And What About Those Who Are Lost?
When we were in Glacier National Park earlier this month, we saw signs indicating that a 19 year old man by the name of Jakson Kreiser had gone missing while on a hike. After we got home I tried to find information about what happened to him. I read that "Ground and aerial searches have been conducted, with several crews staying overnight in the backcountry…The park is using forward-looking infrared technology …which…uses thermal imaging cameras that detect heat sources. Canine search teams from the U.S. Border Patrol are also being utilized, as well as human tracker expertise from North Valley Search and Rescue Team." It is amazing, but not surprising that great effort is expended when someone becomes lost. Unfortunately the latest I heard in this case is that they have not yet found him and the family is presuming that he has died.
I mentioned to Mom and Art that I remember a time when my dad went out to a heavily wooded area on a Sunday morning to help look for a person who was lost. I was trying to find out the details about that incident, but they didn't remember, however Art told me about another time when they were out hunting and a hunter from another party got lost and they spent the better part of a day looking for him and did find him.
When people are lost, we take that very seriously and do all we can to find them. The Mission of our church is: "Honoring God by introducing our family, friends, neighbors and communities to Jesus Christ, teaching and training all to follow Him." This mission statement implies that we are concerned about those who don't know Jesus. However, I don't have to go much further than myself to honestly ask, "Am I as concerned about a person who is spiritually lost as I would be about someone who was lost physically? This morning we will look at Jesus and hopefully be encouraged to see and seek the lost.
I. Seeing the Lost
A. The Heart of Jesus
Matthew 9:35 (p. 9 NT) records that Jesus was on a preaching mission. He was going to different cities and villages teaching and healing and proclaiming God's kingdom to the people. In all of his work, he was not operating out of obligation or for some reward for himself. We see the motivation of Jesus in verse 36 where it says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
It is plainly evident that Jesus was filled with compassion for people in all their various needs. In Matthew 14:14, we see that he cared about their illnesses. It says, "…he had compassion for them and cured their sick." Luke 7:13 tells the story of a woman who's only son had died. We read, "When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, 'Do not weep.'” In Matthew 15:32 we read the words of Jesus, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” He cared about their hunger.
All of these stories and many others tell us about the love and compassion of Jesus. The word compassion is an important word which speaks of feelings of profound pity and deep caring for those who have a need. Out of the love of the Father which filled Jesus, we see the compassion which Jesus felt for all the people in their different situations.
Are we like Jesus? Last week I told you a story about a man who cycled by Drive Through Prayer shaking his head. Do we have compassion for him? Recently it has struck me that there are so many businesses making storage space available. We live in a society that has a lot of stuff. Do we have compassion for the people whose life is about accumulating stuff? I know people who struggle with addictions, whether to alcohol, drugs, tobacco or gambling. Do we have compassion for them? What about people with mental illness or who struggle with poverty or those who have no idea that the Saviour of the universe loves them. Do we have compassion for all of these people? In Ephesians 4:18, Paul describes the condition of the lost when he says, "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." Do we have compassion for such people?
B. The Eyes of Jesus
The compassion of Jesus is what allowed him to see them. Notice that the text mentions that "He saw the crowds…" When we read that, we need to realize that his seeing was more than just seeing their numbers. When we go to a Bomber game, I usually notice the crowds of people. Sometime during the game there is usually a contest in which someone will be given three numbers and asked to guess which of them is the attendance at the game. At that moment, the whole crowd has their attention drawn to see the crowd. But when Jesus saw the crowds, it meant something different. When Jesus saw the crowds, he saw their hearts. Jesus saw what was going on in their lives. He saw the trials and pains they were experiencing. One specific example of such seeing is the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 (P.77 NT).
I told the story to the children, but I would like to think a little more about it with you. Zacchaeus was not a good man. He had compromised by working with the occupying Roman forces and he was a tax collector. That was bad on at least four counts. He was friends with the people everyone hated. He had regular contact with Gentiles and so was perpetually unclean, he took money from people and not only taxed them, but also cheated them. When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to town he wanted to see him. We don't know exactly whether it was curiosity or if God was already at work in his heart. For a man of his position to climb a tree was certainly unusual and tells us of his great desire to see Jesus. But what is really great about this story is not only that he wanted to see Jesus, but that Jesus saw him. Jesus knew that there was a need in this man's heart and in spite of his bad reputation, the compassion of Jesus moved him to see into the heart of Zacchaeus. He knew Zacchaeus' name and knowing his name meant that he also cared about him as an individual and cared that he was lost. You know the rest of the story. Jesus went to his house, he repented and brought the fruit of repentance by giving his money away and he was forgiven for his sins.
In the end of the text, we discover what was really going on. Jesus was filled with compassion. Because of his compassion, he saw the lost. He has compassion and saw the lost, because of the purpose of his life, which verse 10 reveals as, "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”"
Do we have such eyes? Do we see the lost? Do we see all the brokenness which is in people's lives? Do we care? Are we filled with compassion for them?
C. The Will of the Father
There is some urgency to seeing the lost because caring about the lost arises out of the will of the Father. In 2 Peter 3:9(p. 228 NT) we read, "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." The issue Peter was addressing in this section of Scripture was the problem of the delay of the return of Jesus. Some places in the Gospels seem to indicate that after He ascended into heaven Jesus would return quite soon. When Jesus didn't return and people began to die, some began to question this promise and others began to teach falsely that it wasn't going to happen or that it had already happened. In order to answer those who were doubting, questioning or teaching falsely, Peter makes a number of points to help them and us understand how the end will turn out. This would be a good passage to study in its entirety, but I just want to point to one thing out of the argument. Peter indicated that one of the reasons why Jesus has not returned yet is because of God's purposes. God wants to give people lots of time to return to Him. It is in the heart of God that He does not want people to go to destruction and so God is delaying the end until many have a chance to be found.
Kelly writes that the delay…"enables the Church to understand its mission as being, in this span between the resurrection and the Second Coming, to proclaim the divine love and lead men to repentance and faith." If the Spirit of God lives in us, then surely we will also be moved to urgency by this perspective. If God's desire is that people repent, should that not also be our desire? If God's will is that people be saved from destruction, should that not also be our desire? If God is delaying the end so many can come to Him, should we not also be moved by the urgency of seeing and caring about the lost?
II. Seeking the Lost
If we desire the will of God to be accomplished and if we, like Jesus, have compassion for the lost and if that compassion allows us to see the lost, then agreeing and caring and seeing will not be enough. Then we will also seek the lost.
A. Commitment to Seek
In order to help us think about that, let us turn to Luke 15:1 (p. 73 NT). In the beginning of this section we read that "tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him." Because He loved tax collectors and sinners and saw them, they wanted to meet Jesus and know about Him. As an aside, that is an important lesson in itself, teaching us that the most important thing in seeking the lost is loving them.
The reaction of the Jewish religious leaders was to grumble. Clearly they did not think that it was a good thing to welcome sinners and to eat with them. Their attitude was that a good person should criticize and condemn sinners. After all, God hates sin and if we are doing God's will, we will also hate sin. Somehow their righteousness and holiness was so strong that they could not wrap their heads around the compassion of God and the will of God that He does not want the destruction of any person.
Jesus responded with three parables each of them intended to help the Jewish religious leaders understand the heart and will of God.
The first story is one they could easily identify with. Even though they may not all have owned sheep, they knew people who did and sheep were everywhere and shepherds were everywhere. Even today sheep and shepherds are everywhere in Israel. When we were in Bethlehem, it was interesting to see sheep and shepherds on the side of the road. They understood this culture. One hundred sheep seems like quite a lot, but it was not an uncommon size for a herd. The sheep usually grazed in the open country, not in fenced in pastures and so it was very possible for one of them to get lost. The people understood that if a sheep got lost, you left the rest of the herd with another shepherd and you went out to find the lost sheep. The intensity of the search is demonstrated in the phase, "until he finds it…" What may have been unusual was the largeness of the celebration when it was found. Whether a shepherd would actually hold a big party when he found one lost sheep is besides the point. Certainly such a shepherd would have rejoiced greatly, but the important point we are to note is that God, heaven and Jesus do rejoice very greatly when one lost sinner is found. The heart of God is joy over one lost person who is found. The implication is that it is necessary to work diligently in order to find the lost. It is God's will that we not only care and see the lost, but also that we seek the lost.
The second parable has a similar message. In this case it is a woman who has lost a coin. At that time, since there were no banks, savings were often worn as jewelry in the form of gold or coins. It is possible that this was the entire savings of this woman and so very precious to her. But one of those coins had fallen off. Since the woman spent most of her life in her home, she knew where to look and after a diligent search, she found the coin. In this parable, we also see the intensity of her search when it says that she will "sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it." Once again the rejoicing for one lost coin seems almost too much, but reminds us of the greatness of the joy which God has because one person who has been lost is found again.
The third story is much longer and has some interesting features to it. One is the recognition that we are not sure who the lost son is. In this story, Jesus forces the Jewish religious leaders to realize that they also may be among the lost. He has craftily drawn them into the stories and led them to consider their own situation. Tim Geddert points out that the younger son never actually broke the law and that his great sin was breaking relationship with his father. In the end, we realize that the older brother also did not have a good relationship with his father. So both sons may well be lost. The other difference in the story is that the father does not go and seek for the younger son. But the heart of the father for the lost son is nevertheless clearly presented. When the younger son does return, the father shames himself by running, which as Kenneth Bailey points out, a distinguished, older gentleman would never do. By doing so, he shows the great joy over one sinner who repents. It demonstrates, once again that God has a seeking heart.
The point of all three parables is that God has a seeking heart. Whether He actively pursues those who are lost or waits for them to return, His heart is to long after and seek after those who are lost. If that is the heart and the will and the action of the Father, then surely it must also be important to us. Sometimes seeking the lost means going to them and bringing them home. There was a time in our daughter's life when she was dangerously close to wandering very far away and the wisdom of brothers and sisters in Christ led us to drive to BC through the night to go and get her. At another time in her life, she was not where we or God wanted her to be and we knew it. Our practice was to leave the door open and treat her with love. How thankful we are that the day came when she returned. Seeking the lost may mean leaving the door open or it may mean actively pursuing them, but the heart of the matter is that if we are to fulfill God's will and live God's heart, we must be active in seeking the lost.
B. A Heart for Harvest
The question is, "Do we have a heart to seek the lost? There was a time when the disciples did not have their minds on that and I think they represent what is often our situation.
In John 4 (p. 90 NT) Jesus had a conversation with a woman at a well near the town of Sychar. It is a fascinating conversation and demonstrates once again Jesus' heart to seek the lost. While he was having this conversation, the disciples had gone into the town in order to buy food. When the disciples returned, the woman had gone back to the town and had told her neighbors what had happened to her during her conversation with Jesus. She raised their interest and many of them were making their way back out of town to meet Jesus.
The disciples, on the other hand, had come back with food and were ready to eat. They were even concerned about Jesus' eating and were urging him to eat. They were concerned about their collective belly's, but Jesus had another concern. He said to them in verses 34 - 38, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
I don't want to unpack everything that is in this passage, I just want to invite us to take notice of the invitation which Jesus makes to the disciples. He invites them to an opportunity which is going to be upon them soon to seek the lost. He is inviting them to have a harvest mindset. Morris writes, "They must not lazily relax, comfortable in the thought that there is no need to bestir themselves. The fields are even now ready for harvest…The disciples must acquire a sense of urgency in their task." Jesus speaks about sowing and reaping. That day was going to be harvest time, but whether it is time to sow or time to harvest, one message of Jesus in this passage is to recognize that the work of seeking the lost is our work and we must be prepared to engage in it at all times. The heart for harvest comes from the will of the Father which is to seek the lost.
So how do we engage in the harvest? Let me quickly suggest several things that come out of Scripture.
- Recognize that God is involved – John 6:44 says, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day."
- Pray for workers – In Matthew 9:37, 38 the passage in which we saw the compassion of Jesus, the response Jesus urged was, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
- Build Trust – One of the things we noticed about Zacchaeus and many other tax collectors and sinners was that they wanted to meet Jesus. Why? Because they were aware that Jesus loved them. Have we communicated to the world around us that we love them or do we tend to be more like the Pharisees who were known to be judgmental? In our current society where the church and Christians have done a lot of damage and have too often broken trust, we need to expend great energy simply in building trust.
- Going to where they are –Matthew 28 expresses the Great Commission which begins with going. Just like Jesus who recognized the need to go to many places in Luke 4:43, we also need to think about what it means to go to the lost instead of thinking that the lost will come to us.
- Loving the Lost – The compassion of Jesus which we examined earlier teaches us the importance of loving the lost. Mark 6:34 is another verse which tells us that Jesus, "…had compassion for them…"
- Saving the Lost – Above all, we must make sure that our message is about Jesus who said in John 12:32, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” William Hendriksen writes, "It was to save sinners that Christ Jesus came into the world. He did not come to help them to save themselves, or to induce them to save themselves, nor even to enable them to save themselves. He came to save them." We must tell people what Jesus will do.
I had driven on that street many times and had never noticed the store. One day when I had been thinking about making a purchase which was not available in the big chain stores, I saw the store for the first time and found what I was looking for.
There are lots of things we don't notice, but we cannot let it be said that we don't notice that all around us are people who are desperate and lost and needing hope. If we understand the will of God, the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents, the heart of compassion which Jesus modeled and the eyes of Jesus to see the lost, we will not be able to ignore the lost around us. Rather, we will also love and see and seek the lost.
Will you allow God to open your heart and your eyes to see and seek the lost?