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Message Notes: Lost Words of Jesus Week 1

Lost Words of Jesus

Week 1: Luke 15:1-10
Pastor Svea Merry                May 11-12, 2024

Good morning to you all! I’m Svea Merry, one of the pastors here, and I’m delighted to add my warm Mother’s Day greetings to all of you fellow mothers out there. God has surprised me with a life that has allowed me to experience motherhood as a biological mother, a single mother, a stepmother, an adoptive mother, a mother-in-law, and now a grandmother. And that probably explains why I am tired all the time.

For those of you who may not know my story, may I introduce my family to you and share a little about us? My husband Steve and I both lost our first spouses to cancer, leaving us each as single parents to some very young kids. But God was so kind to bring us together almost 18 years ago now and we were married right here at Autumn Ridge, blending our crazy big family with all these kiddos who were between the ages of 2 and 13 at the time.

Those early years of being a mom to so many, especially to so many littles, were filled with chaos and joy and laughter and many challenges. One of the not-insignificant challenges was just how overwhelming it was to go out with so many kids who were 5 and younger. We drew attention wherever we went. I once had the younger five with me at Target to do some much-needed grocery shopping and noticed a woman who seemed to glare at me every time we passed her in the aisles. I didn’t understand why she seemed to have such disdain for us, the kids were being pretty well-behaved, but finally, after the third or so time we passed her, I held her eye contact long enough that she seemed to feel free to say, “I think it’s totally inappropriate that you brought all your daycare kids out with you to do your errands. You should be reported.”

I was so stunned I couldn’t respond. She was openly judging me and not even correct in her assumptions about me or our family.

Grocery shopping alone with the five little ones was a tricky rodeo anyway, and the last thing I needed was muttering from rude ladies. That got under my skin a little, but stares from judgey people weren’t even the biggest challenge I felt in those days. An even bigger concern I had was that I might lose one of the kiddos if they wandered off. I mean, there were so many, and wrangling a crowd of preschoolers in public is somewhat like trying to teach synchronized swimming to cats.

Here’s a picture of our kiddos during our first family vacation. I was scared that we’d lose one of the kiddos in the crowd, so I dressed the younger ones all in matching green shirts to make it easier to count and keep track of them. I survived that trip by being constantly taking roll for the older twins and the 1-2-3-4-5 green shirts. I counted a lot in those early years!

We’re starting a new message series today called the Lost Words of Jesus because we’re going to study a series of parables that show us God’s heart for the lost and some of his purposes that might get lost in translation. And while I don’t think God is like a frazzled mother, the first parable we see today will show us that He too is in the habit of counting off His little ones.

Today, we’re going to study the first two stories in Luke chapter 15. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles or look it up on your phones. Luke is the 3rd book in the New Testament.

While you’re going there, let me tell you a little about Luke. He wrote one of the four gospels, the biographies of Jesus, but it’s a common misconception that he was one of the 12 disciples. He wasn’t. He was a Gentile physician who became an early follower of Jesus and out of the devotion of his faith, he wrote an amazing account of the life and teachings of Jesus in this book named after him, and he also wrote the book of Acts which records the history of the spread of Christianity immediately after Jesus. One of the other distinctions about Luke is that he recorded more of Jesus’s parables, a parable being a story that illustrates a point, than anyone else. So, if you want to find one of the parable stories in the Bible, your best bet is to look for it in Luke.

We’re going to see one of these such stories about a lost sheep found in Luke 15. But before we read it, I’d like to set the stage a bit. It opens with Jesus teaching an uncomfortably divided crowd.

There were two categories present here in this crowd, one category being the ultra-religious people, the Pharisees and teachers of the law - These were people who had dedicated their entire lives to devoutly following the law of God, both as recorded in the Old Testament and their expanded applications of how they believed it should be applied in their context. While their intent was good, they kinda became the holiness police. They were highly devout and focused on trying to live as perfectly as possible, but they were notoriously judgmental, deserving a “holier than thou” reputation and showing absolute disgust for anyone they believed inferior to them.

And the second category was the people they believed inferior to them - the tax collectors and sinners. This phrase, “tax collectors and sinners,” was a catch-all phrase that religious people used in a pejorative way to refer to people they looked down on and rejected. Tax collectors were particularly hated, not just because they collected money for the Roman government, but because they were Jews who conspired with Rome to tax their fellow Jews and padded their own pockets with a little extra off the top. If Rome taxed people at a 20% rate, they’d demand a payment of 25% and then keep the extra 5% for themselves. Tax collectors were viewed as corrupt traitors. The sinners category covered everyone else. Of course, we are all sinners, but the religious people viewed anyone whose lifestyle was unacceptable to them as people who were unworthy of God, even unworthy to be accepted in their community.

Can you put yourself in this scene as one of the sinners? You’ve heard that this man Jesus is changing people’s lives and giving them hope for a new life with God and you really want to hear him for yourself. He’s inviting people to follow him and his way, and people are being healed and set free from the things that trap them in sin. Jesus isn’t judgey like the Pharisees, instead, he’s real with people and ready to move towards the messes in their lives and respond with truth and grace.

 As one of these “sinners” you might have a reputation you’re not proud of, but Jesus seems to genuinely care about you. When he looks at you, he doesn’t define you by the mistakes you’ve made, but seems to see a work of art he wants to create in you as a child of God. You are eager to hear everything he has to say.

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are glaring at you with even more disgust than that woman glared at me in Target. They are making assumptions about you, some might be true, others probably not. And they are even disparaging Jesus just for associating with you.

Look at how this chapter starts:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

How much would that sting to be considered so awful that Jesus’s credibility was in question for welcoming your presence? In our culture, it’s a sign of friendship to invite someone to your home for a meal. But it was way stronger in theirs. In their context, sharing a meal together signified acceptance in the community. To these religious leaders, the idea that Jesus would choose close fellowship with people they rejected, even violating some of their holiness code standards by eating with people considered unclean, was too much. They’re just standing there as verse 2 says, muttering. Isn’t muttering a descriptive word?!

So how can Jesus speak truth into this divided crowd in a way that each category will receive without alienating the other? He’s walking a tightrope here. Rather than focus on one category over the other, Jesus does something brilliant. He launches into a series of three stories – two that we’ll see today and the third next week – that speaks simultaneously to what all of them most need to hear.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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.

Can you imagine how the sinners reacted as they heard Jesus tell this story? They probably recognized themselves as lost sheep. They knew they had strayed away from the way of God. They were probably fighting their own sense of shame and inadequacy and the religious leaders were only making them feel worse about themselves.

But look at how Jesus, the one who himself is sometimes referred to as the Good Shepherd, portrays the shepherd here. He is expressing the incredible value of each and every sheep, counting them off as attentively as a mother counting kids in green shirts. And when he discovered one was missing, everything stopped until that one lost sheep was found.

Parents, have you ever discovered one of your children was missing? Isn’t that what you did? Drop everything to find them? Can you imagine if one of my green-shirted little kiddos got lost on that family vacation and Steve and I went, “Eh, we got a few others.” No, that’s absurd. A parent’s world completely stops until a lost child is found, and that is what we depicted here by the shepherd and his lost sheep.

And look at what happens with the missing one is found:

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.’

The result of this story is great joy! The joy of relief not just for the shepherd, but an invitation to the whole community to celebrate together that the lost one was restored.

Despite all the ways I tried to avoid ever having a kid wander off, there were a couple of times that they were missing for a time – there was an incident at the mall, an even scarier one at the county fair. And once they were found, my relief was enormous. But, even though I was overjoyed to find my child, I’ll admit I didn’t call my neighbors over for a party because of it. But that’s what the shepherd did when he found the missing sheep. There is even more rejoicing in heaven over a single person finding faith than even what a parent feels at finding a missing kid. Let that sink in for a moment.

I want to talk for a moment to any of you who might feel like a lost sheep right now. Maybe you aren’t sure yet about Jesus, maybe you were a follower at some point in your life but you’ve wandered off and not sure where you are anymore. Maybe you still have your faith, but you’ve made some choices that have you feeling like a sheep caught in thistles and the harder you try to free yourself, the more tangled you get. Maybe it appears as if the rest of the flock has it all together and they’re grazing peacefully but gradually moving farther away from you and you feel left behind.

Take heart. What I hope you notice in this story is that the shepherd’s whole orientation towards you is love and care and rescue. True, getting compared to a sheep is not a flattering thing, either in our culture or theirs. Sheep are pretty dumb creatures. But the shepherd knows this. The shepherd knows that sheep, by nature, wander off sometimes and can get themselves trapped or put themselves in danger. He’s not judging the sheep for being a sheep. He places incredible value on each individual sheep—they are the sole purpose of his work—and he will do whatever it takes to bring them to safety, to salvation.

You are invaluable to the Good Shepherd! He wants to bring you back to where you can be safe and thrive in his way. Listen for him calling out to you! Look for him. He’s looking for you!


But maybe the sheep you identify with in this story isn’t the lost one, but one of the faithful 99. If you’ve been a Christian a long time, this very well might be you.

Does it bother you, even a little, that the shepherd would leave the 99 in favor of the 1? Does it seem uncaring to the faithful sheep to be ignored with all the attention on the unruly one? Well, you don’t need to think of it like that. People who know about shepherding in this era say that a flock of this size wouldn’t have been managed alone so the other 99 sheep left in the countryside would still have been watched over by another trusted person. The faithful sheep were still safe and cared for. They weren’t neglected or put in harm’s way because of the lost one.

But what do you feel when you get to the final verse that says,

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.

Am I the only monster who hasn’t at some point kinda felt like that’s kind of a bummer for all of us who have pursued a life of faithfulness? For all you who have sought to faithfully practice the way of Jesus when it was satisfying and when it was hard, is there a part of you that wants to mutter, “That’s not fair.” Well, fellow Pharisees, any time we catch ourselves muttering about Jesus treating someone else with the favor we think we deserve, some warning bells should go off for us. We might not be the good guys in this story if we’re thinking that way.

And if that zinged you a little, like it does me, we need to pay extra close attention to what Jesus is saying. He’s in no way diminishing his love for all the faithful, and I’m sure he’s pleased that they’re where they’re supposed to be. But the faithful being faithful isn’t really a reason for a celebration of rejoicing. Wouldn’t it be weird if a parent rejoiced when they walked into a room to see their kids exactly where they were expected to be? Something would be off if that was a relief to that degree.

To the 99 of you who are faithfully following the shepherd every day, excellent! Well done, good and faithful sheep. Feel glad that you’re safe and not feeling the angst of being lost. And then let’s all party together any time a lost brother or sister sheep is found.

But as much as we might see ourselves in this story either as a faithful sheep or a lost sheep, that wasn’t actually what Jesus calls us to in this story. Did you catch from Jesus who we, as his followers, are set up to identify with? The shepherd!

Notice in verse 4:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

As we seek to be people who are becoming like Jesus, seeking to do what he would do, we too should have the heart of a shepherd who is constantly watching out for any sheep lost from the flock. Each person should be held with so much value that we’re willing to drop anything to be like Jesus to that person.

We are never to be like the religious people who look down upon people or isolate ourselves from being in relationships with those not in our community. We are supposed to be looking around to see if there is someone missing from being with us. And we can never write anyone off by saying, “eh, that sheep probably deserves or wants to be where they are.” Instead, if we’re going to be like Jesus, we must recognize the incredible value in each and every individual.

What does that look like practically? There are many ways we can play this out in our life and community, but I’ll give you three things to consider as factors in reaching lost people. Three things lay the groundwork for bringing people to Jesus.

  • First, we have to resist isolating ourselves within our own comfortable Christian circles. We must not get so complacent among the 99 in a Christian bubble that we fail to see and connect with those who are outside of that. Jesus was constantly out among all kinds of people, especially those outside of the religious circles. He did not shy away from anyone. All people were worthy of his care, compassion and message.


  • Second, we should build relationships with people. Though some grumbled about Jesus having the wrong associations, Jesus was frequently building relationships with people unlike him. He knew that in that something might develop to influence a person who did not know God to consider him more seriously. And it worked. Earlier I mentioned how despised crooked tax collectors were in this culture. Well, we know of at least two tax collectors who were permanently transformed by Jesus because of the relationship Jesus initiated with them: Zacchaeus, known unfortunately to many of us as the wee little man in the Sycamore tree, and Matthew, who became one of the 12 disciples and author of the first Gospel.


  • Third, we should love people holistically. What I mean by this is that as we’re seeking to point people to Jesus, they might not be ready to consider faith in him before their pressing needs are addressed. Of course, we care ultimately that people find faith in Jesus, but we do well to care about the whole person in addition to their soul. This is why on a global scale we invest in missions like the Compassion Evangelical Hospital in West Africa that addresses people’s medical needs as they tell people about Jesus. On a local scale, it’s why we show our love for families who are food-insecure in our community through things like the 223 boxes of food that you have just supplied.

There are some who might say, “Good deeds are wonderful, but if our mission is all about making people fully devoted followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we focus our resources on telling people about him and not spending so many resources on these other things?”

To that I’d say, see what Scripture has to say about that:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Caring about the holistic needs of people is not only kind and compassionate, it is the way we reveal the health of our faith.

Are you really hearing the words of Jesus? At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus spoke quite pointedly and warned that becoming like him and doing as he did comes with some cost. He warned that to be a true disciple, a shepherd like him, requires being ready to put him ahead of all other allegiances. And he issued this challenge to the crowd, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

What comes immediately after that is where we started today, and look who it is in the crowd that was paying attention:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered.

I don’t know if you feel like hearing or muttering right now but let me remind you that there is a great reward of incredible joy for hearing and receiving Jesus’s story.

The message we are to hear is that those who want to be like Jesus will prioritize lovingly pursuing anyone who isn’t yet secure in their faith and that every time someone is brought back to faith in Jesus, amazing joy results. And the joy experienced here is amplified by the rejoicing happening in heaven.

Sometimes people ask me, “Do you really think God sees me?” This parable offers the incredible confirmation that not only does God see what we are doing here, when we play a role in bringing someone to faith in Jesus, we move Him and all the angels to rejoice over what they see. Have you ever taken in that thought that you can do something that makes God and His angels react with incredible joy?! What an amazing thought, right?!

Jesus had more he wanted us to hear about this, and so he retold his message in a second, somewhat shorter parable. Here it is in verses 8–10:

8Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

At first glance, this parable seems to make exactly the same point as the lost sheep story. Something valuable was lost. The person responsible for it made a big point to search for it, found it, and called for others to come and party with joy because the lost was found.

Truthfully, I’d long kinda thought this second parable was redundant. It didn’t seem to add anything to Jesus’s point. He already established that God cares deeply for each and every person and celebrates each one who is found and wants us to have the same disposition.

So why did he retell this same message? I doubt Jesus thought he didn’t communicate well enough the first time and needed a second shot at making his point. And I also don’t think our brilliant Jesus taught anything without a purpose, so there had to be significance to why he would illustrate this second parable featuring a woman who lost one of ten coins.

As I studied this passage and poured over commentaries seeking to find an answer to what his purpose was, I learned something that put this second parable in a new light than I’d seen before.

When a woman in this culture married, part of the traditional dowry that her family would send her into her marriage with was a headband-like veil with 10 silver coins stitched into it. This coined veil was a key feature of her bridal attire and remained with her as a significant gift from her family, both sentimental and valuable to the new couple. You can think of it in a somewhat parallel way to a bride today beginning her married life with a ring laden with diamonds.

It would be as upsetting for the woman in Jesus’s story to lose one of those coins as it is for a wife to lose her wedding ring. But notice that in this parable, the woman didn’t lose her entire coin set, just one of the 10 coins. Consider this: if one was lost, would there ever be a time when her eye wasn’t immediately drawn to the gap where the missing coin should be? Would she look at it the same way again?

And when she noticed a coin was missing, would she ever respond, “Eh, it’s fine. At least the other 9 are still there” and not care that it was missing? Of course not. How many of you ladies have ever lost a diamond out of your wedding ring? Did you search for it? Like this lady, did you sweep the floor looking for it? Wouldn’t you desperately want to find the missing diamond and get it put back because if you didn’t, every time you looked at your ring, all you’d see is the gaping hole where it was supposed to be?

This could be how Jesus is encouraging us to think about people who have wandered away from him or who haven’t yet come to him. There is a gaping hole in our community where they belong. We aren’t complete without them. If someone who is supposed to be in our set is missing, we shouldn’t have any peace about it until they are found.

If I may bring this to a personal level, this validates the ache we have over a family member or dear friend who isn’t following Jesus. Parents and grandparents, this validates the desperation we feel to know that our children are walking with the Lord because it is unthinkable to spend eternity without them.

These parables hit me where I’m very tender, and maybe they do you too. One of my fears has happened. One of my precious kiddos has wandered away from Jesus. I hurt over this. Steve and I pray nearly every single night that our kids will all either return to their faith or deepen the faith that they have. And I know many of you understand and share this ache.

What do we do with that? I wish I could fix it for all of us, but all I can do is be transparent with you. We know we can start by praying all the time that the Good Shepherd would bring our lost sheep back, but I wrestle, as I know many of you do, with what to do beyond that. I wrestle with how much to say, how often to bring up matters of faith, and when to invite them to church. I wrestle with whether or not to send them a link to a great message that I hope might connect with them. I don’t want to miss an opportunity, but neither do I want to push them and have them run farther away from faith. I try to live my life in such a way that Jesus shines through in my actions, hoping that the gospel will come through in a compelling way through how I live it out. But here’s the painful truth: this is even harder to do with family than non-family, isn’t it? My family has seen many instances of me when I wasn’t very Jesus-like and those moments feel hard to overcome.

But I think the applications that I mentioned earlier about reaching people who aren’t following Jesus still apply here with our loved ones too. We should still seek to resist isolating ourselves so much in our Christian world that we can’t relate to theirs. We should still do all we can to build our relationship with them. We should still seek to love them holistically, demonstrating that we care about all their needs as a beloved person, not only their soul.

We can also find peace as we rely on getting strength and wisdom from The Good Shepherd. He knows and sees our loved ones and loves them even more than we do. He is not powerless to bring things about in His way and He can guide us in what He might have us do.

And here’s a crucial and incredibly beautiful application from these two parables. If all of us are seeking to be like Jesus and share in his mission to draw all people to him, there are many others help in the search.  We can ask God to mobilize others to reach our loved one. The search doesn’t need to be exclusively yours. Maybe you could be the one who God uses to successfully recover the one that I so dearly love, and maybe He could use me to help find yours.

Jesus invites all of us to hear him speaking to us in these parables. He wants us to understand that he loves and values each and every one of us. As the Good Shepherd, he is constantly counting every one of his children, wanting all to be safely in his flock, noticing the missing immediately. If you came here today feeling like the sheep who has wandered off, he is calling for you. He isn’t looking at you like the judgey Pharisees, he is here to carry you back to where you are cared for and safe.

Or if what’s on your mind right now is the person that you long for to be found, take great encouragement in recognizing that these parables depict the incredible heart that God has to actively pursue people. And His incredible joy over each one found.

I’d like to give you a quiet moment to respond to whatever it is that God may be stirring in you and then in a minute, I’ll pray for all of us.