This past Sunday while traveling to church, I suddenly realized that I had left my cell phone back at my house. It was too far and too late to go back and retrieve it before church began. At that moment, I must have sighed too loudly. My wife understandingly commented on how ‘we just feel lost’ without our phones. Aside from the question of whether or not we are too dependent on our iPhones (sorry if you use another brand!). I immediately picked up on her phrase as it relates to our reading today and the word “lost”. What we really mean when we say we have ‘lost’ something is that we are disconnected from what we value. My default response now when I lose anything I value is simply to ask God to help me find it. Makes sense to me. I might not have a clue where to look, but because God is omniscient (knows everything), he knows exactly where lost things are lost.
Luke 15 contains a powerful teaching by Jesus on the subject of lost things that we still need to hear today. The chapter contains an introduction (vv.1-3) followed by three related parables (vss. 4-7; 8-10; 11-32). A parable is a story given to illustrate a spiritual lesson or principle, often with extended analogies or comparisons with everyday life. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In our passage today, Luke highlights the key comment (heart attitude) that prompts the telling of this series of parables by Jesus: “This man receives sinners and eats with them. So he told them this parable” (Luke 15: 2b-3).
All three parables have a similar theme and are meant to be taken together to hear Jesus’ overall message. The first two concisely speak about lost things in general, highlighting the fact that when we lose something, we value, we typically do a detailed and exhaustive search to find it, whether it’s the lost keys to our car, a pair of lost reading glasses, or a lost cell phone. When you find what you’ve lost, you celebrate!
Similarly, God and “his friends” celebrate when a lost person is found (‘repents’). The lesson is repeated after each parable (vss. 5-7, 9-10, 21-24).
The third parable in the series specifically affirms the value of a lost person in relation to God (the Father) and the heart attitudes of Jesus’ listeners. Jesus masterfully makes the point that “lost people matter to God” and begs the question, “Since they matter so much to God, why don’t they matter to you?” This third parable reveals the larger message of this series of parables – that Father loves us unconditionally, and through Christ, has gone out-of-his-way “to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).
The larger point of Jesus’ teaching isn’t really clear until the end. The context reveals that three groups were listening to Jesus. The tax collectors, the sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus’ lesson is pointed. The typical Pharisaic attitude cares less for lost people and more about oneself. It values some people over others or fails to value people at all. But God loves those we often consider unlovely. I too, find myself at times caring less for things that the Father cares for – things that hold relatively little value when compared with a human soul. Jesus reminds me, “Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:37 NLT). Why wouldn’t Jesus look for what is lost? And why don’t I?
Being lost is really about how far we are from the Father. Distance. He won’t make you, but lost people can be ‘found’ if they will “come to their senses” and return to the Father (repent). Some are far off. Some are close but still disconnected. Yet, the Father knows exactly where a person is and how to find them. “From one man, he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27 NIV). In truth, Jesus is teaching us here not so much about lost things, but about the love of the Father. If there is any distance between you and the Father today, why not return to him? He’s out looking for what is lost and just waiting to throw a party.