The Gospel According To Luke
“A Jesus Who Seeks The Lost”
I. The Condition of Lostness
II. The Pursuit of God
III. The Joy of Life
What is your heart’s ultimate desire? I mean, if you could have anything that you want, what would it be? What is the thing you really really care about, that you can’t get away from? The thing that brings you great joy and pains you if it doesn’t happen? What makes your heart beat? Beat with purpose and passion? What moves you and inspires you into action?
I’m asking these questions today because we’re studying The Gospel of Luke in the Bible as a church this year and we’re about halfway through the book and today we come upon the section and chapter that I think is really the heart of the book. The chapter we’re in has what’s hands down the most famous and perhaps best story Jesus ever told and in it I think we see with crystal clarity the heart of God that runs throughout all the pages of the Bible AND the thing which ultimately moved God to send Jesus to earth.
The passage we’re looking at this morning shows with vivid imagery the heart of God, what He really cares about, what brings Him great joy, what pains Him and keeps Him up at night, what makes His heartbeat and ultimately what inspired Him into action with purpose and passion in Jesus. In this chapter Jesus shares who and what He is all about, the whole reason for why He ever said or did anything.
And it’s simply this: God wants you. God wants you. That is the heart and desire of God. It’s for you. Jesus wants us to know that we are wanted, that God loves us and desires us and will stop at nothing for us to know that. God wants you, no matter where you are or what place you find yourself in today.
In light of that, I simply titled my sermon, “A Jesus Who Seeks The Lost.” So let’s go ahead and read this. Why don’t you stand with me, I’ll read it, declare it as God’s Word, thank Him for it and then we’ll get into it.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his felds to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way o , his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the feld, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was ftting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
• Congregational Response: Thanks, Be To God.
What we have here are three stories or parables told by Jesus in response to some religious dudes being upset at Him for eating with “sinners.” They say verse 2, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ Sadly, this sentiment still abounds today in the Christian community and due to that the perception of “sinners” is that this is what we think.
We had some new neighbors move in who bought the house across the street from us last year. We’ve been super friendly to them and had them over a couple times and no joke, this happened just a couple Friday nights ago. He texted me and asked if Amy and I would like to come over for a couple drinks. Is said, “sure.” And then he said, “You can do that, because confession, I looked you up online and I know you’re a pastor. You’re allowed to come over to my house?”
The perception of the outside world looking in on Christians and Christianity is that we do not receive them…that we will not eat and drink with sinners. And sadly that’s actually what some Christians think and believe. The problem is it is contrary to the belief and practice of Jesus Christ, who says that we are all sinners and that God is a God who welcomes and receives sinners.
Sinners were drawing near to Jesus, so He tells these three stories to illustrate the heart of God who draws near toward sinners. And there are three themes that run through each of the stories: One, Jesus redefining of what it means to be a sinner in terms of being “lost”. Two, the pursuit of God toward lost people. And then three, the joy of God and heaven and our souls in being found and experiencing true life. So that’s my three points for today: “The Condition of Lostness”, “The Pursuit of God” and “The Joy of Life.”
I. The Condition of Lostness
So there are three things that get lost here, a sheep, a coin and then not one but two sons.
Sheep are one of the pictures the Bible gives for people. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”
Coins are probably one of the easiest and common things two lose. There’s probably not a single person who’s never lost a coin.
So with the sheep and with the coins, the principles are simply it’s something that happens to everyone. We all get lost. We’re all sheep and we’re all coins. We all get lost and that’s what it really is to be a sinner.
Then there are the two sons and it’s through the story of the two sons that Jesus really unpacks what it is to be lost, the condition and nature of lostness.
With the first son, he’s was just the young gun, with a quick fuse, he was uptight, wanted to let loose, was dreaming of bigger things and wanted to leave his own life behind. :)
He says in verse 12, “Father give me the share of property that is coming to me.” Which was an extremely rude, disrespectful and preposterous request. He is literally asking for his inheritance which would have been unheard of to ask for while his dad was still alive. So essentially this dude is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead. Just give me my money and whatever is coming to me now because I don’t care about you or your family, I just want out.”
And the dad gives it to him, the equivalent of thousands and thousands of dollars. The kid goes out and just squanders it all. Buying whatever he wants, parties, gambling, girls, you name it this guy just lives it up for awhile. Interesting fact, most people who win the lottery lose it all within 3-5 years.
This son spends it all thinking it’ll bring him happiness but it doesn’t. He runs out and ends up having to get a job. The only job he can get is feed pigs, one of the dirtiest and lowest level jobs one could ever have. He’s lost lost. Lost in greed, selfishness, ingratitude, and rebellion.
The second son, however, is no better. He comes in at the end of the story after his younger brother comes home he is so angry at his dad, he too leaves the house and when his dad follows him out he just unleashes on his dad saying, verse 29, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
Just like his brother, this son doesn’t care about his father and his family but just wants his dads stuff and money. This older son gets too gets lost in greed, selfishness, ingratitude and rebellion.
Both sons end up lost but in two very different ways. Tim Keller, one of my favorite living theologians and pastors wrote a whole book on this titled, “Prodigal God.” In my opinion, it’s a must-read. If you haven’t read it yet, you should buy it today and read it.
Here’s what Keller says on the two different ways these boys find themselves lost.
“There are two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery…the person in the way of moral conformity says: I’m not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community wants me to do. The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: I’m the only one who can decide what is right and wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way.
The younger brother humiliates his family and lives a self-indulgent, dissolute life. He is totally out of control. He is alienated from the father, who represents God in the story.
The older brother is fastidiously obedient to his father and, therefore, by analogy, to the commands of God. He is completely under control and quite self-disciplined.
So we have two sons, one ‘bad’ by conventional standard and one ‘good’ yet are alienated from the father. The father has to go out and invite each of them to come into the feast of his love. The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both sons resented their father’s authority and sought ways to get out from under it. Each one rebelled - but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good.”
So really, what Jesus has done with this story is redefined being a sinner as being lost and then explaining the condition of being lost as being alienated from the Father. And we alienate or distance ourselves from the Father by either doing whatever we want, making up our own rules and going our own way or by trying really really hard to keep them by being a good person who does everything right.
Both routes make us dependent on ourselves instead of God. We can be irreligious or very religious but neither route puts us in relationship with God the Father. We end up lost in relativism or moralism.
I think all of us tend to one of these ways of being lost. Sometimes both at different times of our lives. I’ve gone down both roads. I literally left home when I was in high school and told my parents, “F you and F your F-ing God.” I just wanted to do what I wanted and didn’t want to have to answer to God or anyone else.
Then after becoming a Christian I’ve found myself very angry at God when things haven’t gone the way I’ve wanted them to and said things like, “What the heck? Why? I’ve been doing everything right haven’t I?”
Sometimes we find ourselves swinging between those two pendulums and what we fail to see is that God isn’t wanting us to do something He’s wanting us. God’s heart is as a Father’s heart toward you. God wants you.
Today what way do you find yourself leaning?
Have you been on the track where you’re kind of just doing what you want, not really seeking input from God and God’s people because you don’t want to hear the answer? Are you a law or a god to yourself, making up your own rules, going your own way?
Or have you been on the other track where you’re just trying to do everything right? Where you think you’re one of the good guys? You don’t see yourself as a sinner and you look down on others for not being as good as you? Do you find yourself frustrated with God because you think He’s either punishing you or not rewarding you as He should?
To both of those places I believe God would say to us, “I just want you.” God knows that both of those roads lead to lostness and knows that only in Him, in His house of safety and love can we find the happiness and joy for which we were made. And He wants that so bad for us that He pursues us, with all His might.
So let’s transition and talk about that for a bit in our second point for today, “The Pursuit of God.”
II. The Pursuit of God
In each of the three stories, we see a picture of God the Father seeking after His most treasured possession…His sons and daughters.
First the story of the sheep. Sheep were the most common animal during Bible times, so sheep and shepherds were something everyone knew something about. Good shepherds love their sheep, often naming each one and constantly counting their fock to make sure all are present and accounted for.
A few years back when I was preaching through Psalm 23 in the Bible I wanted to learn more about sheep and shepherds so I went and met with an actual shepherdess, named Sarah. She said sheep were the first ever domesticated animal and that very few are known to be able to survive without a shepherd because sheep are so prone to wander o and get themselves into trouble. Anyone who has been a shepherd knows about going out after sheep.
And God says that is what He is like. Ezekiel 34:11-12 “11 Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his fock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered.”
God’s a shepherd in purest of you and I, His precious sheep. Verse 5 of our text says He goes out after the one that is lost and then verse 6 says when He finds it He picks it up and carries it on His shoulders bringing it home.
Then, there’s the story of the coin. The woman in the story loses a silver coins, which in that day was about a day’s worth of wages. Verse 8 says she seeks “diligently until she finds it.”
A coin is a symbol of value. Just a few chapters back Jesus said that we are of more value than birds or any other creation of God. You have value to God. You are worth a lot to Him, so much so that He diligently seeks you out, offering grace and promptings time and time again.
I don’t know about you but I hate it when I lose something. Just the other week I lost my workout shake bottle. You know one of those ones with the little ball in it that helps you mix up healthy concoctions inside? I thought maybe I left it at the gym and went to the front desk two different times asking if they had it. I thought maybe I left it here at the church and searched everywhere. I tore apart the kitchen cabinet and have looked all over the house and I can’t find the thing and it frustrated the heck out of me to have to go CVS and pay $10 for a new one!
That’s the heart of God. He loves us and searches for us just like workout shake bottle. And it frustrates the heck out of Him when we hide ourselves in our lostness and won’t come out to Him.
Then there are the sons. If you’re reading this story in the Bible it might have this little title above it calling it, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Mine does. That’s unfortunate. One, you gotta know those titles were added it and not part of the Bible God had instructed to be written. I’m not saying they’re bad all the time, sometimes they’re helpful to break things up and make the Bible more readable.
But this one is unfortunate because the parable isn’t just about one son it’s about two and it’s not really about either son but about the father who goes out after both sons. A better title would be, “The Prodigal Father.” Check it out with me.
First with the younger son. When he initially asks his dad for his inheritance even though his dad’s not even dead yet, the father gives it to him and let him go. Sometimes God let’s go, running away from Him in our stupidity because He knows it won’t work out and He knows He’s not going anywhere.
The next picture is really of the father waiting for his son to return. Verse 20 says that when the son was returning home, “While he was still a long way o , his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
In the story I wonder how long the father was waiting, wondering what his son was up to, praying for him, anxiously hoping for him to come home? God is a patient God. Anxiously waiting for us to come to Him.
Then when the father sees the son coming, he is overwhelmed with emotion. He’s filled with compassion and runs. It would have been inappropriate for this old man to run and to do so would require him picking up his robes, in humiliating fashion baring his legs and running to his son.
When they meet he embraces his son. He holds him. His son starts pouring out apologies and saying how he’s going to make it up. But the father won’t have any of it, he repeatedly kisses his son. The reaction and the emotion in this scene is overwhelming. The father loves his son.
This God’s heart toward you. He sees you. Even when you’re a long way off, the Father sees you. And He feels for you. God is overwhelmed with compassion, empathy, and longs to embrace us in His arms so that we might feel the warmth of His love and safety.
Likewise, the father in the story feels for his other son as well. The older son doesn’t feel compassion like his father towards his brother instead he feels angry. Verse 28 says, “He was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him.”
So the father leaves his own party, an embarrassment before all his guests to go talk to his son and plead with him. And look at what the father says, verse 31, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Wow. How tender. How sweet. So endearing. He calls him “Son” reassuring him of the Father’s love and care for him. And then says, “all that is mine is yours.” The father gives and gives. He gives his stuff , he gives up his reputation and dignity, he gives any and everything so that this son would know his great love toward him.
Friends, family, this is the heart of God toward us. When we were a long way o , while we were yet sinners the Bible says, He felt compassion for us and sent His Son Jesus into the world as the good shepherd to come find us because we have immense value to Him as a His special sons and daughters.
How humiliating to take on human flesh, baring the legs of frail humanity, giving up everything, all the riches of heaven, to come to earth and find us in our lostness entreating us to come home! Our God is a God who pursues us. He’s pursuing us right now in and through His word and pursues us our whole life long.
Listen, we never find our way to God. It’s always Him. He comes after us. He initiates. He tells us of His love and grace and it does something in us, wooing us, compelling us, freeing us to come into His arms.
God’s heart is toward His children. He loves you and wants you. God wants you. Have you come home? If you haven’t you can today.
I’m a big Johnny Cash fan. Any of you Johnny Cash fans? A number of years ago now I read his autobiography, “Cash, by Johnny Cash.” In it he tells of the time when he felt like God had given up on him and so he crawled into the back of Nickjack Cave to die. Here’s what he says,
“I just went on and on. I was taking amphetamines by the handful, literally, and barbiturates by the handful too, not to sleep but just to stop the shaking from the amphetamines. I was canceling shows and recording dates, and when I did manage to show up, I couldn't sing because my throat was too dried out from the pills.
I hadn’t slept or eaten in days, and there was nothing left of me. I felt barely human. I never wanted to see another dawn. I had wasted my life. I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope for me. I knew what to do. I’d go into Nickajack Cave that was full of old Indian bones and let God take me from this earth.
I parked my Jeep and started crawling, and I crawled and crawled and crawled until, after two or three hours, the batteries in my flashlight wore out and I lay down to die in total darkness. The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that moment I was as far from God as I have ever been. My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I'd felt over the years, seemed finally complete.
It wasn't. I thought I'd left Him, but He hadn't left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety. I didn't believe it at first. I couldn't understand it.
The feeling persisted, though, and then my mind started focusing on God. The greatest joy of my life was that I no longer felt separated from Him. Now He is my Counsellor, my Rock of Ages to stand upon.”
There’s not a cave you can crawl in that God can’t reach you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lost soul like the younger brother who went the wrong way or a lost soul like the older brother who went the right way…God is a God who’s heart is toward you. He wants you.
When we come to believe that and experience that it’s as Johnny Cash experienced, a coming to life, a life of joy and celebration in the goodness of God. So let’s finish today by looking at this final theme, “The Joy of Life.”
III. The Joy of Life
This theme shows up in each of Jesus’ three stories.
In the parable of the sheep and the parable of the coin, we learn that all the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner repents (v.7,10). Angels are a whole other subject but when they see God’s plan working and people responding to His grace they are overjoyed! Heaven goes nuts when people see and experience the goodness of God.
When we come home to God and through Christ find Him as our loving Father it is truly the greatest miracle of all and is cause for great joy, that we express and share with one another.
Verse 5 says the shepherd “…calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
Verse 9 says the woman “…calls together her friends and neighbors, saying ‘Rejoices with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.”
The Christian life is one of rejoicing, experiencing joy and experiencing it together. So if we look at it from a missional perspective, Jesus has invited us in on this mission to seek out the lost and to rejoice together when they come home to God and come into our family.
What happens in the story of the two sons is centered on a feast, an extravagant and expensive celebration. I mean, first in his joy the father put’s the best robe on his son, which would have been his own robe. Then he puts a ring on his finger, likely one with the family crest symboling his return to full status in the family. Then they kill a costly cow, invite a bunch of people to eat and drink and sing and dance. It’s party.
The reason for such a great celebration is given both in verse 23 and 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother (“my son”) was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Death to life. Ephesians 2:4-5 says it this way, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” This is what it means to be a Christian. To be born again as it were. To move from a life of death, living only for ourselves to a life of joy, living for God and one another.
Death to life and lost to found. As we sing in the great old hymn “Amazing Grace” “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, T'was blind but now I see.”
A man named John Newton wrote that. John Newton was a master of a ship enslaving black West Africans and had got ahold of book about Jesus he had been reading. The ship encountered a fierce storm that almost killed everyone. Through that experience, God opened John’s eyes to see what a horrible, evil and sinful thing it was to enslave these human beings made in God’s image.
He saw what a sinful man he was, how lost and blind he was and yet sensed God’s love and grace reaching out to him in forgiveness and love. So he wrote that song and then became a force helping to bring about the abolition of African slave trade in 1807.
You see you and I are lost, sons and daughters. But when we come to our senses what we come to is seeing the love and grace and forgiveness of God and what He has provided for us and given us in His Son Jesus Christ. It brings us to life, restores our joy and gives us entry to the feast of heaven.
Today have you had an awakening like that? Where you’ve come to your senses and realized that none of the things the world has to o er outside of God can really satisfy your soul? Do you know the experience of being found and the joy and comfort that comes from it?
God is a good Father. His heart is towards you. He is a happy God with a happy home who wants us to come in and enjoy the celebration He has planned for us.
The picture Jesus is giving here of Christians and Christianity is that we’re to be a happy people. We now live into a life of joy. We’re happy and grateful because God heart is toward us, He wants us and loves us. And we share that together. God loves you and God wants you.
Well, I didn’t tell you this earlier but this is truly one of my favorite chapters and stories in the Bible. I feel like we just scratched the surface. But it’s been good to walk through the nature of lostness, the pursuit of God and the joy of life.
Jesus told these three stories because people were drawing near to Him and He was receiving them and eating with them. That’s where we started out today.
Where we end is recognizing why. Jesus seems to cut the third story short. You’re left wondering how it concludes, what happens with the older brother? Right? It leaves you longing for the older brother to be like his father extending mercy and forgiveness.
When the father says to him, “all that is mine is yours” he’s speaking truthfully and literally. The younger son spent all his inheritance, so now the older son has everything. What’s he to do?
Jesus ends the story and all eyes are looking at Him. They’re looking at the true older brother. He’s the one who truly did everything right, never sinning and yet having compassion on all who have squandered the good gifts of the Father.
As the one and only Son of God the Father, Jesus comes to earth and is willing not just to give up some of what’s his but turns over all of his inheritance and pays an infinite cost for all of us who have rebelled against the Father. He’s stripped of His rightful robe, naked, whipped and instead of being worshipped as the king of the universe is hung up on a cross to drink the cup of God’s wrath so we might enter the feast of heaven as God’s beloved sons and daughters.
We’re going to respond today as we do each week here by eating a piece of bread as Jesus perfect life He lived dipped in wine as the blood He shed on the cross. Whenever we do this we are remembering and recognizing Jesus and what He did for us so that we might be welcomed in. It’s a foretaste of the great feast to come.
To prepare our hearts lets read this words of Confession followed by some words of Assurance.
Father, we confess we are often foolish or prideful. We need your forgiveness and turn to You.
The Father has sent Jesus His Son to live for us and die for us so that we might be forgiven and welcomed into His house as sons and daughters.