A Lost Child

Bible Book: Luke  15 : 3-32
Subject: God's Love; Soul Winning; Witnessing

One Sunday evening after church, I stopped by a pizza parlor on my way home. While waiting for my pizza, I stepped next door to the grocery store to pick up a couple of Cokes and some milk for Monday breakfast. As I placed the milk carton in my basket, my eye was drawn to the pictures of two children on the side of the carton. I paid for my few items and walked back into the pizza parlor. My steaming hot pizzas had been packaged to go. To my surprise, the coverings for the pizzas were adorned with the pictures of yet two more children. I began to read, "Susie, eleven years old, blonde hair, last seen March 3." They were lost children.

Involuntarily and compulsively, I reached down and hugged my youngest daughter, Katie, to my side. The horror of a lost child flooded through my mind. What must these parents feel? Shock, panic, fear, gut-wrenching pain. My mind began to ponder the numerous horrendous circumstances that one could imagine for a lost little girl.

Have you ever lost one of your children, even for a split second? You are shopping in a crowded mall. Your little boy slips his hand out of yours and runs to the toy store window. The crowd suddenly swells and in that moment you lose sight of your son. He's gone. Lost! Do you remember that   empty, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? Adrenaline began to flow; you scurried into action, frantically searching to find your lost child. Can you remember the relief, the sheer joy, when you found him? Your plans to scold him for leaving your side were washed away with the joyous tears that unashamedly flowed.

If we feel so intensely when one of our children is lost only for a moment, how must our Heavenly Father feel when He sees one of His children facing the prospect of being lost for eternity? There is a parable in Luke's Gospel that gives us a picture of the Father's passion for the restoration of His lost son. We often refer to it as the parable of the prodigal son. It is, in fact, the third of three parables given by our Lord Jesus to quiet the grumbling of the religious leaders of His day. Let's look at these three parables in Luke 15.

Note the context of Luke 15. Let me first set the stage for the telling of these parables. Notice in verse 1 that we have a typical scene in the life of Jesus. The tax-gatherers and the sinners had drawn near to listen to the teaching of Jesus. In Jesus they had found a man who stood powerfully and consistently against sin, but who loved and embraced the sinner. He did not treat them as outcasts, but as lost children of the Father.

Jesus' ability to reach out to sinful humanity is a moving and compelling picture. But it was not pleasing to everyone. In fact, Jesus' ministry to sinners seemed to be a thorn in the side of the religious establishment of Jesus' day. The Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble that Jesus would receive and socialize with sinners.

Notice in Luke 15 that there are tree parables-the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. All three deal with lost items. Each has a common theme-the sheer unbridled joy when the lost item is found. But each parable has a slightly different and unique emphasis.

I. The Lost Sheep (Verses 3-7)

We have memorialized the parable of the lost sheep in the song, "The Ninety and Nine." I have always thought that the missing sheep in this story was the proverbial black sheep of the flock. That evening, as the shepherd took stock of his sheep, calling each by name as it entered the sheepfold, he probably was not overly surprised to find that one was missing. More than likely, it had been missing before. Perhaps frequently.

The shepherd's day had already been a long one, beginning before sunrise. He was tired and hungry, ready to retire for the night. The thought of going back out into the dark and dangerous wilderness was not a joyous one. It would have been easy to convince oneself that the trip would be a waste of time. By this time, the helpless lost sheep had probably perished at the hands of a hungry lion. That small sheep could have been the appetizer, making the shepherd a leading candidate for the main course.

To search for the lost sheep was troublesome, dangerous, and possibly even futile. Yet the shepherd didn't hesitate. He left the 99 and began his search for the single missing sheep. The unique emphasis of this parable is that no cost is too great. The shepherd did not consider the trouble, the personal sacrifice, or the risk. He searched until he found his missing sheep, and then he tenderly carried it back.

Several years ago, I flew down to Midland, Texas, to speak at an evangelism conference. I had never been to Midland, but was excited to go, because I had closely followed the story of little Jessica. You remember Jessica. She was the little girl who fell into an abandoned well shaft. I was glued to the television news reports as they kept the nation updated on the condition of this little girl. I was moved as I watched an entire community drawn together by the plight of a helpless, frightened child. Finally, the decision was made that the best way to rescue the little girl was to drill an intersecting shaft alongside the abandoned shaft that had become Jessica's prison.

As I watched that newscast, I wondered to myself what would have been Jessica's plight if the operation had been left up to the local church. We might have heard people argue about the relative merits of the various options for rescuing the little girl. Some may have debated the wisdom of sinking an intersecting shaft. "It may not work." "I don't think we should do anything until we have the perfect tool."

Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? "I don't like the canned approach to evangelism. I'm waiting till I find a better tool." While we wait and debate, lost children are dying, separated from their Heavenly Father.

Let me suggest one possible final scene: The decision has been made that the only way to rescue the child is to sink the intersecting shaft, yet they hesitate because the cost is so great. They interview the parents of little Jessica and question whether the rescue should continue. The father then calmly declares that they have been weighing the decision carefully and have decided to call off the rescue because of the cost. The family has been wanting for years to add on a room to their house to make it more comfortable for their growing family. They have also determined to re-carpet the house to make it more comfortable for the rest of the family. They can't afford to both redo the house and rescue Jessica, and the family has voted to finish the house and abandon the rescue of Jessica.

We would have been incensed, unbelieving. Yet many churches today have abandoned the rescue of lost children and people because it seems too expensive and requires too much exertion. Instead they have decided to make the house more comfortable for the family that remains.

II. The Lost Coin (Verses 8-10)

Our second parable involves a woman who has lost a coin. The coin represents a tenth of all she has. Thus, it has great value. In light of its value, she begins a thorough search, sweeping out the entire house. The unique emphasis of this parable is the thoroughness of the search based on the value of the missing object.

Have you ever lost something that you highly valued? I have participated in many searches in our house that resulted in the moving of furniture, the emptying of drawers, the checking of pockets, and, finally, the thrashing through trash cans.

"Maybe I threw the treasured item out with the trash." You've been there. If the item has sufficient value, one is reluctant to ever call off the search until every conceivable corner has been searched.

A few years ago, Paula and I, with our three girls, returned to England for a visit. My oldest daughter, Kristina, had been born while we were studying in Cambridge. We wanted our girls to see the place that was so special to us and to meet our many English friends.

Kristina had received her mom's permission to wear one of Paula's rings while on vacation. The ring was not an expensive one, but it was precious. I had given the ring to Paula on our first anniversary. It was a small gold ring with a few diamond chips surrounding a tiny emerald. If you want to know how tiny, just remember that I was entering seminary when I purchased it.

On the flight over, I noticed that Kristina was fidgeting with the ring, switching it from one finger to the next. When I cautioned her about losing the ring, she explained that the ring was a little small for her ring finger, but a little large for her pinky finger. She was thus trying to discover where it would fit best. She finally settled on wearing it loosely on her pinky. We arrived in London early the next morning   and were met by our English friends. We had planned a busy first day, with a stop at Windsor Castle and a visit to one of the beautiful botanical gardens outside of London. Our day was to culminate with a nice meal with our friends and an early evening to bed. This was designed to combat travel fatigue and the time change.

After all this and a warm shower, I was relaxed and ready for a refreshing night's sleep. As I approached the bed, I noticed a note affixed to my wife's pillow. I read: "Dear Mom, I lost your ring. Please don't be too mad." I handed the note to my wife and started to crawl into bed.

"What are you doing?" she inquired. "Going to bed," I replied, with a hint of sarcasm. "Aren't you going to look for my ring?" "You must be kidding! I've been up for nearly two days. We've been all over London, and you want me to look for your ring." Needless to say, I crawled out of my comfortable bed and began my search. We looked all over the house; we scoured the grounds around the house; we trekked back out to the tennis court where the kids had played earlier in the afternoon; but no ring   was to be found.

The thoroughness of the search was in direct correlation to the preciousness of the object. That ring held a special meaning to us that made it worth far more than the value of the gold and the chips of diamond. How thorough has been your search for those persons who are missing from your Sunday School class or church? How precious are they to you? To their Heavenly Father?

III. The Lost Son (Verses 11-32)

The last of our three parables is obviously the central parable. You know the story well. A man had two sons. The younger son decides that life at home is too confining. He takes his portion of the inheritance and strikes out on his own. The son was foolish, impetuous, and yes, sinful. The "far country" represents his attempt to escape every vestige of his father's influence.

Yet in the far country, he discovered a bondage far worse and confining than the walls of his home. He lost his treasure. He sank so low in his sin that he found himself slopping hogs. Once he hit bottom, he determined to look up. The aroma of the hog lot of sin can bring us to our senses. He made up his mind to swallow his pride and return to his father.

As the scene shifts, we find his father peering at the distant horizon, desperately scanning the landscape for any sign of his missing son. He had never ceased to love his son. Seeing his son at a far distance, the father began to run toward him with outstretched arms. He embraced his son and began to shower him with kisses. He ordered the slaves to bring his son the best robe, a ring for his hand, and sandals for his feet. The party-the celebration for the return of his lost son-was about to commence.

Heartwarming story, isn't it? An incredible picture of a father's compassion and willingness to forgive. But we're not actually to the focal point of the story. I told you we should take the three parables together. Have you noticed the progression? In the first story, the ration was one in 100, in the  second, it was one in 10, while in the final story, it was one in two. All things being equal, the more scarce something is, the greater its value. But here the impact is compounded because each item is actually more precious than the former one. The coin has greater value than the sheep, but we would all agree that a son is of infinitely greater value than a sheep or a coin.

When we compare the stories of the missing items, we notice that something is missing in this final story. Where is the rescuer? No one searched for the lost boy! If a shepherd would risk his life for a sheep, and a woman would diligently search for a lost coin, surely someone should have looked for the missing boy. If the father in this story represents the heavenly Father, He cannot physically seek His lost children. But there is someone in the story who could have gone. There is someone who should have gone.

It was the older brother. Now before you get angry with the older brother, you should notice that he's not a bad sort of guy. He had stayed home, faithfully managed the farm, and scrupulously obeyed his father. Notice that he can boast that he had served his father and had never neglected a command (v. 29). Perhaps had he been alive today, he would have served as a deacon, taught Sunday School and tithed with absolute regularity. But he sinned, because he failed to seek his missing brother.

Look for a moment at the tragic results of failing to look for our missing brothers and sisters.

The elder brother missed the party (verses 25-28)

The joyous celebration in the father's house and the pouting older brother create quite a contrast. He feels no joy at the return his younger brother. In fact, he refuses to call him his brother, choosing instead to refer to him as his father's son. Many of God's "frozen-chose" have lost the joy of their Christian experience because they have neglected the plight of the missing children.

The elder brother failed to receive his father's fullness (verses 29-31)

The elder brother whines about his father's generosity toward the younger brother, complaining that his dad had not given him even one little calf. The father answered, "My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours" (Luke 15:31, NASB). What have you failed to receive at your Father's magnanimous hand because you have neglected the plight of your brother?

He failed to truly understand his father

He had lived at home all these years, but he had no comprehension of his father's love for his missing child. He had no awareness of his father's abundance. The father had plenty for all the prodigals and elder brothers who would respond to his love. Many Christians miss out on the celebration and their Father's abundance because they have failed to understand their Father's desire that not one should perish. He cared so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die on a cruel stick of torture that we should not perish but have everlasting life.


Recently I flew to Alaska to participate in the state Evangelism conference. In one of my messages, I told the story of the three whales that were entrapped in an icy potential tomb. One of the pastors later told me that that national spectacle had taken place near his church.

You may recall the event, which received national attention. Three whales had become imprisoned in the ice and were unable to swim to warmer water. We watched as the smaller one gave up the struggle and risked life and limb to free the trapped whales. Locals stood on the edge of the icy precipice with huge chain saws, trying to cut a path to safety. Finally a Soviet icebreaker steamed to the rescue.

That same year, dead and dying dolphins began to wash up on the shores of Virginia and the Carolinas. I remember it well because I was pastoring in Norfolk, Va. People from around the United States converged on Virginia Beach. Some sported "Save the Dolphins" T-shirts. Fund-raising efforts began. The press showed pictures of business executives walking up and down the beach during their lunch breaks. They were seeking for dead or dying dolphins, hoping that someone could discover the cause of death and stop the needless loss.

I appreciate the sacrifice and diligence of those who are moved to seek the dying whales and dolphins. We ought to be concerned by environmental issues. But where is our concern for lost people, dying from the lethal effects of sin? Why aren't we willing to comb our neighborhoods looking for our lost brothers and sisters in Christ? What have you done to find God's lost people? What will you commit to do right now?