Lost people matter to God. They matter so much to him that one lost soul whom is found is the grounds for a big celestial party (Luke 15:7, 10, 32). Jesus told three stories in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, that all teach the same thing, so that we would be absolutely sure to get it: a loving God has unbounded joy over lost people being found. These parables of Jesus are meant primarily to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. He would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person back to himself. God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage of this world to find one lost valuable person.
Why should every church make reaching others for Jesus Christ a high priority? Because restoring lost people is a high priority to God. Lost people matter so much to him that he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth. Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.
I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God, and estranged from the church – it was lonely and awful. My life before Christ felt like I was walking through a cemetery at night and fell into an open grave, with no way out and no one to hear my screams. But God, in his great mercy, sent people into my life to share the message of salvation from my prodigal way of life of sin and misery. When I turned from the path of destruction I was on and embraced Jesus Christ there was a big party in heaven!
In the story of the prodigal lost son, that son hit rock bottom and rehearsed a speech he would give to his father when he came back. He never got to finish that speech, because the father interrupted his confession of sin and got the celebration going! (Luke 15:17-24). We celebrate the things that are important to us. Lost people matter so much to God that it is a cause for a great celebration. God’s grace steps in and takes over, erasing past sin and bringing radical forgiveness and reconciliation.
It needs to be asked: Where do we find ourselves in these parables? These three stories were offensive to Christ’s original hearers. Those listening to Jesus were so inwardly focused that they believed ministry ought to revolve around them and their needs. What is more, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were offended because they thought all this fuss about sinners would just highlight their sin! There should be no party for them because of how they lived.
We must understand that preaching grace is always offensive to people who work for their salvation. The elder son in the story of the prodigal was inwardly obsessed instead of outwardly compassionate like his father. It is scandalous to such persons to hear that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13). If we hear such verses and listen to all this talk about outreach and being concerned for sinners who don’t know Jesus and say: “Well, all this talk about outreach is well and good, but what about us? What about me?” Then, we must locate ourselves as the person who is lost and in need of being found by God’s grace.
We need the father’s heart when it comes to others. We need a heart of grace. Think of the worst sinner you can think of – a person for whom you would label as being like the devil. Now picture if that person were to be found by God and become a Christian. Would you attend the party to celebrate that person’s repentance, reconciliation, and recovery? If any one of us feels justified in our hate, then we are the lost ones in need of turning from sin.
In the first story of Luke 15, a shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep and went after the one lost sheep. The shepherd, who represents God, gave preferential attention to the lost one. Can you live with that? What do these parables mean for our church programs, budgets, and committees? Today in America only one-in-five lost people even knows one Christian. Statistics like that are what keep me up at night; it bothers me and makes me sad. It drives me to prayer, and causes me to follow my compassionate wife’s example of going after lost people. My wife, Mary, has never met a person that she didn’t think needed to hear the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. If we have no relationships with lost people, then we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to follow Jesus in his mission to find sinners and call them home. We need to ask ourselves if we have the father’s heart.
God’s unconditional amazing grace makes a difference. If we lose that sense of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, then there will be no outreach. Reaching out and finding a lost person is not dependent on completing a class on evangelism or getting training in how to answer every question. Outreach is fueled by passion and desire. Healthy Christians reproduce themselves. I am guessing that, if you have children, you probably did not take a class on how to procreate – you just had the desire and the willingness; and, you celebrated when there was a birth of new life.
God’s heart is one that longs for the lost people of this world to be reconciled and brought back into relationship with him. Thus, reaching out to the lost people of this world is to be of the utmost importance to the church. That will only happen if we share the same heart of the Father.