Lost and Found
Preached by Jason Abbott
I just got back from traveling to Missouri. I flew out and, then, drove back with Natalie and the kids. I don’t like flying. But, it’s not because of plane crashes or something like that. It’s because I know for an hour or two I’ll likely be wedged between a couple of strangers. And, that will most likely mean one of two things—either awkward conversation or awkward silence.
Now, those of you who know me probably wonder why I’d fear conversing with people. You think: Jason’s likely the one initiating awkward conversations; Jason’s the guy on a plane you don’t want to sit next to, the guy who won’t shut up during the flight. But, I’m not, since there’s a question—in casual conversation—that will inevitably come up, a question that will make the conversation’s dynamic even more awkward. Namely: What do you do for a living? Nothing strikes people with more fear and disgust than finding out they’re talking with a real, live pastor. No non-Christian wants to sit next to a pastor on an airplane. In this day and age, as a profession, we might as well have the plague. Our profession has done terribly when it comes to public relations.
This, however, wasn’t true about Jesus. The outsiders and the “unchurched” were flocking to talk with him and hear him. They would have been thrilled to sit next to him on a plane. Let’s see how our Lord handled this kind of attractiveness to outsiders and the criticism from insiders that came with it.
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.”
Well, I want us to consider three things about this text from Luke’s gospel—one thing about ministry and two things about the character of God. When it comes to ministry we must note that it’ll often be a messy affair; so (1st) messy ministry. Yet, we have to do this messy ministry because of the Lord’s compassion and care for (2nd) the lost, and his joyous celebration over (3rd) all those who are found. Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Messy Ministry (vv. 1-3)
What’s your personal philosophy of ministry? Could you even articulate it? Do you even have one? Let me take another angle. What will sharing the gospel with non-Christians look like? What would it mean to show an atheist or agnostic or Muslim hospitality—to have them to your house for a meal with your family? What would it mean to do the same in their home? What might it look like for you to build a deep, lasting relationship with a non-Christian? Messy…right?
Think about Jesus in this passage. He’s rubbing elbows with “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 1). This is a general way of saying that he’s hanging out with those who would feel totally out of place in a synagogue. He’s hanging out with all those who’d feel under the microscope setting foot in a church today. For just a moment, imagine someone you know who’d feel like that in church. Do you know anyone? If you don’t, you should…your Lord certainly did.
Yet, take a step back. Jesus isn’t inside a synagogue here. He’s in the streets where “tax collectors and sinners” are. Jesus is not expecting these people to come to synagogue in order to meet him. He’s meeting them where they live and work. He’s meeting them on their turf. He’s taking the gospel—his work and ministry—to those who are lost. Just consider who’d have been cozying up to the Lord Jesus at these gatherings.
- “Tax collectors” were especially repugnant to the Israelites of Jesus’ day. These men had sided with Rome—Israel’s conqueror—for material gain; they were traitors to the state. Worse still, they reaped their financial gain by over taxing their own countrymen. (Think Robinhood in reverse—stealing from the poor to give to the rich.) Messy ministry.
- “Sinners” surely included many kinds of religious outsiders. In Scripture, we know that often prostitutes were among those associating with Jesus. Also, Christ met with those living-out sexually promiscuous life-styles—adulterers and other types of sex offenders. Messy ministry.
I remember well the interview process that brought our family to this church. I recall many conversations over ministry philosophy with Mike Grenier back then; and, if you were to sum up our thoughts in two words, they’d be—messy ministry. We both longed to serve a church that lived life in the trenches with non-believers, a congregation of people who rubbed shoulders with “tax collectors and sinners” out of a true zeal for sharing the love of Christ with them.
Let me describe the kind of congregation we talked about in a different way. I think it’s fair to say that we want this gathering of believers to be easily criticized by other congregations for being too edgy in the company we keep. I would love it if we gained the reputation of being a church who readily welcomes “tax collectors and sinners” into our homes and our dinner tables and our hearts. It would be a joy, for me, to have to justify your behavior to my peers. I’d love to hear them sneer—even as the Pharisees did concerning Jesus—your church “receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2).
Look, I wouldn’t have to be witty. I wouldn’t have to be quick on my feet when defending you. I’d just have to steal these little stories which Jesus tells next in this text. (Nothing shuts pharisaical pastors up like quoting Jesus.)
So, what are you following Jesus for? Are you a Christian to tidy things up, to keep your life clean and orderly? Do you think Christ will help your reputation and ensure that your children hangout with the right people? If this is true for you, then you’re following the wrong Savior. Jesus came to engage in messy ministry, and he calls you to do the same—to love tax collectors and sinners. Are you?
Well, let’s shift gears now and look at what the stories, that Jesus tells, teach concerning the character of God.
2. The Lost (vv. 4-10)
In both parables, something is lost—first, a shepherd loses one of his sheep and, then, a woman loses one of her silver coins. In each of the stories, the person who has lost something drops what they’re doing to search for what’s been lost. The shepherd leaves “ninety-nine sheep in the open country” to search for the one that’s lost, and the woman turns on lights and gets a broom to search “diligently” for a single lost coin.
Is there anyone sitting here who doesn’t know exactly what that feels like?! To lose something and to drop all you’re doing to search for it?!
Not too long ago, my five-year-old lost one of his favorite little Lego men. Now, I’d just swept the dining-room floor, emptying the dustpan into the trashcan. Then, I’d tied up the trash bag and had taken it out to the big, nasty trash container, tossing it in and mingling it with even more garbage. (See where this is going?!) By the time we knew where his figurine likely was, it was clear that recovering it would mean getting messy by sifting through rotten muck. It was clear we’d need to be inconvenienced and change our plans to make that little boy happy.
In short, it would cost us something to find his lost Lego guy!
Friends, when Jesus tells these stories about searching for what’s been lost, he’s teaching us about the character of God. In short, God is concerned for the lost and is, therefore, actively seeking them out. He will work diligently to find them—every last one of them!—even though it means being inconvenienced.
But, there’s something more specific we must recognize in these stories too. Namely that Jesus is God seeking the lost. He is the shepherd in the first parable, and he is the woman in the second one. Christ Jesus is God in the flesh on mission to seek and to save what’s been lost (Luke 19:10). So, he’s doing messy ministry. He has dropped everything to sift through the garbage of this sinful, fallen world. And, this messy ministry costs him. It costs him the comfort that was rightfully his. It cost him the reputation that was rightfully his. It would mean criticism and pain and betrayal and death. It cost him to seek and to save the lost…to save you.
We must remember this when we’re trying to love people who are difficult and who are different. We have to remember that we’re not the very best of people. We must recall that we’re not always easy to love and remember what it cost Jesus to save us—that it was our sin that made his cross necessary. When we recall this and keep it before us, we won’t as readily resent God’s call to messy ministry.
Well, the sheep and coin don’t stay lost. And, this brings us to our last point.
3. The Found (vv. 4-10)
Let’s look at what happens in these stories when what’s lost is finally found. Here’s what Jesus says the shepherd does:
…he lays [the sheep] on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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.’ 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 (vv. 5-7).
And, then, here’s the woman’s reaction:
…she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (vv. 9-10).
The point of both of these is the same—there is a great celebration in heaven when sinful people repent and return to God. One sinner sought and found by Jesus is way more cause for joy than ninety-nine who don’t need to repent of their sins. And, God’s angels celebrate with joy when one sinner is found in Christ.
I wonder if, among the people of God, we haven’t lost the right perspective when it comes to conversion—when it comes to someone who was lost, repenting and trusting in Jesus for salvation. As far as I can tell from the two parables here, heaven breaks into a joyous party whenever someone is brought into the kingdom through his or her faith in Christ. One person saved equals a heavenly celebration ordained by God!
Yet, we have trouble getting a golf-clap when multiple people are baptized or when a person shares his or her testimony on a Sunday morning!
Friends, you are so valuable to God! He treasures you and rejoices over you. We must remember this! Do you believe this? Do you recognize how much God sacrificed to bring you back into his heavenly family? You are so precious to him beyond what you can even possibly imagine.
Well, allow me to close with my own little parable. And, it’s a true one.
- Trooping the Colour or the Queens birthday celebration
- Hundreds of Household Division officers as well as horses and musicians in ceremonial uniform
- A spectacular Royal Air force fly past
- The Queen, herself, in a horse-drawn carriage
When they couldn’t find their young son, they left the officers and the horses and the musicians in ceremonial uniform. They forgot about all the fighter planes screaming overhead. The Queen, herself, passed by unnoticed; she meant nothing to them. They couldn’t care less for royalty until their son was found.
And, when he was, a celebration far grander than Trooping the Colour began between mother and father and son.
So it is in heaven when one sinner repents! So is the love of God for you!