Lost & Found
by Pastor Steve Schantz
The first two verses of Luke chapter 15 set the stage for the way Jesus responds in a trilogy of parables that follow: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost or prodigal Son.
Through the use of parables, Jesus told simple stories from ordinary experiences to help reveal truths about the nature and purpose of God’s Kingdom which He Himself was initiating. Parables have been described as earthly stories carrying a heavenly meaning. So let’s look at the occasion which prompted Jesus response.
Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (NIV)
Jesus action in eating and fellowshipping with sinners just boggled their minds! Like the character Riley in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, those little voices of Disgust, Fear, Anger, and Sadness went off in their heads and choked off all possibility of experiencing the Joy of redemption!
As Jesus lived out His mission on earth He spent time with the lost – and not just a few of them. Just after calling Matthew to follow Him, Jesus ate a meal with “many publicans and sinners” in Matthew’s house.
Mark 2:15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
Matthew himself had been one of those tax collectors (publicans), and his friends and acquaintances were now spending time with Jesus (cf. Luke 5:39). Now tax collectors were classed along beside thieves and murderers. They weren’t welcome in the local synagogues. If living among us today tax collectors would never be called for jury duty because their testimony wasn’t permitted in court. Jews regarded them as traitors to Israel and to their religion.
As these religious leaders criticized Jesus actions, it provided Him opportunity to share three colorfully inspired comparisons, each involving finding something lost. As the Son of Man, Jesus meets humanity on our own turf, as one of us. Yet as God, He knows where our value systems have been distorted by fallen human nature. Each of these illustrates God’s heart toward creation in Jesus who has initiated the Kingdom of God. He seeks to reach us and to redeem us. As one author put it, He was constantly seeking the least, the last, the littlest, and the lost. So these parables are given to us so that we might share God’s heart in caring for the lost.
God’s great joy presented in these three parables is in recovering the lost and revealing to them their true purpose in life for eternity!
Matt 18: 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven…. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (NIV)
There’s an intense relational joy of knowing someone who cares for us even more than we can care for ourselves — a sovereign God who out of love for His creation chooses to repurpose and re-task the lives of human beings!
These religious leaders looked down on Jesus because no reputable teacher would spend time entertaining sinners, let alone eating with them. Yet He turned the tables to reveal the way a truly great teacher lives in a fallen world. So let’s note how He begins answering their criticism in verse 4.
Luke 15:4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (NIV)
Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t require people to change before coming to Him. He sought them out, and He extended grace to them in their circumstances. Change would come to those who accepted Him, but it would be from the inside out, and by God’s doing. These parables in Luke point to God’s sovereignty over salvation. As the Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the church at Rome, it is the goodness of God that leads sinners to repentance.
Rom 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
One hard truth of herdsman ship is that this sheep is dead to him unless it is found – and fast. Let’s note the relationship. Who is his Man to the Sheep? He’s a caretaker, a provider, a protector, a shepherd, and probably the owner of the sheep. Before we consider the shorter middle parable of the Lost Coin in verse 8, let’s take a moment to address the elephant in the room with all three of these parables.
Doesn’t it bother you when you lose something? (Or rather, misplace something.) As you frantically shuffle through items on the dresser looking for your car keys and your husband or wife says, “Did you lose something honey?” “No, no, I’ve just misplaced my keys” Our stress level, blood pressure, and degree of commitment to finding the lost item rises with its’ value. I’m sure that each of us has at least one lost and found story to tell, and if we were in a Life Group setting right now we’d enjoy share some of them with each other. How many here have ever lost your Wallet or Purse? Watch – Cell phone – jewelry? Pet? A toddler?
Jesus paints a picture of personal, painful, tangible property loss in each of these parables. He appeals to them and to us on our experience and sense of what losing something of value feels like – what it means to us. And then He finds the lost thing and celebrates!
Doing a web search for finding lost money you may discover that even the US Government is willing to help you find it. [missingmoney.com – unclaimed-cash.org – 12 Sources of Unclaimed Money – ABC News.go.com] People have found money in the trunk of car, at the side of the road, and all bagged up and lying on the floor of a restaurant. Two years ago on New Year’s Eve at Horseshoe Bay in Marble Falls, Texas, a man found another man’s wallet on the ground just before dinner time with $1,000 in it. “I looked inside the wallet and found a laminated card from his wife that said, ‘If this idiot ever loses his wallet again call MY phone!’ So, I did. They were both really happy. They own a winery in a nearby town and gave me 5 different bottles of wine from their winery; it was amazing New Year’s Eve gift!” There’s another true lost and found story from our early years in pastoral ministry that I’ll never forget.
While serving congregations in South Eastern Kentucky, one summer my wife and I joined a team of chaperones transporting a dozen teens to Northern Minnesota for two weeks of Summer Camp. The Sr. Pastor and his wife were also driving their station wagon loaded with luggage. It was a long haul from London, KY to Orr, Minnesota, and the adults took turns driving and sleeping. As his wife was napping in the back, he pulled over for a gas stop in Indiana. After filling up he stepped inside to pay for the gas, and when he did, his wife woke up and decided to make a bathroom stop. He came out thinking she was still sleeping, and not wanting to disturb her, started the car and drove off. He didn’t discover she was missing until somewhere in Wisconsin – six hours later! (Obviously this all took place long before cell phones.) As a young assistant pastor I took notes: “Do not leave wife behind at gas station – Bad Pastor! Bad Pastor!” Was it worth it to him to drive the six hours back to pick her up? Of course! Mel and Barbara Dahlgren just celebrated their 40th Anniversary and still serve our GCI congregation in San Jose, CA.
There is an aha! moment of grasping the depth of God’s reach for us which impacts our lives, alters our decisions and our behaviors, motivates us to prioritize and revaluate our lives. And when that which was lost spiritually is found, well…
Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (NIV)
So as we move into the 2nd parable of this parable sandwich, that of the Lost Coin, we see Jesus again portraying an intense search and find on God’s part. This time a woman is doing the searching. While Luke is the only gospel writer who shares this parable, it shouldn’t surprise us as Luke often highlights the important role that women play in sharing God’s Kingdom purpose.
Luke 15:8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (NIV)
Some have suggested these coins would have hung on a veil or around a woman’s neck as part of jewelry or a dowry to be her living if her husband died. This would add to the importance of these coins to her, but the monetary consideration is significant enough, because the Greek indicates that her coins were drachmas, each equivalent to a Roman denarius, which represented about a day’s wages. In today’s money we might say she had $1,000 and now discovers $100 missing. Kenneth Bailey, an expert on ancient Middle Eastern lifestyle says that coin money was not common among such peasants. They made and bartered so many of their daily necessities that on hand cash was a rare commodity.
“The peasant village is, to a large extent, self-supporting, making its own cloth and growing its own food. Cash is a rare commodity. Hence the lost coin is of far greater value in a peasant home than the day’s labor it represents monetarily” p. 157
Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke
We can imagine the heart of this woman skipping a beat and her gasping with shock when she learns the coin is missing. Has she mislaid it or dropped it? Has someone taken it? It would drive her into a panic – Where could it be? Typical houses of that time had a few small slits for windows or no windows at all, so that there was little light. To search for a lost coin requires more light. But oil for your lamp is not cheap, and normally saved for the night time. But she must find that coin so the search is on! Her broom comes out as she begins a systematic search across a packed-earth floor. Under mats and pottery vessels she searches. Nothing shows up. Again she goes back over the same area but from a different angle, the light from the lamp casting different shadows this time. And then, just as she is about to end the second sweep without success she sees a small glimmer. There it is! The coin is found! Quickly she picks it up and blows away the dust.
In each of these finds, it is the one searching who brings it about. What did the coin do to be found? The only part it played was rolling into some dark corner or under a piece of furniture and hiding! (A bit like Adam and Eve in the bushes!) The woman is owner of the coin and the steward of its future. The Sovereignty of God over salvation is woven into the fabric of each of these parables. The entire cause of the recovery operation in both stories is the shepherd’s, or the woman’s, determination to find that which is lost. What did the sheep do? It did what sheep tend to do – it wandered off! Sheep that wander off don’t find their way back home. And within the details of the parable, this sheep doesn’t carry itself home, nor even follow well, because the shepherd picks it up and carries it on his shoulders. Money that falls from my pocket doesn’t jump back in on its’ own, how about yours? In spite of movie titles and horror stories, Dead Men Walking doesn’t really occur – only resurrected men walk! All we can do on our own strength is hide from God, run from God, turn away from God… That’s why He comes to us!
When a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18)
Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Earlier we read Jesus’ illustration of ninety-nine righteous persons who did not need to repent. It’s good for us to recount who Jesus is answering as He employs this rhetorical device with a group who doesn’t believe they need to repent! There aren’t righteous people out there just waiting for God to find them. There are only lost and confused people who God stirs by His Spirit to see their need to trust Him. A God who spares no expense to seek them out and serve them! A God who is so self-emptying that he enters our ‘lostness’, our vulnerability, and serves among us as one of us.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with a rescued sheep or a recaptured coin. In His 3rd parable beginning in verse 11, we are introduced to a Father with two sons, many servants and a wealthy estate. The youngest son asks his Father to give him his portion of the estate while he’s still living, which in that culture is tantamount to saying, “Drop Dead, Dad!” But His Father gave it to him. What did the prodigal do to deserve a Father like that? He took the money and ran! He wasted his inheritance on riotous living, and then comes to the end of himself while slopping pigs and so hungry he could eat the corn cobs being fed to them. (Not a very bright future for a Jewish boy.) Then he thinks to Himself, “I have a Father with servants who are not going hungry tonight! I’m goin’ home!” Along the way he contrives a very self-deprecating speech about how he’s not worthy to be called a son anymore, but before he can even get it all out His Father, from a long way off, is already running out to meet him! Eugene Peterson renders it this way:
Luke 15: 20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ 22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! (MSG)
24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (NIV)
God doesn’t redeem us to have us groveling in self-hatred, but so that we will rejoice with Him and join Him in His Kingdom purpose. In all three parables there is an incredible celebration that is truly miraculous! The finder of all lost things throws a banquet and invites friends and neighbors because we are called to celebrate God’s relational Joy.
Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
When something of value is found, or someone of immense importance to us comes back into to our lives, we get so excited we could just keel over! That’s what Casey the Schnauzer did when she was reunited with her master after a two year separation, let’s watch!
In fairness to Casey, Rebecca was gone 14 years in dog years! Don’t worry dog lovers, Casey was taken to the vet a few times to ensure that her overexcitement had not done her permanent harm and her vet actually viewed this video then gave her a clean bill of health.
This find is a communal, together thing with God. We learn to celebrate God’s relational Joy as a part of experiencing the Kingdom now until the fullness of that joy is our reality then. So even when the object of lost-ness is a person, it is the sovereign love of a Father which draws and receives him back! His exuberance is in the relationship that is renewed and reconciled. God desires to share much more with us than a “Thank you for salvation, I’ll see you on the other side”. The heart of God toward restoring His creation is revealed so that we might invite others to share in this Joy.
When the woman says “Rejoice with me!” it is a word coming from two Greek words meaning to be in sync with my charity. To value other people being made whole the way that our creator does. The journey from lost sheep, to lost coin, to lost Son is a journey toward having our priorities in line with our Father’s.
A few years ago Billy Watts, a 75 year-old mother and wife, headed into her local Cracker Barrel Restaurant and gift shop to buy a gift for a ladies’ retreat coming up. Walking into the restroom, she noticed a woman’s bag hanging on a hook. No one else was around, so she knew it had been left behind. Opening it to look for some identification, she noticed a manila envelope that contained—you guessed it—oodles of dollars, $97,000 to be precise! …Fifteen minutes after Billy checked with the management to see if anyone reported anything mission, the woman who had left the bag behind called in. You can imagine the hug Mrs. Watts got from the elderly woman whose money she was returning!
Reaching into the bag, though, it wasn’t the money that was her treasure. “Judith” had recently sold her home, and was driving south to start a new life, living with her son in Florida. For awhile, at least, it looked like that new life had just slipped away. As Mrs. Watts’ described the moment in her own words in the News Journal account: “She run up and hugged me. She got excited and didn’t even look at the bag except to pull out the picture to show it to me,” said Watts. “She said it was the only picture she had of her daughter and her daughter’s child, who are both deceased.”
While Jesus used stories that begin by tugging at our natural concern for lost items and tangible properties, His heavenly message reminds us that His greatest find is to restore our relationship with the Father, and through the Spirit. May we always be looking for ways to invite others to that Great Celebration!
 Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002