Which One Was Lost?
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | September 15, 2019
Read Luke 15:1 - 10 (NIV)
Our New Testament lesson this morning contains two parables that are likely very familiar to us. These two parables are actually part of a trio of parables that collectively could be called the parables of lost things. The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the other is the Parable of the Lost Coin. And the verses that follow our text for the morning contain the third, the Parable of the Lost Son or as it is often referred to, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Each of these parables carry a common theme of someone going to great measures to seek something that has been lost. In the first parable, we read about a shepherd who was willing to leave a flock of 99 sheep in the safety of the sheep pen in order to go out in search of the one sheep who had wandered away.
And while some might speculate how wise it would be to leave 99 sheep to go after just one, anyone who knows anything about sheep and the life of a shepherd will understand that the 99 sheep in the sheep pen were safe, while the lone sheep who had wandered off was in danger -- including danger from predators and dangers of getting tangled up in the brush and even dangers of falling to its death.
But because of the love and concern that the shepherd has for the sheep, they will go out to rescue the lost sheep and bring them back into a place of safety with the other sheep, where the shepherd rejoices that the one who was lost has been found.
The second parable is about a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins and then went on a careful and methodical search to find it. The scriptures say she lit a lamp and swept the entire house until she found it. And once she found it, she called to her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her in celebration at finding the lost coin.
Now, according to some scholars, the coin could have had more than just monetary value for the woman. In biblical times, a woman was given ten silver coins as a wedding gift, so, these coins would have had a certain amount of sentimental value to the woman that exceeded the monetary value.
And what both of these parables illustrate for us is the extremes to which our Savior will go to rescue us when we are lost and the boundless joy and celebration that comes once each of us have been found.
And while these parables are very instructive to us as the church and as individuals, I want to bring something else to our attention this morning. And that is the three verses that precede the parables of lost things.
Listen to them again, this time from the Message Paraphrase:
By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
And those verses are what prompted the question that is the subject of the sermon this morning: WHICH ONE WAS LOST?
In our excitement to get to the parables that Jesus tells in this chapter, it is easy to gloss over these first few verses, but they paint a very interesting picture for us.
The first verse says that, “Tax collectors and notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.”
While the second verse says that this set the Pharisees and teachers of religious law to complaining…
Try to imagine if you will, sinners and tax collectors were coming to hear Jesus teach, presumably looking for encouragement, instruction and guidance on how to live a better life -- doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing when we come into the church.
Meanwhile, the “good” church folks, the elders and deacons and Sunday school teachers, were busy looking down their noses and complaining about the poor caliber of people who were coming into the church…
What’s wrong with this picture? Clearly something was off kilter.
It is reminiscent of a scenario we read about in Mark’s Gospel (2:15 – 17) when Jesus was having dinner at the home of a man named Levi, along with many tax collectors, sinners and His disciples. And when the good church folk, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, saw it, they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And before the disciples could craft a response to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The other day when I was having a discussion with some students in the New Testament Survey class I am facilitating, one of them made a statement that was truly profound. He said that getting upset about sinners and people of poor reputations coming into the church is like getting mad when you go to a hospital because there are sick people all over the place.
All of which begs the question, when Jesus told the three parables of lost things to the people who were gathered, WHICH ONES WERE LOST?
Was it the sinners and tax collectors who were coming frequently to hear and learn from Jesus?
Or was it more likely, the ones who thought they were so much better than “those people” that Jesus was consorting with…
“those people” who didn’t come with sterling reputations or high-class pedigrees…
“those people” who society often casts off to the margins where they can be forgotten about more easily – out of sight, out of mind.
“Those people” who we often refer to as the last, the least and the lost…
But from Jesus’ perspective, that is exactly who He came to be with. And the ones to whom Jesus calls us to show kindness and compassion.
When some of Jesus’ disciples were engaged in a debate about who would be allowed to sit in positions of privilege at His left and right hand:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
And when Jesus told the disciples a parable about a landowner who hired workers throughout the course of the day, giving the same wage to those who worked all day and to those who worked only for an hour, He told them that, “…the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
So, what is the point of all this?
It is to remind us that we, the church, the body of believers, should not be looking down our noses at “those people” we encounter as being “less than.” Instead, we should be celebrating and encouraging them that as Paul said in Romans 8:37 that, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Because at the end of the day, perhaps the best answer to the question, “WHICH ONE WAS LOST?” would be like the answer to some of the multiple-choice questions on the quizzes I give in class – ALL OF THE ABOVE.
Because as Paul also wrote in his letter to the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And while we often use this verse to highlight the fact that all of us, individually, are sinners in need of a Savior – Paul wanted to help the early Christians understand that collectively, whether Jew or Gentile, no one group had an exclusive claim to righteousness because Jesus gave His life for all.
And that is the same message to the church today. There is no group that has a greater claim to the gift of grace that Christ offers to us through His death on the cross.
It is a gift of love that He extends to every man, woman, boy and girl who is willing to accept it -- regardless of their past or present circumstances.
John 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
And that “whoever” means any, and all, of us because that is who God loves -- all of us. And that is why when we keep reading and move over to John 15:13, we find, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
And because Jesus calls us all “friend” the answer to the question of the day, “WHICH ONE WAS LOST?” is actually not all of the above, but truly NONE OF THE ABOVE.
Because looking at one more passage from the Gospel of John (6:38 – 40), we find these words of Jesus:
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose NONE of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Maybe it’s just me, but aren’t you glad to know that we don’t have to worry about being lost because we have a friend who was willing to lay down His life for us? And because as we read in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Guess what my friends, we would have been lost but thanks to be to God, that is no longer the case. We can come together to rejoice and celebrate because that which was lost has truly been found.
[Hymn of Discipleship: No, Not One! #544]