit house, it really was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. She would have to go through the reeds, sweep around, hoping that perhaps as she swept, the light from her lamp would cause a little twinkle on the metal; or perhaps, if she hit it the right way, it would make a tingling sound.
It is interesting as you read all the commentaries and sermons that have been written about these parables, that people have made all the objects in the parable represent so many different things. For example, some people see the lamp as the Holy Spirit who enlightens the sinner so that he can see his lost condition. Others have said that the lamp is the gospel, for it is the light of the gospel that enlightens people, shows them their need of a Savior, and who that Savior is. Some have said that the broom that she sweeps with is the law because it sweeps away the dirt and exposes us in our sin.
All of those ideas are interesting, but when dealing with parables, we need to keep the main point of the parable in mind. Remember that what prompted our Lord to tell these three parables was that he was criticized for eating and drinking with sinners. In each parable, Jesus is illustrating that God seeks sinners and rejoices when they are found. One of the main features of this parable is the rejoicing that takes place when she finds that coin. Think of the joy and happiness that beamed from her face. She invites the neighbors, and there is no doubt, a festive party atmosphere over having found the coin. All of these details are designed to reveal to us something of the character of God. He searches for sinners until he finds them, and when he finds them, he is so happy. Think of finding a coin that meant the difference between health and starvation. When God finds a sinner, he is just that joyful.
You will notice that our text says that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Some have taken this to mean that the angels themselves rejoice when a sinner is found. Angels are very interested in our salvation. In Matthew 18, just before Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, he prefaces it with the words about not offending little children. He says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” (Matt. 18:10-12). Angels are very interested in us and our well-being. Angels are the ones who announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds so long ago. Angels look upon the Incarnation and God’s great love for sinners with amazement. The Apostle Peter mentions this attitude of the angels in his first epistle when he writes, “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (I Peter 1:10-12). The angels find our salvation fascinating, and they like to study it. It amazes them that God would stoop to save sinful man. God didn’t send his son to die for angels. Christ did not become an angel to die as a substitute for fallen angels. The angels marvel at the grace of God toward us. We can imagine that when one sinner repents and comes to Christ, they rejoice. They must think something like, “Look, it has happened again. God has found a sinful human being and forgiven him.” Perhaps the angels rejoice when one sinner repents.
But the text does not actually say that the angels rejoice. It says that there is joy in the presence of the angels. I think that the rejoicing that is spoken of here is the rejoicing of God himself. In this trilogy of parables, the shepherd rejoices, the woman rejoices, the father rejoices and they invite others to rejoice with them. The lesson seems to be that God seeks sinners, saves sinners, and rejoices when he finds sinners. Throughout Scripture, God is depicted as a rejoicing God, especially rejoicing in the salvation of his people. In Isaiah 62:4-5, we read, “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” When God’s people turn to him, he is as happy as a bridegroom with a new bride. In Jer. 32:41, we find this description of God’s happiness: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.” In Ezekiel, God is depicted as one who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather rejoices when people turn to him and do that which is right. In Zeph. 3:17, we read, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Do you ever think of God as a singing God, a God that is so happy in his people that he sings about them, and rejoices when he thinks about them. God is the eternally blessed God, the eternally happy God, and all of these verses present the fact that one of his great joys is the sinner returning to him in repentance and faith.
God’s happiness in the returning sinner reminds us of the purpose of these parables. The enemies of our Lord looked at him and said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” You notice that in each one of these parables there is the banquet theme. The shepherd and the woman call together their friends and relatives and invite them to rejoice. The father kills the fatted calf and invites people to a banquet where there is rejoicing. One of the reasons we celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday in this church is that it is a reenactment of these festive occasions when people are invited to rejoice over the lost having been found. Each Sunday, we confess our sins, we receive assurance of pardon, and then we are invited to the Lord’s Table to have fellowship in this banquet, and God rejoices over his people who were lost and are found.
Jesus was teaching that these Scribes and Pharisees were people who merely wanted to separate themselves from sinners, treat them with contempt, but when they do so they are nothing like God. God seeks sinners, and he is happy when he finds them. Our Lord Jesus eats and drinks with sinners to show us the love of God, and how he rejoices over sinners who repent. Jesus eats and drinks with sinners, and when we gather at the Lord’s table, he is still eating and drinking with sinners–sinners who have been lost and are now found. By faith, can you hear God himself rejoicing when we gather at his table?
Norval Geldenhuys has written how these parables show how different Christianity is from all the other religions in the world. He writes, “In no other religion in the world does one come to know God as the One who in His love seeks the lost person to save him through His grace. In the writings of other religions we see how man seeks and yearns for God, but in the Bible we see God in Christ seeks man to save him for time and eternity” (403). William Barclay writes, “No Pharisee ever dreamed of a God like that. A great Jewish scholar admitted that this is the one absolutely new thing which Jesus taught men about God—that he actually searched for men. The Jew might have agreed that if a man came crawling home to God in self-abasement and prayed for pity he might find it; but he would never have conceived of a God who went out to search for sinners. We believe in the seeking love of God, because we see that love incarnate in Jesus Christ, the son of God, who came to seek and to save that which was lost” (203).
All of us are like this lost coin. We are disconnected, lost from our true owner. We are lost in the dust as it were. Every person, other than our Lord Jesus Christ, since the fall of Adam, has been in the dust. We are lost under dust, under the filth and mire of sin. But God doesn’t leave us in our sin. He seeks us. He is seeking you now. He is seeking you through the Scriptures, seeking you in the prayers, seeking you through the preaching of the word.
Do you know the value of your immortal soul? Don’t you seem from this little parable how much God values your soul? You may not value it. You may not be using it. You may not think your immortal soul is important. Or, you might think, “Because of my sin, I am utterly worthless.” No, God is seeking you. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to seek you. The Holy Spirit seeks you. If you are lost, if you have wandered away like lost sheep, if you have rebelled against your Heavenly Father, come to Christ now. Believe on him now, and you will find how joyful he will be to receive you. Amen.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. Louisville: Westminster John Knox P, 1975.
Geldenhuys, Norval. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951.
Green, Joel. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.