The passion of Jesus for the lost. Will you open your Bible to Luke chapter 19 and verse 10? Luke chapter 19 and verse 10. The scripture says that Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Many organizations feel that it is essential to the effectiveness of that organization to develop what they call a purpose statement. Organizations, corporations, companies, missions, churches, ministries need to crystallize the reason for their existence, their raison d’être as the French would say it.
And here you have that in regard to Jesus Christ. This is the purpose statement of the Son of God. This is the mission statement of the Son of God. This is the raison d’être for the incarnation, “The Son of Man has come for this purpose, to seek and to save that which was lost.” That is why Jesus Christ came into the world. And understanding that evangelistic purpose is essential for us to understand our purpose.
And so, we want to speak this morning - ever so briefly, I might add, and in an incomplete fashion because of limited time – on the subject of the passion of Jesus for the lost.
To begin with, let me just say, in a general way, that everything great in life, every significant accomplishment, every worthwhile endeavor, every supremely fulfilling enterprise is the result of someone with an undeniable, unstoppable passion.
And Christianity, if it is to impact the world, must be carried by people who are consumed passionately with its truth and with its objectives. That is not easy in this day and in this society. We live in an age and a place where our sharpness is being dulled by the constant encroachment of worldliness. Our commitment is being blunted by the plethora of options that fill up our time and take our minds and our energy.
We are being robbed of our inflammatory power by the cool culture in which we exist. And the result is that there are many Christians, perhaps most Christians, who are content to sort of set out their faith in mental crystals. They become a sort of cold bath for every fiery heart. Someday, when their epitaph is written, some sad-eyed angel may carve in some eternal stone, “Light enough, but no heat.”
The church may have a big brain, but it appears to have a small heart. The church’s temperature has dropped significantly. Her step is leaden, and her spirit is apathetic. Christians today do not appear to be preoccupied with the purpose for which the Messiah came, but rather are preoccupied with making sure that they cover every little area of their life so that it can become utterly fulfilling and the way that they wish it could be. And they are very narcissistic.
The church has become equally narcissistic and tends to focus on its own comfort zone, reaching the maximum. Many years ago, I read a fascinating, modern parable that appeared in The Presbyterian Journal. I share it with you. See if you can’t understand what the parable is all about.
“On a dangerous seacoast, where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude, little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves or their safety, they went out day and night, tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful, little life-saving station, so it became famous.
“Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews were rained, and the little life-saving station grew.
“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So, they replaced the emergency cots and beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.
“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. And they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as sort of a club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions; so, they hired life-boat crews to do that work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where club initiations were held.
“About this time, a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. And the beautiful, new club was considerably messed up. So, the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
“At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the life-saving activity altogether because it was unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose. They pointed out they were still called a life-saving station, but they were finally voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast, which they did.
“As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. And history continued to repeat itself. And if you visit that coast today, you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, and most of the people drown.”
Pretty clear, isn’t it? So easy for the church to deviate and become preoccupied with its own comfort and become indifferent and apathetic, self-centered. And when we read something like the first verse of the ninth chapter of Jeremiah, we ask ourselves what that kind of emotion is like, because it’s so foreign to us. Jeremiah, looking at lost people, says, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Here is a man who says, “I don’t have enough tears to carry out my sorrow. I wish I had more tears to carry the sorrow that fills my head.” We don’t identify much with that at all, if any. We have settled for a self-indulging activity center; we call it a church. But somehow, it’s missed its purpose. We are content with comfort; we are content with personal prosperity.
The life-saving enterprise of the church means little if anything to us. People have left our church because we changed their classroom, or because new people were parking in the area they like to park in. But the record of history in the church is that great times of revival that have bridged the chasms of the church’s apathy have always been because men have been able to walk over the body of some fanatic who made himself a highway to revival.
It’s always been the passionate that are consumed that set the pace. John Stuart Blackie wrote, “The early church worked by a fervent moral contagion, not by the persuasion of a cool argument. The Christian method of conversion - not by logical arguments, but by moral contagion and the power of the Holy Spirit – has, with the masses of mankind, always proved itself the most effective.” End quote.
It’s not how cool and clever and erudite and airtight and logical your argument; it’s how passionate your heart is. The passion for holiness, the passion for the lost is what makes the church powerful, not the preoccupation with its own comfort or the sophistication of its own arguments.
A church or a Christian without strong conviction, without passion becomes, in some ways, a problem because the church becomes turned away from its purpose. Joseph Parker once said, “As long s the church of God is one of many institutions, she will have her little day. She will die, and that will be all. But just as soon as she gets the Spirit of Jesus, until the world thinks she’s gone stark mad, then we shall be on the high road to capture the planet for Christ.
“I marvel,” said an old Puritan, “how I can preach stolidly and coldly; how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them and beseech them for the Lord’s sake, however they take it and whatever pains or troubles it should cause me. When I come out of my pulpit, I am not accused of want of ornaments or elegance, nor of letting fall an unhandsome word, but my conscience asks me, ‘How could you speak of life and death with such a heart? How could you preach of heaven and hell in such a careless and sleepy manner?’
“And truly this peal of the conscience does ring in my ears, ‘O Lord, do that on our own souls that You would use us to do on the souls of others.’” And I speak to myself.
Dr. Bonar, after listening to a minister who was preaching with great gusto, said to him, “You love to preach, don’t you?”
“Yes, indeed I do.”
“But,” said Bonar, “do you love the men to whom you preach? We do not have to choose between a fervent ignorance and a passionateless culture. Thank God,” he said, “we can have both a knowledge and a zeal, a well-trained mind and a warm heart.”
It’s hard for us to relate to this kind of passion because it is so infrequently modeled for us. Dr. Cortland Myers tells, in his book, How do we know?, of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, one of Scotland’s greatest preachers – who, by the way, died at the age of 29. Cortland Myers says, “Everywhere he stepped, Scotland shook. Moreover, he opened his mouth and a spiritual force swept in every direction. Thousands followed him to the feet of Christ.
“A traveler was eager to see where M’Cheyne had preached, and he went to the Scottish town and found the church, and an old, gray-haired sexton agreed to take him through the church. And as he led the way into M’Cheyne’s study, he said, ‘Sit in that chair.’ And the traveler hesitated a moment, and then sat in the chair. On the table before him was an open Bible, and the sexton said, ‘Drop your head in that book and weep. That’s what our minister always did before he preached,’ said the old man.
“He then led the visitor into the pulpit before the open Bible. ‘Stand there,’ he said, ‘and drop your head on your hands and let the tears flow. That’s the way our minister always did before he began to preach.’” That is lost to us for the most part.
Someone once said, “No virtue is safe that is not held with a passion.”
Of John Knox it was said, “So mighty was he in his yearning for lost souls that I thought he would break the pulpit into bits.
Of Joseph Alleine it was said, “With infinite and insatiable greed for the conversion of souls, he preached with a far-reaching voice, flashing eye, and a soul on fire with love.”
The passion of John Wesley, for example, stirs my heart; it should yours. He went out to do for England more than was done by the armies and the navies of England in his lifetime. He had tremendous courage. He toiled beyond what was rational. He parted company with ease and comfort. And as for money, he lived as a pauper. He lived on a pittance and gave away more than $200,000.00. He was abused and maligned in his time so that he could say, “I leave my reputation where I left my soul – in the hands of God.” He traveled 225,000 miles, mostly on foot and horseback; preached 2,400 different sermons. And amid misrepresentation and abuse, never knowing the delights of love at home; subject to incessant attacks of the mob, the pulpit, and the press, he never abated the joy of his heart and the hope in his ministry until he reached the age of 88. And he ended his ministry at his death and not before.
Cannon Farrar said of Wesley, “Overwhelming evidence exists to show that the church and people of England, in his day, were dull, vapid, and soulless; and the preaching was careless, the land was steeped in immorality. And to Wesley was granted the task for which he was set apart by enviable consecration, the task which even an archangel might have envied him, of awakening a mighty revival of religious life in those dead pulpits, in those slumbering churches, and in that moribund society.” And it was said of Wesley, “He was out of breath pursuing souls.”
And then there was George Whitfield, a contemporary of Wesley who in zeal wore patched clothing; ate coarse food; prayed under a tree, far into the winter nights, in agony of soul until, it was said, the sweat ran down in his face that he might know the power of God.
Ordained at 22, he began to preach immediately with tremendous effect. Probably no man, since the days of the apostle Paul, excelled Whitfield in sacred eloquence. John Newton said of him, “If you ask me, ‘Who is the second preacher in the world,’ I don’t know. If you ask me, ‘Who is the first,’ there’s only one answer: George Whitfield.”
But after all could be said about his eloquence, his power with men depended most upon the passion of his soul which absorbed every lesser ambition. And his biographer says, “Used every God-given power to lead men to the personal choice of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”
At one time he wrote, “Lord, when you see me in danger of nestling down, put a thorn in tender pity into my nest.” And again he said, “I am determined to go on until I drop, to die fighting, though it be on my stumps.” And they put on his gravestone, “As a soldier of the cross, humble, devout, ardent, he put on the whole armor of God, preferring the honor of Christ to his own interest, repose, reputation or life.” End quote.
He lived in the latter 1800s, his ministry. He crossed the Atlantic 13 times. He preached for 34 years, 18,000 sermons. And William Cowper said, “He loved the world that hated him, the tear that dropped upon his Bible was sincere. Assailed by scandal and the tongue of strife, his only answer was a blameless life.”
John Stott, in a recent book that he wrote, said, “There are many popular preachers today, but not many powerful ones.” Where are the models? Where are the Wesleys and the Whitfields? Where are the Puritans? Where are the Jeremiahs? Where are the people of passion? We might surmise that the prophets of Jehovah today seem to be about as impotent as the priests of Baal in calling down fire from heaven.
But where do we go for a model? Well, for today, let’s go to the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want us to examine the passion that He exhibited for lost people. In the 1920s, there was a president at Southwest Baptist Seminary in Dallas by the name of Scarborough. Among many things that he wrote, he said this, “Jesus was more than reformer, benefactor, liberator. More than preacher and teacher, he was and is the world’s regenerator. He found all life poisoned with deadly sin. He put the saving antitoxin, the life-giving serum of regeneration at the root of the world’s sinful malaria, cholera, paralysis, leprosy, cancer, tuberculosis. He was the Great Physician, the world’s great soul surgeon.” End quote.
And when you look at Christ, you have to see him as the One who came to seek and to save the lost. We’ve been talking a lot – haven’t we? – in our study of Philippians about being like Christ, pursuing the goal of Christlikeness. This is at the heart of it. If we are to walk as He walked, as 1 John 2 tells us, then we must understand his concern for the lost.
Let me suggest several things. First of all, His own ministry centered on evangelism. His own ministry centered on evangelism, both publicly and privately. Turn back with me to Matthew chapter 4, and let me just touch briefly on a few passages that will remind us of the character of His ministry.
Looking first of all at His public preaching, it was clear that the objective of His preaching was evangelism. His forerunner was an evangelist who preached repentance, who preached salvation, who preached the kingdom and entrance into the kingdom – John the Baptist. And when Jesus came, the same message was given from Him, Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach” – and what was His message? - “‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” He preached the kingdom’s nearness, and He preached that men must enter by the provision that God would make. He called men to the kingdom. His was a seeking, saving message.
Matthew chapter 9 and verse 35, “Jesus was going about all the cities, the villages. He was teaching in their synagogues, and He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” - the good news of God’s kingdom and how to enter; and then, in order to affirm the validity of His message, he was giving messianic credentials – “healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”
Jesus was a compassionate evangelist who saw lost people as lost, distressed, downcast, shepherdless, and whose passion not only caused Him to be an evangelist, but caused Him to ask His disciples to pray that God would raise up many more evangelists.
Chapter 11 of Matthew and verse 28, such lovely and familiar words, Jesus says, “‘Come to Me’” – that’s evangelism - “‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden’” – and He is talking directly to those Jews who were carrying around an absolutely unbearable load, a load of guilt, a load of sin, a load of traditions, legalism, works under which they were crushed and unable to attain the soul peace they sought - “‘Come to Me, you who are wear and heavy-laden’” – with all of this religious baggage you’re carrying – “‘and I’ll give you rest.’” That’s a call to salvation. That’s a call to the proper means of salvation.
We sung this morning a song of expression that touches this very truth, that great hymn “Jesus, Jesus, I am resting in the joy of what Thou art/I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.” Those people in that bondage had no rest. We in Christ have rest. The evangelist calls them to rest.
“‘Take My yoke,’” He says, “‘upon you; learn from Me. I’m gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My load is light.’” There’s a tenderness; there’s a compassion in His evangelism.
In the sixth chapter of John, we again see Jesus Christ seeking to save the lost. In verse 29, He says to the crowd of people around Him, who had experienced the great miracle of feeding that He had done the day before, providing bread and fish in a creative miracle in which He literally created it out of nothing. They had seen the great credential; they had heard His teaching; they had seen a myriad of other miracles that same day.
And He says to them, in verse 29, “‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” An evangelistic call, a call for salvation, a call for faith, a call on them to believe.
He later says, verse 32, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven; it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.’” And then in verse 35, He says, “‘I am that bread of life; and he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’” He’s calling them to salvation.
In chapter 7, verse 37 of John’s Gospel, it is the great feast day. It is the day when the children of Israel celebrated the provision of water in the wilderness, and they were reminding themselves that God had given them from a rock to quench their thirst. And in that great celebration of that event, the priests would take a great pitcher of water and pour it on this very day, and they would be singing “The Hallel” and remembering God’s provision of water. And in the very crux of that great moment, Jesus captures the moment and turns it to Himself and says, “‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. And he who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”‘” And He spoke about the Holy Spirit. He turns the moment to a moment of evangelism and calls men to Himself.
In chapter 8, it is a very important day in this chapter. The candelabra that had just been used to celebrate God leading the children of Israel through the wilderness by the Shekinah glory, a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, has now gone out. It was lit, and it lasted for one day over a week. And that great light shown from out of the court of the women at the temple, and now the time is over and the light is out. And Jesus walks into the court of the women. The candelabra has gone dark, and He says, “‘I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of life.’” And He turns that moment and that place into an evangelistic opportunity, and He says, “‘I am a light that never goes out; come to Me; come to Me.’”
In chapter 10, He again turns the moment to Himself. He says, in verse 7, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.’” In other words, “If you’re going to come into the kingdom, you’re going to come in through Me. All the others are thieves and robbers, and the true sheep don’t hear them. But I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” He was in the saving work. He was an evangelist. He said in verse 11, “‘I’m the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.’” And He said in verse 14, “‘I’m the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.’” Always evangelizing.
In chapter 11, verse 25, He says, at that wonderful day when He raised Lazarus from the dead, He said, “‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” That’s an invitation, folks. That’s an evangelistic invitation. Jesus’ preaching was evangelistic. He was calling people to Himself to repent and turn from sin; to drop the load of works righteousness, guilt and sin, and take up the easy yoke; to turn from the lights that go out and the water that doesn’t quench and the bread that doesn’t satisfy; to turn from the fear of death to the hope of resurrection life by believing in Him.
He came to seek and save the lost. “And,” says John, “if we abide in Him, we ought to walk the way He walked.” How did He walk through the world? He walked through the world as an evangelist. Not only was it that way in His preaching, but in His personal evangelism also.
Can I remind you of some things about His personal evangelism? Who were the first people He evangelized? His disciples. He won them, we might say, one on one. He brought Philip to salvation in John 1. Luke 5 records that He brought Matthew to salvation. The others as well, along the way, He brought to Himself, he called to Himself personally, bringing them to belief in Him, to salvation. And then in John 4, there was the Samaritan woman, the woman He met at the well and so marvelously evangelized her.
And then there was that little tax collector, that little Jew who lived in Jericho that Luke writes about, in chapter 19, by the name of Zacchaeus. And He went to his home and, in personal one-on-one evangelism, He brought him to the knowledge of Himself and to salvation. And He even says, at the end of the account of Luke 19, “This day has salvation entered this house.”
And then there was, in that same city, that familiar name Bartimaeus, the name that belonged to a blind beggar. The wonderful story recorded in Mark chapter 10 about how He led that blind beggar to salvation.
And then there was that maniac of Gadara, that man living in the tombs with the bodies and corpses of dead people, cutting himself, so filled with demons that he said his name was Legion. And Jesus confronted him. And when Jesus was through with him, he was saved and clothed and in his right mind.
And then that most monumental event in John chapter 3, when He brought a leading Jewish teacher by the name of Nicodemus to understand the truth of the gospel. And obviously, Nicodemus believed and later becomes one who attends to the body of Jesus after His death.
And then I guess, most wonderful of all, most glorious of all, most dramatic of all was the salvation of a dying thief alongside of Jesus on the cross, whom He gathered up and took to paradise with Him.
He was always the evangelist, whether it was in the public preaching place or whether it was in the private place, because He came to seek and save the lost. That’s why He came. We could talk about the divine power that is exhibited in the life of Christ, but that’s not common to us; only in the sense, of course, of the Spirit of God granting us that power.
But what was it, apart from His divine nature, that made Him effective as an evangelist. Let me suggest a few things that will translate into your life and mine. Number one, He was available. He was available. If you are going to be used to reach the lost, then you need to be available to them. He was available. It wasn’t so much that He buttonholed them, that He attacked them, as that He was there. He was available; He was in the throng. If ever a person had justification for isolation, it would have been Jesus, and if ever a person avoided, except in those times when He needed to be replenished and renewed in the presence of His Father alone, it was Jesus.
Secondly, He had no favorites. Because He was God, He was not a respecter of persons, which is very often the barrier to effective evangelism – we think we’re better than others. You see, wherever there was humanity, the compassion of Jesus existed.
Lepers, harlots, traitors, tax collectors, criminals, social outcasts, economically deprived people, moral blights on society - from the wealthy Jairus to the blind beggars, He loved them all. No respecter of persons. God hates that.
Thirdly, He was sensitive. He supernaturally could read the heart. And because He was omniscient and could choose to use that omniscience, as He says in John 2, He knew what was in the heart of men. But even beyond that, there was something about Him that was sensitive to what was going on around Him. I think about it in Mark chapter 5, when He was in this tremendous crowd, and He said, “Who touched Me?”
And the disciples said, “Are you kidding? You’re being crushed by a mob, and You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”
A little lady who had had an issue of blood for a long time, had reached out a hand and taken hold of the tassel that hung on His garment, which was worn by Orthodox Jews as a symbol of their Judaism. Touched it because she had concluded in her mind that if she could touch the hem of his garment, she could be whole. She touched it. In the middle of the crush of a mob, He said, “Who touched Me?”
I don’t want to extrapolate too much out of that except to say that that is the kind of sensitivity that ultimately, of course, elicited a confession of her faith in Him and her healing and salvation. But that is the kind of sensitivity that somehow has to be cultivated by the Spirit of God within us if we’re going to hear the heartbeats around us.
I suppose if you’re at this thing long enough, you realize that some of the most coarse and outwardly resisting people are dealing with some of the deepest grief on the inside and may be the most tender to the truth of the gospel. It’s learning to be sensitive to that. Jesus was sensitive.
Furthermore, He was not only available and without regard for persons and sensitive, but He was tender. There was a tenderness about Jesus Christ. I guess maybe the best way to express that would be to say that in Matthew 8:1 it says He touched a leper.
Now, I can’t tell you how serious an issue that is in the society of that time. You just didn’t touch a leper, because they believed that that leprosy was highly communicable. Lepers were total outcasts; you just didn’t touch them. From the standpoint of your own protection, it would just not be done. I mean it would be far worse than the perception of people today about the communicability of AIDS. You just didn’t do that. They were out of society altogether. And yet, Jesus touched the leper, not so much to demonstrate that He was impervious to the disease as to show love to the leper who was an untouchable. And never being touched by anyone would leave a terrible hole in your heart. And Jesus touched him. There was a tenderness there. There needs to be that tenderness in dealing with the sinner. And what tends to happen, the longer you’re in a Christian environment, and the more you build a case of your own Christianity, and the more you have a highly developed sense of the sinfulness of sin, the easier it becomes to hate the sinner. And then you are filled with resentment instead of compassion. And that’s why you have to see the world as though you were looking through His eyes who could hate the sin and love the sinner deeply.
There’s another thing that is characteristic of Jesus that might be helpful to us, and that is that He took time. There are a number of illustrations of this that I won’t take time to go into, but in the Scripture it was a common thing for Jesus to spend a great amount of time in dealing with the person. I tend to think of Jairus. That whole episode was a very, very intricate and highly involved and demanding episode with regard to the time of Jesus. But He took time.
Now, there are no secrets. And I’ll be real straightforward; you know the gospel. You know enough to tell someone the truth about Jesus Christ. You don’t have to have any sophistication; you don’t have to have any clever methodology to figure out how to get into the gospel. You don’t have to be subtle. If you ask God for the opportunity, the Lord will drop the opportunity in your lap and give you that privilege. And you know what to say; you do. You know enough to say.
The real issue is this: are you available, or have you programmed unbelievers out of your life? I struggle with that a lot. There’s not a lot of space in my life for unbelievers, because I’m consumed in the world that I’m in. And do you have resentment? Do you play favorites? Are there certain kinds of people that are just beneath you? And maybe the fact that you’re not an effective evangelist is just because you’re not sensitive. You’re not – you don’t have a listening heart. You’re not hearing the cries. Maybe it’s because you lack tenderness, compassion, and love for the sinner. And maybe it’s because you just don’t have time to be bothered. It’s not because you don’t know what to say. I won’t let you off the hook on that excuse; it’s too simple.
So, the first thing, then, we note, is that Jesus was an evangelist. We see it in His personal life; we see it in His preaching. In both counts He came to seek and to save the lost.
One other thought: He did it because it was His mission, and that mission, basically, was designed by the Father in conjunction with the Son and the Spirit. And in order to understand the heart of the Father in all of this, look at Luke 15. Luke 15. This is a familiar chapter with three familiar parables. The intent of this chapter is to motivate the disciples toward evangelism.
The Pharisees are accusing Jesus, “This man receive sinners and eats with them” – verse 2. Amen. Hallelujah for that. And see, these religious people, these Pharisees, are very typically religious. They are not sensitive to the sinner; they don’t care about them; they’re indifferent; they don’t have time for them. They are respecters of persons. They’re all the opposite of what Jesus is, of course. But Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. And so, they complain about Him doing that. They think that’s a desecration of their holiness if they were to do that.
So, two is disciples, primarily. And they must have heard these stories. He tells three parables. And remember that Matthew 10 tells us that the parables hid things from the unbelievers and made them more clear to those who believed. So, the parables were basically for the disciples, and He wants them to learn this great truth to motivate them to evangelism.
Parable number one, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which is lost!’”
He tells a very simple little story. In an agrarian culture, they all understood shepherding, and they knew that a shepherd had a high sense of responsibility and accountability to maintain his herd – his flock. And when one sheep would go away, He says, “What man wouldn’t go get the one sheep?”
And, of course, the answer would be, “No man. Everybody would go get that one sheep.”
I mean that’s just part of being a shepherd. If you lost a sheep, the price was very, very high. In fact, even if it was eaten by a wolf, they would have to bring back a remnant of the sheep to prove they hadn’t stolen the sheep. You could lose your life.
So, they would go after that sheep. And when they found the sheep, they’d come back, and they’d call their friends, and they’d rejoice, because that’s a serious issue. And there would be a lot of joy about that.
Well, look at the next parable, verse 8, “What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, doesn’t light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she’s found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I’ve found the coin which I had lost!’” There’s a second little story. A lady loses a coin; it’s very precious to her. She scours everything in the place, finds the coin. She’s so happy she calls her friends, because she no doubt asked her friends if they’d seen it, and she calls them back and says, “I found my coin; I found my coin! Come over and we’ll just rejoice a little bit; I found my coin!”
Then He tells a third story, this one a rather long one, about a man who had two sons. And you remember it’s the story of the prodigal son, and he went away, and he came back. And what happened when he came back? Well, the father, verse 22, says, “‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and be’” – what? – “‘merry; for the son of mine was dead and he’s come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to be merry.”
And then they have the little story about the other brother, and then in verse 32, “‘We had to be merry; we had to rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
Now, what’s this chapter about? This chapter’s about rejoicing. That’s what it’s about. It’s about rejoicing. It’s not just about finding lost things. Yes, you find a lost sheep; yes, you find a lost coin; yes, you find a lost son. But in each case, what was the response? Rejoicing.
Now, who is the father in the prodigal son story? God. Who is leading the party? God. Who is leading the rejoicing? God. This whole chapter is all about God’s joy over the salvation of the lost. It’s what it’s about.
Go back now to verse 7, and here is the little explanation of the first parable. “I tell you that in the same way” – just like that sheep was found – “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. You know what really gets heaven excited? Conversion, salvation. That is what gets heaven into celebration mode.
Now go down to verse 10, at the end of the little story about the coin, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Now, some people say, “Yeah, that’s the angels rejoicing.”
It doesn’t say that. It says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God.” Who is in the presence of the angels of God? God. It’s not just the angels. I see the Father God leading the celebration.
Now, why did the Son come to seek and save the lost? Because that is the ultimate joy of the eternal God and His holy, godly angels. It is the heart of God. It is the heart of Christ.
Now, lastly, Jesus taught His disciples to evangelize. Do you remember what He said when He called them? He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you” – what? – “fishers of men.” That is another purpose statement like Luke 19:10. Why did Jesus call the disciples? You tell me.
You might say, “Oh, there were many reasons. You see, there was –”
No. “Follow Me, and I will” – do what? – “make you” – what? – “fishers of men.” That’s the purpose statement for the disciples. The purpose statement for Christ, Luke 19:10. The purpose statement for the disciples? They’re to be fishers of men. And that is exactly what the legacy of Christ is to us. We are also to be fishers of men.
Now, there was a lot of work in training the disciples. I mean basically they were a tough bunch to work with. They needed a lot of training, and Christ worked with them for three years. And that training was primarily evangelistic training. Do you understand that?
The parables, for example, of Matthew 13, all about understanding the environment in which you evangelize. The instruction of Matthew 10, all about expecting the persecution, the hostility, the difficulty when you evangelize. The training was primarily training for evangelism. And they needed a lot of help. First of all, they had a great lack of spiritual perception. They were real blockheads about spiritual issues – like us. They lacked sympathy; they were heartless on many occasions. They lacked humility. They lacked sensitivity. They lacked persevering prayer. They lacked courage. They lacked boldness. They lacked faith.
He had a lot of work to do on them - and on us - but the raw material was there. And he said, “I’ll make you fishers of men. I’ll make you fishers of men.” That’s what His purpose was with His disciples.
And at the end He said, “Now, what I want you to do is go into all the world and” – do what? – “preach the gospel and make disciples. I’ve made you fishers of men. I’m leaving. I’ll send my Spirit; you go.” He energized them for evangelism.
Remember on that wonderful Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came and they spoke in those amazing languages the wonderful things of God? Do you remember why the Holy Spirit came? It must be consistent with the purpose of God. It is this, “You shall be” – Acts 1:8 – “witnesses unto me, after the Holy Spirit is come upon you, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.” The heart of God, the heart of an evangelist whose highest joy is the salvation of a lost soul.
John the Baptist comes in as an evangelist to announce the arrival of the Messiah, who is an evangelist, who trains men to be evangelists. Sends them to evangelize the world and to write the New Testament which calls us to evangelism, gives us all the Holy Spirit in order that we might evangelize. Folks, if you miss this point, you’ve missed it altogether. Altogether.
John Harper was called to pastor the Moody Church in t he early 1900s. He went down with the Titanic. And W. B. Riley related the death of Harper. The story went like this, and I’m quoting from W. B. Riley, “We have the history of John Harper’s end. For survivors brought to harbor in safety told it to us. When the Titanic was struck by the iceberg that drove in her sides and sent the ship to the bottom, John Harper was leaning against the railing, pleading with a young man to come to Christ.
“Four years after the Titanic went down, a young Scotsman rose in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada, and said, ‘I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a piece of wood that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow on a piece of wreckage near me. He said to me, “Man, are you saved?”‘
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m not.’
“‘He replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.”‘ And the waves bore him away. But strange to say, brought him back a little later, and again he said, “Are you saved now?”
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I can’t honestly say that I am.’
“‘He said, again, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved,” and shortly after he went down beneath the water. And there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. And I am John Harper’s last convert.’” That faithful passion to the end.
The passion of Jesus for the lost was what He wanted to teach His followers, His disciples, and it’s what they wanted to teach us. Let’s bow together in prayer.
We ask, Lord, that You might give us a sense of Your love, Your compassion, Your tenderness, Your mercy; that You might help us to understand the guilt, the power, the penalty of sin; that You might help us to understand the gnawing, nagging pain, the feeling of guilt, the unfulfillment that sinners feel. Father, that You might help us to understand what the Bible says about sin and judgment, death and hell, salvation as well, heaven.
Father, help us to see all these things in truth, to understand them all in order that we might have the compassion of Christ. And help us to pray faithfully that You will lead us to those that we can reach with the saving gospel.
We acknowledge that we can do nothing in our strength to save ourselves, and we can do nothing in our strength to lead anyone else to You. So, we ask again for the Spirit to work and use us in this way, in Christ’s name, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.