Lost and Found (On the Way to the Cross - Part 16)
Scripture: Luke 15:1–15:32
Synopsis: Have you ever lost something important? You anxiously search for the thing while it is lost. But if you find it, your anxiety turns to joy. In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables that illustrate the intense joy of God when people lost in sin are found by faith in Jesus. God's pursuit of the lost and joy when they are found have profound implications for us as Christians that we cannot ignore.
Have you ever lost something and found it again later? While the thing is gone, you look for it in anxiety. But when you find it, that worry turns to joy.
When I first came to Abu Dhabi, before I had a car to drive I had to ride taxis everywhere I went. One evening, my wife and I were in a taxi ride home from Ikea having just bought some furniture for our little studio on top of a villa in MBZ city. I was wearing a pair of shorts with big loose cargo pockets and my wallet fell out. The driver was long gone before I realized what had happened. Naturally, I was frustrated and sure I would never see that wallet again.
About a week later, a message popped up on Facebook from a lady I didn’t know. Apparently, the taxi driver had found my wallet and began showing my ID to every Western looking passenger that got into his car, asking if they knew me. This one lady took down my name, searched for me on Facebook, and let me know that my wallet could still be found.
I went to the headquarters of the taxi company and sure enough my wallet was there and not a single thing was missing from it. I thanked them and told them to thank the driver, and went home rejoicing because my wallet was lost and now it was found.
Tonight we are looking at chapter 15 of Luke as a whole to see the miniature gospel told in three parables. Jesus proclaimed the gospel in these stories from the point of view of things that were lost and then found again. The wonderful thing about these stories is that they focus on God’s great joy at finding and saving people who were lost in sin.
1 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.”
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.
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.”
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
In last week’s text, Jesus was talking about the cost of discipleship. Essentially the point was that following him would require a very serious commitment. In that context, he said that salt without flavor has no use, meaning that follower who is not sincerely committed to him is useless. Then he said a curious thing. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
It is a simple phrase that basically means that Jesus had spoken clearly enough that anyone with ears should have been able to understand him, yet not everyone would. There is an element of responsibility on the part of people to actually hear Jesus. In other words, the truth has been proclaimed, it is up to you to listen.
That was the final verse of chapter 14, so it is important that the first verse of chapter 15 begins with ‘the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.’ People who were undeniably sinful were taking the first steps toward becoming disciples of Jesus by answering Jesus’ call to hear him.
The Pharisees were certainly not pleased by this situation and began criticizing Jesus for associating with sinners. It was their belief that the holy people had to maintain distance from the unholy people so as to not risk becoming unholy like them. A Pharisee would never accept the invitation of a tax collector, or sit down to have a conversation with a sinner. They tended to think that the best way to deal with sinners was to avoid them completely or condemn them. What a shock it was then that Jesus, a teacher, would defile himself by associating with sinners.
So Jesus told them three parables about finding things that had been lost. First, a shepherd who searched for a missing sheep, then a woman who searched for a lost coin, and finally a father who awaited the return of his rebellious son. Each story ends with the great joy of having back that which was lost. Jesus used this to illustrate to the Pharisees the wrongness of their way of thinking. They wanted to avoid and condemn sinners, but the God they claimed to serve wants to save them.
What we have in these parables is essentially the gospel told three times in a metaphorical way. It is the great story of people who are lost in sin, God’s relentless pursuit of them, and when they are found, God’s great joy. We are going to spend a bit of time exploring these three elements of the gospel found in these parables
Lets start with the fact that in each parable something was lost. Naturally, Jesus was talking about people who are lost because of sin. Our first gospel element is that (1) People are lost in sin without Christ.
Many people ask the question, Are the lost really lost?” It’s a hot question and there is much debate about it. We need to answer this question biblically. When we say that people are lost without Christ, we need to be clear about what is meant by that. Verse 25 makes a connection between being lost and being dead and conversely being found and being alive.
Paul explains this in Ephesians 2:1-3:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
All people, following the course of the whole world are dead in their sins without Jesus. Dead in the spiritual sense of separated from God and utterly unable to reach Him. Dead also in the sense of remaining under God’s wrath and unable to appease Him. This is what we mean by lost. It is not politically correct or even nice, but it is biblical. It’s not something that makes us happy but, like the lost things in the parables, creates an urgent situation. The lost must be pursued so that they might be found.
These parables can be seen also as illustrations of different ways that people are lost. The wondering sheep represent those who were once part of a Christian community, but over the course of life drifted away from it. This could include those born in a Christian family but who leave the church because of some disappointment. Or perhaps those who heard the gospel and started going to church, but never really became part of church life and eventually drifted away from faith. I think this could even include those people who come to church, not because of a commitment to the gospel, but because they feel like people should go to church.
Another possibility could be those people who have been led away from the true gospel by false teaching. As a note, we need to protect ourselves from false teaching and the best ways to do so are to learn the bible and stick to a mature Christian community. It is also helpful to bear in mind that the gospel plus anything is no longer the gospel and the gospel minus anything is no longer the gospel. Do not be led astray and so be lost.
In the second parable, the coin is lost through no fault of its own, it was misplaced. We may see this in reference to those people who are born in places where the gospel has not been proclaimed, or perhaps those who were born into non-Christian families and so have never heard the gospel. Without any knowledge of the truth, they are then easily deceived by whatever religious system is in place around them.
Now we need to be a bit careful here because we don’t want to say that any people, even those who have not heard the gospel, are condemned without any fault of their own. To say that they are just victims of circumstance is to miss the truth that, just like the rest of us, they are dead in their sins apart from Christ. There are no truly innocent people in the world, not even by their own standards. The only way for anyone to be found is to hear the gospel and respond in faith.
In the last parable, the son left his father out of his own selfish willfulness. This is the clearest of the three in terms of how someone got lost. This represents the people who have heard the gospel and willfully rebelled against it. They know deep down that it is true, but they refuse to acknowledge God and perhaps even choose to live in willful disobedience. Every unbeliever falls into one of these three categories: The wanderers, the unreached, and the rebels. Every one of them needs to be found.
However we are lost, the wonderful news is that God pursues lost people with intensity. This is the second element of the gospel we find in Luke 15: (2) God pursues lost people to save them.
God’s pursuit of wayward people is such an important theme of the bible that it is even called the Mission of God. It begins all the way back in Genesis when the first man and woman willfully disobeyed God. God came to the place where they were and said, “Where are you?” Later in Genesis, God chose Abraham in order to bless all the families of the world through him. He was pursuing the whole world through Abraham.
This theme of God pursuing sinful people carries on throughout the bible. If we skip ahead just a bit in Luke, Jesus claimed God’s mission to pursue people as his own when he said, “The son of man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus’ mission was to pursue the lost people.
Once again, as in weeks past we must acknowledge the fact that at this point in Jesus’ ministry, he was on his way to Jerusalem where he would endure the cross. The lengths God went to in order to find us is where we see the real intensity of His loving pursuit. He came into the world, becoming a man who would die on the cross and come to life again so that lost, sinful people could be restored to Him.
Something else you might have noticed in the parables are the numbers. The shepherd, left 99 sheep behind to find just one that was lost. The woman, though she still had nine coins, could not rest until she found the one that was lost. The father, though he still had one faithful son waited for his other son to be restored to him. What these numbers tell us is that whether they are 1 percent, 10 percent, or 50 percent of the whole, God pursues every lost soul with the same loving intensity.
God’s intense love is able to overcome the foolishness of those who wander from him, the lack of knowledge of those who are far from the gospel, and even the rebelliousness of those who outright reject God. On this last point I speak from my own experience.
I went through a period in my own life of living in willful disobedience against God. I won’t go into any detail except to say that, even though I never denied God, I lived as if He was not there for a period of about 6 years. Looking back I can see that all the while I rebelled like a foolish child, God was intensely pursuing me. In the midst of doing whatever I wanted, His Spirit would convict me and I would make myself miserable trying to ignore Him. Finally, He let me find the end of my all I could do and reach my lowest point. Then, when I had lost the will to rebel, He pursued me again through the love of people from a church. I was found at last, and Jesus said there was joy in heaven when I was found.
This brings us to the final element of the gospel that we find in these parables is the intensity of God’s rejoicing when the lost are found. (3) God rejoices when lost people are found
All three parables contain this element of rejoicing when the lost thing is found. Interestingly, it is never just the one person who rejoices. The shepherd and the woman both call together their friends and neighbors to celebrate together. In the final parable there is a bit more to the story. The father commanded his servants to kill the fattened calf and celebrate.
Jesus explained the first two parables in the context of rejoicing, perhaps assuming that by the third parable his listeners had gotten the point. Lets look at verse 10.
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This is an interesting phrase. At first glance we might think that the one’s doing most of the rejoicing are the angels, but I don’t think that is quite what was intended here. Notice that the joy is ‘before’ the angels. The word ‘before’ used here means ‘in front of,’ or ‘in the sight of.’ I think the picture Jesus painted was more along the lines that when a sinner repents, God’s joy is so great and intense that all of the angels in heaven get caught up in rejoicing.
Verse 7 also says:
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.
The greater joy in heaven is not a statement about the value of the one versus the ninety-nine. Instead, it is the celebration of finding that which was lost. The ninety-nine are already alive, and the celebration is for the one more who has been added to their ranks. In verse 25 of the third parable, the father’s words shed some more light on this statement. He said that his son was dead and is now alive. If a son went from death to life it would certainly be cause for great celebration!
You see, when a sinner repents, a miracle has happened. We’ve talked before about the fact that true repentance entails changing from who you are into someone new. This is not something that is humanly achievable, but only through the power of God. It is a miracle of life from death when a sinner repents. One more person will not spend eternity in the outer darkness, but will live in the presence of God with endless joy and pleasures forever.
We have seen the gospel in three word pictures: People are lost in Sin. God intensely pursues those who are lost. When the lost are found, God rejoices so intensely that the angels are irresistibly caught up in His joy.
At this point, we find a difficult challenge. As Christians, do we also get irresistibly caught up in God’s joy or do we fall into the error of the older son? Let’s take a moment and read the end of the final parable. (verses 25-32)
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
At first glance it would seem that the older son had a problem with jealousy, but I think it was a symptom of something deeper. His problem was he did not love his brother and he served his father out of a sense of duty. It seems to me that Jesus was describing the Pharisees here. They were not interested in the great joy of sinners repenting, but rather in receiving glory themselves for living virtuous lives.
Sadly enough, one of the things that Christians are most often accused of is having a ‘holier than you’ attitude. That attitude is totally unfit for a Christian for two reasons. First, it is a misunderstanding of what it means to be saved by grace. As Christians we don’t have ground to stand on to think we are better than the sinners because we are sinners saved by God’s undeserved favor.
Secondly, it shows that deep down you are more concerned with what people think about you than with pursuing people for Jesus. This in turn displays a lack of love for others that is simply not possible if God’s Spirit is in you. Remember, salt must be salty or it is not salt. Love is what the Spirit of God in a person tastes like. If there is not love for the lost coming out from within you, is the Spirit of God really there?
You see, if God’s Spirit is in us, we will love the lost the way God does. If we love them with the same intense love that God loves them, we would also pursue them with the intensity that God pursues them.
When we see that brother or sister going astray, we need to love them enough to go after them and get them back. When we see people in outright rebellion against God, we need to love them enough not to give up on them. Keep engaging them with words and actions, keep praying for them, and especially keep loving them.
When we know that there are masses of people in the world who have never heard the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them, we can’t sit idle. We need to love them enough to bring them the message in a way that they will understand, that is sensitive to where they are. When God’s Spirit is really in you, you will pursue the lost and rejoice with Him whenever a sinner turns and trusts in Jesus.
If you are here today and have not trusted in Jesus, or maybe you made a commitment when you were young that seems to have faded away, or you just know that you are not living the life God wants you to live, the first thing I want to tell you is that you are valuable to God. God loves you with overwhelming intensity. The fact that you are here is proof that God is pursuing you. Will you be found tonight and let us rejoice with God and the heavens over your salvation?
If you are here tonight and you live in the joy of having already been found, don’t be content in that. God did not save you to so that you could sit down and be saved by yourself. Pursue the lost with the intensity of God’s love for them.
More in On the Way to the Cross
April 13, 2014Glorious Injustice (On the Way to the Cross - Part 24)
April 6, 2014Peter and Judas (On the Way to the Cross - Part 23)
March 30, 2014I Will Send My Son (On the Way to the Cross - Part 22)