Luke 15_1-10 Lost in Christ
We just heard two parables Jesus gave about being lost and then found; one about a lost sheep, the other a lost coin. How many times have you heard the parable of the lost sheep? Yet, ask yourself if you have ever stopped to reflect on the lost sheep, why it was lost, how it was lost and what is meant by lost? Have you ever stopped to consider who Jesus’ intended hearers were and what he intended to reveal about certain attitudes and behaviours? So often we gladly and quickly jump over the lost bit, to the good news, to the happy ending. The lost sheep was found by the shepherd…hurray! And they all lived happily ever after.
Jesus did not tell this parable to make his listeners feel good, nor did he intend for us to make it into a fairy tale, though we often do, where the emphasis is on everyone living happily ever after. Jesus’ parables are intended to teach the truth about our selves and about God, and Jesus always directed his parable’s toward particular people, their behaviour and attitudes. Parables may be stories, but they are God’s word in story form, to speak to the soul and conscience, as written in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Jesus only ever told his parables to those who were somehow connected with him and the Jewish faith, whether they were his disciples, the Pharisees or the crowds that followed him. They were his key teaching tool. So as followers of Jesus, we need to take them as seriously as we do the other words of Jesus. We need to examine and apply them to ourselves, see how they teach us the truth about ourselves and God. After the parable of the sower, Jesus said “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Luke sets the context of Jesus’ parable of the lost amid two groups of people who couldn’t be further apart, yet in a way, they are in an identical situation; they were all gathered together because there was something about Jesus that attracted them; he touched their conscience because he spoke with authority. The group consisted of two opposing lifestyles. There were sinners and tax collectors, those who lived a life of selfishness, pleasure and were morally challenged, to put it mildly. And then there were the religious synagogue types, the regular ‘church folk’, those who were upstanding in society and generally good people. So we have together, the good, the bad and the ugly! Seeing how the good put down the bad and ugly, Jesus takes the opportunity to tell a parable about a lost sheep. Why a parable about a lost sheep? What is it about being lost Jesus wants to teach about?
Do you know the definition of being lost? I don’t know the official one, but I think this comes close: the definition of being lost is ‘being certain of your position!’ Would you agree? No? Well think about the last time you were lost, either in a shopping centre or driving to a destination. At what point did you realise you were lost? Well, usually its when you never find you goal or arrive at your destination, then you confess that you are lost. But that’s the outcome of being lost; weren’t you really lost long before that; making wrong turns and incorrect decisions? You just didn’t know it or were too proud and certain to admit it, and perhaps, out of spite and to save face in front of your wife, you charge on?
Being certain of your position, that’s what it means to be lost. Sounds like a contradiction, but this is one point of Jesus’ parable he wants to get across. The Pharisees, by muttering, “This man [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them,” reveals to Jesus they are certain of their salvation and how to attain it, while convinced the ‘sinners’ are the ones who are lost.
The ‘sinners and tax collectors’ on the other hand, were certain they had no need for God or religion and perhaps felt the Pharisees were the ones lost up their own sanctimonial white garments! Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep to two groups who where certain of their position before God, yet Jesus knew they were both lost, they were both seeking the kingdom of God by their own righteousness, apart from trusting him as their saviour and rescuer; the messiah shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34 “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock…so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.”
Jesus’ definition of lost is to be certain you know the way to heaven apart from him. In the “I am” statements, Jesus makes this very clear, that to be lost, like that sheep, is to reach for heaven apart from the shepherd. He says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me; “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.”
Let’s ask ourselves a few modern questions to remind us that we too, like either a Pharisee or a sinner, are lost. That is, to allow the parable of the lost sheep to speak to us, as it spoke to both the Pharisees and the sinners; to see that, even in a little way, we believe there is a way to heaven apart from Christ alone. You are lost if:
- You are certain the onus is on us the accept Christ
- You are convinced people are generally good and nice people go to heaven, including yourself
- You are convinced that Christian bumpers sticker slogans apply to you, even though you never or rarely go to church and value the church only for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
- You are sure your good intentions count for something
- You are certain Christianity needs to be entertaining and relevant to your needs
- You are certain you must feel good about yourself, have a high self-esteem and live a moral life
All of us have to admit, deep down, we still think, that in some small way, we must do something to be saved. To do so is to be lost, and that is what we truly are. St Paul plainly sets out the truth in Romans 11:32 ‘For God has bound all humanity over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.’ That is, each one of us is the lost sheep in the parable. We can never be found if we remain certain we are not lost, but we are found, if we believe we are lost! This is the gospel, the good news of the shepherd. God has bound our very being over to sin, so that he can have mercy on all people. We are sinners, lost and condemned, separated from God, unable to contribute one bit to being rescued from sin, death and the devil.
Yet this is God’s good purpose for us and the meaning of the parable of the lost sheep. We are to be totally passive, like a sheep caught in a thistle, so that his Son Jesus, the good shepherd, may take us to be his own, lift us upon his shoulders and bring us into his kingdom. By faith alone, in Christ alone are we found, and only in him are we saved, as St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22 ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” He did this through the cross. Jesus became the lost lamb for us. He refused to be saved from the wrath of God against our sin, and endured the scorn of the cross for our sake; By his death he became the lost Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
By the power of God, he was raised again, so that he may be the one who comes to rescue us. By the very word of God spoken over the waters of our baptism, our shepherd lifted us up on his shoulders and there, with him we passively remain. Infant baptism is the best example we have of how passive we really are in receiving grace. Jesus word “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”, is the action, we are the receiver. Jesus said “[the shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”. We hear the voice of our shepherd through the word of God and in the sacraments, in the confession and absolution, and in the mutual encouragement and fellowship of the faithful. And all this is we passively hear and receive in church.
Christ himself is the head of the church. The church, were the gospel is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, is the shoulders of Christ. It is in the church that we are carried by the shepherd, and it is on his shoulders we the lost are comforted with our shepherds words ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”