Luke 15 is played on CD.
In each parable in Luke 15, something was lost and someone searching it. While these parables are about lost things, they are equally focused on the process of finding them. So, I’d like to focus not on what is lost but on the person who is doing the seeking to see what our role might be as persons who are called to do the ministry of Christ which is to “seek and save that which is lost.”
In the first parable, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were criticizing Jesus for hanging out with sinners, for eating and fellowshipping with them. They obviously didn’t get His mission. They obviously missed the whole point of what Jesus was trying to do while He was here on earth.
He came and led a sinless life, but Jesus didn’t come to earth with the mission of keeping His hands clean, keeping His reputation as the One who is above all things in tact or to keep sinners or the weak and poor in their place. No, He came to “put them in their place.” That is, He came to restore that which was broken to a whole or right condition. He came to the weak to give them strength. He came to the oppressed to set them free. He came to the sinners to restore them to their place of unbroken fellowship with God, the Father.
In order to do that, He would need to get as close to people in those conditions as possible. He couldn’t just put an ad on TV and say, “I am here to save the day. Vote for me for your personal Messiah.” He couldn’t just pass out flyers telling people what He had to offer. He couldn’t simply tell His disciples to start a telemarketing campaign to let the constituents of Israel know the Messiah had come. He had to walk with them, take them by the hand, touch them, eat with them, spend time with them, teach them, love them, restore them and care for them in order to get those who had been dislocated by the religious community and dislocated by sin back to their rightful place.
The Messiah’s mission wasn’t something that could have been accomplished from a distance. Sinners have to see the Savior before they can understand their need for Him. In order for the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to understand this, Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep.
In the parable, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to (verse 4) “go after” the lost sheep until he finds it. Did you catch that? Jesus was trying to explain that sinners were the kind of people He had come to “go after.” When God goes after something, He does it in a big way. There is no subtlety about overshadowing a virgin and having her conceive by the Holy Spirit. It’s not a covert mission when you announce what you are up to with an angelic concert in the sky. You aren’t trying to be under the radar when you set a star so bright in the sky that it is seen for hundreds of miles. The healings, deliverances, miracles of multiplying fish and loaves, water walking, and raising the dead weren’t exactly inconspicuous. Jesus walked right up to people that had been overlooked by society and said, “Follow me.” He came to “go after” people who needed Him.
In verse one, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were all uptight as they mumbled about Jesus under their breath, “This man welcomes sinners.” Welcomes them? He stalks them. He hunts them down. He came down on purpose to get as close to sinners as He could. They weren’t just welcome to join His mission, they WERE the mission.
Jesus asked the criticizers if they were shepherds, if they would leave the 99 and go after one lost sheep. I can tell you the answer to that one. They didn’t say it, but they absolutely thought, “No way.” You don’t leave 99 sheep without protection to find one. You cut your losses and move on with the 99. Jesus’ parable was meant to help them understand the kind of love that would take such risk even if just for one lost sheep. Jesus, the Great Shepherd, cares so deeply that His heart breaks even over one lost sheep and He will go after that sheep until it is found.
After the shepherd went after the lost sheep in the parable, he did something very interesting. He put the sheep on his shoulders and carried it home. Some sinners, even if you go after them, even if they are glad to be found, aren’t just going to follow like Mary who had a little lamb that followed her to school one day. J You’re going to have to pick them up. You’re going to have to carry them. You’re going to have to make sure they get headed in the right direction.
How many sinners are on your calendar for this week? How many sinners have you invited to come to your house this month? How many sinners have you penciled into your daytimer to email this week? How many sinners do you plan to call and invite to church? What is the name of one sinner you are going after?
Who are you carrying? Who are you helping to get headed in the right direction? You might have to offer to sit with someone that visits church. You might have to call them if they miss a service to check up on them. You may need to commit to praying for them for 30 days straight until they get their feet on the ground. You might need to buy them a Bible and show them how to get started reading it. If the lost are going to be found it will be because someone is seeking to find them! God wants to use you to be a seeker for His kingdom.
Larry Parsons is a new believer. He is Randy and Nancy Parson’s nephew, Randall and Kayte’s cousin. I’m telling you this man is on fire! He is going to be baptized tonight and he has been inviting people like crazy because he wants them to find the same new life in Christ that he has found. He is giving his time and effort to going after sinners who need a Savior.
Those of you who have walked with the Lord for years, have you quit going after people? Do you still have a passion for the lost? Does Christ’s love still compel you to pursue people until they are found?
The thing about searching for lost sheep is that they know they’re lost. They can look around and figure out that they aren’t where they are supposed to be. But the problem is that they are sheep. They don’t know how to get unlost! J That’s one of the easiest kinds of people to win to Christ. Sheep who know they are lost and want to be found don’t take a lot of convincing to let you help them be found. Go after someone this week!
We find all kinds of reasons to celebrate in the United States. Yesterday was “Sweetist Day.” Hallmark wanted you to spend 25.00 to celebrate your “sweetest.” J This month we’re celebrating “Pastor Appreciation Month” and we’re going to have a big lunch after church on the 31st. We celebrate our kids’ report cards (as long as they are worth celebrating). We have birthday, anniversary and wedding parties. And then there are Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Fourth of July, Super Bowl, and March Madness parties. We know all about having a good party. But my favorite party to have is a “Look What the Lord Has Done” party! Christian Williams, I am so pumped that you gave us a reason to celebrate by giving your life to Christ just this week! It will be our pleasure to see you get baptized this evening along with some others.
We read in the parable of the lost sheep that the shepherd threw an “I found him” party. The occasion? The lost was found! The party on earth was duplicated in heaven as the angels went into celebration mode! The shepherd searched for the sheep out of concern and with a desire to protect that sheep.
Seeing the blank stare on the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law’s faces, the “huh?” stare they gave Jesus after He told the first parable, Jesus realized He was going to have to further illustrate the point He was trying to make. So he told a story about a lady who had a lost silver coin.
Have you ever misplaced something and you just can’t call it a day until it is found? Your mind won’t quit retracing your steps and you have to turn furniture upside down, look behind the washer and dry, and investigate every drain until you find it! That’s the picture of the lady with the lost silver. She turns all of the lights on and starts cleaning her house until she finds it.
I get a whole lot done when I lose something because I take the same approach. I just start cleaning until I find what I’m looking for. I usually find it at the office after I have cleaned my entire house, but the fringe benefit is that I get my house clean in the process. J Isn’t that the only time you vacuum the couch cushions and clean out the refrigerator? Yep, I’ve lost things in the refrigerator. I found my cell phone in the fridge just a few months ago. Anyway, I digress.
Now the complication with looking for silver, unlike looking for sheep is that the silver doesn’t know it’s lost. The sheep realizes he is separated from the shepherd, but the silver doesn’t know it isn’t in the silver container with the other nine. That can make for a tough time. Try going after someone who doesn’t know they’re lost. Try going after someone who doesn’t care if they are found. You talk about diligence.
We are going to have to be much in prayer for people who don’t know they are lost or people who don’t care if they are ever found. We need to pray that they will somehow feel displaced, that their hearts will be turned toward God’s love, that they will see something in our diligence, something in our life that will help illuminate the fact that they are walking in darkness.
I believe Jesus was talking right to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. They thought they “were” the found. They thought they “were” the “in crowd.” They didn’t know they were lost. Oh, they were religious alright, but they didn’t know they were hollow. They knew the Scriptures, but they didn’t know the Savior. They were lost.
How about the good, moral person who is kind to strangers, helps with the PTA and gives to charity? They have a good job, a nice family, and they enjoy life. They try to keep the law and “pay it forward” whenever possible. Often, they don’t know they are lost.
When the lady finds the silver, we read about another party. Can you imagine getting a text that says, “Come on over and party with me. Bring an appetizer. I found my Susan B. Anthony silver coin?” The finder was compelled to find the coin. The lady wasn’t going to bed without her coin. Her passion spilled over into her joy when she found it when she refused to keep her joy to herself. She was going to get a group of people together to celebrate that the silver was safe.
Now we know how the sheep got lost. It wandered away. Its eyes led it to graze in other pastures until it was completely separated from the fold. Sheep have legs. Coins do not. How did the coin get lost? The coin didn’t get lost by any fault of its own, but by the carelessness of another. Somebody moved it from its rightful place. I’m sure it was simply carelessness as no one would want to lose money on purpose. It was likely the woman herself who had been careless and misplaced the coin. Maybe she had gotten in a hurry when putting her money away. Maybe she was distracted. Whatever the case, the coin didn’t get lost by itself. Someone had to help it.
In being lost, the coin had been put out of circulation. In its lost state, it was “out of service.” The sheep was out of place, but the coin was “out of service.” When the lady found the lost coin, she was able to get it back into circulation, into service. A lost coin has no value to the owner. Likewise, a lost sinner can’t be put into circulation by its Creator. You will never be able to do what you were created to do as long as you are lost. That’s why the lady could throw a party! It wasn’t about what she had accomplished in finding the coin, but it was about what could be accomplished with the coin now that it had been found.
My favorite of the three parables about lost things is the lost son. We can understand how a sheep can wander off and eventually get away from the protective eye and hand of the shepherd. We can understand how a coin, through no fault of its own can be misplaced and lost. And because we are human, we can also understand how a defiant and rebellious person who is bent on having their way and being in control of their life can make a total mess out of things.
Luke 15:11 reveals the tip of the iceberg in the son’s attitude which flowed from his heart. He said, “Give me . . . give me my share of the inheritance.” Before his dad had even died, he demanded what he believed one day should be coming to him. In asking for his inheritance early, he was basically dishonoring his father and disowning him as his father in that moment. There was a change in relationship. He was willfully breaking ties with his family.
It wasn’t that he was in an abusive home or living with a controlling father. We know that because the father willingly gave the early inheritance when it was demanded. Someone who would have been harsh or hard to live with wouldn’t have complied with such a greedy and disrespectful request. Perhaps the son just didn’t appreciate the rules in the father’s house.
How hard and cold a heart must be, how lost a person would already be to be in the house of a loving father where there is protection and great provision and to desire to leave it all behind. So ungrateful. So brazen.
Of course we know how the story goes. The young man who thinks he knows it all sets out to live it up as if life can be lived without consequences. As long as he has money, he doesn’t think about tomorrow. It wasn’t until everything the father had provided ran out that reality set in. He WASN’T his own source. His father had been his provider and that provision was only constant and consistent while he was living at home. He found himself panhandling for money. Hungry, worn down and destitute, he thought repentance sounded like a good idea. He thought going home sounded like a great option. I’m not sure he knew how wretched and ungrateful he had been. I just know the Scripture said he was hungry, and when you’re cold, hungry and homeless, confession and the father’s house seems like your best bet.
I think sometimes that is how people wind up getting saved. They may not understand exactly why they need to get saved. Their motives may not be completely pure. Their hearts might not be totally in the right place. They just know they are in a mess and something has to change. But listen to me this morning. Something happens once we get to the father’s house that changes everything!
We read in the case of the sheep that the shepherd went looking for the lost sheep. We read that the lady started searching for the lost coin. We don’t know the details about the efforts of the father in this story except that we read that as the son came up over the hill in the distance, the father saw him from afar and took off running to meet him. I’m sure the son had rehearsed his speech a thousand times. I’m sure he was sweating bullets wondering if his dad would even let him come home to be a servant let alone a son. I’m sure he dreaded the first time their eyes would meet as he expected his dad to be completely disappointed and full of harsh words. What a surprise to see his dad running towards him. I wonder if the son thought, “I’m a dead man.” What relief the young man must have experienced as his dad embraced him.
I believe in that moment, though Scripture doesn’t say, I believe that the young man was instantly transformed. His motives changed. His heart melted as he received the embrace of the father. That hug said it all. Though legally the father had every right to have his servants escort the young boy off of his property, though personally the father had suffered a great deal of emotional injury and feelings of betrayal, though the father had spent no doubt many sleepless nights pacing the floor worried and wondering what had become of his son the hug said four amazing words! They words were simply, “None of it matters!” What mattered that the son was home and that grace, that love, that pure expression of devotion of a father for a son regardless of what he had done wrong and regardless of the hurt and pain he had caused, I believe the moment that boy was truly hugged by the father in SPITE of his rebellion, he got it. The depth of the love of the father changed him, forever.
I believe the reason the father had seen his boy come up over the hill was because he had been watching for him, looking for him, all along. His searching, his looking wasn’t because a misplaced son needed protection like the sheep. It wasn’t because his son was now out of his service like the silver coin and he needed his son back so that his son could do some work for him. It was simply because he loved him deeply and wanted him home. He wanted that relationship, though broken by the son’s rebellion and poor decisions, to be reinstated. He had missed the dailyness of life with his boy and was just thrilled to have him back in his arms. No judgment. No explanation needed. No need for the son to “make it up to him.” Just welcoming and loving grace.
And dad made some party plans. Only he didn’t just ask his servants to rejoice with him. He actually made his wayward son the guest of honor. He hadn’t just graduated from high school or college. He hadn’t earned a prestigious award. He had simply come home, and when a father loves a son the way this father loved his, that was more than enough reason to celebrate! He gave him a beautiful robe to wear and put a special ring on his finger. He treated him like a prince though he deserved to be a slave or worse. The way this party went down had nothing to do with the son, but everything to do with displaying the love and joy of the seeker, the father. The reason for the party was simply that the son was back in fellowship with the father.
How deeply do you love? Perhaps there are some people who have been difficult to deal with in your life. Perhaps they have used you, been selfish or demanding or have walked out of your life after you have made a great investment in them. Do you see yourself watching for them, missing them, praying for them, longing to throw them a welcome home party? The Pharisees and teachers of the law who had listened to the trilogy of lost tales needed a heart change. Jesus was trying to explain his mission through his stories and help them see what the mission is for each of us. We are supposed to go after lost things in order to bring them to safety. We are supposed to be diligent, leave no stone unturned, and turn every light in on order for the lost thing to be found and we are to be waiting with welcoming words and a party for anyone who would seek to come home. Who are you going after? Who are you searching for? Who are you waiting on to come over the hill back into the Father’s house?