I have the unfortunate claim to fame of having been lost in a great variety of cities and town across the United States. Orlando? Been lost there. Los Angeles? Been lost there, too. Austin? Oh sure. Memphis? Most definitely. Atlanta? Right on. Oklahoma City? I once spent $30 on the toll road because I couldn’t figure out which way to go. Ruston, Louisiana? Yep. This last one is particularly embarrassing since Ruston has a population of approximately 21,000. In my defense, though, the roads are really curvy.
It’s an incredibly frustrating thing to be lost. By being lost, you find yourself losing other things: Time, patience, and self-respect, just to name a few. Fortunately, our phones are here to save the day, but perhaps you’re old enough to remember the embarrassment of standing in a gas station trying to find directions to your destination. Nobody likes being lost. And nobody likes losing things either.
But “lost” isn’t a bad word; it’s certainly a biblical word. In fact, it’s a word that cannot be separated from the identity of Jesus. The Son of God made it crystal clear that the His mission to earth is about the lost: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And before that, in Luke 15, Jesus told three stories about what lost things. These stories involve a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a pair of lost sons, and they are some of the best known stories of Jesus.
In the case of the lost sheep, we might be surprised that shepherd was willing to go to such great effort, even leaving the greater number of his flock, and specifically go after the one. Similarly, we might be surprised at the level of effort the woman goes to in finding the equivalent of about $7, and then throwing a party which undoubtedly cost more than the coin was worth. And that’s the way we usually spin these stories – that these objects might not have a lot of worth in the eyes of some, but they are worth a great deal to the one who lost them. You could even make the same statement about the lost son in Jesus’ third story. Here was a young man who disrespected and dishonored his father only to have his father joyously welcome him back into the family when he came home.
It is a good point. These objects – be they a sheep, a coin, or even a son – are valuable because of the value placed on them by the one seeking them. That point certainly correlates to the gospel message, for we might look at our own lives, our own rebellion, and our own sinfulness and ask the legitimate question, “What am I really worth?”
To which God responds with a resounding, “The life of My Son.” These stories show the value of people. Real people. Lost people. And yet there is another layer here – something else Jesus’ stories might communicate to us. That is, if we only look at these stories and see that they are about us, then we reveal the true self-centeredness with which we approach the Bible. These stories in Luke 15 are about me, just like the rest of the Bible is about me. Problem is it’s not.
If we look back at Luke 15, the greater focus is not necessarily on the objects, but on the one seeking those objects. It’s about the extent of the search, and the lavishness of the celebration at these things being found. That makes particular sense when you remember what prompted Jesus to tell these stories in the first place:
All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable… (Luke 15:1-3).
The incident prompting the parables was a criticism of the way Jesus was spending His time, and who He was spending it with. So Jesus tells three stories about lost objects, yes, but also about confounding uses of time and energy by a shepherd, a woman, and a father. More than us, these stories are about God. And there is conviction there.
The conviction comes not only in the fact that we all were once lost and now found, and that we all also ought to be on the same mission of seeking and saving the lost, but that we automatically assume that everything is about us. All the time. And it’s not.
Here we find an opportunity not just to consider our own lostness, but to marvel at the One who sought us. And here we find an opportunity not just to do that in this passage of Scripture, but with the Bible as a whole. For here we find an opportunity to be reminded that the grand story of the universe does not star us, but Him. We are supporting characters – the lost sheep to His shepherd – entwined in His great story.