What is it that gets you excited? What is it that makes you want to give a shout for joy? This won’t surprise many but for me it has to do with books. I love books but there is a specific kind of situation that really makes me happy.
From time to time, there is a specific book that I will want to get. I will check it out online and take a look at the price. Then I begin to second guess myself. Do I really need to spend the money? Do I really need another book? I will put it out of mind for a bit and then go back and check it out again. So what is it that gets me excited? After talking myself out of it, I see the exact book that I have been looking at in a second hand bookstore on sale for next to nothing. I take it as a sign and immediately purchase this long sought after book. Does this make me a nerd? I’m okay with that.
You may have something completely different as your motivation for joy. It could be the growing of flowers or the completion of something you have been building. It may be writing a story or writing a song. It could be the learning of a new skill. Each of us are different.
What about God? There is a danger that we see God as an impersonal force. But the Bible describes God as having a personality. While some people focus on God’s anger, the Bible also talks about God being joyful.
Jesus tells us in this passage about what it is that inspires a party in heaven. This is something worth dwelling on, especially since we can have a role in sparking that burst of joy.
Joy of Finding the Lost
In Luke 15, we are presented with three parables that are all interconnected. They are the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. A good argument could be made to look at all three together. However, the parable of the lost son, often called the parable of the prodigal son, is so rich that it will be looked at by itself. Just realize that the same theme is running through all three parables.
The parable of the lost sheep taps into the feelings that many of Jesus’ listeners would have experienced. Some of them would have had herds and would have experienced something like this. There you have one hundred sheep and suddenly one goes missing. What are you going to do? Do you remain satisfied that you still have ninety-nine and leave it at that?
Amanda and I have five children. If one of them went missing, which has happened, can you imagine us being satisfied that we still have 80% of our children? That would never happen.
The shepherd understand that the sheep are safer in numbers and in danger in isolation. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one lost sheep. The shepherd is on a mission and will not rest until the lost sheep is found. When the sheep is found, the response of the shepherd is not anger for all the fuss it caused but tremendous joy. Not only does the shepherd feel the joy, he shares it with his friends and neighbours. It is time for a party.
One of the themes that Luke provides in his Gospel is a pairing of male and female examples. He frequently shares two different but similar stories, one featuring a male and the other a female. It is sign of the universality of the kingdom of God.
So Luke tells a story of another lost item, this time from the perspective of a woman. A woman has ten coins and loses one. She begins a frantic search for the lost coin and doesn’t rest until it is found. There have been some interesting theories as to what exactly is going on here. But I think that we can make it more complicated than it needs to be. All of us have lost something and have been frustrated while it is missing. That is the main point. As with the shepherd, the woman finds what was lost and celebrates the discovery. Again, like the shepherd, she calls in her friends and neighbours to join in her joy.
What Jesus is doing is awakening us to the emotions that we have experienced in finding the lost. I want you to think about a time that has happened to you. It might have been your car keys or perhaps a valuable family heirloom. You may have thought it was gone for good and then just as you are about to give up hope, there it is. There is a physical reaction of joy when the lost, especially the valued lost, is found.
Jesus shares this with us because this is what happens in heaven when the lost, in terms of people, are found. But what does that have to do with us?
The Lost Are Being Looked For
The beauty of the parables is that they do not provide all of the explicit details. Jesus invites us to enter into the story and to explore the way this will look in our lives. In this parable, I see four questions that are worth asking that may help us see what this means for us.
1.Who are the Lost?
The first question we should ask is about the identity of the lost. The parables describe a lost sheep and a lost coin. Who are the lost ones in our life? Some have simplified this down to non-Christians. If a person has not experienced Jesus Christ, they are the lost. There is some truth in this. Lostness is all about isolation from where we are supposed to be. Since we are meant to be in relationship with God through Jesus, when we are separated from God, we are lost. At the same time, lostness is about more than this. The power of the image speaks to that hopelessness that comes when something is missing. Who is that feels lost? How about those suffering from mental illness and addictions? How about the homeless and poor? How about those who have been sexually abused and struggle with trust? There are people who have called out to Jesus but still feel lost. They may know where they are going when they die but don’t know where they belong while they are alive. Think about the people that you know who are lost, whether they are Christian or non-Christian. Do we have the burden for the lost that the shepherd and the woman show in this parable?
2.Who is seeking the Lost?
This brings us to the next question. Who is it that goes and looks for the lost? It could be argued that it is Jesus that looks for the lost. Jesus is called elsewhere the Good Shepherd (john 10:11). This true and Jesus does seek out the lost. But think about a time when you were lost and Jesus found you. How did that happen? Was it direct intervention by Jesus? Or did Jesus use other means? Perhaps other people? When I think of my journey, there were many people involved. Some people were praying for me and others spoke to me. There were people who wanted me found and they participated in the search. I would say that these parables do not invite us to sit back in our comfortable chairs and let Jesus do all the work. Rather we are called to join in the search.
3.What will we do to find the Lost?
Once we understand that we have a role, we have to ask what our role will be. What are we willing to do to pursue the lost? What if having a heart for the lost means entering into relationships with people who make us uncomfortable? What if seeking the lost means that church is no longer just about what makes me happy? What if we have to talk to someone about Jesus or share what God has done in our life? What if we volunteer to work in ministries that care for practical needs? If you have been in the position of losing something and being desperate to find it, you know that it takes over your life. Even if you have other tasks to accomplish, the search is still running in the background. These parables challenges us on how seriously we take the lostness of the lost.
4.How do we feel when the Lost are found?
Looking at these parables could feel pretty condemning with the wrong emphasis. We might feel guilty for ever having fun or ever relaxing? We should be search 24/7 for the lost. And yet the emphasis in these parables, and it appears in the third parable as well, is that of the joy in the finding. All three talk about parties and this is tied into what happens in heaven. There is a party in heaven when the lost are found. Are we as eager to party in the church? What happens when the lost are found? Do we see that as business as usual? Or worse do we see that as disrupting the way we like things done? What does it do to you when you hear about a person meeting Jesus for the first time? What does it do to you when a person gets their life back together, when relationships are restored and people move from isolation to community? I generally don’t like telling you what to do but I think Jesus makes it clear that our response should be intense joy.
“I once was lost but now am found.” John Newton wrote those words for his hymn Amazing Grace. This is about him coming from separation from God to relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The way the story is normally told is that he was a captain of a slave ship, he met Jesus, his life was turned around and then he preached the gospel and wrote hymns. The true story is a bit more messy. John Newton met Jesus in 1748 and he gave up profanity and gambling. But he did not give up slaving. He continued to participate in the slave trade until 1754. He didn’t speak out against the slave trade until 1788. The true story is not as neat and tidy as the popular story.
I share this to say that the life of finding the lost is not not always easy. In fact both parables are meant for us to enter into the anxiety of the those that are searching. As we participate in the search, there will be difficult moments. Some lost will not be found and others will stumble many times before coming home.
But Jesus wants us to dwell on the joy of finding. Jesus is ready to party of all the lost that will be found. This is not all left on us, as Jesus is involved in the search, but we are invited to full participants. If you feel lost today, please know that Jesus and his church want you to be found. If you are found, share that joy by finding the others and be ready to celebrate when the lost come home.