If. A Dangerous Word.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:13a (Holman) “And if he finds it, . . .”
When Jesus seeks a lost sheep, success is not a foregone conclusion. This “if” can be a dangerous word. Not all the lost become found. Failure is possible. The Holy Spirit’s wooing search can be thwarted. We sinners have the dread freedom to isolate ourselves from the Father, to condemn ourselves.
A heart’s door always opens from the inside. Jesus never breaks in. Many paintings portray Christ knocking at the door. Sometimes hinges are brown with rust from being unused so long; weeds are often closing in on the door; almost always the door has no outside handle. Artists usually picture Jesus standing at the door in the night, unheeded, like a hostile stranger.
As far as I know, no painter has ever portrayed Jesus leaving the door. He will not be put away in this life. As long as we live, He continues to knock.
While we have breath, Jesus constantly hovers around our hearts, like a light seeking its way into a dark cavern, and like water wanting in an empty cup. He is always there seeking an entrance, and asking, where is a crevice to let Me in? “If” is the haunting word. We can shroud our heart in a darkness so thick, and a cup so shut, that the light and water of His love cannot penetrate it.
How can we be sure Jesus is always pursuing us, always seeking us? The first and best answer is, the Bible tells us so. A secondary reason is our unrest, our never satisfied yearnings, our dashed hopes, our dissatisfaction with this world. C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in the world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The tragedy is, what we were made for is what we are lost from. We lost our reason for being. A straying one is lost in its search for God’s purpose, but not lost from God’s love for it. God always knows exactly where the wanderer is. He is not “satisfied till He has found you in your finding Him” (Maclaren).
God wants this from a stray. The lost have been found if they give love to God in return for His love to them. We are God’s by creation, but He wants us to voluntarily choose to be His by love. We are not found until we love God.
His love is rightly described as the relentless hound of Heaven. Nothing can distract Him from the trail. He knows full well how bad our sins are, but is undeterred anyway. Our earthbound minds may understand His loving sinners who repent, the 99 as it were. But what totally baffles us is His pursuit of the wayward, the ones with backs toward Him, running away at breakneck speed.
Though many are running into the deepest darkest swamp of sin, making themselves the off-scourings of society, Jesus pursues them. Not because they deserve it, but because they need it.
What does this astounding truth mean for you and me? One, we should be reveling in His love for us every nanosecond of life. Join me in my quest to enjoy His love more. Two, we are to follow His example. Seek the wanderers. The worst. The best. Lost is lost, whether done in anger or carelessness.
Many go astray belligerently; many others roam haphazardly, thinking they see greener pastures afar off. They meander like a sheep going from one clump of grass to another, headed nowhere in particular, just aimlessly moving through fields, no direction in life, no aim, no goal. They simply go where the grass seems greenest, and walking feels least resistant. By degrees they wander farther and farther away. They finally have no idea on how to get back. In fact, the resulting lostness can be so profound that the lost one has no clue it is lost.
This is where you and I enter the picture. If a lost stray is not told where it is, where it is going, and where the fold is, it will always go wrong. There is no self-correct button in this parade. It is impossible to figure out God’s way without God’s explanation, which we alone carry. We are His ambassadors.
Left to their own wandering, people inevitably and tragically roam farther and farther away from the right and pure. The distance between wanderers and God, if left to the strays, always widens. If God weren’t pursuing the lost through us, the chasm would be insurmountable. Therefore, we must seek them.
Matt. 18:13b “I assure you: He rejoices over that sheep more than over the 99 that did not go astray.”
Jesus aimed this in-your-face retort at the Twelve. Their arguing over who was the greatest obviously proved they would have viewed themselves as members of the 99. Their chief interest was to be the top sheep, not to find the one stray. As long as the disciples thought this way, they would never care for the one who was lost, or do anything to help find it. The same holds true for us.
Don’t misunderstand. Jesus loves the 99 as much as He does the one. They have food, shelter, protection, and security in the fold. Their safety does not sound an alarm which, when corrected, leads to a sudden explosion of joy.
Money missing from our wallet prompts more response from us than money in it. Its lostness is what causes it to demand more of our attention.
It is normal to express heightened joy when an unexpected good happens. It’s a surprise!! The party is in the discovery, not in one being more valuable than the 99. Each of the 99 is precious to Jesus, and was at sometime the one.
Sadly, often a member of the safe 99 becomes the lost one, not in the sense of losing their salvation, but in the sense of straying far afield from the center of God’s will. The Holy Spirit’s love reaches to not only unbelievers, but also backsliders, believers who are living contrary to their profession.
One of our own can stray. We are all potential wanderers. “Prone to wander. Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” It could be us next time. I would want someone to come find me. I will do the same for another.
Whether from the red light district, or a respected church leader, if we don’t seek them and find them, they will become more hardened and more lost. “My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Matt 18:14 “In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven
that one of these little ones perish.”
If the wanderer does not return, the loser is God. This parable of the lost sheep unveiled for us God’s innermost heart. It revealed what matters most to God. No human could have ever dared to dream or imagine a love like this. Only the religion of the cross has ever been caring or daring enough to show more concern about the wanderer than about the secure.
God wants no one to perish. He chases strays to the end. May He cause us, His found ones, to do the same. The missionary C. T. Studd wrote,
Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a Rescue shop within a yard of Hell.