“I Am Come To Seek And To Save…”
Woodlawn Baptist Church
July 17, 2005
D.L. Moody is quoted as having said,
“The thief had nails through both hands, so that he could not work; and a nail through each foot, so that he could not run errands for the Lord; he could not lift a hand or a foot toward his salvation, and yet Christ offered him the gift of God; and he took it. Christ threw him a passport, and took him into Paradise.”
In Luke 19:10, Jesus said,
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Today I want to speak to you again on the subject of the purpose of Christ’s coming. This is the fourth in a series of seven messages that will attempt to answer the question, Why did Jesus come to earth? He answered that question for both His critics and His followers in a variety of ways, but each is only a different angle from which to view His perfect work of redemption.
Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law. He said that He came to call sinners to repentance. He told His disciples that He came to send a sword among them, and today we read that He is come to seek and to save that which was lost. On the surface we really believe we understand what Jesus is saying, but our western religious culture causes us to lose something in the message. I believe that if we were really getting this, myself included, our lives would be radically altered, and I hope to demonstrate this to you by presenting you with three proofs from this one verse because Jesus wants to see a radical transformation take place in your lives. I’m talking to those of you who are saved and have been saved. But listen, if you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, God has a message for you as well.
Jesus Identified Himself with Nobodies
The Scriptures say in Luke 18 that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Verse 35 tells us that on His way be came near Jericho, where a blind man was sitting on the side of the road begging for money. There were in fact two blind men sitting there according to Matthew and Mark, but Luke identifies this one for us. As Jesus passed by, the crowds were causing such a ruckus that the blind man had to know what was going on. When he found out that Jesus was near he began to holler and shout at Jesus. “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
Verse 39 says that those who went before Jesus told the man to shut up. Those who went before Jesus weren’t His critics, they were His fans. They were men and women who were walking with Him, and this blind beggar of a man was bothering the crowds. Jesus didn’t see it that way though. He took the time to stop and heal the man.
In chapter 19, we learn about Zacchaeus.
“And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he south to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.”
Over and over this same complaint was made against Jesus. He eats with sinners. I do not think we can fully appreciate the scandal Jesus caused each time he chose to sit at the table with sinners. Imagine what might have taken place had a wealthy plantation owner in Georgia decided to throw a banquet, then invite negro cotton pickers to his banquet. Imagine that he had them come early so they could enjoy cocktails and conversation before the meal. That man would have felt the fury of the southern aristocracy and would have virtually ruined his reputation.
“In first-century Palestinian Judaism the class system was enforced rigorously. It was legally forbidden to mingle with sinners who were outside the law: table fellowship with beggars, tax collectors (traitors to the national cause because they were collecting taxes for Rome from their own people to get a kickback from the take) and prostitutes was a religious, social and cultural taboo.
“Sadly, the meaning of meal sharing is largely lost in the Christian community today. In the Near East, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, fraternity, and forgiveness: the shared table symbolizes a shared life. For an orthodox Jew to say, “I would like to have dinner with you,” is a metaphor implying “I would like to enter into friendship with you.” Even today an American Jew will share a donut and a cup of coffee with you, but to extend a dinner invitation is to say: “Come to my mikdash me-at, the miniature sanctuary of my dining room table where we will celebrate the most sacred and beautiful experience that life affords – friendship.’ That is what Zacchaeus heard when Jesus called him down from the sycamore tree, and that is why Jesus’ practice of table fellowship caused hostile comment from the outset of His ministry.”
Jesus identified Himself with nobodies over and over to the amazement and chagrin of the religious community. He ate with them. He slept on the side of the road with them. He touched those who were unclean: the lepers, the bleeders, the blind, the lame, the sick, the dead. He ministered to them, prayed with them, forgave them. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of His association with these people.
In the other passages we’ve considered, Jesus said, “I have come…” but here He says, “The Son of man is come…” That title: the Son of man in itself is a means of identifying with nobodies. He is not just the Son of God: the high and mighty, holy, lofty, righteous Son of God; He is also the Son of man, and as such is representative of every kind of man there ever has been or will be. He is the Son of man, a doubting man like Joseph, a whore like Rahab, a Moabite woman named Ruth. Does that mean one of His grandmothers wasn’t even a Jew? How dare He!
Jesus sees this man Zacchaeus, a man who was guilty of extorting money from his own people for personal gain. He was getting rich off of his brethren. He didn’t just climb that tree because he was little; he was forced to climb it because the townspeople weren’t going to let him by. They hated him! But when Jesus came by, He called him by name and asked to spend some time with him.
Now listen to me – Jesus came to reach these people, and He understood that in order to do that He was going to identify with them. Did it diminish His holiness? Did it tarnish His righteousness somehow? Of course not! In fact, it proved those things to be even greater than we realize.
Are we so willing to identify with nobodies? If Christ came for the express purpose of reaching those people, then He commissioned us to reach them in His absence, are we? Or have we become more like the Pharisees? Have you become so self-righteous that you cannot stand to be in the presence of “sinners?” I cannot answer that question for you – but I believe you know the answer.
Not only did Jesus identify Himself with nobodies…
Jesus Sought Perishing People
Here is a fascinating statement to me. “The Son of man is come to seek the lost.” To seek something means to hunt for it, to diligently search. The word lost is used many times in the New Testament, and is most often translated perished or destroyed. In other words, Jesus came to diligently look for those who were perishing. What is fascinating to me is this: who was not perishing?
The Bible says “there is none righteous, no not one.” “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “God is not willing that any should perish (be lost), but that all might come to repentance.” Every man or woman in the history of the world enters life in a fallen condition. Jesus came to seek the lost? That’s everybody: the publican, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, and the old blind man. But it’s also the priest, the synagogue leader, the man who never took a drink, the woman who never cursed, and every other fine, morally upright person who ever lived.
Jesus sought perishing people though. Maybe it makes more sense to say that Jesus came seeking people who would admit they were perishing. You see, in the sea of humanity we are all lost and drowning in the depths of our sin. We are all like the men and woman aboard the Titanic. We all feel so safe and smug on a ship of self-righteousness that cannot be sunk, but then we find ourselves in the water.
Imagine Jesus coming along, walking atop the waters of that sea in the midst of a people who are thrashing around for their lives. He holds his hand out to one, but she says, “I don’t need your help – I can swim to safety.” He moves to another who says, “Go help somebody who is drowning. I’m going to make it.” He walks a little farther. People are clinging to all sorts of things floating in the water hoping and praying they will make it. Any of you who have ever taken water safety courses know that the worst people to help in the water are those who are thrashing around – those who are fighting for their lives.
So Jesus continues. He moves past those people and reaches out to those who will admit that they are not strong enough, not able, who have nothing to cling to, and it is those whom He rescues. You see, all were perishing, but only a few would admit it.
Now you be honest. Who would you rather fill our pews with? Strong, capable, moral people who have it all together, or something less worthy? In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He opened with these words,
“Blessed are those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn over their spiritual poverty: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they who are meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
You know that is my paraphrase, but I hope you see the point. Jesus sought those kind of people. Are we sinner seekers, or are we status seekers?
Jesus identified Himself with nobodies, He sought perishing people, and…
Jesus Offered Grace to Undeserving Rabble
“For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Jesus Christ came to save the lost: the perishing.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…”
To whom? To those who do not and could not possibly deserve it. When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway--that is grace.
If you cannot come to admit to yourself that you are and always have been undeserving rabble in the eyes of God, then I doubt very seriously that you have ever been saved. Only those who can admit to God and to themselves that they are unworthy can receive the grace of God. God will not extend it to those who stand with open arms professing the merits of their own worth or righteousness. “I have always lived a good life.” Good compared to whom? To your drunken neighbor or to the sinless Son of God?
Jesus offered grace to people who did not deserve it. He forgave people who were unworthy. He loved people who were unlovable. That is grace. It is grace that tells a man who has wasted his life that he is accepted. It is grace that gives security to the insecure, assurance to the doubter, peace to the anxious, and hope for the dejected.
What secures this grace? We must simply receive it – admitting that there is nothing in us deserving of it. Admitting to God that I am unworthy because even on my best days I am nothing more than a sinner; no better than a prostitute or publican. It is when I was finally able to admit that to the Lord and ask Him to help me that grace abounded in my life.
I am amazed at the people to whom Jesus extended His grace. I am amazed even more by the fact that He has handed us the keys to His kingdom. It amazes me because our natural bent is to accept God’s grace and then take on such a lofty view of ourselves that we begin to withhold that same grace from others. We can withhold it by what we do, and we can withhold it by what we’re not willing to do. Jesus simply offered it with no regard for His reputation or social standing. He was not concerned with what others thought about Him. In fact, He suffered a terrible death on behalf of those people. Listen to the words of Philippians 2.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
“Let this mind be in you…” That is a tall order. Yes, as the people of God and as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ we must always dissociate ourselves from sin; but we can never have any excuse for keeping sinners at a distance from the grace of God which has been extended to us. What price will we pay for being self-righteously separated from failures, from irreligious and immoral people?
If you have never experienced the grace of God in your life, He offers it to you today. He may be impressing on you to humble yourself so that you can accept His grace. Like the rich young ruler, you may have lived a great life. You’ve never hurt anyone, haven’t broken the law, and don’t practice any gross acts of sin. But the Bible says that you still need to be saved. I mentioned Ephesians 2:8 a moment ago, but verse 9 goes on. Together they say,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
God offers His grace to you, but you’re going to have to quit clinging to your goodness or your morality in order to reach up and accept it. You’ve got to repent and trust Christ.
Many times we have such a deep sense of shame and guilt that we fear God could not accept us, but our passage today is a good example that He does. He wants to commune with you this morning. Jesus comes along and no matter what you’ve done or how bad it’s been, He calls you by name and wants to fellowship with you. He wants to communicate to you that He offers peace and restoration. You too have to accept it. You have to repent of your sin and trust Christ.
Perhaps today you have known Christ as your Savior for years, but you have developed such a lofty view of yourself that you have separated yourself from Him and from the people He wants you to reach. Have you developed a critical spirit of those who are not what you are? Have you developed a habit of making fun of those less fortunate? Are you guilty of condemning those whom you know Jesus would sit and dine with? If so, you need to repent this morning. You need to come and humble yourself before Him and remember that once upon a time you too felt a deep sense of need before Him, and as you repent of that you need to ask God to restore to you a heart for the nobodies of our world, for the unworthy rabble of our community.
A radical transformation? You’d better believe it? It’ll happen no other way. Remember what I told you last week – your greatest opposition is not going to come from anyone out there, but from your own heart. Don’t let it stand in the way of doing what God wants you to do today.