Evan stretched his neck and peered around the people in front of him. A teenager named Brad was on the platform. He had just spoken, confessing that he had strayed from the Lord but had now come back. He said God had forgiven him, and he asked the congregation to forgive him too.
“Praise the Lord!” said Pastor Kerns, putting an arm around Brad’s shoulders. “Brad attended our church as a boy, and it was here that he accepted Jesus as his Saviour. Let’s celebrate his homecoming!” When people stood and began clapping, Evan wrinkled his nose and slid down in the pew. Why all this fuss for Brad? he wondered. I heard he joined a gang. He looked over and saw Mom glaring at him, so he quickly stood up.
That afternoon Mom brought it up during lunch. “You liked Brad a lot when you were younger,” she said. “I thought you’d be glad to see him back at church, but I noticed you didn’t want to stand up this morning and celebrate his return to the Lord. Why was that?”
“He joined a gang, didn’t he?” asked Evan. “Isn’t that bad?” He shrugged. “I know Brad says he’s sorry, but…I don’t know. I just don’t get why everyone’s making such a big deal over it.”
“Well, let me try to help you understand,” said Mom. “Let’s see. Remember that puppy that appeared at our door not too long ago?”
Evan smiled. “Sure. He was wearing a tag, so you called his owners. But I wish we could have kept him-he was so cute!”
“When his owners came for him, how did they treat him?” asked Mom. “Were they angry? Did they scold him or punish him?”
“No,” said Evan. “They hugged him and played with him. They were so glad he was found.”
“Brad is something like that puppy,” said Mom. “In a way, he was lost. He was a Christian but wasn’t living for the Lord. But God loves Brad far more than that puppy’s owners love their dog. God is happy that Brad has confessed and turned away from his sin. Like Pastor Kearns said, he’s come home, and we should celebrate that.”
Evan smiles. “Okay,” he said, “Let’s celebrate!”
What does it mean to be lost? It can mean having no personal relationship with God. It can also mean the lost desire for guidance from God because of our “I’ll-do-it-my-way” attitude. It can be the lost sense of no longer feeling special to the important people in our lives.
In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three parables that make a single point: God loves the lost. The lost sheep, a lost silver coin and finally, a lost son comprise a trilogy of increasing value. The passage we heard from Luke’s Gospel talks about the first two parables. The lost sheep is one of one hundred and the lost coin is one of ten. In the first story, Jesus is the good shepherd; in the second, He is the good woman.
The story of the lost sheep could be called,” The Story of Four Verbs”-lose, seek, find, rejoice. The word “lost” is the best word to describe a person’s condition without God. Lost things cannot serve their purpose, and they lack the ability to return to where they belong-they must be found. In Christianity. God searches for people, as opposed to other religions where people attempt to find God. The coming of God in Christ is the God of heaven, seeking the lost.
There are two kinds of lostness. We can be lost like the sheep in the first parable. Sheep move from one green tuft to the next. They keep moving from tuft to tuft-sometimes right through a hole in a fence. When they’re done nibbling they can’t find the hole and they’re lost. Some of us nibble ourselves bit by bit into the far country. Bit by bit we gradually move further and further from God.
The coin the woman lost was part of her headdress, which was like her wedding ring. In those days, women didn’t wear rings as they do today. Instead, they wore elaborate headpieces that were adorned with ten coins to signify the Ten Commandments. It could be that the woman was recently married and she wore her “ring” all the time. She wore it when she went shopping and whenever she went out in public. Imagine how she felt when someone told her, “Do you know that one of your coins is missing?” She was probably scared and began looking for it everywhere. Finally, under the last piece of furniture, she found it! When she did, she told all of her friends. They rejoiced with her that her most valuable possession was complete again.
The coin was lost through carelessness. Similarly, we are careless. We choose the wrong friends, hang out in the wrong places, or make the wrong choices. Somehow we get lost through indifference or negligence.
Like that beautiful headdress, the Kingdom of God is incomplete without every lost person-including us. The God who created the universe scours the earth to save precious souls who haven’t been found, because He loves them.
In the passage we heard from Luke’s Gospel, the emphasis is on the seeker (God) and the result (joy). The shepherd went after the lost sheep, and the woman searched for the lost coin. In both cases what is lost represents just one sinner who repents. That is how valuable each person is to God.
Jesus’ parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin were not aimed at comforting sinners in calling them to God, but were directed toward those who had complained about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners. To those who would keep others with unclean reputations at arms’ length and who could easily live their entire lives overlooking sinners, Jesus revealed the heart of God. His goal was to refashion hearts to reflect God’s love.
Those who complained about Jesus welcoming sinners trusted in their ability to measure how well people met God’s standards of behaviour. Scrutinizing people who don’t measure up makes one feel that they deserve God’s approval more than others do. In reality, they exchange God’s measuring stick for a different measuring stick-their own. If one did not switch measuring sticks and trusted one’s performance at measuring up to God’s standards, one might look righteous on the outside, but the heart would still be trusting in one’s own performance rather than God.
These parables show God taking the initiative in seeking sinners, just like a shepherd takes the initiative to find a lost sheep. Shepherds were responsible for every sheep. They had to see that none was lost, killed or injured. God does not want to see anyone lost and going to hell. That’s why the angels and God rejoice when a lost sinner repents and turns to God. In fact, Jesus told the Pharisees that one sinful man or woman who repents was cause for celebration far greater than for the 99 who see no need to humble their hearts. Love (aka God) never stops looking for us. He recklessly beckons His wandering children. He cares about each and every lost sheep. He affirms that every person is a priceless, beloved child of God.
Jesus was full of hope, truth and love. He said that there is more to life than what the world offers. Jesus’ words had a ring of reality about them. He was honest, candid and open. Jesus showed a supernatural love that was pure, sacrificial and revolutionary.
All of us need God’s deliverance. Each one of us is the lost sheep or the lost coin. Those of us who have heard God’s Word are not exempt from the capacity to do evil. In fact, we are even more in need of deliverance.
We as Christians can get lost. We can get lost very close to home-within the walls of the church. We get lost when prayer turns to dust in our mouths. We get lost when the Scriptures we once loved lie dead on the page. We get lost when sitting in a pew on Sunday morning makes our skin crawl. We get lost when even the most well-intentioned sermon sucks the oxygen out of our lungs. We get lost when the table of bread and wine that once nourished us now leaves us hungry, cranky, bewildered or bored. We get so miserably lost that God our Shepherd has to wander through our spiritual wilderness to find us.
No one is beyond hope or help-not even the outcasts and sinners with whom Jesus associated. God has a soft spot in His heart for them. The sinful people Jesus hung out with wanted to hear what He had to say. They knew that He spoke the truth and that some of it would be uncomfortable, but they also knew that they didn’t go away from their time with Him feeling like dirt. They found loving truth, warmth and hospitality-not condemnation and rejection.
God cares about all lost things. He rejoices in the discovery and redemption of lost people. There are consequences to our turning away from God, but He can change any situation. He wants justice, hospitality and healing, and we can be God’s partners in this process of healing the world.
God wants us to join Him as He reaches into the lives of people we know and introduces Himself to them through us. If we join Him, we will experience the joy of heaven here on earth as we see people meet God. We will never have God’s heart for lost people if we don’t feel a personal responsibility for them. Are we moved with compassion toward the lost people in our lives? How much do we care about the people at work who don’t know Christ? If they were to die today they would go straight to hell. Do we see those people as a nuisance, or do we see them as lost people that we can help? Jesus set a good example for us. We have to love lost people, because Jesus loved us when we were lost. He made this befriending love possible by coming down from heaven for us. living our life, dying our death and giving us His love and life-one that we can share!
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p.1416)
- Larson, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 234-235)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Rose R. Zediker, “Time to Celebrate.” Retrieved from www.keys4kids.com
- Xochitl Dixon, “Love Won’t Stop.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bobby Schuller, “One Lost Lamb.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Bobby Schuller, “The Coin that Completes the Crown.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Ed Young, “The Amazing Appeal of Jesus Christ.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- David Reay, “Once Was Lost.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vikki Burke, “Beyond Mistakes and Weakness.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- John North, “Luke 15:1-2.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barry Newton, “A Heart Like God’s.” Retrieved from http://forthright.net
- James MacDonald, “Loving Lost People.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- The Rev. Gregory Seltz, “There’s No Other Friend Like Jesus.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost-September 15, 2019.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2019/09/the-adventurous-lectionary-the-fourteenth-Sunday-after-pentecost.html
- Timothy Hoyer, “Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Gospel Year C.” Retrieved from https://crossings.org/text-study/14th-sunday-after-pentecost-c/?print=print
- Debi Thomas, “On Lostness.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net