My mom tells the story of a time when I was lost as a child. Correction, I wasn’t lost, I knew exactly where I was. Back in the 80s you could go for a walk with other neighbor moms with nothing to fear, and this was one of those cases. I probably told this sweet lady that my mom knew of my little venture, so we took a stroll around the half-mile loop of our subdivision. As we climbed down the last hill near my house, my mom came bolting toward us in a panic. I hadn’t realized my true condition, a fact that became immediately evident.
Luke 15 contains three parables from Jesus, the last of which plays out more like a well-developed drama and is one of the most well-known amongst his teachings: “The Prodigal Son”. Many would argue for a more appropriate title of “The Faithful Father”, as it is his love (and thus the love of God) that is most fervently on display. In any case, the summary of this mini-drama is a son who was lost, and by all rights considered dead, but made a miraculous return to the overwhelming joy of his father. Setting up this parable were two other shorter parables – “The Lost Sheep” and “The Lost Coin” – each dealing with something lost having been found. But much like the Prodigal Son, we can miss out on the depth of these parables if we overlook one word – “joy”. In all three of these illustrations, Jesus drives home the point that there is pure joy in finding something lost. Sure that can include a sheep, a coin, or even a child, but ultimately it’s an illustration of God’s joy at finding people who have been lost from him.
This teaching didn’t come out of nowhere however. It was all spurred by yet another criticism leveled against Jesus by the righteous elite, who said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15.2) It was conduct unbecoming of a Rabbi, yet this was no ordinary Rabbi who welcomed them. He was the protagonist of his own stories. He was the very one searching for the one sheep, the one coin, the one son. And it was his joy to do so. That joy was so tangible that the ones for whom he was searching came flocking to him. Each found joy in the other. Perhaps this helps set the context of those who have been found as being the “bride of Christ.”
Getting to this point requires a couple of honest evaluations. First, those without Christ are indeed lost. It’s yet another old-fashioned term that is falling out of favor. Many who don’t believe prefer to live by the creed, “Not all those who wander are lost” (a quote by the way from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien), using the phrase to announce their self-sufficiency through independent though and action. Yet this isn’t the witness of the truth of scripture, or even of life itself. At some point, we must each come to the realization that we can’t make it out of this maze on our own, and we need someone to find us.
Secondly, those who know Christ must enjoy being with those who are lost. This can rub many Christians the wrong way. They would prefer to act more like the scribes and Pharisees, avoiding any meaningful contact with unbelievers so as to maintain a level of religious decorum. Yet this wasn’t Jesus. Like the shepherd who sweated through hill and valley, like the woman who spent all night exhausted and dirty, and like the father who pulled up his robe in a full sprint, Jesus was eager to roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work of loving the lost. It was his joy, because one day these would become his bride.
If you can admit to being lost, then there is true joy in being found. If you have been found, then there is true joy in knowing the lost. At the end of days, the wedding feast of Christ will be filled with only one kind of people: those who once were lost but then were found.
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