To Seek and Save the Lost

Luke 19:10

A few years ago, there was a movement that swept across Christianity with the identifying question, “What Would Jesus Do?” And it was a good question. It had us asking how Jesus might act in any particular situation that we might find ourselves in, and asking the question gives us some guidance as to how we might conduct ourselves in a way that would imitate him. Always a good thing.

But I would like to take that question and sharpen our focus for a few weeks and ask, not what “would” Jesus do, but what “did” Jesus do? And when we look at what Jesus did while on this earth, in this human body, we find something very powerful.

I want us to begin by looking at Jesus through his own eyes. In John 3:16, in perhaps the most familiar verse in all the Bible, we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Why did Jesus come? To save the world.

When the angel came to announce to Joseph that Mary would give birth to the Son of God, he said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

He didn’t come with a bucket list of things he wanted to accomplish before he died, he came with one all-consuming purpose – to save the world. Everything he did was focused through that one purpose, every miracle, every healing, every sermon preached, every person he spoke to. He didn’t come to make us better people, he didn’t come to reform religion or eradicate every social ill, he came to save us from our sin so that we could live with him for all eternity.

When Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner, he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Listen to Paul’s reflection on the purpose for the coming of the Savior, Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Tim. 1:15).

But the reality is – lost people don’t think they’re lost. They don’t go around thinking about their spiritual condition – and when they do, they are pretty satisfied with where they are. I have a brother – he and his wife and son are a wonderful family – sweet, lovely people. When we talk of spiritual things, he talks of them being spiritual people. But they don’t have a relationship with Jesus, they don’t belong to a family of believers. They think there is a God, but certainly not one that they obey as Lord of their lives. If I were to ask him, “Do you think of yourself as lost?” he wouldn’t hesitate to tell me no.

Let’s be truthful – we don’t like this talk about the lost needing saving. We think we’re fine as we are – maybe we could use a little sanding on the rough spots, a little touch up paint where our flaws are showing through. But overall, we’re better than most and God is lucky to have us. And as long as we’re telling the truth – we don’t like the idea of telling other people they need saving – that they can’t save themselves and are lost without a Savior. It sounds so negative, so judgmental.

Now, we know there are lost people in this world, out there somewhere. But we don’t run in that crowd and most people we know are pretty good people.

But who is lost? And why should we care?

Before we start throwing the term around, let’s define “lost” the way the Bible defines lost.

“Lost” describes someone who does not know God and does not have a relationship with him. It has nothing to do with how good a person is – how kind and gentle and spiritual they are. Lost literally means lost – they have wandered away from God, and Satan is the ruling power in their lives. That doesn’t mean they are evil, but something else is the lord of their lives.

Listen to Paul’s very precise description of what it means to be lost:
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12)

And here is his description of the eternal consequence of what it means to be lost:
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power… (2 Thess. 1:7-9)

Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like God takes “lostness” seriously. And part of the problem is – we don’t.

Jesus said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

We’re not convinced that what Jesus said is true, that people will die in their sins with out him. If we were, you couldn’t keep us from talking to people about Jesus, who came to save us from our sins. Having received the precious gift of salvation through God’s grace, we ignore God’s imperative to share that salvation with others.

We don’t have a burden for the lost. And until we believe that people are lost without Jesus as their Savior, we aren’t going to be compelled to do anything about it.

How do you look at people? What set of lenses do you wear when you see the people around you? When we look at people, we see their physical exterior – they are short, tall, skinny, fat, black, white, brown, old, young, rich, poor. And we assume that what can be seen is all that a person is. But that’s not true, is it?

What you see on the outside isn’t nearly all there is. In fact, Paul talked about the earthly tents we live in, and how one day those tents will be destroyed. But then, real life begins. And he writes in 2 Cor. 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

And then, in the next verse, knowing that each person must face Christ in judgment, he writes, Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. A few verses later, he continues, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:11-16)

Did you hear what Paul was saying? We don’t see people through the lens of this worldly existence. We see them the way God sees them, as lost sinners in need of a Savior – just like we were. And since we know that this outer shell, this earthly tent isn’t all there is – that we all will face judgment and live somewhere for all eternity – we cannot help but tell others about the saving grace of God.

It’s a lot easier to look at people superficially and forget that each person has a soul that will live eternally. It’s a lot easier to ignore the fact that people are lost without Jesus and will live eternally separate from Christ …without hope and without God, if we don’t share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.

But Jesus had a burden for the lost, and so should we.

If you still have your Bible open to 2 Cor. 5, look at vs. 18: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

You have been reconciled to God – in other words, you have been save by God’s grace. And now, having been saved, God makes you his ambassador to go out and share this salvation with others. Did you hear the words that Paul used as he was describing this burden for the lost? Persuade, compel, convince, appeal, implore. When is the last time you implored anyone to do anything? But Paul says this is just that important, that we will do whatever it takes to bring the lost to Jesus.

But notice that our message isn’t one of judgment and condemnation. We don’t go around telling people that they are going to hell if they don’t believe what we believe.

Paul talked about the graciousness with which we should speak with unbelievers: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5-6)

To the Philippian Christians he said, Be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Phil. 2:15-16)

Whenever you talk with someone, see it as an opportunity to be God’s ambassador. Conduct yourself with humility, grace, hopefulness – you are sharing the word of life.

I remember vividly my introduction to Jesus, and my conviction that I was lost and in need of a Savior. It was a Sunday afternoon, September 8, 1974. I was a 16 year old boy, and had been coming to church for about a month. I was there with some of the teenagers from church and they asked me if I would like to learn what the Bible says about baptism. I told them, I had been baptized when I was a baby, but sure, why not. Nobody needed to twist my arm, nobody put any pressure on me to believe anything. All we did was start reading the scriptures – something I had never done before. (And I think you will find, that while everybody owns a Bible, and some even go to church somewhere, most people have never read the Bible. They don’t know what it says.)

So we began to read the scriptures about salvation and baptism, and after about 20 minutes of reading scriptures – I said, “I’m lost and I need to be baptized.” And that night I was. That was 38 years ago. And since then, I’ve shared the same scriptures with a lot of folks who didn’t know they were lost, and most came to the same conclusion I did, and I didn’t have to drag anyone to the baptistry. All I had to do was let God’s word say what they needed to hear.

The grace of God is so wonderful. I don’t know how we can keep it to ourselves and not share it with others. It’s not my job to save others, it’s my job to tell them about what a wonderful Savior we have and let him do the rest.

Let’s let Paul’s letter to Titus finish our lesson this morning and hear how God brings people to himself:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

Isn’t that what you would want for everyone to experience just as you have?

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” That is why he came and that should be why we exist.