Luke 15: 1-7
As the slogan to achieve our goal of this year, our church has adopted the motto “The year in which one person saves one soul.” It is not easy to come up with a motto that everyone must rally behind in order to achieve our collective goal. I came up with this motto because I felt that our slogan had to be an attainable, realistic mission statement that pursues a specific goal and not some catchy, abstract phrase that merely pays lip service. In order to achieve our goal, all members of this congregation must give our best during the course of this year.
Before we get started, let’s first think about the importance of an individual. Because one man, Adam, sinned, rest of mankind was pegged as sinners. Because one man albeit Son of God Jesus sacrificed Himself, all of mankind received salvation. Because of warped, depraved religious perspective of one human being, Osama bin Laden, countless number of people had to suffer in the US and throughout the world, to include a number of innocent Afghans and people of the Middle East. As we can see here, all things start at the individual level.
We sometimes experience traffic jams while driving on the highway. Sometimes, it may take us scores of minutes to move 10 meters in our cars during traffic jams. We often wonder, with frustration and anger, about the cause of such congestion only to discover later that a single malfunctioning car or a car that ran out of fuel is the cause of such traffic jams. I, as an individual, can greatly benefit others through my actions; conversely, I, as an individual, can bring great harm and inconveniences to others through my reprehensible acts.
This year, we, as individuals, must understand that we are important that what we do, as individuals, can have significant bearings on many things. Each and every one of you is important to this church and to our Lord. How do deep rivers and great oceans of water come into being? A droplet or two of water come together to eventually form great bodies of water. Likewise, always remember that our church came into being by one or two of you coming together in the name of God.
Now that we know our importance as individuals, there is one thing that we all must do. It is the work of salvation of leading at least one lost, wandering soul to God in order to save that person. That lost person can be your husband, your wife, or even your children. I know that there are many people around each one of you whether they are your friends, business acquaintances, or someone that you happened to run into one day whom do not yet know God. Over the course of this year, each one of you must save these people. What can be more beautiful saving a soul? Leading those with lost souls, those who are pained by the sins and bad habits they commit, and those who are pained by deep scars to God in order to save their souls and bring joy and hope to their lives what can be better than that?
There is a beautiful phrase in Hymn 263, verse 2. “If you cannot cross the ocean, and the heathen lands explore, you can find the needy nearer, you can help those at your door.” Most of us cannot go to faraway places like Africa and India to conduct missionary work. In our place, many of the missionaries toil in these remote places to do God’s work. We indirectly help these missionaries by sending them funds and our prayers. Even though we may not be able to go to these places to do God’s work, there are too many people who we can help around us those who are diseased spiritually, those who are lost, those whose spirits are dying. This year, let’s focus our attention to those around us. This year, let’s concentrate on saving that one soul or more than one soul, if we are able.
During the month of January, I plan on lecturing about the importance of ‘saving a soul’ during my weekly sermons. Therefore, the reference that we will grasp and truly understand over the next three weeks comes to us from the gospel of Luke, chapter 15. In gospel of Luke, there are 15 parables of Jesus. Of those 15 parables, three are contained in chapter 15. ‘The parable of one lost sheep’ is contained in today’s scripture, in verses 4 through 7 of Luke 15; verses 8 through 10 contains ‘the parable of one lost coin,’ while verses 11 through 32 contains ‘the parable of the prodigal son.’ All three parables illustrate the joy felt after finding something that has been long lost.
I plan on lecturing about these three parables over the next three weeks, with a simple and clear purpose. The purpose is to understand how much Jesus wants us to save another soul--and how joyous He would be over our success. All three of these parables focus on finding that one lost thing. The surprising thing is that the one lost thing is seemingly insignificant. Let’s think about this. Among 100 sheep, one is lost. But 99 remaining sheep are left in the field by themselves, as the shepherd searches for that one lost sheep.
As we will find out next week, a woman loses one silver coin among the ten that she had. One silver coin equates to a day’s wage earned by a hired laborer. In our view, this is not a great sum of money; yet, this woman, in search of this coin, lights a lamp and sweeps the floor, going through great troubles. In the parable regarding the prodigal son, the second son, in the view of Hebrew society of the day, was a man unworthy to be called anyone’s son and a wasted human being. This son asks for his inheritance while his father was still alive, which equates to telling his father to die quickly so that he can get his inheritance.
The fact that we must learn from these parables is that the things that are diligently sought do not have some absolute, priceless value. In our eyes, these things were fairly insignificant; yet, Jesus held a different view. He held them precious over all else. This tells us that although the people we must save may be deemed insignificant and unworthy by rest of the society, Jesus does not view them in the same light. Jesus views any one soul no matter who that soul belongs to as the most precious thing in this world; hence, we must not deem any soul insignificant or unworthy. To do so would be to sin. To do so goes against what the Bible teaches us, and would certainly make God unhappy. When we save a soul this year, it is important to hold that soul as precious and valuable in our hearts. Only when we harbor these feelings in our hearts can we save a soul. Jesus came to this earth, was crucified, died, and resurrected on the third day for that soul. There would be no meaning to our Lord’s work of salvation without that lost soul.
Against this backdrop, let’s take a look at verses 1 through 3 of today’s scripture. The three parables of Luke 15 are the words of Christ, directed towards the Pharisees and the scribes who looked upon Jesus, who received and shared a meal with the sinners, with a disapproving eye. The Pharisees and the scribes did not think too highly of Christ being amongst the tax collectors and the prostitutes and sharing food with them.
Because they were so steeped in religious righteousness and the commandments, they could not accept the fact that the Lord associated with the profane and filthy people. To these self-righteous people, Christ throws three parables at them each centering on characters who, in those days, were considered people of low stature. Let’s think about this for a minute. A shepherd, a woman, a prodigal son all three characters, in the eyes of the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes, were people who they did not even consider associating with. By using these characters in His parables, Jesus is telling the Pharisees and the scribes that God loves not only the righteous, but that He also loves and holds precious above all else the sinners, the peasants, and the low men on the totem pole.
Let’s take a good look at today’s scripture.
God is more concerned with quality than quantity. The standard of judgment in God’s world is absolute, not relative. This standard of judgment is not tethered to some number, size or value; rather, it depends on our inner strength, our character and faith. He gauges us, and tells us whether we were good or bad, by looking at our character. Do you know the phrase the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard most used throughout his life? “We are solitary in front of God.” It means that when God judges us, the standard of assessment does not depend on what type of church we attended, or whether we had good religious upbringing under parents of good faith. Rather, we are judged solely on our faith.
One man had 100 sheep. He lost one of his sheep. He searches the expanse of the field to find that one sheep. The Israeli sheep are said to have poor eyesight that they have trouble seeing beyond 100 meters. And if the shepherd cannot find the lost sheep, than that sheep will die rather quickly. The sheep will either fall off a cliff or become the next meal of a predator. So the shepherd, with this deadly fate of the sheep in mind, will search for that lost sheep throughout the day and into the night.
However, if the shepherd viewed numbers a statistic more important than the absolute value of a life that of the lost sheep than he can just as easily think, “It is getting dark, and where will I find that sheep? I am already tired from herding the sheep all day today I need to get some rest in order to watch my sheep again tomorrow. I still have 99 sheep left. Losing one sheep out of a hundred is not that big a deal. I might be lucky and find that lost one tomorrow; and if not, it’s no big deal. What’s lost is lost I need to look after the remaining sheep.”
But the shepherd in today’s scripture thought otherwise. He left the 99 remaining sheep to look for that one lost sheep, across the field and throughout the mountains. He is looking for the sheep not because the lost sheep is more valuable than the remaining sheep. He is looking for that lost sheep because the sheep will die if not found. The shepherd is looking for that sheep, expending all his energy to find that sheep, to save that sheep’s life. It goes without saying that our Lord Jesus Christ is our shepherd, Who is looking for the lost sheep. Because that one lost soul is more important than anything else in this world is, He came to this world to find that soul.
When the lost sheep is found, God and all below Him are joyous. Read verses 5 and 6. What did the shepherd do once he found the sheep? “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’” When a sheep gets lost, great fear comes over the sheep. The sheep will be exhausted from wandering throughout the night, crying out to find its shepherd. When the shepherd finds the sheep, the sheep will be exhausted and worn out from wandering the night. The shepherd will carry the sheep, which cannot walk on its own, on his shoulders and bring the sheep home. Given that an average sheep weighs about 70 pounds, carrying the sheep on his shoulders will be no easy thing for the shepherd, especially when the shepherd himself wandered all night looking for the lost sheep. Despite the fatigue, the joy in finding the lost sheep will be great enough to alleviate all exhaustion for the shepherd.
Then the shepherd returns to the village, throwing a party to celebrate and share the joy with his neighbors. Why? The joy in finding and saving the dying sheep is too great for the shepherd. We may think, “what is the big deal in finding the lost sheep?” Certainly, the joy, in our view, is not great enough to warrant rejoicing. But for our God, it is not. No words can express the joy that God feels when one lost soul, the dying spirit, is saved. So remember that when you save a lost sheep, God will be joyous and He will give a beautiful party in Heaven for us.
A man named John Dillinger attended a revivalist service at a church. After the service, he knelt in front of the altar. At the time, Dillinger was a problem child of the society a castigated member of the community who had nowhere else to go. But having been greatly graced by the revivalist ceremony, he knelt in front of the altar, desperately wishing for someone to come and pray for him. But no one in the church wanted to be next to Dillinger, who was viewed as a problem child by the rest of the community. Disappointed Dillinger ran out of the church and yelled into the sky, “I’m never going to a church again!” He went on to become a notorious hoodlum in Chicago, and just as he had vowed, he never went to church again, eventually losing his life to a gun shot on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.
Who is responsible for the tragic life and death of John Dillinger? Aren’t the members of the congregation of the church Dillinger once went to where he received great grace from God responsible for his death? They judged the purified heart of a once-troubled young man through the standards of the secular society, not heeding much attention to his needs. The ignored his plea for help, for salvation. As a result, they missed the opportunity to save the life of a lost sheep. If we ignore the pleas of the lost souls, who thirst for love, who long for the truth, and who seek the meaning of life, then we become just like the members of that congregation that killed the lost sheep.
The summary of today’s parable can be found in verse 7 of today’s scripture. “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” If one sinner repents, than God will be happier for that one sinner than for ninety-nine people who need no repentance. Please remember God’s disposition. If we believe in God, then we must understand how He thinks. God is more concerned over one sinner than 99 non-sinners. And He will be greatly joyous when that one lost soul finds the truth and walks the right path.
I hope that each one of you will look for the lost sheep this year. And tell that person how much God loves him or her, and how much He is looking for him or her. Let this be a year in which each one of us, through the abilities of our Lord, find and save that precious lost soul.