Summary: If your heart beats like the Father’s, you’ll love lost people too.
A several summers ago Laura and I witnessed every parent’s nightmare. As we soaked up the sun at Myrtle Beach, enjoying our annual vacation, watching Drake and Anna Gray, who were then still young enough to enjoy just playing in the sand, we noticed a man acting rather strangely. A barely disguised look of terror was on his face as he walked the beach, scanning back and forth between umbrellas and beach chairs. We could see him talking nervously to various groups along the beach. When he was near enough to speak with a lifeguard we could discern that he’d lost his little girl. The family thought she was with relatives, but she had vanished.
I felt his fear in my own heart as I imagine my little ones alone and at the mercy of strangers on the beach. I empathized with the man and started praying for the safe return of his daughter.
All of the lifeguards were notified by radio and they began sweeping the beach for the little girl. The father was by far the most energetic searcher. Within a few minutes he disappeared down the beach. Much to our relief, the little lost girl was found about 20 minutes later. She was several block down, playing and completely clueless at the danger she was in and the search in progress.
As I reflect on that event, I find that God is a lot like that father. He yearns for his estranged creatures to enter into His family. He longs for the wanderers to come home. Your heavenly Father’s heart beats for lost people. If your heart beats like the Father’s, you’ll love lost people too.
I want to share this message with you because I fear that we have become complacent about the lost. We can get so busy trying to make a living or doing good things or even growing a church that we forget the heart of the matter: lost people matter intensely to God. Jesus explicitly said this was His purpose.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 (NIV)
As I begin full time here as your pastor I want this to be one of the core values of Antioch Baptist Church. Lost people should be a priority to us because they’re a priority to God. If lost people do not matter to this church or individuals here, that means something is terribly wrong in our relationship to God. As you’ll see shortly, the person who has not a care for lost people probably does not know the heavenly Father. His heart beats for lost people. If your heart beats like the Father’s, you’ll love lost people too.
In His day Jesus earned a reputation as a “friend of sinners.” He spent time with them. He dined with them. He healed them. He encouraged them. Not just the small time sinner. Jesus hung out with the worst of the worst. Look how the religious folks reacted to his love for lost people and their love for Him:
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 (NIV)
Jesus had the audacity to violate Jewish customs to seek and save the lost. He did not require them to come to Him. He went to the places where they could be found – the market places, street corners, and their homes. He made Himself ritualistically unclean by being in the presence of an unrepentant sinner.
Let’s give the Pharisees and teachers of the religious law some credit. They did believe that God mercifully forgave and accepted the sinner who repents and returns to Him. But they couldn’t stomach going to them, the unwashed masses, and leading them to life. They like it safe and sanitary.
I guess they a lot like us. We rejoice if the former sinners get their act together and come to church. But how many of us are going to them, on their turf? How many of us are willing to pray and build relationships with lost people and love them and speak the truth and share our faith as we have the opportunity?
If we are not doing that as a church or as individuals we do not have God’s perspective on lost people. To illustrate just how God feels about lost people and the lengths to which He’s willing to go to reach them, Jesus told three parables to make it clear. The first one paints a picture of a shepherd with his sheep.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:3-7 (NIV)