REACHING THE LOST

3 Jul

I’ve heard  a story about a little boy who was struggling valiantly to listen to a rather lengthy sermon. After the service, the little boy asked his dad a question. “Dad” he said, “what does the preacher do the rest of the week?” The dad replied, “Son, he’s a very busy man. He takes care of church business, visits the sick, studies the Bible. . . and he has to take time to rest up. You see, preaching in public is not an easy job.” The little boy thought about that and said, “Well, listening ain’t so easy either!”

The truth is that listening really is not always easy, especially when the messages are challenging. What I am about to say may be challenging because I will be sharing with you on the subject of the Christians responsibility in reaching the lost. I know I was troubled in my heart as I studied this text because the more I studied this passage, the more I realized how we have not been responding to the lost the way Jesus taught that we should. Nevertheless, it is God’s Word and sometimes the truth of it will make us uncomfortable.

Luke 15:1-10:

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 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 which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, 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, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In these two parables something of value is lost. In both stories the thing lost have monetary value. Nobody, including the religious leaders who valued material things, would ignore such a loss; rather they would put every effort into finding it and would rejoice when they did.

If this is true about things that are lost, shouldn’t it also be for people who are spiritually lost? The term “lost” refers to those who are not Christians, to those who are outside of the household of God but whom God desires to come home.

Shouldn’t we respond to people who are lost in the same way or even a greater way than we would to lost things? Shouldn’t we exhibit the same efforts, and perseverance in searching for them? Shouldn’t we be filled with joy at them being found?

From these verses, I want to share with you three things needed in order for us to reach those who are lost without Jesus.

The first thing needed for reaching the lost is compassion.

Jesus had the “tax collectors and sinners” gathering around him. These are lost people who were not running from Jesus but rather running to him. They were not avoiding him, ignoring him, or even hostile towards him. Verse 1 says that they were “gathering around to hear him.” Why were sinners so willing and even eager to listen to Jesus? It certainly wasn’t because Jesus had an easy message that tickled people’s ears. It wasn’t because Jesus compromised on sin and said that everything they were doing was acceptable. They weren’t gathering around Jesus because he was putting on some sensationalistic show of signs and wonders.

Why did the “lost” seek out Jesus rather than run from him? I believe the answer is his compassion. Jesus loved them and showed that love with a compassionate instead of condemning attitude. The Bible says in verse 2 that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” One of the definitions for the Greek word translated as “welcomes” in this verse is to “receive as a friend.” This was Jesus attitude toward those who were lost in sin. Jesus welcomed them; he was compassionate and accepting of them despite their sins and faults. He was a friend and not a foe. Jesus had a attitude that lost people were attracted to, do we? For us as individuals and as a church to reach people we are going to have to show and have that same love and acceptance.

Much of the church is responding to the lost like a police officer instead of a paramedic. This is what the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. They were more interested in condemning and criticizing sinners than in showing compassion. The same attitude is sometimes seen in the modern conservative church, of which we are a part. We’re rightfully upset about the current state of moral values, abortion, the homosexual agenda, and the immoral entertainment in society today, among other things. It is fine and appropriate to be concerned about these issues, but we must be careful that our concern about these issues does not turn into condemnation. The lost have never flocked to hear those who were condemning and they never will listen to us if we have that same attitude.

The second thing needed for reaching the lost is effort.

Luke 15:3-5:

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

Many years ago, when Destiny was only about two, a scary incident happened to our family. One afternoon, our house buzzing with activity as usual, we noticed that Destiny was not in her room.. At first we were calm because we thought she must have gone into another room or had seen Paul outside and was riding on his mower. Soon we realized that she was not in any of those places and we began to grow a little more than scared. We yelled her name at the top of our lungs, but there was no response. At that point our love for her compelled us to make every effort to find her, including running from room to room and tearing them apart in our search. I never said, “Well I’ve lost one child but we have another one.” No, one child mattered! She mattered enough to give everything we had toward finding her. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, but in reality was only a few minutes we did find Destiny. She was playing her first game of hide and seek!

Here’s the point. It took effort to find Destiny and it will take that same kind of diligent seeking for us to reach the lost. In these two parables, Jesus emphasizes the effort that went into finding the lost. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said that the shepherd would “leave the ninety-nine sheep in the open country and go after the lost sheep. . .” In the parable of the lost coin, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house, and searches carefully for the lost coin.

In both cases the thing that was lost had to be sought after with great effort. The shepherd did not wait for the lost sheep to wander home and the woman did not wait for the lost coin to turn up. In our Christian lives and in the church it sometimes seems that we do the opposite. We tend to wait for the lost to come to us. We’re passive rather than active. We’re waiting for people to come to Christ instead of putting effort into bringing them to Christ! I know that I have been guilty of doing this.This has to change if we’re to reach the lost like Jesus did.

How do we practically practice this principle? What do you and I need to do in order to be following Jesus instructions about giving effort to reaching the lost? There are several things we can do.

First, a significant part of our prayers should be for the lost.

Second, making every effort means that a significant part of the ministries of FBC Lillian should be directed toward reaching the lost. I know that we must also be careful to dedicate a significant part of the ministries toward discipling those who are already Christians. Just the same,  this is no excuse for not seeking the lost as Jesus instructed us

Third, making every effort to reach the lost means we must be willing to make outreach a significant part of our personal and church spending. This is one area where we have been improving. In the last year-and-a-half much more of the church funds have been directed toward missions and outreach than in previous years. These are all practical things we can do to apply this principle that Jesus has shared on reaching the lost. While it is important that the church corporately make every effort to reach the lost, the most important thing you and I need to do in reaching the lost is to do our best to share Jesus with all those we come into contact with.

There is also a third thing necessary for reaching the lost found in these parables.

The third thing needed to reach the lost its persistence.

Luke 15:4:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

Luke 15:8:

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

In both these cases Jesus notes specifically that the person continued seeking after the lost item until he or she found it. In other words, Jesus seems to be pointing out that persistence was a needed quality for success. After all, lost sheep among spacious fields and hills, and lost coins in the dirt floor of the Jewish home would not have been easily or quickly found.

It’s the same way with reaching the lost. It is not easy to reach people’s hearts so that they receive Jesus. It is not usually the case there our first efforts meet with success. Sometimes it takes years and years of persistence, but we should not be discouraged or give up. If a sheep or coin was valuable enough to persistently search for, then people who are spiritually lost are too valuable to give up on.

Following an exhilarating performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, celebrated classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma went home, slept, and awoke the next day exhausted and rushed. He called for a cab to take him to a hotel on the other side of Manhattan and placed his cello—hand-crafted in Vienna in 1733 and valued at $2.5 million—in the trunk of the taxi. When he reached his destination, he paid the driver, but forgot to take his cello.

After the cab had disappeared, Ma realized what he had done. He began a desperate search for the missing instrument. Fortunately he had the receipt with the cabby’s ID number. After searching all day the taxi was located in a garage in Queens with the priceless cello still in the trunk. Ma’s smile could not be contained as he spoke to reporters.

Here’s the point, Yo Yo Ma did not quit but persisted because what was lost was too valuable to give up on. The spiritually lost are too valuable for us to quit trying to reach even though our efforts do not pay off quickly.

The religious leaders of the day had been indifferent toward the lost and even antagonistic toward them coming to Jesus. Jesus uses these two parables to illustrate how wrong their response was, especially when compared to how they would have responded toward recovering something of far less value. Jesus pointed out how joyful they would have been at the recovery of a lost sheep or lost coin, certainly then they should of been joyous instead of angered at the lost coming to Jesus.

Jesus then pointed out that the one thing that matters most to God is the lost. They matter so much to God that when the lost are found, even one of them, all heaven rejoices and throws a party! There is more joy over one sinner coming to Jesus that over ninety-nine people being right where they’re supposed to be with God. If lost people matter this much to God, shouldn’t they matter this much to us? Shouldn’t we be willing to give everything needed in order to reach the lost? My answer is “yes” and I hope yours is also.

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