This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham, on the subject “Lost and Found”.
At the start of the service, I asked the question “In what book in the Bible would you expect to find your name?” The answer comes in my talk.
As usual we start with the Bible reading:
Luke 15:1 – 10
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
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.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 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 neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
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? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours 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.”
No matter what sort of background we come from, we will at some point have lost something. Sometimes it’s a trivial item other times its vital like our door keys or our bank card or our mobile phone. Or maybe its of great sentimental value such as jewellery or photos. Some losses we get over and others can make us inconsolable.
Before we look at the reading, I would just point out that throughout the Bible we have opposites, things that are either one thing or another and not anything else. For example good and evil, truth or lies, saved or unsaved. And of course: lost and found.
Today we are looking at the two stories that Jesus told dealing with the loss of something that is precious to its owner.
To the shepherd, his sheep were his livelihood and indeed his wealth. We know from the 23rd psalm about the care a shepherd would take of his sheep.
Last week when Peter Vickers preached, we sung the old hymn “All people that on earth do dwell” which is based on Psalm 100. This talks about God’s people being the sheep of his flock.
In several places in the Old Testament God’s people are described as his inheritance. That’s how he regards us, those who believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ. We are so precious to him that we are his inheritance. This is from Psalm 33:12 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.“
And what about the woman with the silver coins?
Most likely the silver coins were her dowry, the wealth from her family that she brought into the marriage. The coins were often worn on a headdress. The coins in this case were probably drachma and each coin was worth about a day’s wages. In this country the Office for National Statistics states that the average wage is around £500pw ie £100 per day. So the woman has lost something precious not only in monetary value but also sentimental value.
Both the shepherd and the woman search diligently to find what is lost. Never mind that the rest is safe, it’s the concern for the lost which is paramount for them. And the rejoicing when they are successful in their search.
But not everyone seems that concerned over their possessions. Perhaps we in the west are so economically blessed that losing something doesn’t matter so much. Just look at the list of lost property from London Underground.
False teeth, False eyes, Replacement limbs, Breast implants, Two-and-a-half hundredweight of sultanas/currants, Lawn mower, Chinese typewriter, Four-foot teddy bear, Theatrical coffin, Wheelchairs, Crutches, Stuffed eagle, 14-foot boat, Divan bed, Outboard motor, Water skis, Park bench, Grandfather clock, Bishop’s crook, Garden slide, Inflatable doll, Jar of bull’s sperm, Urn of ashes, Three dead bats in container, Gas mask, Tibetan bell, Stuffed puffa fish, Vasectomy kit, Harpoon gun, Two human skulls in a bag.
However when people lose their pet cat or dog they put up posters detailing the animal that has been lost, often with a picture and sometime offering a reward for the safe return of Snuggles the Cat.
Ever since what the Bible calls “the Fall” when sin came into the world and spoilt God’s relationship with mankind, God has been looking for us, to bring us back to him.
God is holy, that is separate from everything else. He can’t abide evil and sin. Mankind’s sinful nature ie the selfish, hurtful things we say and do, prevent us being in God’s presence. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. There are sadly many people who think that because God is love, (and we know that to be true because the Bible tells us), God will at the end of the day let everyone into heaven. These people think that murderers, rapists, abusers etc will just walk straight into heaven and God will smile and say “you were a bit of a rascal when you were on earth. But I don’t mind.”
Many of the people I visit in the course of my work automatically assume their recently departed loved ones will be in heaven. It will be business as usual. Never mind how good, bad or indifferent people have been here on earth, whether they believed and trusted in Jesus, they’ll all be in heaven.
I have to say that is very wrong.
In the gospels, Jesus talks more about hell than heaven. He warns us about judgement. He longs for people to avoid the penalty for their sins. He longs for the lost to be found.
The Bible is the story of God’s search for men and women who have lost the close personal relationship they were intended to have with God. It tells of God’s rescue plan to find us and bring us home to him.
The two Bible stories have an interesting point. Neither the shepherd who still had 99% of his flock or the housewife who had 90% of her dowry were happy. They didn’t say “Well I’ve got most of it. That’s fine. I’ll worry about the rest later”. No, they didn’t rest until they found that which was lost.
Searching for the coin was time consuming and it cost. The woman had to light a lamp which would use valuable oil and then she searched thoroughly and carefully for the coin. She did so until, oh joy of joys, she found the coin.
Similarly the Shepherd goes off to search for his missing sheep. It may be caught in bushes, have fallen down a ravine, or been attacked by wild animals. It doesn’t matter to the shepherd. He just goes after that sheep and searches until he finds the animal and brings it safely home.
And our wonderful, amazing God is the same. He continues to look for us, to call out our names, to try and bring us home. And he will keep trying until the day we die or until Jesus returns. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”
He never gives up on anyone, despite those who tell you that God can never love them, or they’re far too bad for God to care for them.
What nonsense! How they limit God’s love for mankind. Just look at John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There are no conditions except you have to believe in Jesus. Doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, well educated or ill educated, or where you come from, this offer is open to all.
Jesus described his mission as this, in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Jesus came to bring mankind back to God. There’s no need to worry about being good enough, as we never can be. Jesus by his death on the cross has paid the price for our sins. If we ask his forgiveness for our sins and put our trust in him, we can be forgiven and have new life, with a restored relationship with God. We can know him as a loving caring Father. And absolutely no one is beyond redemption, if they want to come to Jesus.
Over the years many people have tried to find their own way home to God. But not every road leads us home. The Beatles in the late 1960’s got into eastern mysticism, various famous Hollywood actors have gone down the road of scientology , whilst poor Amy Winehouse turned to alcohol and drugs. Others deny the existence of God possibly thinking if there is no God they can’t be lost.
Other religions do no help us to find our way back to God. There is only one way to God and his name is Jesus!
The good news is that we don’t have to find our own way. We just have to listen to Jesus’ call to us to “Follow me” and obey it.
The worship songs and hymns today mainly deal with this. We sung this earlier:
Once I was lost, I had nowhere to go,
My life was just a lonely round of sin.
Till Jesus said to me,
By My blood shed on the tree
I’ve paid the price,
Bought you back, you’re Mine.
Oh what a friend!
And what about John Newton, the man who wrote “Amazing Grace”? He had been a slave trader but God had found him and saved him in the midst of a violent storm at sea. He knew it was God’s grace that saved him, nothing that he had done himself. And so he wrote:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but know I see.
Let me tell you about John. He had been a professional musician, a talented man until alcohol got hold of him. But through the love and care of people at the church he came to faith, repented of his sins and was born again. Sadly the years of drinking had taken their toll and he died. At his funeral the final piece of music was by a band called Blind Faith “Can’t find my way home” I was able to tell the mourners that that was a lie because John through his faith in Jesus had gone home.
So earlier on I asked a question about which book in the Bible should we be in. The answer is found in Revelation 21:27 “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
This is God’s book of those who have been found, who are no longer lost.
I have to ask: are you lost or found?
If you haven’t come to faith in Jesus, don’t think that you can find your own way home because there is only one way home and that is through Jesus as he said in John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “
If you feel that you hear God calling you to come home, come and speak with me or one of the leadership team after the service and we will be pleased to talk and pray with you.
And if you are “found” what are you doing to help find the lost? At the very least we should be praying for them. I realise that our family and our friends are often resistant to the good news of Jesus, but we mustn’t give up. After all God never gives up on people till their final breath. We should never write someone off even though you think they are the last person who would ever come to faith.
We heard from Peter Vickers last week about the wonderful work being done by Teen Challenge in Ilford http://www.tclondon.org.uk/ in reaching out to addicts, not only helping with the addiction but also helping young people come to faith in Jesus.
In Matthew 28:19 & 20 we read “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So there’s our job description to help the lost be found. But we can only do that if we have come to faith in Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, encourage us and empower us.