By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
Have you ever been lost in the woods or perhaps on a trip? Have you ever lost something, and, no matter how hard you looked, you could not find it again? Just the word “lost” gives a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.
The biblical use of the word lost is much deeper than a misplaced item or a momentary confusion in location. Being spiritually lost is a condition of every human being as he chooses his own way instead of God’s way.
Jesus gives three parables in Luke 15 to help us understand what it means to be lost. The first tells of a sheep which became lost from the fold, lost by its nature to wander away without realizing the danger it was in. The second story shares the frantic search for a lost coin, perhaps lost through carelessness. The third story is the heart of our lesson as a son becomes lost through his willful choice to live life his way.
The story opens with a man and his two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance before his father’s death. The selfish, self-seeking attitude of lostness can be expressed, “Give me.” I want what I want when I want it. The boy then goes far away from the father and wastes everything he has. He becomes lost the moment he chooses to go away from the father, and his wasteful choices and their consequences are simply a part of the lost condition.
Life catches up with the young man after he has wasted his inheritance, and a famine comes to the land. He finds himself with no food, no friends, and no family. The desperation of lostness can be expressed, “Help me.” He hires himself as a servant to a farmer and feeds pigs, looking at their food with hungry eyes, but finds no relief or help. What he meant to be a thrilling life had crashed around him, and he is hopeless, helpless and alone in a filthy mess. That is the picture of being spiritually lost, doing what you choose, only to realize you are spiritually bankrupt and in a terrible mess.
The young man begins to think of his father. His heart turns from arrogant pride and self-sufficiency to a humble remembrance of his father’s love and mercy. He makes a deliberate choice to change the direction of his life and return to the father. The Bible calls this repentance, turning from self to God. The son’s repentant plea of lostness can be expressed in his repentance to the father as he humbles himself and says, “Make me a servant.” The son placed his total dependence in the grace, mercy and forgiveness of the father.
As the young man returns to his father, an amazing chain of events occurs. The father sees him, has compassion on him, runs to meet him, embraces him and kisses the son who is still covered in the stench and mess of the pig pen. That is a beautiful picture of God, our Heavenly Father who loves us and embraces us just as we are. As the son begins to confess and repent, the father interrupts and reinstates him as a son with the robe of honor, the ring of sonship, the sandals of dignity, and the celebration of joy. There is no “wait and see” attitude on the part of the father. His son who was lost is found!
This parable is instructive in understanding the lostness of a person in sin. However, it is infinitely greater in helping us understand the marvelous grace and unmerited forgiveness of our Heavenly Father toward all who repent and trust in Jesus Christ. Before the repentant prodigal can “clean up,” God is holding him and rejoicing that a sinner has come home.