Join the Search Party
Good morning! A few weeks ago, one of my daughters brushed her hand up against her ear and discovered that she was missing an earring. Now, this wasn’t just any earring, this was a Christmas present from her Grandpa. So, we all started the process of looking for the earring. She thought back and realized that earlier that day she had been hit in the face with a basketball during her game and thought she could have lost it then. Careful searching of every floor in the house yielded nothing. Eventually, because it was just a “thing” we simply moved to the “pray and keep an eye out” stage. That night she burst into our bedroom, “I FOUND IT!” It was on the bed she was sleeping in.
That sense of panic when we realize something is missing, or not where we put it, is something that I think we all feel. For me, I normally feel it around tax time, looking for a 1099 or W-2 that I know I put in a certain place. Yet, that sense of panic, fear, and passionate pursuit, goes into overdrive when what is missing is not a thing, but a person. Parent, grandparents, we know this feeling well don’t we? If we are one of the lucky ones we have only experienced it for short periods of time when our kids duck down another aisle or behind a rack of clothing. Our scariest lost kid moment was one I pretty much missed. I was there, but I missed it. In July of 2006, Sarah, Hannah, and I went on a mission trip to White Plains, NY to help a church plant get started. We were there over the Fourth of July and part of our trip was to serve on behalf of this church plant at a giant Independence Day fireworks show at a local park. This park was built in the shadow of Kensico Dam (picture) and thousands of people had shown up to watch fireworks be shot off the top of the dam. We were there to hand out free water and balloon animals and then help clean up at the end of the event. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing when in rapid succession I heard that Hannah was missing, and then found. However, Sarah still remembers vividly. Hannah was playing with the kids on the play structure at the park and then she decided to go to the next play structure over. It was not that far away, but in the swirling of hundreds of kids a search was launched to find her, and find me so I could help. Sarah was frantically looking everywhere, and as more members of our team heard they jumped in on the search. What seemed like hours later, but in reality was only a few minutes later, Hannah was found. I wish I could say that Hannah was the only kid we lost that day, but by the end of the night, another kid was missing and again, we all joined the search party, although this time I held Hannah tight against my chest as we searched and then found this other little girl.
I think most of us have experienced that cocktail of emotions that swells up inside when we lose something. I know that some of you here have been involved in searching for missing persons. We see the faces of the missing when we leave Wal-mart or scroll through our Facebook feeds.
It is this set of emotions that Jesus evokes in Luke 15. Please turn there with me now. There are Bibles in the pews in front of you if you don’t have one with you. Luke is about three quarters of way through the Bible after Matthew and Mark, if you get to John or Acts turn back to the left. We’ll start at verse 1.
All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
I always find it interesting, and a little scary, when I see the Pharisees and scribes come into the story of Jesus. You see, they knew their scripture. They were the people that you wouldn’t want to play a game of Torah trivia against. They had distilled the Word of God down to a series of dos and don’ts. Kind of reminds me of some people I know.
On the other side we have the tax collectors and sinners. While we still do not like paying taxes, tax collectors do not carry the same stigma for us as they did for Jesus’ audience. They were traitors to the Jewish people, taxing their own people to fund an occupying government. On top of that they overtaxed to line their own pockets. They were the “worst sinners” of that culture. When you think of the worst sinners, who do you think of? Write it down in your notes. Now, picture them in your mind’s eye as we continue to read, starting in verse 3.
So he told them this parable: “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance. “Or what woman who has ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
Please do not get caught up in the numbers or details of the story. Jesus gave these illustrations not so that they could be dissected (why 100 sheep but only 10 coins?) but rather to prove a very simple yet powerful point.
God is seeking sinners and overwhelming joy follows their repentance.
Luke tells us in chapter 19 verse 10 that
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
This is God’s mission, His plan, to seek out and save the lost, from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Both of these stories present an obstacle to finding the lost item. For the shepherd, it is the 99 sheep left in the field. For the woman, it is losing the coin in a small, likely windowless, dirt floored, house that is dark. Yet these obstacles are overcome to find the lost sheep and the lost coin. Then we see this reaction that is incredible, and from my perspective, a bit over the top. They call their friends and neighbors to rejoice with them! We have no idea how much the coin would have been worth, and one sheep out of a hundred is not much, but there is an overwhelming joy over the smallest of found things. Then Jesus ties this celebration to heaven, where the angels rejoice over one repentant sinner.
God is seeking sinners and overwhelming joy follows their repentance.
So this begs the question, are you and I willing to join in the mission? You see Jesus did not simply come to earth to seek out a few people, make sure they were saved, and then return to heaven. Instead he came to live, to teach, to show those first disciples how to seek out the lost. Then he was here to suffer and die the most horrific death humanity has invented to pay the price for our sins so that our repentance could lead to eternal life. And then, after he rose from the dead he did something incredible, he passed the mission of seeking and saving the lost on to us. Yes, I know that God is the one who does the saving, but we must seek, and we must share the good news so that they have opportunity to repent. So, will you join God’s search party? Will you ask God to help you see the world as He sees it? Go back to you notes for a moment and read who you wrote down as the biggest sinners in our society. Are you willing to join the search party for them? Does the thought of one of them coming to Christ cause joy to well up inside of you? God is seeking sinners and He wants you to join Him! What a humbling opportunity! The Creator of the universe wants you and me to join His search party! The angels rejoice with joy when a sinner repents, will you join them? Are you willing to abandon the other 99 sheep in your life to have the opportunity to share that joy with others? God is seeking sinners because heaven and hell are real places and everyday people are dying and will spend eternity in one or the other. Our Father does not want any to spend eternity apart from Him.
Over the past few weeks you have seen lone sheep throughout the campus. They are in classrooms, there is one in this room, and even one on the information table outside. Some of you have been asking about them. They will still be around for the next few weeks as reminders that we need to be about God’s mission of seeking out the lost sheep. What would Cypress be like if we all took action as part of God’s search party? Can you imagine worshipping God with the greatest sinner standing next to you? I can see a church full of the undesirables of society standing side by side with those who would have looked down on them but instead they are standing, cheering, shouting, and clapping because they just saw another sinner baptized. If we took our part in God’s search party seriously we would never have to drain the baptistry! Our growth tracks (new members’ classes) would be full every week. Can you imagine what it would be like to show up at church expecting that someone had repented and decided to follow Jesus that week because EVERY week that was happening? I know we are in California. I know that it is hard soil to plow. I know that as a culture we worship ourselves and creation rather than the creator. But our God, the one who is seeking sinners, is greater than our culture!
In your bulletin today there is a little business card. Please pull it out for a minute. You will see on the front that there is a line for your name and then under that it says “Member of God’s Search Party.” I want you to write your name on that card. I find that business cards are a unique thing. If you have them, it shows that you are serious about your job. It shows that you are entrusted with representing your company. At the bottom of that card I want you to write “God is seeking sinners and overwhelming joy follows their repentance.” Now, I want you to place that card somewhere that you will see it daily. Place it on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the dash of your car, or in your wallet. If you are a Christ follower, then God has added you to his search party, and our mission is to continue seeking sinners until every man, woman, boy, and girl in Tulare, in California, and in the world has repented and is following Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Some of you who are here today are not part of that search party because you have not yet repented of your sins. Jesus loves you so very much. You are not here by accident today. We have been praying for you. Scripture tells us that the penalty of sin is death and that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” So Jesus paid that penalty for me and for you. He allowed himself to be executed on a Roman cross so that we could spend eternity with him. So I urge you, today, if Jesus is not the boss of your life, if you have not said to God, I know that I have sinned, that I have broken your laws, and I want to turn away from that way of life, to turn away from doing things my way, and instead I want to follow you. If you have not asked God to forgive you of those sins, now, in this moment, you have the opportunity to do so. With the music playing in the background we are going to have a moment of silence for you to take care of business with God. In the quiet of your heart just tell God what you are thinking. Tell him you know that you are a sinner. If you want to list some of your sins go for it. Ask God to forgive you and let Him know that you want to turn from those sins and follow Him.
For those of us already in God’s Search Party, I know that God has placed something on your heart that you need to deal with. Maybe it is someone that you need to share Jesus with. Maybe you need to commit to getting out of the reserves and going on active duty as part of the search party. Whatever it is, take this time to do business with your Lord.
Please take out your connection card and turn it to the back. Take a moment to check off the appropriate box that reflects your decisions that you made today. In a moment please drop that in the offering plate or hand it to me on your way out so that we can be praying for you as you embark on your next steps. Remember, God is seeking sinners and overwhelming joy follows their repentance, and we get to join Him. Let’s pray.