Lost Things, and the Joy of Finding Them (Luke 15)

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?

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

One thought on “Lost Things, and the Joy of Finding Them (Luke 15)

  1. Hi Randy, You asked questions … so I’ll work on some answers.

    “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?” I certainly had a lot of problems dealing with the world when I was a teenager. Overprotected, or rather isolated from others as I attempted unsuccessfully to do homework most of the time. It was in my early teens that I first attempted to follow God, but I realized that I probably could not carry out that effort with parents that weren’t religous. So, (though I didn’t think of the scripture) I counted the cost and intentionally postponed my commitment to God until I would be about 18 or so, but it seemed that right on time God reignited my desire to serve Him, although the religious road I got on was an intense one with a Bible-oriented yet quite confused church with its share of “wolves” and uniformed people in leadership positions. And the interim between postponing my commitment to God and commiting to serving him, God used it to make me see how I could not do things on my own.

    I think nearly everyone sees elements of their lost condition. The problem might be two-fold. Some people are turned off by hypocrisy of Religious people and/or they think God has set a very low bar for religious performance, (or for loving God and others, rather) because they see limited evidence of humility, reasonableness or good works by Christians. The other part of their condition might be similar to the people of Sodom, who became angry at Lot for rebuking their attempts to sin. They accused him of being a foreigner and yet, “playing the judge”. Or maybe serving God, “religion” just doesn’t intellectually click with most people.

    The scripture says that God has put a conscience in us that does condemn us and well … let me paste the scripture here.

    11 For God does not show favoritism.
    12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
    13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
    14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.
    15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
    16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
    (Rom. 2:11-16 NIV)

    So, people have some conscience as a guide. Is it good enough though? The word of God is “light unto my path” quoting from memory. When the word of God comes, a light turns on. No longer can people compare their behavior to that of their neighbor and decide whether they are OK. The word of God reveals that things we thought were OK, may not be. Jesus told the Pharisees that though they loved money, they can not love or persue it rather than God. The pursuits are opposed to each other. So, God’s word helps us to see what we should be like. Now our devotion to Jesus comes about because he bought us with his blood. To some extent, instinctually, people may feel that God is love.

    I can only think of one way that really works. As you said it is not to be judgmental or condescending. Jesus gave the command to “take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly enough to help your brother remove the speck from his eye”.

    Is that advice pertinent towards helping people in the church relate to one another .. or is it also pertinent to how we help others see Jesus? I mean of course, it pertinent to both. But what is the role and practice of those who might not be sure they took the plank out of their own eye?

    And is there any way the scripture where Jesus condemned the Pharisess for scouring the world to win a single convert and then “making him twice the son of hell” as they are might pertain to Christians using flawed evangelism? I mean are there any Christians that make converts, but change people for the worse? Do some Christians teach people to be self-righteous etc?

    I mean obviously, it happens.

    The first thing I suppose is to care. The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are to teach us that we should care for others. And if we do that we should also be praying for others. Paul in chains was praying that not only King Aggripa but that all those who heard him would become as he was, “except for [the chains]”

    That is a challenging scripture. It is a challenging way to go through life, seeing people with God’s love and his desire to bring them to him. Some people are good directly talking with others. I am very weak at that normally … but, what I think I am skilled at is taking a prodigious amount of time with relevant intellectual issues … and I’m not even talking about what I write on this blog.

    I may never have thought about this point until now. But if we truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – then we will have a heightened awareness of evangelism. Not only as a rule that we might feel compelled to follow. I mean if we love God that much – we will be excited about Him and will want to share Him. If you really love something your enthusiasm will be hard to contain.

    Similarly by truly loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, our priorities will be God, God, God, We will be aware of His power, his love and his greatness, and will have a heightened friendship with Him. God too will … and this sounds so stupid in a secular culture … He will be more inclined to work with us for His purposes if we are not double-minded. There is a lot of meat in that particular point, about an interaction between loving God and caring for the lost sheep who don’t know Him. I am glad you asked your questions and got me thinking about that.

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