Lost – 01.24.2021 [Luke 15]
Joseph Stowell tells a story about one time when his family was on their annual Christmas trek to Chicago. Each year they brought the whole family to spend time with Grandpa and Grandma and they would go visit the museums. On this particular year, they decided to finish up their Christmas shopping at place called Woodfield Mall. In the midst of all the family fun and excitement, one of them noticed that little three and a half year old Matthew was gone. Terror immediately struck Joseph and his wife. You’re heard the horror stories, children kidnapped in malls, never to be seen or heard from again. So the family split up, each taking an assigned location. Joseph ended up in the parking lot. He writes, “I’ll never forget that night – kicking through the newly fallen snow, calling out his name at the top of my lungs. I felt like an abject fool, yet my concern for his safety outweighed all other feelings.” Unsuccessful, Joseph went back inside to their meeting point. His wife hadn’t the little boy, nor had his mother.
And just when they were starting to fear the worst and prepare themselves for a conversation with the police – grandpa appeared, holding little Matthew by the hand. Their hearts leapt for joy and there was more than a little sigh of relief. What’s interesting is that the little boy was untraumatized. He hadn’t been crying, or felt abandoned. To him, there hadn’t been a problem. Joseph asked his dad where he found him. Grandpa replied, “the candy counter. You should have seen him. His eyes came just about as high as the candy shelf, and the little boy just held his little hands behind his back and moved his head back and forth, surveying all the delicious options.” Matthew didn’t look lost. He didn’t know he was lost. He was completely oblivious to the phenomenal danger he was in. Thankfully the lost boy was found, brought home to safety before anything traumatic happened to him.
Stowell makes the connection between what happened with his son, and each of our lives. You see, we live in a candy-counter culture. We are the little boy, staring at a world of distraction, never realizing how far from home we are – how much danger we are in. We are people who don’t look lost, and sometimes we don’t even know we are lost, just living for consumption. Today we are walking through chapter 15 of the book of Luke. And it’s exciting, because today we will see that Jesus has some very good news for the lost.
The chapter starts, [read v.1-2]. This chapter is actually pretty simple, it’s three simple stories, told one right after the other, but the first two verses give us the setting. You’ve got tax collectors and sinners – and all these people are coming to see Jesus. These are broken people who want to hear good news from the literal son of God. And then you’ve got your pharisees and scribes who are grumbling. Jesus is hanging out with sinners and he even eats with them. There’s an old movie, I don’t know if anybody’s ever seen it called Mean Girls – it’s about High School girls and how they’re super mean to one another. And in the movie, there’s a real hierarchy in the seating chart. If you don’t follow the rules, you can’t sit with us. And the pharisees here have a real Mean Girls vibe – you’re a tax collector, you’re a sinner? You can’t sit with us. And in response to their pride, in response to their mean girl attitude, Jesus tells this story.
[read v.3-7]. This is a classic Christian story, you might have heard before – but let’s go over the highlights. First, obviously it’s a metaphor. We are the sheep, he is the shepherd. But what I want you to pick up on is the pursuit. When we are lost, God comes looking for us. When you are lost in life, you don’t understand what is happening, you are treading water in the ocean and looking for solid ground under your feet – God pursues you. God loves you so much that he will leave those who are safe and secure and come into the wilderness to find you who are lost. And think about that ratio. You might think, if I can protect 99 out of 100 sheep, that’s still a pretty good job. 99% is pretty high. But for God’s children, it is not good enough. He will leave the 99, and he will come into the darkness after you. That’s how much he loves you, that’s how valuable you are to him. When you are lost, God leaves the 99 and comes for you.
Then, what does it say? He take the sheep, lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. The good shepherd finds us in the wilderness, lost in the dark, stuck in the brambles and he puts us on his shoulders and carries us. If you are dealing with a struggle this morning, and you are not just lost but you are stuck. You want to be home with the other 99 sheep, but you got something in your life keeping you out, keeping you away from God. I want you to understand, he doesn’t just find you – he carries you home. And then he rejoices. Hear verse 7 again, [read it]. What I want you to see is that the strongest celebrations of paradise are connected to the moment when a sinner who comes home. There is more joy in heaven when one sinner repents. See some people think admitting their mistakes is weakness. Admitting they did something wrong makes them a bad person. But I need to clarify: Admitting to sin doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, admitting to it is the first step towards becoming a good person. Hiding our sins doesn’t keep it off our soul. Only admitting it, repenting of it, and coming home to Jesus can wash us clean. You gotta own it, and repent – and like the lost sheep Jesus will carry you home. When we are lost, God pursues us, finds us, carries us home. Nothing creates more joy in heaven than repentance, when a sinner admits that they are lost, and comes home to Jesus.
And that message is so important, and so unbelievable, that Jesus ends up repeating himself over and over to really drive home the point. He tells another parable – [read v.8-10]. Again with the metaphors. God is the woman, we are the lost coin. When you are lost, when you are feeling abandoned, surrounded by darkness, on shaky ground and you don’t know what will come next – rest, because God is searching for you. But this parable highlights another thing: your value. The parable of the coin shows us that you are valuable to God. Apparently a silver coin back in the day was worth about three days wages. That’s a lot of money, and if we remember that in the metaphor, the woman is God – so it’s three days wages for God. Well, we all remember what God can do with three days, right? That’s what you are worth to God. Still has nine coins, but that one coin, that one life is worth so much to God. Because of the value of the coin, the woman goes on a very meticulous search. She lights a lamp so she can see better; she gets a broom to reach into cracks and crevices, so that she doesn’t miss a square inch of the floor. She performs a careful search. And God does the same for you. Because you are so valuable and precious to God, He sets the wheels of redemption into motion, just for you. I think, in a world that is so focused on de-valuing people, we need to that reminder. And like Jesus is doing with these parables we need to repeat it over and over. Will you repeat this line with me, it should be on the screen, but if you can’t see the screen – it’s very simple: I am valuable and precious to God. Again. I am valuable and precious to God. Again, louder, I want to hear you! I am valuable and precious to God. One more time! I am valuable and precious to God. The God of all creation turns a light on in this world to search for you. Listen to the last verse there again, [read v.10]. You, just you, repenting of your sin, turning away from that life, coming home to Jesus – you can cause angels to rejoice.
And then we get to the main event. We’ve had the warm up acts – the comedian, the local band, but now the headliner – The parable of the prodigal son and his brother. Jesus is telling a third parable in a row, with the same message. We had sheep, we had coins, and now, [read v.11-13]. Once upon a time there was a man, he had two sons, and one of those boys was a jerk. He came to dad and said, “I wish you were dead, give me my money now” then he takes the money, abandons his family, and wastes it living stupidly. [shrug] [read v.14]. Isn’t that always the way? We do what we want, live selfishly and right when the safety net is all used up – bam, something catastrophic happens. He began to be in need. [read v.15-16]. GROSS. I don’t know if you realize, but pigs will eat anything. There’s a reason we call pig food slop, it’s just the nastiest leftovers – because they’re pigs. And there’s another level to this, because Jesus is talking to an audience full of Jewish people. Jewish don’t eat pigs, by law they can’t even raise them – they are an abomination. And he is so desperate he would have gladly eaten the pig’s food. There’s like four levels of offence. First, he offends his family by asking for his inheritance while Dad is still alive. Then he throws all the money away on selfish living, the verb in Greek literally calls it “debauched” living. Not exactly making daddy proud. Third, when he gets desperate he turns to horrifying and offensive activity to try and make a living. And the final piece is that, even with all his gross efforts, he’s still starving to death. I cannot over emphasize how deeply this son has offended and hurt his family. His actions have burned every bridge. He does not deserve forgiveness. All of this is his fault. He deserves to starve to death in a mud pit.
And then verse 17 [read 17-20a]. Ah, so Mr. Debauchery has a plan. I know what I’ll do, I’ll make a deal with my dad. I know I messed up the whole son thing, but maybe I can get in on a technicality. I won’t be your son anymore, I just want to not starve to death. Even that’s better than I deserve. And then it happens. [read v.20b-24]. Dad sees him a long ways off. He runs to him, and the horrible son starts on his little monologue. “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son” But the Father completely ignores the son. He ignores this deal that’s being offered, and welcomes this boy as a son. He was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, but now he is found. And it’s this incredible picture. And the metaphor should be obvious. God is the dad, we are the son. In our lives, we have walked away from God. Sin is basically just us saying “I know more than God.” It’s that moment in our lives when we say, “I’m not going to live the way God wants me to, I’m going to live the way I want to.” We don’t want to live in the Father’s house, we don’t want to live under God’s authority – we want to live under our own authority. We have gone away from God. We have lived in a way that is far from what God wants for us. But there’s two things I need you to hear this morning.
First, verse 17. “When he came to himself” – you see, there is a moment in every life where we look at how we are living and realize our sin. It’s like a startling realization, We come to ourselves. We shake ourselves. We wake up to the presence of sin in our life. We realize how far away from home we are. Maybe for you that moment is this very morning. Maybe you are starting to look at your life through God’s eyes and you see lack of fruit. For the prodigal, when he came to himself – it was not to late. And for each of you here this morning – it is not too late for you either. You can still come home. No matter how far you have run, no matter how deep your sin and your scars go – you can still come home. You can still wake up to the presence of sin, repent and come home to God.
The second thing I want you to notice is that God ignores the prodigal son’s deal. God does not make deals with you. The son tried to offer a deal, take me back as a hired hand, and the father completely ignores him. The Father offers unconditional, overwhelming, reckless love. The son does not have to earn it. He just had to come home. See, when we discover sin in our lives, it can be devastating. As we learn about the path of righteousness and we see how far off
we are in our personal lives, sometimes we collapse into despair. We are not living the way God has called Christians to live. But the abundance of God’s mercy is so overwhelming, we can give an honest account of our soul. We don’t have to cover up our sin. We don’t have to lie about it, or try to make it look like we are a better person. Because of the strength of God’s grace, because of the endless power found in God’s forgiveness, you can be honest about your failures, you can admit to every sin because when we come home to God, every sin is forgiven. There are no deals to make to earn God’s love. There is only repentance and forgiveness. So wake up to your sin and come home.
Man, that’s beautiful – if only that was the end of the story. Listen to the last paragraph [read v.25-32]. The prodigal son has returned, the Father has given grace, and everyone is celebrating. And big brother doesn’t like it. He is furious at the grace of God. How dare he forgive this disgusting brother who has made mistakes. And he lets his anger keep him out of the house. And with this last paragraph in the chapter Jesus has one final amazing thing to show us. There are two prodigal sons in this story. Follow me on this – the first prodigal son is the obvious sinner, offensive actions, debased lifestyle, his sin keeps him outside of his Father’s house. The second prodigal son is the older brother. His anger at the Father’s forgiveness, keeps him outside the house. In his self-righteous judgment the older brother is outside the house just like the younger brother was. Their sins look different, but both of them try to substitute their way for the Father’s way. And just like the shepherd with the lost sheep, just like the woman with the lost coin, the Father comes outside to bring in his lost elder son. There are two prodigal sons in this story, and they both need to come home. In our lives we have to be careful that we do not come home like the younger brother, only to turn into the older brother with our religiosity.
And remember how this all started. The reason Jesus is telling these stories is because of the mean girl pharisees. All of these stories are building up to this final paragraph. The lost sheep. The lost coins, the lost sinner and then finally the lost saint. The older brother is the fourth lost story. Jesus is talking to religious leaders, trying to show them – you are the older brother, and you are still outside the Father’s house. He’s been building up to this all along. Isn’t that amazing?
The good news this morning is that God finds you. God comes for you who are lost. Whether you are lost in the wilderness, lost into sin or lost into your own pride and religiosity. God pursues you. God lifts you up. God brings you home. The good news this morning is that God finds you. So let God find you. The chapter finishes and he leaves the final lost story open. The father comes out and talks to the older brother, asking him to come home. Come and join the celebration. And what I hope you see is that in the story the Father asking the older brother is actually Jesus asking the mean girl pharisees, and then it goes one more level. This chapter is actually God asking each of you, please come home. Let God find you. Come join the celebration.
Two quick applications and then we’re done. First, be like the younger brother. Shake yourself and come home. The younger brother came to himself, and then went home. We, in each of our lives, we wake up to the presence of sin in our lives, and then we go home. Don’t try to make a deal with God, just repent and come back to Jesus. I promise you, he will be waiting with open arms. Be like the younger brother. And second, after you come home like the younger brother, don’t turn into the older brother. Right? After we enter into the Father’s house, we do not want to become prideful and try to close the door behind us. “his grace works for me, but you don’t deserve it.” No! Come home like the younger brother, but do not turn into the older brother. And the way we avoid turning into the older brother is very simple – celebrate when someone else comes home. Celebrate every single time a sinner gives their life to Jesus. Take your cue from the angels in the kingdom of heaven – rejoice when even one sinner repents and comes home. As Christians we should be too busy celebrating repentance to hold a grudge. The way we avoid slipping into a mindset where we think we deserve grace and other people do not – is to be constantly offering it to other people. Celebrate every time someone comes back into God’s presence. It will keep your heart humble and keep you rooted in God’s love.
At some point in our lives, all of us are lost. But in Jesus Christ, we find a God who pursues us. A God who values us. A God who finds us. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you discover how valuable you are to God. When you find yourself lost, may you wake up to the reality of where you are and then come home. And then, when you are home, may you celebrate every time someone else comes home – to keep your heart humble and your soul safely rooted in God’s presence. Amen.