Luke 15:1-32 The Priority of Reaching the Lost
In these three parables, we see the importance God places is reaching the lost. In the first parable, a shepherd has 100 sheep. He loses one and leaves the other 99 to go after the one. In the second parable, a woman has 10 coins. She loses 1 coin. She takes all her effort to search for that one coin. In the third parable, a man has two sons. He loses one while another stays home. The father goes out each day looking for the one son to return home. The other son despises the brother when that brother is found.
There are a couple of thoughts I would like to share about why Jesus shared these three parables.
1. The parables are a response to people who were complaining.
First, these three parables are given in response to a religious person’s snide comment and complaint about Jesus and His ministry:
“And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”” (Luke 15:2, HCSB)
So we see that the reason Jesus gives these parables is because the religious people (the church people) were complaining. This reveals the fact that when the church spends time complaining, we are immediately off-course. When we are complaining about conditions in the church, or about other people, then we are not doing what Jesus wants us to do.
It’s easy to complain when you don’t like things and how they are going. It’s easy to complain when you have the status quo. It’s easy to complain when you are not getting what you want out of the church. But the complaints are a symptom of a larger problem. The problem is about focus. When people are complaining, causing disunity and not cooperating, then it means that the church has lost its focus.
2. The parables place a special emphasis on personal relationship.
““What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4, HCSB)
““Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8, HCSB)
“So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20, HCSB)
In each parable, the item or person lost meant a great deal to the person who lost it. To the shepherd, nothing meant more than finding that one lost sheep. The shepherd needed that sheep for his work. To the woman, her livelihood was dependent upon that silver coin for her income. The father didn’t need the son to return because of who he was. Yet, the loss of his son is personal. The father is worried that the son is gone. He is overjoyed when the son returns. In each of these cases, one can see that there is a special emphasis on the personal relationship between what and who was lost and the person who found that lost person or thing. The finder cares about the lost. The finder is emotionally invest in the well-being of that which is lost.
Notice that the first parable addresses men – shepherds who lose sheep. The second parable addresses women – a woman who lose coins. The third parable addresses the Father. It is no accident that Jesus is showing that all of us should be involved in reaching the lost. God the Father looks for the lost. He wants all men and women to be involved in reaching the lost.
3. The parables emphasize the joy that comes from finding the lost.
In each of these parables, the one who finds what is lost experiences joy.
““What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,” (Luke 15:4–5, HCSB)
“When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’” (Luke 15:9, HCSB)
““But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22–24, HCSB)
The shepherd finds joy when he finds the lost sheep. He carries him back home. The woman rejoices and has a party with her friends and neighbors. The father has a barbeque when the son is discovered. Each person celebrates in their own way when the lost is found. But they are not the only ones who celebrate. Notice the following:
“I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.” (Luke 15:7, HCSB)
“I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”” (Luke 15:10, HCSB)
“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”” (Luke 15:32, HCSB)
In each case, the celebration of the one lost that is found takes priority over everything else. Jesus says that there is joy in heaven when one sinner repents. He says that twice. Then in the third parable, He describes the Father – who represents God the Father – as wanting to rejoice because someone who was dead is now alive again. Doesn’t that describe salvation?
Our hearts should be happy to reach out to people. Yes, it is going to be hard. But we should be happy to reach out to the lost. We should be happy when someone finds Jesus. The problem is that the church has become bitter. We see that in the third parable. This leads me to my fourth observation.
4. The parables are meant to place the focus back on where the church belongs.
In each parable, something precious was lost. What was lost was most precious to the owner. In each parable, the owner takes great care to find what was lost. In each parable, the owner rejoices when what was lost is found. The preciousness of that which is lost drives home the focus.
Jesus spends time on the attitude of the older son and the Father. He contrasts the anger, bitterness, and jealousy of the older son to the compassion and care of the Father. What Jesus is saying to the religious people of the day (the Pharisees and Sadducees), and what He is saying to us as the church today is this:
You need to stop being bitter, angry, jealous and thinking only of yourself. The older brother reveals these four emotions.
THE FOUR ESCALATING DIFFICULT EMOTIONS THAT CAN PREVENT ME FROM REACHING THE LOST
1. He was angry
““Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28, HCSB)
The Bible says that the older brother was angry. The reason is because he was bitter.
2. He was bitter at having to stay home
“But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders…” (Luke 15:29, HCSB)
Here, the older brother is bitter. Don’t you think that even though he was the obedient one, the elder, he was bitter at the choices of his younger brother. These were choices that the older brother couldn’t make. Probably because of family responsibilities, or maybe the father became sick and the older son had to take over. We don’t know. We do know that in the son’s mind, he was a slave to his father.
That says more about the way the older son thinks about the father. The older son hasn’t learned the wisdom of compassion. He just stayed bitter at his father and his brother. But he was just as selfish as his brother.
3. He was just as selfish as the other brother
“…yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” (Luke 15:29, HCSB)
“You couldn’t spare a small goat for me, Dad?” Does this sound familiar? “Why won’t the church do something for me?” That’s essentially what the older brother is saying.
4. He was jealous of the lifestyle of the other brother
“But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’” (Luke 15:30, HCSB)
Here, the older brother doesn’t even identify as a brother to the other son. He was seething with jealousy. The older brother states a lie about how the younger brother used the money. The Bible says that the younger son was reckless.
“Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living.” (Luke 15:13, HCSB)
The idea here is that the younger brother was reckless with his money. He was not wise and he spent it all on things that didn’t provide for him. It doesn’t say that he spent the money on prostitutes. We don’t know. The phrase “prodigal” means wasteful, which is the meaning of the word “squandered.” The only quality we know about how the son wasted his money was that it was on reckless living of some kind.
Yet is obvious that how the younger brother spent the money bother the older brother. He was jealous of it. This attitude and jealousy of the older brother reflected the same emotions of the religious leaders. It is this jealousy that is behind the accusation against Jesus.
“And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”” (Luke 15:2, HCSB)
So instead of being grateful for the grace of God in their lives, they are jealous that God’s Son spends time with people whom God loves just as much. Yet instead of joining in with Jesus to reach out to the sinners. They complain and accuse Jesus. I wouldn’t want to go to that church, would you?
That’s where some of our hearts are today. We want the church to grow, but we don’t deal with the very people we need for the church to grow. Because we know deep inside that more effort will need to be placed on them and less on us. That’s hard when we are selfish.
5. The parables reveal a system that shows how to reach the lost.
METRIC SYSTEM OF EVANGELISM
Another interesting point to these three parables is that there is a system to the way in which people are found. I would like to call this the “Metric System of Evangelism.” I think Jesus is showing us not just the importance of reaching the lost. I don’t think He is showing us the difficulty in reaching the lost. I think that He is giving us a strategy. As you read through the parables, the number of items of importance decrease. We go from 100 sheep to 10 coins, to 1 brother. An all three cases, only one is lost. The shepherd goes to find one lost sheep. The woman cleans the house to find one lost coin. The father stays out to look for one lost brother. So the ratio goes from 100 to 10 to 1. I think it is a Gospel principle. In the previous chapter, Jesus heals ten lepers. Only one comes back to thank Him.
This is not a mass evangelism strategy. It doesn’t mean that if you reach one, you will reach ten, or if you reach ten, you will reach 100. By the yard it’s hard. By the inch, it’s a cinch.
The metric system is great but looks small. Compare the price and size of a liter of gas.
Compare the cost of 100 centiliters to a big gulp in a restaurant. The portions in the metric system are smaller. Easier to remember, but extremely small. This goes counter to our American way of thinking, and evangelism. The three parables in Luke 15 go from 100 to 10 to 1. This is the method: from small, medium, large (100,10,1). Why did Jesus present it that way? I think He was presenting both an attitude and a strategy. I want to leave you with a challenge this morning. I want us to make two important goals this year:
1. Reach 100 attendance in Sunday School.
I didn’t say 100 in enrollment. I mean 100 in attendance. I am not worried about worship attendance. People will come and go on different Sundays. But the bond of fellowship in this church will occur through the Sunday School. We have had as high as 90 in enrollment, but never 100. Yet, I think that is an attainable goal.
The first goal would be to move from 60 enrollment to 75. Then we move from 75 to 100 and then we move from 100 enrollment to 100 in attendance. We do that by setting three high-attendance Sunday School Days. One in the spring, one in the summer, and another in the fall. Yet reach these goals are contingent upon doing the second step.
2. Reach out to 1000 families in the area.
How do we reach out to 1000 families you ask? Well, I am making a personal effort to visit 365 people and share the Gospel with each of them. That is going to require that I visit people personally in their homes during the week. Essentially, I am trying to reach out to one person a day. But the others are where you come in. Here is how we can do it:
We ask ten people here in this service with smartphones to stand up. You look on your phones for ten people. You make an effort to contact them, text them, say that you are praying for them, and then invite them to church. Now here is the key. Not everyone is going to respond. As a matter of fact, I expect 10% to respond to your text. If you send out a text to 10 people, then one will probably respond. When they do, you give me all that you can about that person. If it is their phone number, then I will contact them. If you know where they live, give me their address. Text it to me. That is who we visit on Tuesday nights.
From now on, we will go out and visit people every Tuesday. We meet here at 6:30pm and we go out to visit people whom we have texted. We will do this every Sunday between now and Easter. Easter will be our first goal-post. We can see how our efforts have worked by visiting people personally. Then we invite them to church and to Sunday School. Finally, we compile all of the lists and we reach out to 100 families every two months. Then we do it again for another two months. We do that six times, then we will have reached out to potentially over 600 people. Yes, there may be some overlap. But that won’t matter. What is important is that we make it a priority to reach out and then follow-up in Sunday School.
Why are doing this? Because lost people matter to God. They should matter to us. The resources for our future growth are in the harvest. That harvest will only come if we go out and reach the lost. That is my passion for 2017. I hope you make it yours as well. Together, we can increase God’s kingdom if we are united in that great task of reaching out to people God wants us to love.
You can watch a video of this sermon on Facebook Live here.