Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people--even eating with them! -- Luke 15: 1-2 (NLT)
The fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke presents us with three very familiar parables involving things that are lost. There of course is the very common thread running through the three stories regarding salvation and how far God will go to make sure that none of us is lost for eternity. Going deeper however there appears to be more specific implications within each separate story for us to examine today. Let us start with the key verses, which are commonly just looked upon as the introduction to these three parables. Notice however why Jesus told these three stories and within the "why" lies the truth for us all today to realize. The lost in Jesus' society would often come to listen to Him teach. The Bible says that it is the sick after all who need the doctor. This drew a response from the religious folks of the time and it was not a positive reaction. They actually were complaining that Jesus would spend His time associating with such sinful people -- even eating with them! Heaven forbid!
So it can go today as well as the church often plays the role of the religiosity crowd at the expense of the people who desperately need to hear the live saving Gospel message. Remember, once we are saved our life is no longer our own. God has works laid out for us to do since the foundations of the world were set. We have been commissioned:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." -- Matthew 28: 19-20 (NLT)
This is not the great suggestion. It is not the great option. It is the Great Commission. The dictionary defines commission as being given an authoritative order or direction. Yet how many of us obey this order? How many churches obey this order? The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well in too many churches across this land. We are quick to bring the morality of Christianity to the lost but not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not the love of Jesus Christ. Religion never saved anyone -- only relationship does. If Jesus were here today would He be found relaxing in the churches or would he still be eating with notorious sinners? In order for Jesus to answer His critics, He responded with these three stories which reveal where we find the lost. Here is the first.
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away! -- Luke 15: 4-7 (NLT)
The lost are out there beloved. They are out there in the world. They are found in the same places Christ found us. They are in the bars and nightclubs. They are in the dark alleyways of life and the psychiatric wards of a world that has given up on them. They are leading seemingly normal lives of quiet misery or are shouting at the top of their lungs for help from a society that has no intention of helping them. They are at the edge of darkness and at the end of their rope. They have spent their entire life chasing after something to fill the emptiness they feel inside of them. That empty space that only Jesus can fill. They have tried filling it over the years of their life with all of the suggestions of the world. They have tried filling it with drugs and alcohol. They have tried filling it with lust and pornography. They have tried filling it with career and power. They have tried filling it with therapy and prescription medication. No matter what they try it doesn't fit. Nothing will fit into that empty space except the God that created them. Nothing. Do you remember where God found you? This is the number one reason why Christians get puffed up with their pride -- they forgot where God found them. I am just a sinner saved by grace. We hear that expression all the time but do we really live it? There are three parts to it that we need to embrace today if we are to find that stray sheep. The first is that we are sinners:
As the Scriptures say, "No one is righteous-- not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one." "Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies." "Snake venom drips from their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don't know where to find peace." "They have no fear of God at all." -- Romans 3: 10-18 (NLT)
The next time you want to think you are all that and a bag of chips read these verses and understand that without the blood of Christ -- this is how we look to God. The Bible says our righteousness is but filthy rags before a holy God. Yet it seems sometimes as if we just get too full of ourselves as Christians. We look at the fallen world and forget that it is the same world that God had to save us from as well. Which brings us to the second part of that phrase -- we are sinners who have been SAVED. This should also help to keep us humble if we can ever remember it in our lives. It becomes difficult in modern Christianity because of the warped versions of Christ who is being preached. Churches are so busy teachings congregations to seize the blessings of Abraham that they fail to teach the obedience of Abraham. They are so busy trying to turn Jesus into your best friend who lives next door that we do not hear enough that He is our Savior who seats us in heavenly realms. Savior -- which means we needed saving. I do not know about you -- but I remember the bar God found me in. I remember who I was and by the world's standards I may not have been a bad guy. But then the Savior shined His light into who I really was and I realized I was a sinner who was in desperate need of saving. This brings us to the third portion of that saying. Grace:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -- Ephesians 2: 8-10 (NLT)
We are God's masterpiece! We are but the clay beloved and He is the Potter. We are a sinner but we have been saved and that salvation is accomplished only by the unending grace of Almighty God. That means we do not walk under the condemnation of the world or religiosity. It means that we know who we are in Christ. That while we understand we still will sin due to the flesh we live in -- we also know that God has already forgiven that sin so that we can repent and move on to the good things He has planned for us long ago. Hallelujah! Going back to the key chapter -- Jesus continued telling the Pharisees the parables of the lost:
"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won't she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, "Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God's angels when even one sinner repents." -- Luke 15: 8-10 (NLT)
The lost are not only out there in the world but they are sitting right next to you in church as well. I firmly believe that the modern American church is in desperate need of evangelization. Possibly even more so than the world because the world at least will admit the separation but the folks in church already believe they are saved! Do we light a lamp within our own house and sweep it clean? Or do we allow blatant sin to go unchallenged due to the calls for fake unity. I have said it before but it bears repeating -- any call for unity that is not based upon Jesus Christ is a false unity. We are quick to judge the world -- whom we are not supposed to judge yet we fail to judge those inside the church who we have been commanded to. Wait a minute preacher! I know the Bible says judge not lest not ye be judged! Yes the Bible does say that and they are some of the most poorly interpreted verses in the entire canon of Scripture. While talking about hypocrisy, not judgment, Jesus does indeed say those words. He then uses the metaphor of the plank in your eye while you try to help your brother with the speck in his own. THEN -- He teaches us specifically to remove the plank so that we can better see the speck in our brother's eye and help him. Nowhere does it suggest that Jesus wanted us to leave our brother standing there with the speck in his eye. The Apostle Paul is much clearer:
It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you." -- 1Corinthians 5: 12-13 (NLT)
Now, I am not advocating for developing a critical or judgmental spirit. What I am saying is that we are to correct or rebuke in love. We are our brother's keeper. But the church doesn't do well with self criticism. We would rather look at a world walking in total darkness and blame them for everything. There is a plague of false conversion in the modern church. Remember the "Lord Lord" verses -- not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven who genuinely thought they would. There are coins lost all over the church today and we need to light a lamp and sweep it clean. Sweep it clean of the false teachers leading our fellow sheep astray. Sweep it clean of the greed and shallow theologies that promote prosperity in this life at the cost of eternal life. We need to sweep it clean of the doctrinal hucksters, the church growth theories, and the flavors of the month which are based on hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world and not Christ. Jesus was not done with the Pharisees however. The final parable is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
The first parable was a call to search the world for the lost and bring them to the foot of the cross. The second parable was a call to search the church itself for people who are in desperate need of the salvation they hear so much about each week. The last parable however, is a call to look inside of ourselves and ask ourselves which brother are we? We know the story all too well. A man had two sons and one demands his share of his inheritance. The father relents and he goes off to spend it living in the world on wild living. He soon finds himself penniless and subdued by the world -- as we were once before Christ. He realizes that it would be better to be a servant for his father than a servant to this world and he decides to go home. Instead of judgment he finds forgiveness from his father -- who is a representation of God and how He forgives us as well. No questions about his wild life. No questions about his squandering of his inheritance. He places a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He throws a feast for him and kills the fattened calf. Remember how much joy there is in heaven when one person repents!
This son was all of us before we came to Christ. We too realized it would be better serving our heavenly Father than serving the god of this world. We too were greeted with unconditional forgiveness and love. We too were welcomed back into the family of God. If this parable were simply about salvation it would end there -- but there was another brother.
"The older brother was angry and wouldn't go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, "All these years I've slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!' -- Luke 15: 28-30 (NLT)
The older brother represents who we can become if we are not careful. The spirit of the other brother is alive and well within the church today. I remember early on in one of my ministries someone received a leadership opportunity before me even though I was more committed. I was offended and went home that day to pray about it. God simply said -- "who are you doing it for?" If we serve in ministry or we do things for God that should be our reward. We do not need the accolades of man. We should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We allow the spirit of the other brother to infect us when we start thinking that we deserve something. Remember -- the only thing we deserved was death and God saved us from it!
So as we consider the parables of the lost today I want us to dig a little deeper than usual. Yes they are beautiful stories of the grace and mercy of an all-saving God but inside of each story is a call for each of us today. A call to search the highways and byways for the lost and bring them into the banquet that we find ourselves so blessed to be invited to. A call to search the church of God and make sure that every coin is accounted for. That we do not leave behind the very people we assume will be with us in Paradise. Lastly, a call to examine ourselves as well. To avoid becoming like the other son in the last parable. Jesus never said what happened to him. He was refusing to come in and celebrate the salvation of his own brother because he allowed himself to be offended. We get offended way to easily today beloved. Offense is just the fertile soil the devil likes to plant his lies in our hearts. I am sure we all know people who have left the church because of offense -- never to be heard from again. Back to the world. Back to the very things that broke them to begin with. Back to their vomit as the Bible says. The lost are everywhere beloved. Inside the church, outside the church, inside our hearts. We need to be careful today to carry out the Great Commission wherever it leads us.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 14, 2013