Growing up I can’t remember it being an issue for my parents when it came to finding parking in our neighborhood of Canton. However, at some point in the mid-2000s, as Canton’s popularity grew and multiple residents renting out row homes became the norm, parking began to become scarcer the later in the day it got. To this day, it’s one of the few drawbacks to living in the area. Often times if I get home any time after 7pm, it’s difficult to find parking within a 4-5 block radius. This often leads to a frantic search the next morning, doing my best to try to remember the side street where I parked just a few hours earlier. On more than one occasion there’s the panic that hits me where I think that I know where I left my car, only for it not to be there when upon arrival. At this point I do my best to retrace my steps, and do my best to not allow my imagination to run wild with just where my vehicle could’ve wandered off to. At that point, nothing else matters in my life. Everything else in my life takes a backseat to finding my car. Maybe you can identify with this. Perhaps it’s not your car, but your house keys, the TV remote, your phone, perhaps even a child lost in a large crowd. We’ve all searched out that item of value that we’ve misplaced with urgency and with determination to find it no matter the cost.
Pastor Chris kicked off the month of October with his brand new series entitled “For the One.” The title itself is pulled directly from Matthew 18 where Jesus tells a parable, or an allegorical tale about a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep, in search of a single lost sheep. Once the shepherd locates the lost sheep, he returns to the ninety-nine with the one lost sheep and throws a big party with his friends to celebrate. The title of this series, accompanied by the first few weeks of PC’s sermons had me pondering just what this phrase means. Specifically, what does it mean that God is “for the one”, and in turn, what does that mean for you and for me?
To start, let’s look at the reference from which this phrase is lifted. It’s important that we who identify as Christians, constantly refer back to the Bible and seek truth and discernment from it. We at Epic believe that the Bible is the living, breathing Word of God, and therefore that God communicates to us, His followers, through scripture.
This particular parable is found twice in the Bible. It’s found first in the book of Matthew chapter 18
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13
The same account is again found in Luke 15 (Lk 15:1-7). This time Luke, the author of this gospel, recounts that Jesus pairs it with two additional tales. One of the stories details a woman that has lost a coin in her house, and the other tells of a son who returns home from a lifestyle of waste and wild-living. The second is one of the most famous and well-known parables Jesus ever told, “The Prodigal Son.” It is through this pairing that the enlightenment of this phrase “for the one” begins to shine. There are themes in all three stories told by Jesus that are intentionally woven throughout each story. The “one” refers to anyone that is lost. Whether it’s a sheep, a coin or a son, God’s heart is for those that are lost and have not been located. His heart is for those that do not yet know Jesus and recognize the dire need for them to have Him as their Lord and Savior. Let’s examine the similarities in each parable that reveal that God’s heart is for the One.
The One Belongs To Him
In each parable in Luke 15, there is an item of value that is lost or missing. In the first two parables, the item of value seems to have either wandered off unknowingly (sheep) or have been sort of lost in the shuffle (coin). In these parables it seems obvious to one listening that the missing item of value would be sought out by the one to whom it belonged. However in the prodigal son’s story, the item of value is defiant in his wandering. His wandering is a choice. In the text, the son says to his father “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” (Lk 15:12) The son acted brazenly and in arrogance. He made the choice to leave, giving the father every right to disown his son, moving forward. The text goes on to say that the son then went and squandered his inheritance on “wild living” (Lk 15:13). The son eventually comes to his senses, and decides to return home to his father. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” (Lk 15:21) However, the father never ceases to see him as anything but his child. He totally ignores the son’s rehearsed speech in which he suggests being treated like a servant. This shows us that no matter how we treat God, no matter what mistakes we make, no matter what ways we sin against Him, His heart is the same for us. God is eager to reconcile our identity as sons and daughters of His. Each lost one belongs to him, and His desire is to be reunited with us. Our actions, no matter how bad we believe they are, cannot separate us from His love. (Rom 8:39) Christ views each one of us as prodigals. In the book of Isaiah it says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:6). His point being that His love for us is not based on what we perceive to be the severity of our or someone else’s sins. He loves us the same and is in constant pursuit of all of us. There are not different levels of sinful behavior. We’re all lost, but that doesn’t prevent Jesus from continuing to pursue us, relentlessly. To search for us. To seek us out. To run towards us while we ourselves are still “a long way off.” It’s not because of anything we have done, but because He calls us His children.
He Seeks the One
Another common theme in this chapter is the search for the lost or missing item in each story. If we look at the first two parables in particular, we see that both the shepherd and the woman are both actively searching for their lost item of value. They aren’t sitting idly by hoping that it the object will return to them. The character representing God in each story takes action. The shepherd is searching the countryside in hopes of finding his lost sheep. The woman is tearing her house apart trying to locate her missing coin. They are in search of the item that is missing and then meet the item where it is. As we just discussed, in the third parable, Jesus says that the father “ran to his son” while he was a long way off. Imagine the father standing on a porch, day and night, surveying the skyline, hoping his son would return to him. One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him. Christ paints a picture in each story that the character that represents God is actively looking for the lost. God’s love for his lost children is revealed in this short line that can so easily be overlooked. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son...” (Lk 15:19) The Father runs to meet his son, while he’s still far away from him. The compassion in the father’s heart, compels him to meet his son while he’s still far away from him. God’s heart for the lost one is exactly the same. Jesus wasn’t waiting around hoping that the lost would find their way back to Him. He ran to us while we were far away in the distance. In fact the apostle Paul says in the book of Romans that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) This shows that Jesus took action while we are still lost. Before we even thought about returning home, Christ was preparing to make things right. While we are still in the dark and have no interest in Him, He is still seeking us.
One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him.
He Celebrates the Return of the One
This last item is one of the things we regularly communicate here at Epic as an important part of God’s love for the one. In each parable, when the lost item is found or returned home, the character representing God doesn’t stop at finding the item. The one searching is so overjoyed at the return of their lost item, that they tell all of their friends to come and join them in a lavish celebration. Jesus knew His audience and knew exactly how to speak to them in ways that would impact them the most. Luke 15 begins saying that Jesus was meeting with a group of people that made the Pharisees, the religious elite of that day, comment disapprovingly. Jesus made it a point to tell these so-called “God experts”, that God not only welcomes those that have been lost back into His house, but He also throws a huge party in their honor to let everyone know how elated He is that they’ve returned. This is an important reminder for the religious elite that may fall into the trap of believing that they are more valuable or important than those that are lost. Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees and recognized their pious attitudes. It’s also a reminder to those that were just lost and have returned home, that they matter. It’s a cause for celebration for them to have returned to Him that has been seeking them. Now that they are no longer lost, they have brought the creator of heaven and earth joy. The 19th century theologian C.H. Spurgeon puts it this way:
If such there is; and there are many who think that they belong to this class; they bring no joy to the Great Shepherd. But you who have had to mourn over your lost estate set the bells of heaven ringing with a new melody when you are recovered by the great Redeemer! (a)
Insert club horn sound here, because it’s party time in heaven. One of the things I find most unique and also greatly appreciate about our culture here at Epic is the emphasis Pastor Chris puts on the celebration when the one that was once lost is now found. Pastor Spurgeon puts it a little more eloquently than I did, but his point is the same. He reminds us that the Creator of the world, the One who is for the one, the Alpha and Omega, is so overjoyed when the one that was lost is found. His joy causes an eruption of joy in heaven. When we were lost and then found, we brought God great, contagious joy. God says it’s a big deal when someone that was lost has been found. So what are we waiting for? Who’s ready to party?
God Is For The One, So What?
So now that we know a little more about the significance of God being “for the one”, how should that affect us? How do those of us here at Epic take these core values that Jesus shares and apply them to our own lives? I like how Pastor and theologian John Piper put it in one of his sermons on this very chapter of Luke 15:
If you ask me: “Is the point of preaching on these parables that you want us to be like Jesus — to receive sinners and eat with them — to find lost sheep and coins and sons and bring them home to the Father?” I would say, my first aim is that you would see Jesus. Jesus did not end these parables with “go and do likewise.” And Luke did not end this chapter with: “Go and imitate Jesus.” The first point is: look at him. Look at him. Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch him. Listen to him. Stand in awe of him. Let him overwhelm you with the way he is. That’s my first aim. If I could succeed at that, we would be so permeated with the beauty of this risky, painful, sacrificial, loving way of life, we could not but pursue it. (b)
Pastor Piper reminds us to first look upon and think about just how amazing Jesus is. Reflect on His character and His love. Seek to know Him better. Read this chapter. SOAP this chapter. Let it permeate your consciousness. If you do this, you won’t be able to help but take Christ’s actions and begin to pursue similar actions.
After we have our focus, remember that each day we encounter the lost in our own lives. Whether it’s our friends, family and neighbors, co-workers, there is no shortage of those that are in our lives that need to be rescued. Remember it’s not our job to save them, but it is absolutely our responsibility to point them to the One that can. There’s a mindset that we as followers of Christ often fall into, that the job of speaking to or reaching the lost belongs to someone else. We believe that responsibility belongs to someone more qualified or perhaps with a title in front of their name. We tend to think that in order to do so you must be someone with a degree in theology or someone who’s decided to live their life as a missionary. In actuality, that’s not at all what Christ Himself has tasked us, as His followers, to do. Later on in the book of Matthew chapter 28, in what is known as “The Great Commission”, Jesus tasks any who choose to follow Him with the responsibility for the lost ones. We are each given the unique ability to touch lives that those in church leadership may never meet. So it is our responsibility to seek out those that are lost and do what we can to return them to the One to whom they belong. Invite them to church. Pray for them. Love them in both words and in deeds. Don’t just sit around waiting for the cavalry to arrive, be the cavalry!
1. (a) Spurgeon, C. (2018). Twelve sermons on the prodigal son and other texts in Luke XV. .... [online] Quod.lib.umich.edu. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AJH1367.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].
2. (b) Piper, J. (1995). Coming to Yourself and Coming to the Father. [online] Desiring God. Available at: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/coming-to-yourself-and-coming-to-the-father [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].
a sinner saved by grace, was born and raised, third generation in the neighborhood of Canton, and still resides there with his wife Chelsea and their 3 dogs.