Apparently I have had a lifelong habit of losing things. I don’t actually remember specific items that I lost as a child and youth, but I clearly remember several lines my father used on me in those occasions. He would say, “Randy, you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to you.” Or, when I’d ask him about something I misplaced, he would say, “Yes, I know where it is … right where you last had it!”
It is frustrating in life to lose things or misplace them. Among things I have lost is my wedding ring – years ago when still in New Jersey. I think it happened while coaching little league baseball. I once misplaced my passport in England and only managed to find it at the last minute before flying back to the States. I have twice lost my sermon notes just before it was time to preach – once here and once in New Jersey. It is a weekly experience to lose car keys, cell phone, wallet, etc.
But, when something is lost, but then is found, it is a great feeling of joy and relief. For the next four days we will be looking at the three parables in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (prodigal) son. Each of them sets up a celebration that is huge – actually out of proportion for the item being found … showing of course the great joy of salvation.
But before someone is found, they have to realize they are lost. And that is a great challenge on many occasions. And we see this very dynamic in the setting of these three parables, each given in response to Christ’s awareness of the attitude of the Pharisees.
15:1 – Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
To the Pharisees, all of the hanging out that Jesus did with the sinner classes of people was, in their view, totally over the line. Eating with people in that culture signified that you identified with them – and why would a righteous person … say, like themselves … do such a thing and think they are godly?? The Pharisees did not see themselves as lost; the sinners were those who were lost.
Jesus, as always, knows what they are thinking and what was really the condition of their hearts, whether he heard their murmurings or not. And rather than confront it directly, he tells them three stories that have an impact bigger than any frontal rebuke would contain. The point that Jesus would make is that, though they may not have had the same obvious debts as those upon whom they regarded as great sinners, because they lacked perfection, they were indeed just as spiritually lost.
A challenge in evangelism is to get people to understand their lost condition accurately. While you won’t really find anyone who claims to truly be perfectly sinless, the vast majority of people do not rightly understand their lost condition before God. They do not see themselves as being in danger of judgment or in a state of separation from God because of a barrier of sin. They rather see God as a sort of kindly old grandfather who can’t help but dote upon his grandkids – overlooking their minimally insignificant failures to be righteous, believing that God will just sorta say, “Well, boys will be boys.” Then he’ll grin and buy them an ice cream cone.
The fact is that our debt of sin inherited from Adam has us separated from God. The Scriptures speak of us as “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Dead people don’t respond, but God in grace gives us life to respond to the preaching of the gospel. And at that moment there is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner comes to receive that gift of grace.
Questions to ponder/discuss – Do you remember what it was like before you came to know Christ, and how did you believe you were OK with God at that time? Do you find it difficult when telling others about Christ to see them understand their lost condition? What are the thoughts of many people as to why they believe themselves to be fine with God? How do we help people understand their lost condition, and how do we do this without sounding judgmental or condescending?