Jesus does something absolutely unique in Luke chapter 15. In response to some Pharisees who were criticising him for reaching out to “sinners” Jesus tells three stories, all three of which have the same basic story line. There is a sheep that is lost, and the shepherd leaves 99 of his flock and launches an all out search for the stray and is overjoyed when he finds it. A woman who has ten valued coins loses one and turns the house upside down in a determined search to find the lost coin. Finally, in perhaps the most famous of these stories, a Father loses a son, who turns his back on him and takes his share of his inheritance even before his father dies, thus insulting him and walks off into the sunset. The Father it seems each day looks for his lost son and when he sees him coming back as failure, he doesn’t turn his back on him or scold him but filled with love runs to him, breaking all social conventions and hugs his rebellious wayward son and kisses him.
So, in each story something valued is lost, a great effort is put into finding the lost item and when its found there is great rejoicing. Jesus must really have wanted the Pharisees and us to get a particular point. The point Jesus wants us to understand must be so important to him and so important for us to understand that he makes the same point in three different stories just to make sure we don’t miss it or misunderstand it.
So, what is this point? What is it that Jesus wants us to understand? Well he doesn’t leave us to guess.
After the story of the lost sheep he adds “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.”
He ends the story of the lost coin by saying “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Father who gets his lost son back says “2 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’
Jewish people didn’t like to use God’s name so when Jesus says when there will be “rejoicing in heaven” and “rejoicing in the presence of angels” that is a roundabout way of saying God is overjoyed. Jesus is saying that God is like the shepherd, like the woman who lost the coin and the compassionate Father, he has lost something, motivated by love he puts tremendous effort into finding it and is overjoyed when he does. That something is you and I, sinful human beings.
Bill Hybels summed up the central message of these three famous stories, this all-important point that Jesus wants to make sure we grasp, in a way that I cant better so I am simply going to repeat
“LOST PEOPLE MATTER TO GOD”
Lost people mattered to God so much he sent his own son into the world, lost people mattered so much to Jesus that he went to the Cross, lost people matter so much to the Holy Spirit that He reaches out to draw them back to God. God seems to have no deeper joy than when lost people are found. I don’t know about you but I still find it staggering when I think about the effort God put into finding me and bringing me home, I still find it utterly bewildering that God should value me so much that he would put so much effort into finding me and I cant quite get my head around the fact that when I came home to Him, God threw na joy filled party in heaven to celebrate!
Knowing all of that makes me feel valued, makes me love God more deeply and see His grace as even more amazing. Yet if that is all it does, make me feel “good” about myself then Jesus hasn’t really got his point across to me properly.
A few chapter later in Luke Jesus makes the same point in a different way, he explains his whole mission by saying “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 Just hold that thought in your mind for a moment and then hear these words from Jesus “As the far has sent me, I am sending you” John 20:21 As the Father sent Jesus like, the Shepherd who lost a sheep, like the women who searched for her lost coin and the Father who searched the horizon for his lost son, Jesus sends us as the church to seek and save the lost.
Its not enough to believe LOST PEOPLE MATTER TO GOD, if we take Jesus seriously then LOST PEOPLE MUST MATTER TO US, GOD’S PEOPLE. Just like the shepherd who searched for his lost sheep, like the woman who put in so much effort as she turned her house upside down to look for her lost coin and like the Father who didn’t care what other people thought of him and ran and embraced in a loving way a very unlovable young man, lost people must matter to us and as a result we have to put effort into finding them.
If we really are serious about Westlake being a church that exists to make disciples, that we want to help and enable people to become lifelong followers of Jesus, then we cant just focus on people who are already following Jesus, we must join God in finding the lost because they matter as much to us as they do to Him.
Right now, apart from MumQuest connected to GEMS, we don’t have any planned and ongoing way of reaching out to the lost. The truth is, unlike that shepherd and women, we are not putting much effort into our search for the lost. That has to change. We need to find relevant and effective ways to do evangelism in our culture.
I suspect that you might not need me to tell you that, that won’t be easy. Post Christian Europe is not an easy place to do evangelism. The expat community here in Switzerland is often financially well off and feels no need for the Gospel. We are going to have to experiment, we will fail, we will be disappointed at times, but we will, like that woman and shepherd, have to keep on searching no matter how much effort in takes.
That prodigal son, had been living with pigs and then living rough as he travelled home. I wonder if his father smelled him before he saw him? I don’t think the Father would have been all that comfortable normally hugging and kissing a frankly repulsive young man but he did. Why? He did what he probably found uncomfortable, something personally he would normally have avoided because of his love for his son. His son was so valuable to him he was willing to do what he personally found uncomfortable. This is what the elder son and the Pharisees were unwilling to do, they just didn’t value their brother or lost people. What about us?
I have to warn you that reaching out to lost people will mean for us as a church not just putting in the effort like the shepherd and woman but also sometimes doing things we personally might prefer not to. We might need to change the format of our services, we might need to use music that isn’t our taste, we might have to welcome and mix with people who we wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards. Our willingness to do that will be the gauge of how much we really have understood the point Jesus was making in Luke 15. Our willingness not to hold on to our own preference, our willingness to change, our willingness to be made a bit uncomfortable at times will be the ultimate proof as to whether lost people, who matter to God, also matter to us as a Church.