June 28, 2010 David Balzer

Luke 15: Lost and Found

Have you ever been LOST?

One of our Youth Group leaders got lost taking some s home from a youth group outing a few years ago. She somehow turned the wrong way onto the M2 coming from Pennant Hills (I think), and ended up on the Harbour Bridge instead of in Blacktown!

It was the best excuse those s ever had for getting home after curfew!

That’s GEOGRAPHICALLY lost. But there’s all sorts of “lost”, isn’t there?

TO BE LOST IS TO BE IN A PLACE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE, OR TO BE SOMEONE YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE.

Lost/ is the 40 year old man who marries his childhood sweetheart, has two beautiful children. His life is set. His future is assured. But his work begins to consume him. His career DEFINES him. He grows apart from his wife, and his kids grow up without him. He comes home from work one night to find the house empty. They’ve left. And he never even saw it coming.

He’s lost. He’s not where he’s supposed to be.

Lost/ is the age who longs for her parent’s approval and love and acceptance. It’s not there. She thinks she finds what she’s looking for in the arms of an older boy at school. He says he loves her. But he doesn’t, and neither do her parents. A year later, she’s on her own, pushing a pram down the street to her tiny Housing Commission flat.

She’s lost. Not where she’s supposed to be.

Lost is the respectable, middle-class mother and housewife. She’s spent the last twenty years trying to please everyone else. To meet the expectations of an emotionally-distant husband, a judgmental mother-in-law, ungrateful and unhelpful children. Her friends are simply acquaintances she has to impress, or keep up with. Is there anyone at all who even notices her? Who would notice if she was gone?

She’s lost. Not where she’s supposed to be.

And Julie Parsons of Florida was lost. Her story’s printed in a 1992 Prison Fellowship newsletter. At a very early age she was introduced to GANGS. And that began a lostness that lasted almost 20 years. During those years she was involved with everything from prostitution to extortion, from armed bank robbery to international smuggling. By the end of it she was miserable, -addicted, alone, and contemplating .

She was lost. Not where she was supposed to be. More on Julie Parsons later.

I could paint a thousand pictures. And each one would be different. Each one would describe someone who’s LOST. Not where they’re supposed to be.

The world is full of lost people. And, most of the time, no-one cares less. We’ve all got enough problems of our own. Just trying to keep OURSELVES from losing it.

And lost people just like these/ were coming to Jesus. Because they saw in him someone who DID care. But more than that/ who offered them a WAY OUT. A way to move from lost-ness to wholeness. From life the way it SHOULDN’T be, to life the way IT WAS DESIGNED.

He’s been talking about entering through the narrow door. About the need to love him, even more than family. About taking up a CROSS to follow him. To follow him from LOST-NESS to FOUND-NESS.

And he’s finished Ch 14 with these words, “He who has ears to HEAR, let him HEAR.”

And guess who takes him up on the offer? The very next verse. Ch 15 v1.

(Luke 15:1 NIV)  Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.

The lost. People who recognise they’re not where they want to be. And who want to do something about it. They’re HEARING him.

But, just like today. There are people who don’t want anything to do with the lost. V2.

(Luke 15:2 NIV)  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“People THAT lost need to be AVOIDED, not helped. They’re WORTHLESS. Steer clear of them.”

But Jesus is nowhere NEAR that sort of attitude. And so he tells them a story. THREE stories actually. Each one, about God and his desire to find lost people.

And each one describes the same relationship from a different perspective. The same picture painted with different hues.

But rather than look at each one individually we’ll look at what each one tells us about GOD. WHO/ saves the lost. And then we’ll look at the WHY of salvation. What MOTIVATES God to save the lost.

1. Who?

First, Who. In each story, God is represented.

In the first story He’s the SHEPHERD. It’s a picture that’s FULL of meaning. In the Old Testament, shepherd was one of the images God took for himself to describe his relationship with Israel. Like in Ezek 34.

(Ezek 34:11-12 NIV)  “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. {12} As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

God is the shepherd who guides and cares for his sheep. And who rescues them when they go astray.

And as Ezekiel and the people looked forward to God’s promises of rescue, it will be in Jesus – the good shepherd – who saved his sheep through LAYING DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THEM – that those promises will be KEPT.

And as Jesus tells the story, we see HOW MUCH God loves the sheep. SO much, he’ll search out and save EVEN ONE LOST SHEEP.

No matter how far the sheep strays, God the shepherd keeps chasing it, until he rescues it.

And when he finds it, he doesn’t just whistle and expect the sheep to follow. He doesn’t just throw a noose around its neck, and drag it home. Because the sheep’s probably injured, or frightened, or exhausted.

And so the shepherd rescues the sheep THOROUGHLY. He picks the sheep up – not an easy task if you’ve ever spent any time among fully-grown sheep – and puts it on his shoulders.

This is no halfway rescue. No “let’s meet in the middle” rescue. No “You try your hardest to work your way to God, and he’ll chip in with the rest”

God the shepherd rescues THOROUGHLY. He searches us out, hoists us onto his shoulders. And carries us home.

What’s more, God searches CAREFULLY for the lost. That’s the second story, He’s like the woman who’s lost her coin. One of ten. A coin was easily lost – perhaps even easily replaced. But for this woman, the house will be TURNED UPSIDE DOWN until she finds it.

No lifting up a few cushions here and there. No throwing a few old newspapers around. She lights a lamp. She sweeps the house carefully. Goes over everything with a fine-tooth comb. She thorough, she’s painstaking, and systematic. Until eventually she finds it.

It’s the difference between Daniel saying he can’t find his school shoes when they’re right there on the shelf in his cupboard. And Caron looking for her watch. Daniel couldn’t really care LESS if he found his shoes. But Caron will TURN THE HOUSE UPSIDE DOWN because it’s a valuable watch.

And God searches for US carefully.

Some people are so WELL-HIDDEN from God, they think he’ll never find them. So immoral, or so hardened to God in their intellectualism or humanism. Or so stubborn and set-in-their-ways. Or so attached to the things of this world – attached to power or money or significance or projects or family. So HAPPY or so FULFILLED or so COMPLETE.

And yet, time and again, we hear stories about how God manages to FIND people like that. People who are so well-hidden, they thought God would never find them.

And when he finds them, he tears away the barriers. He shines the light of his word into the dark corner of their life. Like a torch in a dark room. And his Spirit opens their eyes. And they understand what they’ve been missing out on. And they turn to him.

God searches carefully until he finds his lost.

Like he did with Julie Parsons. She tells the story.

One night God touched me and I woke from the horror that was my life. I’d gone to the dope house to collect money and . When I walked into the back room, I saw a young , and three men. They were throwing little pieces of onto the floor. I stood watching as she crawled around on the floor, shaking and crying, searching for the . I was sickened and disgusted.

I felt the gun in my hand without even realizing I’d taken it out. To this day I believe the only thing that saved me from committing that night was God. And the fact that I couldn’t decide who should die, her, them or me.

I began to walk. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t care. I was LOST. I remember sitting down on the curb and thinking, “Some piece of work I am, a gun in my jeans, a pocket full of dope, cash in my sock, and so sick and miserable that would be a blessing. Maybe it’s me who should die.”

It was at that moment I surrendered and my darkness became light. The light of God filled me with warmth, love and peace, and I heard a voice that had no words but spoke directly to my heart. It called to me over and over again, “Have you had enough? Are your ready?”

I sat for a long time. Finally I picked myself up from the curb, totally confused because I knew beyond a doubt what kind of person I was and God doesn’t visit “BAD” people, does He?

Just then a friend pulled up next to me and called my name. I got in the car and he took me to his house. No sooner was I through the door than I was smoking dope. My friend walked into the room, looked at me, shook his head and said, “Oh Julie HAVEN’T YOU HAD ENOUGH? AREN’T YOU READY? God’s waiting you know, and there’s no moment so dark that he can’t make light.”

At first I thought, “This guy must have seen what happened on that curb.” But he hadn’t. In that moment I knew with all clarity that this friend, who I’d never known was a Christian, didn’t happen along by , and that what he said was the repeating of a divine message sent just for me alone.

I knew no matter who or what I was, God loved me. I knew He was reaching for me because my pain and shame were so great I couldn’t reach for Him.

I took hold of the Lord’s hand, and now where He heads I follow. In the beginning it was a very hard path. I had over a dozen felony warrants for my arrest, but in His love I need have no fear. Our first walk was to jail, BCI, Florida State’s Max. Security Prison.

Often I’ve cried, but as time goes by, the way gets easier and the scenery more and more beautiful as I learn to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. I’m still in prison, and I’m all right with that because I’m never alone and I’m still walking with the Lord.

God rescues THOROUGHLY, and searches CAREFULLY until he finds his lost. No-one is TOO lost.

Thirdly, the father waits patiently, and forgives completely. That’s the story of the prodigal son. You probably know it well.

Despite the son’s rejection of him – wishing him . Despite the passing of months or years. The father waits patiently. Peering down the road, eager and expectant.

Until one day, when the son comes to his senses, he trudges home. And look at how Jesus puts it. V20.

(Luke 15:20 NIV)  “But while he was still A LONG WAY OFF, his father saw him and was FILLED WITH COMPASSION FOR HIM; he RAN to his son, THREW HIS ARMS around him and KISSED him.

It’s hard to imagine a greater distance that could have existed between a father and a son. But in an instant, the wasted inheritance was forgotten. The insult was forgotten. The lost time was forgotten. The Father waited patiently, and forgave completely.

It doesn’t matter how far YOU’VE traveled. How long you’ve been away from God. How undeserving of his forgiveness you think you are. Nothing is too great. Because your heavenly father will always wait patiently, and forgive completely.

2. Why?

But why? What MOTIVATES God to behave like this toward wicked, sinful, rebellious people, who’s instinct is to spend their lives thumbing their nose at God?

a. the misery of lost-ness

The first reason God loves to save, and find, and forgive. Is because of the MISERY of lost-ness. Everyone else couldn’t care less, but God has compassion on lost and helpless people. He shows MERCY.

Consider the sheep. Sheep WANDER. If you ask a farmer how a sheep gets lost, the answer will be, “One blade of grass at a time.”

They don’t set out to get lost. They get attracted by a green clump of grass, and then another, and then another. Until, before they know it, they’re lost.

And some PEOPLE are like that. They WANDER. They never MEANT to end up lost. To end up away from God.

The goal of their ten year plan was never to wind up divorced, or unemployed, or -addicted, or suicidal, or unfulfilled, or unconnected to God or his people.

They just moved from one goal to another. Wandering along, looking for one thing to make them happy after another.

Until one day they realise that instead of where they’re supposed to be, they’re lost. The things they thought were making them HAPPIER – getting life TOGETHER – was actually leading them where they DIDN’T want to be – LOST.

Lost people are like wandering sheep. That’s why God wants to rescue them.

Secondly, lost people are HELPLESS like a coin.

Once a coin falls down the back of the bed, or between the cushions of the lounge. That’s where it stays. There’s no way you can expect a coin to find its own way home – like a dog.

The only way a coin will be rescued. Is if someone else does it.

And it’s the same with us. We’re HELPLESS in our lost-ness, until God finds us. Until he opens our eyes, gives us the gift of faith to trust him.

Like someone stuck in a car-wreck that’s teetering over the edge of a cliff. Any movement will send the car crashing onto the rocks below. Every effort we make to rescue ourselves, simply jiggles the car closer and closer to destruction.

Every good work, every best intention, every donation, every renewed effort, every new leaf turned-over. Every New Year’s Resolution.

Nothing does any good. They just wiggle us closer to the edge. They just make our lost-ness and frustration greater.

Until we decide to keep perfectly still. And trust ourselves into the hands of the Saviour. Who attaches the winch, and drags us back from the edge. Who rescues us from , and hell, and darkness/ and brings us into life and relationship and light and freedom.

Lost people are like coins. They’re HELPLESS. That’s why God wants to rescue them.

Thirdly, lost people are like the son- WILLFUL AND FOOLISH.

The son had EVERYTHING HE NEEDED. Yet it wasn’t enough. He chose INdependence, rather than dependence on his father.

Every step away from home, a deliberate slap in the face to his father. Every dollar spent, a conscious attempt to make his father irrelevant. WILLFUL.

And there are many people who KNOW VERY WELL that they’re living in rebellion to their heavenly father. And they couldn’t care less!

But it’s FOOLISHNESS to ignore their creator. Like a son who’d rather eat pigs food than work as a slave in his father’s house. FOOLISHNESS.

And yet it’s in this very situation that God rescues us.

The first reason God rescues / is because of THE MISERY OF THE LOST.

b. The joy of finding

And the second reason God rescues/ is God’s JOY at finding the lost. The common theme in each story is the PARTY at the end.

The shepherd who calls his friends and neighbours together. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”

The woman who calls HER friends and neighbours together. “Rejoice with me, I have found my lost coin.”

And the father who says to the servants. V22.

(Luke 15:22-24 NIV)  ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. {23} Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. {24} For this son of mine was and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

And it’s the same with GOD, and lost people. V7

(Luke 15:7 NIV)  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 persons who do not need to repent.

God and the angels THROW A PARTY when a sinner repents. There’s nothing God enjoys MORE than seeing people become friends with him. It’s what he MADE them FOR in the FIRST PLACE.

And that’s Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees. They wanted nothing to DO with the sinners. Their theory was that God would rejoice when sinners were DESTROYED.

Yet Jesus’ point is the opposite. William Barclay says the wondrous thought here is that “GOD IS KINDER THAN MEN. Men may condemn, but not God. Men may give up hope of a sinner. But not God. It is a thousand times easier to come back to God/ than to come home to the bleak criticism of men”.

God REJOICES when sinners are saved.

And notice too what the key to being saved is. REPENTANCE. “more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who REPENTS ..”

Recognising that you’re lost. Somewhere you’re not meant to be. Recognising that you’ve sinned against God. And turning around, and coming home.

Just like the Prodigal Son.

Is that something YOU need to do? Why not do it TODAY?

3. The Other Son

And yet that’s not the end of Jesus’ story. Because there’s still ANOTHER son. The OLDER son. Who’s been with the father LONGER. And it’s HIS attitude that Jesus wants the Pharisees to learn from.

So what can WE learn from the mistakes of the older son?

Let me suggest a of things. His first mistake was to do with his relationship with his father. not CELEBRATING it. For him, life was more about SLAVERY than SONSHIP. V29.

(Luke 15:29 NIV)  ‘Look! All these years I’ve been SLAVING for you and never disobeyed your orders.

Life following the rules of his father were more to be ENDURED than enjoyed. There was a bitterness and resentment there. A jealousy and envy at the freedoms OTHERS had.

Are you ever like that with non-Christians? Wishing that you had a bit more of what THEY’VE got?

There was no REJOICING in his relationship. “All these years …Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could CELEBRATE with my friends.

Scorning God as miserly and stingy. Not willing to give you good things. He took all the good things he had for granted. Do you ever think of God like that?

The older son’s second mistake was not rejoicing at the return of his brother. In fact, he wouldn’t even REFER to him as his brother. He wanted nothing to do with him. “This son of yours!” He’s no brother of MINE.

And yet the Father’s joy is so infectious he wants his SON to share it too. To welcome his brother back from the .

(Luke 15:31-32 NIV)  “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. {32} But we had to CELEBRATE and be glad, because THIS BROTHER OF YOURS was and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

And that’s Jesus’ message to the Pharisees. If God has accepted these lost people, then the Pharisees should too. Should receive them AS BROTHERS.

Do you ever presume to decide WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE are FIT to be part of God’s family? Do you JUDGE what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour?

Who made YOU the gate-keeper for God’s sheep-pen? If God has rejoiced at the salvation of someone, who are YOU to disown them? To treat them as no part of your family?

And Jesus leaves the question hanging. Because the older son remains outside. We don’t find out what he chooses. The Pharisees choose how the story will end for THEM.

And it’s the same with YOU. How will it end for YOU?

Do you have a heart for the lost like your Father?

Will you work hard to rescue the lost like a shepherd who thoroughly rescues? Will you PERSIST at searching out the lost like the woman who searches carefully? Will you patiently wait, and completely forgive the lost like the Father? Will you PARTY and REJOICE when God rescues lost people?

DO YOU HAVE A HEART FOR THE LOST LIKE YOUR FATHER?

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