Lost People Matter To God

Luke 15

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay, has done a great amount of research in regard to the church and the Christian faith.  He is the author of several books and has served as both pastor and teacher in the Southern Baptist denomination.   One of the research questions he posed was "Why do you think many churches aren't as evangelistic as they once were?" Here are the top 15 responses listed in order of frequency from that poll:

1. Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.

2. Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.

3. Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.

4. We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.

5. Our churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of "you come" rather than "we go."

6. Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.

7. Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.

8. Church members are in a retreat mode as culture becomes more worldly and unbiblical.

9. Many church members don't really believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.

10. Our churches are no longer houses of prayer equipped to reach the lost.

11. Churches have lost their focus on making disciples who will thus be equipped and motivated                      to reach the lost.

12. Christians do not want to share the truth of the gospel for fear they will offend others. Political correctness is too commonplace, even among Christians.

13. Most churches have unregenerate members who have not received Christ themselves.

14. Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.

15. Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.

One the very obvious shortcomings of our ministry as Chatham Baptist Church is leading the unchurched and non-believers to faith in Jesus Christ.  CBC Re-envisioning 2016 will clearly point out this weakness. However, the real question is “What shall CBC do about it?” 

To answer that question, we have to answer another question: “How important is evangelism (reaching those without Christ) to CBC?

If Jesus Christ is indeed the Head of the Church (and He is), if Jesus Christ is God Incarnate (and He is), and if God is the Sovereign Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of humanity (and He is), then perhaps we should review His perspective regarding Lost People.  As we reacquaint ourselves with His perspective , we must also remember “Lost” means separated from God and it means “All of humanity”, not just ‘them’.  It means you and me before we were redeemed by Christ.  I believe what we will find is that lost people matter a great deal to God and that His Incarnation in Jesus Christ and His establishment of His Church had a primary focus in redeeming humanity.  We can find a condensed presentation of God’s pursuit of lost people in Luke 15 as Jesus teaches three parables.

  1. I.                    When First Century Judaism Rejected Lost People, God Embraced Lost People. 

Luke 15:1-32 (NKJV)

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."

Jesus confronted the error in purpose of First Century Judaism.  The purpose of the Law and God’s revelation through the Prophets was for people to recognize the reality of God, to seek God, the live for God and to point the way for others to do the same.  What had developed since the return from the exile was a religion that was pridefully focused upon rule keeping, condemnation for not keeping those rules, isolation from and rejection of lost people, and a devotion to an interpretation of the Law rather than the God of the Law.

I firmly believe that many Christians and churches today have done the same or have polarized themselves in the opposite direction. 

There are many Christians and churches who are pridefully focused upon rule keeping, condemning those who did not keep the rules, isolating themselves from and rejecting lost people, with an arrogant devotion to their own false righteousness.  Thus, lost people are unfit for the Gospel.

On the opposite pole are many Christians and churches who are pridefully focused upon what they believe to be the noble concept of love and acceptance in which they indirectly or directly suggest that no one is lost because God is a God of love. Thus, lost people don’t exist.

Jesus didn’t see things that way.

II. In Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep, One Lost Sheep Mattered.

So He spoke this parable to them, saying: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which 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 neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

The point Jesus was making was more likely understood by the Pharisees and Scribes, than by the tax collectors and sinners.  What is the meaning of the parable?     (It does not mean that a person may be saved, lost again, and then must be reclaimed.  Such an interpretation totally misrepresents the context and well as the meaning. )

The point Jesus is making is that a lost person matters to God just as much as those who are redeemed, or, in this case, self-righteously claim themselves to be redeemed.  The other 99 sheep were left to graze, having no noticeable concern for that one stupid sheep that wandered off.  The Pharisees and Scribes are the 99 sheep who claimed to be God’s flock.  They looked with scorn on the tax collectors and sinners and believed such people could not be an object of God’s love.  Oh, how wrong they were.  The shepherd doesn’t go running back to the 99 to celebrate.  He goes back to those who are his friends and neighbors.  God loves such people so much that He is willing to lay everything on the line to redeem them. Jesus states that there is joy in heaven, not among the Pharisees and Scribes, over this one lost person being redeemed.  Value!

Chatham Baptist Church...lost people matter to God.  Our Lord was willing to lay everything on the line so the lost could be redeemed...so that you could be redeemed.  If He, the Head of the Church, is so motivated, the why shouldn’t we?  What do we truly value?

III. In Jesus Parable of the Lost Coin, One Lost Coin Takes Priority.

"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Jesus utilizes a very similar parable, except in this one He speaks of inanimate coinage.  However, coins represented value to such a person as this woman.  All of her coins had value and she could not afford to lose even one.  Value...value...I believe this to be a very key concept here.  She is so excited about finding this coin that she has to tell everyone.  Jesus speaks of rejoicing in heaven again about...what?...about the sinner who has repented...about the sinner who was lost and was found.

Doesn’t it seem curious that this woman would go to so much trouble to find one measly coin?  That is Jesus point.  That is why He could be found mingling with tax collectors and sinners.  It wasn’t that He condoned their sin.  He understood that they were lost in their sin and needed to be found and led to repentance.  That is the kind of love that God has for the lost.  One repentant sinner makes the bells of heaven ring.

Chatham Baptist Church...lost people matter to God.  The woman in the parable was frantically focused upon finding that lost coin.  It had such value to her.  She had nine silver coins, but that tenth one was just as valuable and she found it, she threw a party.  We, the other nine coins, have value and are valued by God.  However, God possesses us and His desire is to locate and redeem that one lost coin, that one lost person.  What do we truly value?

IV. In Jesus Parable of the Prodigal Son, The Father Teaches What Matters.

Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.

But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.   Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.   And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.   But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!   I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants." '

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.   And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'   But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.   And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.

Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.    And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.' But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.   But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'

And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.' "

There is a lot that can be found in this parable, but let’s keep it in the context in which Jesus spoke it.  While this is universally called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”, it is in fact parallel to the two previous and shorter parables. 

Jesus purpose in this parable is to draw attention not so much to the wayward son nor the loving father, but to the elder brother.  The primary lesson is to show in a life-like situation the attitude of the self-righteous Pharisees toward tax collectors and sinners.  In fact, the contrast between the attitude of the elder brother and that of the father is an exact parallel to the attitude of the Pharisees and that of God toward lost people. 

On a much grander scale, lost people matter much more to God than the prodigal son mattered to the father.  Sadly, human nature seems to gravitate to the jealousy, pride and arrogance, whether blatant or subtle.  The elder brother in this parable was not only jealous and uncaring about his brother, he demonstrated outright arrogance and disrespect toward his father.  Come to think of it, doesn’t this sound a bit like a description of Lucifer, otherwise known as Satan?

Chatham Baptist Church...lost people matter to God. Should any church come to the place that reaching the lost is rejected, neglected or given low priority, that church is not reflecting the heart of God.  It is no longer being truly led by Jesus Christ.  Where do we as Chatham Baptist Church fit within the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

Lost people matter to God.  They always have.  Until the Lord returns, they always will.  With these parables Jesus was making a point that was very clear.  As He came to seek and to save those who were lost, so He commissioned His Church to do the same. 

As Chatham Baptist Church re-envisions for the future, we must evaluate what kind of priority we have for reaching the lost.  As we do that evaluation, we must seek the Lord’s direction for setting goals to fulfill that priority.

What should we improve to reach the lost?

What should we change to reach the lost?

What should we start to reach the lost?

What must I do to reach the lost?

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  • That "top 15" list really resonates.  I see so much of that in my own life and I've seen it in my church - a church that is actually known for reaching the lost.

    I'm becoming more convicted personally along the lines of the fifth item in the list.  The "attractional" model of the Western church - where we take people out of their homes, neighborhoods, and circles of influence in order to "do church", in my opinion, does great harm to the average Christian's ability to witness to neighbors and family.  We come to associate spirituality with the church building as opposed to making it part of our daily lives and part of our relationships with those in our spheres of influence.  Most churches aren't equipping people to evangelize; instead, they're telling people to invite their neighbors to church - a weird start when you think about it.

    I've read recently about 'Discovery Bible Studies", a methodology used around the world in many of the places where the church is multiplying most rapidly.  The studies intentionally take place in people's homes rather than at church, and they're wide open to both believers and non-believers in a family.  They study a Bible story, "discover" the lesson, and then spend the next week both applying that lesson and sharing the story with others.  Next week, they come together and discuss both how they applied the teaching from the previous week and who they shared it with.  Even non-believers are encouraged to share what they're learning; by the time they give their lives to Christ, they've already been "evangelizing" as a normal part of their relationships!!

    I personally am "evangelism-challenged" but I'm hoping to learn from this model and to re-orient my thinking about the relationship of the Gospel to my daily relationships and my spheres of influence. 

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