Tell Me the Story: The Message   Luke 15:1-32

This is the fourth message in the series we have entitled, Tell Me the Story. So far we have looked at Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Man and Jesus and His Ministry. Today we try to discover the heart of the message. What is the greatest message when it comes to talking about Jesus Christ?

I think to find this message we have to look at a series of stories Jesus told and they are found in Luke 15. 

How many of you chronically lose or misplace things? You never notice something is lost until you need it and it’s always in the last place you look.

Like many of you today, God has suffered a loss. Some of you have lost friends. Some of you have lost siblings. Some of you have lost parents. Some of you have lost a spouse. And God knows how that feels for you. Way back in the beginning, he created people to enjoy the best of everything environmentally, socially, relationally, economically, and spiritually, but when God’s word was challenged, when his authority was questioned, and when his love and care was disbelieved, the relationship he enjoyed with his creation was fractured, resulting in their being separated from him. While God readily forgave them, he also didn’t shield them from the consequences of their choices. Everyone suffered, including God.

I believe that every person has a need for God, so early on in life people begin searching for things to fill this God-shaped void in their life. At the same time God is searching for people who will let him fill that void. So, while we are searching for things to fill our God-shaped void, God is searching for the opportunity to show us how well he fits into that void. This morning, some of you are well aware that you are searching and that God is searching for you, it’s hard to believe and trust that this void in your life—of which you are well aware—can only be filled by the one who created you.

Some of you are searching for something, but you don’t know what it is you’re looking for. You know how you’d like it to make you feel, but you don’t quite know what you’re looking for or where to find it. Some try fill the void through money and things you can buy, and really just end up spending money they really don’t have on things they really don’t need or even want, in order to attract and impress people they really don’t even like.

Some attempt to fill the void with unhealthy, co-dependant, and ultimately destructive relationships. But you know it’s not working because you’re still not finding that peace or security you can only get from God. Some try to fill the void with positions of power, authority and influence over people, thinking that controlling people is what we’re looking for. Or maybe its drugs or alcohol. You’re not an addict, but you’re convinced that you just need it to get through the day. And “a little more” and “just this once” and “just one more time” have all added up, and that which you claimed you could control now controls you—and maybe you really are addicted.

Or maybe you’ve just given up on life and have resolved yourself to live a life of withdrawal and isolation. You’re just biding your time floating in an ocean of loneliness, wondering if someone will ever throw you a life-line.

When God took on the form of a man in Jesus Christ—that’s the Christmas story—and then died on the cross and rose from the dead for our sin, both mine and yours—that’s the Easter story—that lifeline was thrown and now the opportunity take hold and allow him to pull us toward him is completely available.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus told stories or parables, but he always told stories to make a vital, eternal point. The three stories we’re going to look at this morning have two things in common:

A. The character that represents God the Father is actively pursuing something that represents you and me.
B. The things being searched for have incredible value to the one doing the searching.

“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!  So Jesus told them this story:” Luke 15:1-3a

What you first see here is that Jesus accepted people and met them where they were. He didn’t pre-qualify anyone before he would speak with them. It’s the same attitude we hope to project here in our church. So here is Jesus with tax gatherers and sinners. People hated tax-gatherers. They collected the taxes and their compensation was any amount of money they could extort from innocent people in the process. They had betrayed their Jewish heritage and exchanged it for the protection, and endorsement of the Roman Empire. The rest of the crowd are simply called “sinners.”

These were people who had rejected God or had made choices that resulted in being ostracized from the established church and organized religion in their world. The ones who are upset with Jesus are the Pharisees and the Scribes. This is the pious religious community who held people up to an impossible standard to which they themselves could not even attain.

The theology of the many of the Pharisees and the Scribes taught that God is infinitely righteous and holy, therefore, God likes those who are righteous and holy and doesn’t like or want to be with those who are not. Yet the attitude Jesus demonstrates is just the opposite. These tax-gatherers and sinners were of infinite value to God and he knew it. In fact, he said at one point that these were exactly the types of people whom he came to reach. Which is why Jesus said about himself,

“It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

What we’re going to see today is that these people that were called “sinners” are valuable to God. They’re valuable to him like one coin to a poor old woman who can’t afford to spend a single cent unwisely. They’re valuable to him like one sheep to a poor shepherd who only has a small flock with which to make his living. They’re valuable to him like a foolish son who rejects his loving father, breaking his heart. Yet that father still sees that one burning ember of hope that his son will one day return to him.

Story One: The Lost Sheep

Jesus is searching for people who have been deceived     Luke 15:4-7

In the culture of first-century Palestine, livestock was wealth. The more livestock you owned, the richer you were. In this culture, a hundred sheep was not a lot. This shepherd wasn’t broke, but he also wasn’t rich. One sheep was an important asset. Jesus often compared people to sheep. Hopefully not because he thinks we’re stupid and smelly. But because people often act like sheep. The Bible says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray…”

People do many of the things that sheep do.

For instance, sheep are not good at knowing exactly where they need to go and what they need to do. If a sheep gets lost, for whatever reason, they can’t find their way home by themselves. In fact, if a herd of sheep are left in a field, they will stay in that field and graze there until it is bare and then they will die of starvation. They won’t go looking for a new field.

Sheep need a shepherd and this shepherd knows this so he goes looking for his lost sheep. I don’t think the sheep in this story is representing someone who doesn’t know God. Jesus called believers “sheep.” And this sheep is already part of the shepherd’s flock. This sheep is like some of you who may have wandered away from God. The sheep didn’t get lost on purpose. He didn’t do it out of rebellion or maliciousness toward the shepherd. But the sheep has wandered away because he was distracted or lured away and the shepherd is searching.

Being deceived is not something to which we readily admit. Even though we all get deceived from time to time, no one wants to admit they were taken in and believed something which wasn’t true. Maybe at some point in your life, you suffered because you believed something that wasn’t true, or you believed someone who wasn’t telling the truth. You were hurt in a relationship by someone who wasn’t what they purported to be. You were hurt financially by someone who swindled or cheated you. A boss says one thing and does another. Someone you love and trust betrays their words with their actions.

It happens all the time, and God’s word says that every one of us has been taken and in lied to by the powers of darkness. In fact, the Bible says the enemy of our souls is “…a liar and the father of lies.”

We have all, at one time or another, believed his lies. Because an earthly father abused you, you’ve believed that a heavenly father can’t be trusted. Because you’ve never felt valued by anyone, you believe you have no value to God. We’ve believed that temporary escapes into drug or alcohol-induced states of oblivion are better than facing reality.

We’ve believed that if we can look good, drive an expensive car, get a prestigious title, or have a respectable address, we’ll feel fulfilled. Some of us have believed the lie that we can’t believe in a God who doesn’t answer all our questions. We’ve all been deceived; some of us have even deceived ourselves. The God of truth, the Good Shepherd, is searching for people whose susceptibility and vulnerability to deception has led them away from the one who would protect them with a cloak of truth. Maybe he’s searching for you.

Story Two: The Lost Silver

Jesus is searching for people who don’t know they are lost     Luke 15:8-10

Have you ever noticed the intensity with which you will search for an inanimate object when you need it? Your wallet, your purse, your keys, a document, an address, a phone number, a pair of socks or earrings. When you need it, you need it now and if time is running out, finding that thing is the highest priority in your life at that moment. But what you probably won’t do is to scold your keys or purse or your socks when you find them.

I don’t believe that this parable is intended to be a strict analogy of human character, but I do believe it illustrates a point. That point is that there are people who don’t realize they’re lost. They don’t understand that they were created by a loving God. They don’t realize that when this temporary life ends, an eternal life begins.

Are you one of these people? Maybe you weren’t raised in religious or Christian home. Maybe you believe your purpose in life is to be a good person, to be financially successful and take care of your family. Whether or not there was a God or a heaven or a hell or whether or not the Bible is true has never been an issue. You may be like this coin. You aren’t trying to be lost, but you are lost. You may not know you are lost, but you are lost and if you are sitting in church today or listening to this message God is finding you.

Story Three: The Lost Son

Jesus is searching for people who need to return to Him       Luke 15:11-32

Remember, Jesus’ reason for telling these stories was to explain to the religious leaders that God loves and searches for lost and sinful people. Jesus loved sinners, but he never loved or excused their sin.

No Jewish boy, even in modern-day Israel, would ever ask their father for their inheritance in advance because it was the same as saying, “I wish you were dead” or “I love your money more than I love you.” He had become so self-centered, impatient and estranged from his father that he could not only make this request, but when his heartbroken father actually gave him the money, he took it and left.

This isn’t just the carelessness of youth. This is a hard heart that needs to be broken and crushed before it can be softened again. But it can be. When the son leaves, he wastes his father’s money on everything that confronts and defies his family. Everything his father has worked for, the family business, the family values, the family heritage is being who willfully and knowingly walked on by this young son.

When this boy came back the bible says his father “smothered him with kisses.” Jesus never wastes words. When He speaks there is a reason and a purpose. It was not lost on the Pharisee that this boy was unclean in every way. He came straight from the hog pen which is offensive enough to the Jews, but he was smelly and dirty and his father loved him as he was.

Remember why Jesus was telling these stories:

“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!  So Jesus told them this story:” Luke 15:1-3a

Story Four: The Lost Sibling  

The older son represents the Pharisees and the Scribes and today, believers who have allowed their spiritual experience and longevity to harden their hearts toward those who have allowed sin to consume them. The older son is bitter. When he sees the party starting up, he runs to the house and throws a fit. “He doesn’t deserve your love! He doesn’t deserve your forgiveness! I’ve been here! I stayed with you! I have served you faithfully and you never threw a party for me! You never celebrated my presence! This isn’t fair!”

But think about it. What if God was fair? What if God made everyone of us pay for every sin we’ve ever committed? But he doesn’t because God is not like people. He isn’t like you and me. We want revenge and God wants a relationship. We make excuses and God pays the price. We hold others to higher standards than those to which we hold ourselves, and our sinless God forgives our sin so that we can have fellowship with him.

God is searching for those who have been deceived. God is searching for those who don’t know they’re lost. God is searching for those who know they’re lost and need to admit it. These stories probably land on every one of us with a different spin.

There are believers—followers of Christ—who need to repent of our prejudices against non-believers. Just as the Pharisees were filled with pride and prejudiced against the “sinners” with whom Christ spent time, there are people who believe in and follow Christ who live in a spiritual bubble, looking down at those who don’t believe like us.

How do you react when you see someone who looks like the walking dead coming toward you in the mall or on a sidewalk? What do you feel? Do you assume the best or do you assume the worst? How do you feel about those people at work or in your apartment complex or neighborhood whose morals fall well beneath yours on the scale? Do you dislike their actions only, or do your find yourself disliking them as well? Does God feel like you do? What if God tied our actions to our value as closely as we do for others? Some of us need to repent of this prejudice.

We must also ask ourselves, “Am I an object of God’s search? Have I been floating in the ocean? Have I become an expert at throwing finite things into that infinite, God-shaped void in my soul?” Is there a constant flow of money, relationships, sex, alcohol, drugs, positions, titles, isolations and futile attempts at fulfillment disappearing before your eyes as you stand on the edge of that void watching these things vanish into the darkness?

A life-line is has been thrown your way. God became a man, he lived a sinless life, yet he paid the price for our sin so that we would not have to work our way to God, to earn his love and or win his approval because he offers these things as a gift. You can’t earn God’s love. You can’t win his acceptance. You cannot perform for his approval. Because they can be earned or won. They have been offered to you as a gift.

The Bible says clearly that…

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

And because of God’s infinite love for you, he wants to change your life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reveals that

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Do you know Christ today and are you walking with Him in the relationship that He longs to have with you?

Wouldn’t you like to be found today? No matter how lost you may be you can’t hide from God. You may not be trying to hide from God but you feel like you are a long ways from being found. The truth is, the fact that you are sitting here today listening to these words is almost a miracle given what your life has been like yet here you are. You have been drawn to this place because you sense something that touches you deep in your soul.

Josh Hamilton video:

After more than two years away from the game Josh returned to the minor leagues clean and sober on June 2, 2006.

In 2008 He was named and All-Star and led the American League in runs batted in.

He was lost but he was found.

Think about these stories with me for a moment because there is a thread that ties them all together.

The end result in each one was joy. 

“And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Luke 15:5-7 NLT

“And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Luke 15:9-10

“We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15: 32

Ultimately every one in this room wants to know joy.  You can know joy today. You can know Christ today. I invite you to pick up your cross and follow Him. I invite you to seek God with all your heart and let him find you.

Do you remember when you were little and played hide and seek? Do you ever remember of finally just revealing where you were hiding when know one could find you. You stepped out of the shadows and let yourself be found. Step up and step out today and let yourself be found because there is someone seeking you.