I recently watched the rerun of a movie entitled Saving Private Ryan. It was quite a hit in the theaters years ago. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it again.
The movie is about a platoon of soldiers during World War II who have been given the assignment of finding a certain Private in the war zone shortly after D-day. The reason was his other two brothers had been killed in battle, and Private Ryan was now the one remaining son. The military powers that be felt it was necessary to get the last surviving son home safely to the family farm.
The entire movie is about the search for Private Ryan – the obstacles this platoon of soldiers faced and overcame, and the philosophical discussions and arguments between them about the value of one person. Was this mission really worth risking their lives? It took great sacrifice to find him, but they finally did. This movie has a powerful theme regarding the value of life.
Jesus paints for us a saving-Private-Ryan type of picture in today’s parables. He told these stories to His critics to explain God’s purposes and the depths of His love. The religious elite of the day had been criticizing Jesus. They didn’t like that He associated with crooked tax collectors, traders, and notorious sinners of the community – people who are considered real scum of the day. (I imagine if Jesus were to appear today, we would find Him among drug dealers, thieves, pimps, and other despicable types, and we would scratch our heads.)
People in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to come, of course, but not this! Certainly, the Messiah would never hang out with such unclean and undesirable types of people. Jesus seemed to almost be attracted to the morally corrupt. He ate dinner with them, which was a symbol of acceptance. His attitude mystified those highly religious Pharisees and scribes. They questioned the legitimacy of His ministry and complained about His actions. So Jesus responded with a couple of stories.
The first story was about a shepherd with a hundred sheep. At the end of the day, he counted the sheep and found one was missing. So he left the ninety-nine with an associate and went out to search for the one missing sheep. When he found it, he rejoiced, placed it upon his shoulders, and carried the sheep all the way home. Once he got home, he called the neighbors and had a celebration party. Jesus said This is what happens in heaven when a lost person is found, when he repents and comes home to the heavenly Father. God celebrates.
Then Jesus went on to tell another story of a woman who had ten coins and lost one. She turned the house upside down looking for that one coin. Finally, she found it. She was so thrilled that she called everyone around the neighborhood to come celebrate with her. Jesus said This is what happens whenever a lost person comes home. Heaven celebrates!
With these parables, Jesus justified His actions to those who had been criticizing Him. He was, in essence, saying, Lost people matter to God. In fact, everyone matters to God! God loves each and every one of us and wants us for a relationship. The God who sent us Jesus is the heavenly Father who longs to have His children back home again. He created us for Himself, and He loves us.
Someone once said these parables don’t set out to present the Gospel but to vindicate it. Jesus is defending His association with lost sinners by saying they matter to God.
A common thread runs throughout these two parables. First, something very valuable is missing. Then an all-out search is made to find the missing item. Finally, when it is found, there is great joy and celebration.
Likewise, our Father in heaven looks at us as very valuable individuals. To the world, you may be just a name on a computer, or a printout, or a number in a phonebook. But to God, you are valuable. You are His creation and precious in His sight. God has great plans for your life – to bring you to Himself, to change you and transform you. But He values you now, even as you are.
Because the sheep and coin were of great value, they needed to be found when they were lost. How do we become lost from God?
A person is lost when they have no relationship with God. They don’t know or trust in Jesus Christ. The Bible says they are eternally lost if they die without Jesus in their life. They will go to hell and be eternally lost. Scripture is clear on this.
An individual who has had a relationship with God, but then decides to go it on their own without God is lost. When a person tries to run their own life, they get lost. I can tell you from personal experience. There was a time in my life when I was really lost from God. Fortunately, God in His mercy sent someone to lead me back to Him.
Some of us are led astray by distractions as sheep do. They don’t just suddenly decide to leave the shepherd but nibble themselves lost. They move from one green area to the next until finally they look up and realize they don’t know where they are. They are out of sight of the shepherd.
I was reminded of this image again in the park the other day when I was with my grandchildren. Little Johnny, distracted by music, ran off to get close to the musicians in the band. We had to go fetch him back. This is often what happens to many of us. We get so wrapped up in the busyness of life as we pursue things that we think really matter. Then we look up and suddenly realize God seems a million miles away. We’ve nibbled ourselves lost, you could say.
Jesus made a point to the Pharisees that there is a loss more tragic than any other. It is the lostness of not knowing you’re lost. The evidence is when you become callous and quit caring about the spiritual health of people around you. You become arrogant and self-righteous. You count on yourself to have a right relationship with God.
These religious officials were lost and didn’t even know it. The Bible tells us “We all like sheep have scattered and gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). We are lost sheep and lost coins who are valued, need to be found and brought back to our heavenly Father on a regular basis. The good news is God wants you. You matter to Him, no matter what you’ve done with your life. When you are found by Him and come back to Him, He rejoices and throws a party with the angels. Can’t you just see it – your name on a banner in heaven?
Is God looking for you these days, because He wants you? You are valuable and precious in His sight. He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross so you might have a relationship with Him. You matter.
Something else here needs to be taken seriously as well. After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Just as lost people matter to Jesus, so they matter to us as His Church, no matter how messy their lives may be. It is much easier to write people off and let them go. However, Jesus invites us into the mess, for each individual really does matter to God. As God’s representative, you are being sent to find lost sheep to bring home to the Father.
Did you notice in the parable, by the way, that when the shepherd finds the sheep, he places it upon his shoulders rejoicing? Jesus took the burden upon His shoulders. He took the long walk home carrying the sheep when He bore our burdens on His body to the cross to save us so we might have forgiveness and be brought home. Scripture tells us that He counted it as joy. “. . . for the joy set before him endured the cross . . .” for us (Hebrews. 12:2).
Jesus calls us to experience the same sort of joy in our lives as we strike out to find the lost and bring them back to the Father. He calls us to carry the burden of bringing lost people home. The good news of the Gospel is not to be kept to ourselves or from those who are messed up and on their own. You and I are to take this calling seriously.
I believe the disciples listening to Jesus that day recognized His teaching to ignore the boundaries set up by the religious elite and instead go after those who were lost in God’s sight.
I would like to believe, as you probably do too, that everyone is going to go to heaven, but it’s just not true. The Bible states clearly that no matter how much we want it to be true, it isn’t. If we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, ignore the fact that people can be lost eternally, we are being unfaithful to the One who gave His life for us. For they matter to Him, He loves them, and He wants us to love them back into the kingdom.
I leave you with this thought. If someone in your life today does not know Jesus Christ or has gotten themselves lost with the distractions and temptations of life, I urge you to be a blessing in his or her life. Let them know the Father is looking for them, and a party in heaven is waiting for them because it is. Joy is awaiting you as you carry out that mission. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer