Sermon 09-11-2022: “God’s Lost and Found”

September 14, 2022

Scripture: Luke 15:1-10

My favorite TV show is The Office. I’m sure at least some of you love it, too. Regardless, you may know that Dwight Schrute is a salesman for Dunder Mifflin—the company whose regional branch office is featured on the show. In later seasons Dwight purchases the office building itself. And he’s always looking for ways to make money off the tenants who lease space in the building—by opening a gym, for instance, and a coffee shop, and a daycare… As part of this effort to make more money, Dwight even sponsors a “harvest festival”—a carnival for families to enjoy… and to spend lots of money at.

Dwight’s harvest festival includes contests for kids. One of these contests is to try to find a literal needle in a haystack.

At one point, a girl excitedly tells Dwight, “I found the needle in the haystack!” And Dwight says, “Hey, congratulations! Do you know what your prize is?” And the girl says, “I don’t know.” And Dwight says, “Nothing. Life lesson? Some tasks are not worth doing.”

Some tasks are not worth doing…

Spending any time searching for a needle in a haystack is a waste of time. Because needles simply aren’t worth very much.

By contrast, in the two short parables of today’s scripture, Jesus says that searching for a lost human soul is worth everything. Indeed, Jesus gave literally everything including his very life to rescue lost souls like ours! This is one search that is worth everything!

So in today’s sermon, I want to talk about this search and make three points about it… Point Number One: People are genuinely lost apart from Christ. Point Number Two: Any of us is capable of getting lost ourselves. And Point Number Three: What it means to be found by Christ.

So the first and most necessary point I need to make is this: If these parables have any meaning at all, they must mean that people are really lost—potentially for eternity—unless they repent of their sins and trust in Christ—and that the consequence of their lostness couldn’t be greater: it means eternal separation from God, in hell. And no one talks more about hell in scripture than Jesus himself.

And maybe this first point seems obvious to many of you. But I can’t take it for granted. Because a few years ago I endured listening to an awful sermon in which a pastor—using this very scripture from Luke 15—attempted to make the exact opposite point… I was shocked… as if, suddenly up were down, and white were black, and cold were hot. This pastor said that no one is really lost, and we become very self-righteous if we speak as if they are. She said no one can be lost because, after all, God knows exactly where they are. And in the end, she told her congregation with great confidence, God will save everyone!

And I was thinking, “Well, yes, of course God knows where every lost person is, but God doesn’t force himself on anyone—whether they want to be in a relationship with him or not. God requires people to come to him through faith in his Son Jesus. If lost people won’t repent of their sins and believe in the gospel of Christ, then lost people, scripture says, will remain lost in their sins!”

I’m wasting my life if that’s not true. Because God’s Word simply makes no sense—Christianity makes no sense—if Jesus isn’t the one and only way to salvation.

I mean, even my fellow pastor who preached this false and spiritually dangerous sermon would agree that John 3:16, for instance, is a concise and beautiful summary of what Christianity is all about: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Don’t we all love John 3:16? Even during this football season, we’ll see the words “John 3:16” a lot—on banners that hang in stadiums, for instance… Of course, I doubt many people actually bother looking up the verse and reading it for themselves.

But if they did, they would see that this verse includes these words: “whosoever believeth in him should not perish…” Doesn’t that sound like a warning? That people will “perish” apart from repentance and faith in Christ. And as I said in a recent sermon, the word “perish” isn’t merely death at the end of our natural lives; it’s an eternal kind of death—which Jesus himself describes as separation from God in hell.

My point in sharing this is not to be a downer or to depress anyone; my point is to emphasize that according to Jesus in today’s scripture—and in the rest of the Bible—there are lost people; we know them; and the stakes couldn’t be higher in our church’s mission to rescue them.

And here’s the thing: these scribes and Pharisees in verse 2… They didn’t even disagree with Jesus about there being lost people… or the reality of hell. They would say “Amen” and “Hallelujah” to most of what I just preached—except the part about Jesus’  being the world’s Savior, of course; they didn’t believe that. But even though they knew that lost people were bound for hell—that knowledge did not move these scribes and Pharisees to take action! 

It simply didn’t bother them that lost people risked being eternally separated from God!

So they grumbled about Jesus instead: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 

Why would Jesus do something so offensive?

For one reason: because…. unlike these scribes and Pharisees, Jesus loved lost people; he cared about lost people; he had compassion for lost people. 

And Jesus is saying to these scribes and Pharisees, in effect, “Why don’t you?” “Why don’t you love and care and have compassion for them, too?”

Look at what Jesus says in verse 4: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them…” “What man of you…” Jesus is inviting these Pharisees to identify with the work of this Good Shepherd to rescue the lost!

It’s as if Jesus were saying, “If you believe people are really lost, then why wouldn’t you want to join me in this mission to rescue them—instead of working against me?”

So that’s Point Number One: People are really lost and in need of rescue… And if we believe that, then out of love and compassion we will join Jesus in his mission to rescue them.

Point Number Two: Potentially, any one of us is capable of getting lost ourselves—and so our mission to rescue “lost sheep” begins with us here at Toccoa First. And it begins with our own church family.

To help to illustrate this point, consider this: Jesus tells this same parable—the Parable of the Lost Sheep—in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 18. Like any good teacher, Jesus often taught the same material in different places and to different audiences. And in Matthew 18, he tells this same parable—not to scribes and Pharisees, but to his own disciples, in the context of a discussion about the church—and the church’s need to nurture and protect the faith of “little ones” in the church—by which Jesus means both children and those who are “baby Christians,” who have a young and immature faith. These “little ones” are incredibly precious to God, Jesus says. And then Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep to illustrate that point.

So what does Jesus mean by telling the parable in that context?

Jesus uses the parable to urge us Christians—even those of us here at Toccoa First—to do all in our power to protect and nurture the faith of children and young people in our church—because they are most susceptible to wandering away from the fold… and becoming lost sheep.

We need to rescue lost sheep, of course… but while we’re at it, we must ensure that sheep in our own fold don’t wander off and get lost.

Becoming a lost sheep can happen to any of us, of course… but Jesus knows that young people are especially susceptible to wandering off! We see it happen sometimes, for instance, after kids go through confirmation class… or after they get a driver’s license and gain more independence and freedom… or especially after kids turn 18, when they graduate, go to college, or go into service, or start a career, and move away.

Listen, I know many of us are uncomfortable with the topic of evangelism. It scares many of us to risk talking to someone about our faith in Jesus. It even scares some of us to invite friends to church with us. Let’s face it: many of us would rather have a root canal than to have to witness to someone. And I get it… I know that same fear. 

But I can’t emphasize this enough… We already witness to our faith in Christ, whether we like it or not. We already do evangelism, whether we try to or not.

I’ve told you before that my parents were not faithful Christians when I was young. Later in life, they each had a deepening of their faith—a reawakening of their faith—and Christ became very important to them. But not when I was a kid. In fact, I went to church no more than a couple of times a month—and even then, my mom would often just drop me off for Sunday school and pick me up when it was over. And I never went to church, for instance, when the Falcons had a home game! They attended the “Church of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium” far more faithfully than they did their own church! 

And like most boys my age in the Atlanta area, on Sunday mornings before church,I watched The Three Stooges… before church… on WTCG, Channel 17—which later became the Superstation TBS. And I remember that if, while watching TV on Sunday mornings, I made it to the opening credits of Lost in Space—the show that came on immediately after the Three Stooges—that would mean that my parents were sleeping in. That would mean I didn’t have to get dressed up; I didn’t have to button the top button on my shirt—which always too tight; I felt like I was choking—I didn’t have to put on a clip-on tie, and I didn’t have go to church! Yay!

But make no mistake: my parents, though barely even Christian at the time, were witnessing to me back then… They were doing evangelism back then… They were telling me a lot about their faith in Jesus Christ. And they were saying, through their actions, “Jesus doesn’t mean very much to me. Jesus is not Lord over my life. Jesus does not require total commitment to him. I treasure these other things far more than I treasure Christ.”

Of course, by God’s grace, Christ our Good Shepherd found me and rescued me in spite of this… and Jesus found and rescued my parents before they died… But my point is, no evangelism that a pastor or Sunday school teacher does at church will be more important than the evangelism that parents do at home—that’s for sure!

So parents, you’re already doing the most important evangelism in your children’s lives! But we the church must pull together and work together to support and supplement all the work that you’re doing at home.

And with that in mind, this past Wednesday night, I was inspired by members of this church who are taking Jesus’ message about rescuing lost sheep to heart. Josh Villars—our youth and children’s pastor—organized a meeting for the parents and dedicated volunteers in our children’s ministry. He wanted them to talk about ways we can make the children’s ministry at Toccoa First even stronger and even more effective. And I know that we are already doing some great work! And Wednesday’s meeting followed on the heels of a similar meeting with parents and volunteers in our youth ministry just a couple of weeks ago.

Here are just a few things that came out of these two meetings: These parents and volunteers said we must focus on our facilities—making the youth building, for instance, better suited as a space for ministry. They agreed that our youth building is an unusually valuable asset for our church—not many churches have a separate building like this. So, they asked, how can we use this space to attract more young people and their families to this church? Among other things, it may involve painting it, getting new signs, getting new furniture…

They also want to use the youth building to host a “fifth quarter” event, for instance, after home football games. They want to open the building for one night a week for a “teen night” or “spirit night.” They want to host “watch parties” for football games or other sporting events… and a Christmas movie night “watch party.” 

Some even suggested a whiffle ball field in the field behind our church! We’re not using that space right now. Why not?

Whatever we do, these parents and volunteers said we need to be more intentional about sharing the gospel with youth and children—of all ages. We need to create more ways for youth and children to be visible within our church family. And we need to enlist more volunteers in this effort!

I can completely get behind these and other efforts because—getting back to our parable—what wouldn’t we do if we’re serious about rescuing lost sheep—and preventing sheep from getting lost in the first place?

And… If after we’ve invested our lives into these young people… If after we’ve invested valuable time and money and resources into the lives of these young people… If after all these faithful efforts to rescue and protect young people, some of our young people still wander away and become lost sheep, so be it… But it won’t be because we didn’t try our best, and pray our hardest, and approach our task with the same urgency with which Christ our Good Shepherd goes about his task of rescuing lost sheep!

Are we are doing our best? Are we doing everything we can to protect and rescue lost sheep?

Are we? 

Please understand, I’m not pointing these things out to discourage anyone. This church is doing and has done amazing work protecting and rescuing sheep for 150 years. 

On the contrary, I want to encourage and inspire you… the same way I was encouraged and inspired when I left that children’s ministry meeting last Wednesday night… I was encouraged and inspired because I sensed that there was fresh excitement about children’s and youth ministry… that there was new energy toward making our children’s and youth ministries as good as they ought to be…

I hope you’ll agree: Our mission is urgent! And it needs to be all hands on deck!

So let’s dream together: What would our church look like if we placed an even higher priority on protecting our sheep and rescuing lost sheep in our church and in our community?

And by the way, of course I know we have plenty of sheep on the other side of the age spectrum… I’m not neglecting our seniors. So… What about seniors, for instance, who want to come to church on Sunday, but they can’t get here because they can’t drive. What if someone volunteered to drive the church van, for instance, on Sunday mornings to pick them up? 

For that matter, what if someone volunteered to pick up college students?

God has given us this resource, after all… a church van… That thing is parked in its carport way too much for my comfort level. Let’s use it! Let’s use it on Sunday morning!

So that’s Point Number Two: Potentially, any one of us is capable of becoming a lost sheep ourselves. Our young people are especially vulnerable, and so our mission must begin with our own church family!

Point Number Three:  Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not a lost sheep, and I haven’t currently wandered off from the fold, and I’m trying to faithful in serving the Lord through this church. But I’m just a normal, average, everyday Christian. So what does this scripture have to say to me?”

So much!

The first thing I would point out is that if you’re a Christian, you’re not a “normal, average, everyday” anything. Or at least our Lord Jesus doesn’t think so…

And for this third point I need to show you my favorite word in today’s scripture. It actually appears several times, but I’m going to point out just a couple of places. Verse 7: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Or verse 10: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.…” The word, of course, is one.

If you think of yourself as “just a normal, average, everyday Christian,” please consider this…

Consider Cloth World, at the Briarcliff Village Shopping Center in northeast Atlanta, 1974… Cloth World was a fabric store… a sewing store… A place where women bought patterns to make dresses and other clothes. And they bought fabric from store clerks who always had their glasses on chains hanging around their necks, and wore glasses on the tips of their noses, and they took those giant bolts of fabric and were like—“whoosh, whoosh, whoosh”—very handy with those scissors. And women bought needles and thread… and whatever else. For a young boy in the 1970s, however, there was surely no more boring retail establishment than Cloth World… There was nothing to do for fun in that store! Or almost nothing… You see, there was this rack that had spools of thread. And it was slanted downward, like a ramp—so that every time you pulled out one spool of thread, the next spool would roll down the rack and take its place… 

And as a kid I discovered that if you pushed the spools of thread “up the ramp,” you could let them roll back down—almost like a Matchbox car. Suddenly, that was kind of fun!

So basically I’m “racing” these spools of thread down this ramp. And I’m distracted and lose track of time. Until I turn around some time later and realize that my mom and older sisters are gone

And I suddenly had this sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: I’m lost. Where’s my mom? And I burst into tears instantly. And this nice young sales clerk at the store came over and asked my name. And I remember she announced my name over the PA system. “Would the mother of Brent please come to the customer service desk up front?” And instantly I was found.

I don’t know if my mom was as terrified as I was. But I think of how terrifying it must be for a parent to lose a child. And I’m sure some of you know that feeling. Think of that love that you feel—as a parent—when you lose a child. A sick, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach! You ache for your child… You long desperately for your child to be safe in your arms. That is surely the most intense kind of lovesickness there could ever be! And when you’re reunited… Well, of course you’re going to have the biggest celebration!

What does it mean, therefore, that Jesus tells three parables in a row—because don’t forget he follows these first two with the Parable of the Prodigal Son… but he tells three parables in a row comparing you and me to something of great value that was lost and has now been found! We are those objects of great value to God! And of course our “owner,” or our “father,” is none other than God himself!

And in all three cases a large celebration follows the reunion! “‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep, or the coin, or the child that I had lost.’ In the same way, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”

The Bible says every single one of us who is now a Christian has, at one time, been like that lost sheep, or like that lost coin, or like that lost child. And each of us has only been “found” right now because our Lord Jesus worked incredibly hard to rescue us. 

How so?

Well, it was incredibly hard for Jesus to sweat drops of the blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying, “Not my will but thine be done.” He did that to rescue you. It was incredibly hard for Jesus to endure the beatings, the whippings, the mocking, the spitting… the crown of thorns thrust on his head… He did that to rescue you. It was incredibly hard for Jesus to carry his cross on that “way of suffering” up that hill called Calvary, at least until he could do it no longer… He did that to rescue you. It was incredibly hard for Jesus to be stripped naked and humiliated… He endured that to rescue you. It was incredibly hard for Jesus to endure the nails in his arms and feet… He did that to rescue you. Most of all, it was incredibly hard for Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—to endure the experience of being separated from his Father—which is hell itself—on the cross. He did that to rescue you.

And Hebrews 12:2 says he did it “for the joy that was set before him”—the joy that God himself experiences in being in a relationship with you!

God experiences joy to be in a relationship with you!

“Normal, average, everyday Christian”? Oh please! You’re a beloved child of our Father, bought at the price of the blood of his Son Jesus. On you God’s favor rests!

And now that Christ our Good Shepherd has you in his fold, do you think he won’t take care of you? Do you think he won’t protect you? Do you think he won’t give you everything you need? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” “Every hair on your head is numbered,” Jesus says. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father… Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” 1

For those of us who are “found” sheep, Christ our Good Shepherd has got us now! He’s paid everything to rescue us! We’re safe now! Don’t be afraid!

To say the least, we found sheep should be living lives with a lot less fear, a lot less anxiety, a lot more confidence, and a lot more joy!

And there’s something else we “found” sheep should be doing… and I’ll close with this…

I heard an interview last week with a Gavin Ashenden, an English clergyman who for years was the personal chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. And he said something profound about the queen that I want to share with you. He said that the news media in Britain have been asking for him to comment about what was so special about the queen. And Ashenden said that this is the main thing that he wants the public to know about Elizabeth—and he hopes that they will take this message to heart: He said, 

You mustn’t take her smiling and her courage and her gaiety and her sense of humor for granted… This is the fruit of the Spirit… And [you can’t take these virtues that the queen possessed for granted] because she loves Jesus, and she’s been faithful to God. And the reason you like her is because you can smell God in her…

And what I want to do is to help people join the dots and say, ‘You got this queen—a good queen who did a good job in a Christian context—because she was a Christian. And what you’re seeing is the Holy Spirit at work in her life.’

Now, all you can see is a rather cheerful, impish, elderly lady who likes horses and seems to have a good word for everybody. But you must look beyond the facade and see that coming through the mask, coming through the persona, coming through the system and the Constitution, is a very lively Christian lady who brings to her role all the holiness that being close to Jesus produces—and that’s why you like her! 2

Do you hear what Ashenden is saying? He’s saying, “What you like about the queen—and in part the reason why her death has affected so many people the world over, even so many of us who were not her royal subjects—the reason you like her is that you saw and experienced Jesus through her—because Christ’s Holy Spirit was at work within her, producing holiness within her! You liked her because, as he said, you “smelled God in her.” 

When I finish my race here on earth, when I have finished fighting the good fight and keeping the faith, oh how I long for the same to be said of me: “What you liked about Brent was that you saw and experienced Jesus in him and through him… You could smell God in him.”

I don’t know if people can say that yet, but I sure want them to!

These are virtues that should characterize all of us sheep who were lost but have now been found by our Good Shepherd Jesus.

Merciful God, grant that we may live lives that attract your beloved lost sheep into a saving relationship with you through Christ our Good Shepherd. Amen.

  1. Matthew 10:29-31
  2.  “Unbelievable? Remembering Queen Elizabeth II – NT Wright, Gavin Ashenden & Ruth Jackson,”, 9 September 2022. Accessed 10 September 2022.

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