“The Church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in” James H. Aughey
At one point or another, everyone experiences the frustration that occurs as a result of being rejected by others or not measuring up to another’s standard. If that is you, I want you to know this. You are not alone, and you are not the only one who has ever struggled with the feeling of being lost, just trying to find your way through this world.
While on my own personal journey, I turned down roads that seemed promising and offered me what I thought I needed. I bought into the lie that a godless world sold me, and in the end I all I wanted was a refund that I never got. I’m confident that you know what I mean. There are so many lost souls out there looking to find purpose, hope, happiness, significance, and meaning. But instead of finding fulfillment, they end up emptier than when they first started. Then they start all over again, in search of looking for something that they sense is missing.
Notice that we only look for things that we’ve lost that matter to us. I am frantic when I happen to lose my keys, wallet, money, or other important items. When that happens to a normal person, they do whatever it takes to recover what was lost. We retrace our steps. We move everything and anything. We might even recruit others to help us or at least tell us if they had seen what we are looking for. The more valuable to item, the more effort we put in searching for it.
I read an article once about a woman who put up a $10,000 reward to anyone who would help her find her lost dog. That amount of money could buy her more dogs than she could deal with, but to her having her dog back was more valuable than any amount of money that she was willing give. This woman was so desperate to find her dog that she did more than just put up posters. She would go down into ditches, crawl through pipes, and rent out helicopters in order to find her dog. She would go into dangerous areas of town where there were known activities of drug trafficking and gang violence, all to see if her long lost dog was there.
Her life and career were pretty much put on hold because of this mission of hers. When asked why she would put herself in danger and risk so much for a dog, while having five others back at home, she said that her dogs are her life. She was willing to do and give up anything because they meant everything to her.
If this woman was willing to go to such lengths to get her dog back, and we if we go to such lengths to find our lost stuff, how much more can you imagine a loving parent would do in order to find a lost child? Many of us hope to never find that out for ourselves, but God knows the feeling. To Him, you are I are his sons and daughters who are born lost in sin. We are Heaven’s outcasts on the road to death and destruction, and He knows it. This is why I want to look at a conversation that Jesus had with two groups of people that were both lost in their way and were both confused about the how God views outcasts and the lost.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
The first group was made up of tax collectors and other people who were given the general term of “sinners”. The other group was made up of religious individuals. The first group were treated as outcasts by the second group because tax collectors were considered to be traitors, working for their Roman oppressors, while sinners were outcasted from society because of their rejection of God and His ways. It is true that God, through His Word, tells us to be careful with who we associate with in order to protect our hearts from being corrupted and lead away. But these religious individuals were more interested in guarding their reputation than their heart.
Unlike the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus was willing to draw closer to them and reach out. Just because Jesus was constantly surrounding by people who didn’t act like Him or believe in Him doesn’t mean that He was approving of their lifestyles. They were lost and Jesus came to help them find what they were looking for. This criticism from the scribes revealed their hearts, that there were some people in this world who are not worth the time or effort to help or save. This is when Jesus begins to tell three stories to help each group better understand their true condition while also discovering God’s heart.
THE PARABLE OF the lost sheep & coin
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that 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 his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:3-10
Just like in my examples above, Jesus uses a fictitious story to create some common ground. Normal people look for lost items that have meaning and value. And when we find what we are looking for, we are extremely happy and relieved! So far, everyone in the audience is tracking with Jesus, agreeing that they would be happy to find something valuable that they had lost. Jesus turns that around and says that God feels the same way too when a lost sinner is found repenting and turning back to God.
This is where both groups probably began to react differently to Jesus’ revelation. The first group might’ve began to think to themselves, “Does it mean that God could actually love US and that returning back to God is possible, despite everything wrong that we’ve done in the past?” The other religious group probably starting having a problem with Jesus at this point, thinking “Are you saying that God could actually love THEM and wants them back? That can’t be. Sinners deserve the wrath of God, not the mercy of God!”. This is when Jesus gives his last example.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. Luke 15:11-32
In this this story, we have a Father who has lost an ungrateful son to the pleasures of this world. The fact that the son desired his portion of his inheritance before his father had actually passed away shows us that his father was “dead to him” in his own eyes. There was no love for his dad, only for himself. The son thought that he would find a better life away from his father’s house, but in the end he was bitterly disappointed. He was so broke that he ended up becoming a slave. He got to live the life he always wanted, only to find out that it’s not what he truly needed.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:11-32
Here, the son realizes he has made a big mistake. He starts to not only see how life back at home was pretty great, but his heart towards his father also is beginning to change. Being a slave and servant himself, he realizes that his dad was a pretty good guy after all, especially in the way he treated his own servants. So he prepares a speech and practices it over and over again on his way back home. He doesn’t expect his father to forgive him completely and act like nothing ever happened. Instead, he’s hoping that his father would at least make him a servant because he doesn’t view himself worthy enough to be treated like a son again.
Meanwhile, while the lost son was no where near home, we see that His father is “a long way off” from home too. The father wasn’t content on sitting on the porch and waiting for his sin to return. He went out looking for him and was overjoyed when he found him! He was so happy to see his long lost son again that he completely ignored and interrupted his sons prepared speech! He had already forgiven him, the son just hadn’t realized it yet. The group of sinners in Jesus’ audience, who represented this lost son, probably began to sense God’s love for them in the way the father embraced his son who had done so much wrong.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32
The other son, who remained at home, didn’t share his father excitement over the return of his brother. Notice how he uses the phrase, “this son of yours” and can’t seem to understand why he would be embraced with such open arms. This son too was lost, even though he never left home. But his father showed him the same love and compassion that he did the other. The Pharisees and scribes of Israel in Jesus’ audience are represented in this second son. They were consumed with comparing themselves with others and trying to gain Father God’s approval through their works, instead of realizing that everything that God has done for them and given them was a sign of His love and acceptance!
I want you take notice that in each of Jesus’ examples, the seekers (the shepherd, the woman, the father) were the focal point of each story, not the lost items. Jesus tried to get both the sinners and the religious people in his audience to know that God still loved all of them and wanted to make things right not only between each of them and between them and God.
If there was anything that Jesus wanted everyone to know it was this. No outcast can ever out-sin God’s love. Even though they were lost, they hadn’t lost their worth. A lost $100 bill isn’t worth less than a $100 bill in my pocket, is it? Neither is a sinner. No one is so lost that they are beyond being found. We know this now because we have seen to what great lengths our heavenly Father has done to rescue us.
Since the garden, God has been pursing man kind. And since the day you were born, God has been trying to get your attention. Even though we are born lost in sin, God knows where we are. It’s up to us to find Him, and the good news is that God didn’t choose to wait at home in heaven and see if anyone would come home. He knew none of us could make that journey. So He left heaven to come to earth to make a way for us to come back home with Him!
Like the prodigal son, don’t feel like you need to have a prepared speech to beg God to take you back. Also, don’t reject God’s offer to restore you because you feel that don’t deserve to be a son or daughter of God. To be honest, none of us deserve it, but He chooses to restore you anyways because of His great love for you. There is no outcasts that can out-sin God’s love. Your value and worth is not lost. It’s in Christ! So don’t waste another minute trying to find meaning in life outside of God or trying to impress God with your efforts. You have everything that you need at home with Him. Jesus is more than enough for you!