God Loves Lost People

Why did Jesus, on that first Palm Sunday, enter Jerusalem’s gates riding the back of a donkey, with a small band of disciples singing His praise? “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”? Why would the Lord of eternity, having taken on the limits of the world He created, in the form of a man and knowing He was going be executed by crucifixion, surrender to His executioners?

It’s an interesting truth in the phrase – peace in heaven – that at Jesus’ birth the angels sang, “Peace on earth. Good will toward men.” The Prince of Peace came to reconcile a broken rebel world to a holy God. Now, as He comes through Jerusalem’s gates at the beginning of Passion Week, knowing He was going to the cross, He is about to complete the mission the Father gave Him at His birth – to reconcile all sinners to a holy God in a relationship of forgiving love by faith.

So Jesus willingly became a man. Jesus, though King of eternity, was willing to go to the cross. Why? Because He wanted to obey His Father’s mission, and because God loves lost people. Each one of us is precious and important to God. Jesus, you remember, said “I have come to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). God loves lost people.

I remember reading a story by Ken Davis. It is from his book with an intriguing title: “I Never Saw the Skunk, but I Struggled to Breathe.” He tells about when he was a newlywed. As they got ready for the day, his wife had laid her wedding ring on the sink. He picked it up thinking it would be a fun joke to hide it from her. At the end of the day, before they went to bed, she said casually, “Have you seen my wedding ring?”
“No,” he said thinking it would be fun to extend the joke.

Several hours later in the middle of the night, he awakened and heard his wife sobbing uncontrollably. “What’s wrong?”he asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Come on, now,” he said. “Something’s terribly wrong.”
And she blurted out, “I lost my wedding ring!”
He said with a smile of amusement, “Oh, honey. Don’t worry. I was just playing a joke on you. I hid your wedding ring and thought it’d be fun for you to think it was lost.”
“WHAT?” she growled.
He explained he’d be the hero telling her he had the ring and she didn’t have to worry. He never saw her fist coming in the dark, but he sure felt it when it landed. That was the only time in his married life that she ever hit him, and he never again took her wedding ring.

Have you ever lost something very precious to you, so much so that you are desperate to find it? Maybe it’s your child who has wandered off or maybe something else of extreme value. You are precious and important to God, our heavenly Father; His heart is desperate to find you and enter into a relationship of love with His children all over the globe. That’s why Jesus came. God loves lost people and wants to bring us back into a relationship of grace and forgiveness with Him by faith.

When I use the term “lost,” I’m not talking about salvation, though it is possible in being lost that we are actually among those who don’t understand God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Today I am using “lost” more as a descriptive term to describe the relationship of our proximity to God. So in the story of the prodigal son who left his father and went to the far country, it says that he was lost, and later when he came home, he was found. He was dead, but now is alive again. I’m talking about being lost in the sense of living the journey of life far from God, or living as if God doesn’t exist.

When I was an eight-year-old boy, I was with my family on a vacation at a lake called Big Wolf Lake in northern Minnesota. I and a friend I’d met that week at the resort, decided we were going to walk on the beach about a quarter of a mile to a big evergreen tree that hung out over the water. It held a rope swing that let you swing from the bank and plunge into the water. It was great fun, and we couldn’t wait to get there.

But as we walked the beach to the rope swing, a mean, growling dog barred our way in front of one of the cabins. He was on a chain, but there was no way around him. So we went behind the cabin and started on a path into the woods that we thought would take us to that rope swing. We walked farther and farther on that path thinking we were almost there. Much to our shock and disappointment when we came out of the woods, we were actually several miles away on the south end of the lake, and I remember the sinking feeling of knowing exactly where I was, but having no idea how to return back to the resort or how to get to that tree with the rope swing. I was lost. I knew where I was, but I was powerless to get back home.

Have you ever felt like that, like you’re lost on the journey of life? In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells several parables of the lost. The first one is about a lost sheep. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one that has strayed away and was in peril, then bring it home on his shoulders rejoicing.

Then Jesus tells of a woman who had lost a coin. She frantically searched the whole house until she found it, then she threw a party that probably cost more than the coin she lost. Pastors and biblical scholars refer to a wedding headband that husbands gave their wives in biblical times that had ten coins on it. If the wife were ever unfaithful to her marriage vows, a coin would be removed from that headband. So the woman in this parable lost more than the coin. In losing the coin, her reputation was at stake.

Then Jesus told the story of two lost sons – one a prodigal and one was lost in his father’s house. One, who makes a journey of rebellious defiance, rejecting his father, and the other who stays and does all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons and never understands the love of his father. The prodigal treats his father like he’s dead. He demands the money that would be a part of his inheritance when his father passed away. All he wants from his father is money.

Sometimes we people treat God that way. We live as if God is dead, and the only time we pray is if we want something. Give me a job, bless me with this, heal my sick child, give me more money, bless me God. (I don’t want to be in a relationship with you; I don’t want to live in your house; I don’t want to serve you; I don’t want to share the journey of life with you; I don’t believe your values as the core essence of what life is about; I don’t want to love; I don’t want to serve you; I just want you to provide for me.) Gimme God, and then I’ll go far from you in my life.

The prodigal spends all he has in self-indulgent life – life as a party – and he can’t get enough booze or moments of pleasure to fulfill him. He wants pleasure without any responsibility until he’s broke and broken – a Jewish boy in the pigpen. And then a famine comes, and he’s desperately in need.

I’ve met many people through the years who are spiritually and emotionally lost. Lost in grief. Lost in an affair. Lost in one-night stands with strangers. Lost in depression. Lost in a variety of addictions. Lost in pursuing the world’s definition of success, and all they are doing as they chase self-fulfillment. At some point in our lostness we all sing the rock song with Mick Jagger, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

So broke and broken, empty and disillusioned, we’re lost.

It says of the prodigal that he came to his senses. It literally says his “right mind returned.” It’s interesting because the biblical work for repentance means a change of mind. So, in awakening to the truth in his bankrupt spiritual condition where he had rebelled against his father, he remembers that he has a Father to go home to. And he decides to go home. He changes his direction of life to turn back to his Father in heaven.

God loves lost people. That’s why Jesus went to the cross – to die for the sins of rebels who have run far from the Father.

I also personally relate very well to the elder brother who stays at home but does not want to extend grace or mercy to his foolish brother who has spent his father’s money. There’s no word for grace in his vocabulary. He wants nothing to do with his brother who had returned. And often in my own heart – like that cold-hearted elder brother – I judge people. I decide who God loves and who God doesn’t love. I decide who God would welcome and who he wouldn’t welcome. I decide that a life with God is based on merit and performance. But the problem in that mind set is I never understand that my relationship with God is based on love and forgiveness from the heart of the Father who comes out to the party to tell the older brother, “All that I have is yours.”

Wherever you are on your life journey today, I pray you would wake up and remember, you have a Father in heaven who loves you. Wake up enough to realize that Jesus, the King, was willing to give up all His power to come to earth and enter the gates of Jerusalem in the humility of riding on a donkey’s back. He was willing to submit Himself to the suffering and whipping, the crown of thorns and the crucifixion, so that in His name we might believe we have the forgiveness of sin.

Are you lost? God loves lost people. His arms are open wide, and He runs to embrace you and say to you, “You are my child. You belong to me. I will never leave you or forsake you. I will never give up on you. I forgive you. Live in my love.”

God, it’s good to be home. Amen.