"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."
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... 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.
The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling that Jesus spent too much time with "tax collectors and sinners" (v.1). In response, Jesus told them the three "lost and found" parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son).
There are three important lessons from these parables:
- Sinners are God's Lost Children: In each parable, the lost item belongs to the finders--the shepherd, the woman, and the father. If the items were not theirs, they would be called "lost" items. Jesus implied that sinners are lost people who belong to God, not Satan.
An Alpha pastor from Houston once came to Singapore a few years ago to share his Alpha experience--how his church grew from 200 to 2000 in about 7 years using the Alpha Course. The thing that made him proud of his church growth is that almost all the new members were converts from the community, not transfer-members from other churches.
He shared how while struggling to grow his church to 200 members, his teenage daughter ran away from home. He was heart-broken and angry with God. On one occasion, while he was having his morning jog, he stopped half-way and shook his fist at God. He was grieving over his lost daughter who refused to come home and complained that God was unfair to him: All he got for serving God was his own daughter running away from home. Just then he heard God speak to him: "You are heart-broken because you have one daughter who has not come home. Do you know how I feel about the many children of Mine who have yet to come home?"
From that moment onwards, the pastor understood how God felt about the lost--they were not hell-deserving sinners but His own children who are lost and have yet to be brought home. That understanding gave him a new motivation for evangelism, which in turn led him to attend the Alpha Conference. From that point onwards, he church grew through the conversion of non-churchgoers.
- Priority of Finding the Lost: In each parable, the owner puts finding the lost items his or her top priority. The shepherd did not say, "Well I still got 99 sheep to care for, so I should give all my time and energy to building up these 99 sheep." Instead, Jesus said that the shepherd would leave the 99 "found" sheep to focus on seeking the one "lost" sheep. Unfortunately this is not the priority of most churches I have come in contact with over the last 12 years in helping churches with the Alpha Course. Evangelism has always been a fringe ministry, rather than the core ministry. Pastoral care of the 99 sheep was and remains the core ministry of 90% of churches here. A typical church budget reflects this pastoral priority: at least 80-90% of the typical church budget is spent on ministry to the insiders, not to outsiders.
- Rejoicing in the Church: In each of the three parables, there is this repeated theme of rejoicing whenever the lost sinner is found: "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (v.7, 10, 24). In visiting many congregations, I have often noticed the lack of joy in the faces of congregational members as they sing praises to God. Many congregation members looked stoned when singing praise songs. I believe the reason for this lack of joy is the absence of returning sinners. It's hard to rejoice when the only "returnees" are saints not sinners. Getting a new job, getting a promotion and pay rise, getting a new car, a new house, etc--all these will not cause heaven to rejoice. If angels are not rejoicing over the congregation, is it any wonder that the congregation members themselves also have no real reason to rejoice?
If we truly share the Father's compassion for His children who are still lost, we would not be spending all our time in church just on ministry to ourselves. Instead, we should be meeting to pray and strategize on how to bring home more of God's lost children. And we won't be complaining we are "burnt out" doing evangelism because there will be so much joy. And the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Father, many of Your children are still lost and have not come home. May Your Spirit fill us with Your compassion so that our core ministry is built around seeking and saving the lost. Amen.