Lost and Found: The God Who Searches for Us
We All Search for Things We’ve Lost
We’ve all lost things and then had to search for them. Ever lost a contact lens? Dropped it on the floor and then got down on your hands and knees feeling around for it until you found it? Remember how glad you were when you found that lens – especially if that was your last pair of contacts and you really couldn’t see without them?
How about car keys? We’ve all lost our car keys at one time or another – and what do we do? We think of all the normal places we might have put them and we look in those places first. When they’re not in all the normal places we begin to retrace our steps to figure out where we last had them and where we might have set them down. Remember how relieved you were when you finally found them?
But have you ever lost something really valuable? A wedding ring or your purse or your wallet, or perhaps a large sum of money? Remember how you felt? Remember what you did?
Two Parables About Lost Things
The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are two parables that Jesus told to express one point: the lengths to which God will go to find us when we’re lost.
Both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke include the story of the lost sheep. Matthew doesn’t include the story of the lost coin. Luke includes both the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
Since the Luke includes both the stories, I’ll be quoting here from Luke. (You can check out Matthew’s account of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:11-13.)
Parable of the Lost Sheep
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver *coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it?
So, a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. She lights a lamp and sweeps the entire house and searches carefully until she finds it. 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
*Just to put things in perspective here: the word we translate to English as “coin” is drachma in Greek. A drachma was the equivalent of a full day’s wage. So losing one coin was a lot more valuable to them than it would be to us if we just lost a coin like a penny.
Losing Something Precious
A Lost Ring
A friend of mine lost a valuable ruby and sapphire ring. She looked everywhere for it. Her husband even took the dryer apart to look for it in case it accidentally went through the wash in an article of clothing. It was nowhere to be found. She even reported it to the police in case someone turned it in.
Two years later, went to her father-in-law’s house for a birthday party. For some reason, the subject of her lost ring came up. She described what it looked like and how she had searched for it everywhere. To her surprise, her father-in-law said, “Huh, the cable guy found a ring kind of like that in my guest room behind the TV when he was installing my cable.” Sure enough…it was her ring! Found at last after two whole years!
As it turned out, her father-in-law kept used gift bags on a shelf next to the TV in his guest room. The ring likely slipped off her finger and fell into the gift bag when she packaged a gift for him for either Father’s Day or his birthday. When he put the gift bags on the shelf, the ring likely dropped out…onto the floor behind the TV. And there it stayed until the cable guy saw it. She was so excited that she finally found her ring! Not just because it was a valuable ring, but because it was special to her – her husband had given it to her on a special birthday years before.
We all rejoice when we find objects that are precious to us. But what about when we find people we love who were lost to us?
A Lost Child
Think about a time when you lost a child in a public place. Most of us have been through that at least once if we’re parents. Your heart sinks when you realize your child isn’t by your side anymore. You can feel the blood drain from your face as you frantically scan the area around you and don’t see them anywhere. You start calling their name. When they don’t answer, you quickly shift into full search mode moving quickly through the crowd, asking everyone if they’ve seen your child.
Feel it? That panic? The fear?
I lost my middle child in a cabinet store when he was about two. We were in the process of building a house, and I was trying to pick out cabinets. The salesperson was giving me the “pitch’, and I suddenly realized he wasn’t right next to me anymore.
I quickly looked around and down the aisle we were standing in, and didn’t see him. One minute he was right there, the next he was gone. How could he disappear so quickly? My heart skipped a beat as I ran around to the next aisle to see if he was there. He wasn’t. I started calling his name; and when he didn’t answer, I seriously thought I was going to pass out. The salesperson quickly locked all the exit doors and called a “code yellow” over the loudspeaker – which meant there was a missing child. Now I was almost in tears. With the doors locked, everyone working at the cabinet shop went up and down the aisles looking for him. He was nowhere to be found. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
What’s Lost is Found
I was about out of my mind when a small cabinet door opened and he popped his little head out. At that moment, I had to sit down on the floor. I pulled him onto my lap and hugged him tight while I tried to catch my breath. I’ve never felt so relieved.
He’d never gone far. He simply opened a cabinet door right where we were standing and silently climbed inside. I don’t know why he didn’t answer when we called his name. I suppose he thought it was a great game.
Needless to say, I did not pick out any cabinets that day. I was a wreck! I had to go home and recover. Scooping my son up in my arms, I carried him to the car with his older brother walking beside us (I wasn’t about to let go of him again).
We’ve All Been Lost
Jesus describes the way God feels about every one of us in much the same way. He loves every one of us even more than I love my son – and when even one of us wanders away or is lost to him, he searches for us and pursues us until he finds us again. Just like the shepherd searched for his lost sheep. Or, like the woman searched for her lost coin. Just like my friend searched for her lost ring. Or, like I searched for my lost son.
God searches for us and all heaven rejoices when we’re found.
You might be wondering, “When have I ever been lost?”
The reality is – we’ve all been lost.
Romans 3:23 says that,
“All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We have all been lost in our sin. Sin separates us from God – like I was separated from my little boy in that store. Sin prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness. Imagine sin like that cabinet my little boy climbed into. When we climb into that cabinet, when we live in our sin, we are lost to God like my little boy was lost to me. We’re doomed to living a life here on earth without God’s grace; doomed to an eternity apart from God.
God Searches for Us
Thank goodness God searches for us when we’re lost – like I searched for my little boy.
Luke 19:10 tells us that,
“Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost.”
As much as I loved my little boy, God loves us more.
In fact, John 3:16 tells us,
“God loved us so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Romans 5:8 tells us that,
“God showed his great love for us when Jesus died in our place while we were still sinners.”
God loved us so much that he created a way for us to get found without requiring us to get better first. He sent Jesus to find us so that we could experience abundant life now here on earth, and eternal life later in his presence.
So, let me ask you, have you been found or are you still hiding from God? Are you still refusing to come to him when he calls your name – like my little boy hid from me and didn’t answer when I called him? God is searching for you. He’s made a way for you to be found and he’s calling your name. All you have to do is answer. Open that cabinet door and allow God to embrace you like I embraced my little boy.
Living as Found People
Being someone found by God has many implications. I’d like to share two.
Remember I told you that the parable of the lost sheep appears in both the book of Matthew and in the book of Luke?
Luke focuses more on evangelism: seeking those who are lost; those who are outside the fold.
Matthew focuses more on restoration of believers who have gone astray: seeking insiders who have wandered from the flock.
Both have implications for us as disciples of Christ – as found people.
The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Matthew reminds us that “…the continuing ministry of Jesus is embodied in his disciples, the church.” (Volume VIII, p. 377)
As Jesus’ disciples, our objective is to imitate our Master; whether it’s reaching out to people who are far from God or reaching out to fellow Christ-followers who have lost their way. We have been found. Now let’s go find others who are lost.
Let’s take a closer look at these two implications.
Finding People Who Are Lost
The first implication: Evangelism
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told his disciples,
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
As disciples, we’re called find lost “sheep” and missing “coins”on behalf of the Master we serve.
The woman who lost her coin lit a lamp, and searched carefully as she swept. We can shine the light of God’s love, as we spend time with those who don’t yet know Jesus as their Savior. But that means we must spend some of our time with people who aren’t yet believers.
Let’s look back at the first few verses we read in this passage. Luke 15:1-3.
“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! So Jesus told them this story…”
So Jesus told this story. The whole reason Jesus told this story was to explain to the religious leaders why he spent so much of his time with sinners. These sinners were the lost ones. They were the ones who needed to be found; the whole reason Jesus came!
Yes, it’s important for us to be in community with other believers. We grow best in community, and when the flock sticks together, they are far safer. But we must be willing to leave the flock – the 99 – at times to search for the one, just as Jesus did.
Finding People Who Wander Off
The second implication: Restoration
As disciples, we’re called to restore other believers who’ve wandered away from the flock; believers who are on the wrong track.
Galatians 6:1 tells us,
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”
Jesus calls his followers to serve one another as he has sacrificially served them. Value them and seek them out when they go astray.
We’re all very concerned about being too “judgy” these days. As a result, we often mind our own business and turn a blind eye to those among us are wandering from God.
There’s a difference between discernment and judgment.
Discernment is recognizing the difference between what God’s word says is right and wrong.
Judgment is when we decide for ourselves what someone’s punishment should be and maybe even do the punishing ourselves – like a judge would.
We’re called to be discerning and to gently help a fellow Christian find their way back to the flock when they’ve wandered off – to point out how they have strayed from God’s perfect will and help them find their way back.
James 5:19-20 tells us,
“19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
We need each other. If I was the sheep who wandered off, I hope at least one of my fellow sheep would care enough to come alongside me and help me find my way back.
Leaving the 99 to Find the One
The shepherd in the first parable was more concerned with one lost sheep than with the rest of the flock. It’s not that the one is more valuable, but that the other 99 are already safe! We too should be more concerned with the one than with the 99. In other words, our concern for those who don’t know Jesus yet should be greater than our concern for those who do.
The mistake many churches make is that they focus everything on the flock (themselves) and pay little to no attention to the lost people we need to reach. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the spiritual well-being of those who are already members of the church – remember Jesus said make disciples, not just converts. Discipleship is important.
But, if we hope to reach the lost, we can’t just hunker down and ignore those who aren’t yet part of the church. We must look for new ways to go to them, to draw them in, and then make them feel welcome when they come through our doors. Jesus went and ate in the homes of sinners. He spoke their language. He met them where they were and then called them to follow him and find a changed life. We can do that too.
This doesn’t mean compromising the message of the gospel or watering down the word of God. It does mean creating an environment where new people feel like they belong.
My dear fellow sheep, be willing to leave the flock – the safety and comfort of your friends and your church – in order to find the ONE that is lost. Remember what God sacrificed to find you.
You are found.
Now go find someone else!