Seriously, How Lost Could We Really Be? (Luke 15:1-7; Isaiah 53:6)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 15:1–15:7, Isaiah 53:6–53:6
Lost and Found: Savoring So Great a Salvation
Seriously, How Lost Could We Really Be?
Luke 15:1-7, Isaiah 53:6
(One Lord: What is Man?)
February 7th, 2016
I. A Biblical Equation
Consider the following equation: Value x Cost x Distance = Depth.
That's not an equation you will find in a geometry, economics, or physics textbook. But you will find it in that book most of you are holding in your hands this morning. It is a biblical equation. And it is related to what the Bible calls salvation. We could call it a 'salvation equation'.
Let's unpack this equation this morning as we turn over to Luke 15. This month I'd like to camp out with you in the parabolic pasture and wilderness described in the opening seven verses of this chapter. As we will see, in Luke 15:1-7, Jesus is describing for us a beautiful picture of rescue, of deliverance, of what Hebrews 2:3 calls “so great a salvation”.
And as we will see, this parable will serve as a launchpad of sorts. Using the image of the shepherd and sheep, a very common metaphor in the Bible, I want to use this picture to journey into the rest of God's word, expanding on the themes we discover here in this parable.
II. The Passage: "The One that Is Lost " (15:1-7)
So let's look together at Luke 15:1-7, and hear the parable I believe God wants us to meditate on this morning. Luke writes:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [i.e. Jesus].  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  So he told them this parable:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Now, if worked on it together for the next 10-15 minutes, I know we could come up with 30-40 really good questions about this passage. And over the course of the coming weeks, we will hopefully cover a lot of what I think would be answers to those questions.
But this morning, I want us to focus in on just one aspect of this parable. I want us to think very, very carefully about what Jesus means here when he uses the word “lost”.
How can we discover that meaning? By allowing the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures. I believe there are three aspects to the 'lost-ness' described by this parable: first, the Bible teaches we are 'holy lost,' second, that we are “wholly lost”, and third, that we are “hopelessly lost”. Let's look together and see how the immediate context of these verses, and the rest of the Bible flesh out these three points.
1. 'Holy Lost'
I think the context makes it clear that when Jesus talks about a sheep being “lost”, He is referring to those who are, what we might call, 'holy lost'; that is, they are lost in regard to holiness. In fact, it is precisely this idea that we find in one of the most famous 'sheep' verses in all the Bible, Isaiah 53:6...
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way...And we know that verse is talking about sin, because the second half of the verse states that explicitly...we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [on the Messiah] the iniquity of us all. The final verse of Psalm 119, verse 176 uses this same imagery: I have gone astray like a lost sheep...[then pleading with God] seek your servant...
And the context in Luke 15 confirms this. Look again at the circumstances that prompted this parable. The religious elite were scandalized by the fact that Jesus was spending 'quality time' with, as verse 1 tells us, “tax collectors and sinners”. Clearly, these are the kind of people Jesus depicts in the parable as the “lost” sheep.
Yes, they were unfairly marginalized by the Jewish leaders, when they should have been sought out. That's precisely Jesus' point. But their mistreatment by the scribes and Pharisees didn't change the fact that these people had gone astray, each to his own way. And that meant off God's path of holiness. Of course, the leaders were just as guilty. They, like all of us, are sinners. What did Isaiah tell us? “Every one” of us had turned away.
And so, like those “tax collectors and sinners” to whom Jesus reached out, all of us are that sheep who has wandered away from God and His commands. We have set our “own way” over God's way. And that's why we are lost in regard to holiness...'holy lost'.
2. Wholly Lost
But the Bible tells us even more about this condition of spiritual and moral 'lost-ness'. It also tells us that every part of us is lost; that not one part of us in unaffected by the spiritual cancer of sin. The whole of me is sick. So we could rightly say, we are wholly lost. How does Scripture describe this? Let me give you a couple of verses for each of these points.
FIRST of all, it says my heart is lost in sin. In another confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes Jesus told his disciples...
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)
Didn't Jeremiah the prophet remind his hearers and us that, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
SECOND, the Bible also says, usually in connection with the heart, that my mind is also lost in sin. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:17, 18...
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
He also writes in his letter to the Romans about the universal condition of man: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
But there's more. THIRD, God's word says that in addition to our hearts and minds, our conscience is also lost in sin. Paul reminds his associate Titus of this very reality in Titus 1:15...
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
The author of the book of Hebrews gives us hope in light of our 'lost-ness' when he writes...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)
And if that were not bad enough, the Bible also tells me that, FOURTH, this 'lost-ness' extends to my body as well. Paul would go on to write in Romans 6:19...
For just as you once presented your members [i.e. parts of your body] as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
Paul understood that the body was also affected by sin. That's why he told the Corinthians...
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:27) [refer to slide list: mind, heart, conscience, body]
So our feelings and will, our understanding, our sense of right and wrong, and even how we use our bodies, all of it, every part of us is “lost”, morally and spiritually. We are “wholly lost”.
3. Hopelessly Lost
But I believe God's word tells us something else about what it means to be lost sheep. Not only are we 'holy lost' in terms of turning from God's path, and not only are we “wholly lost” in terms of every part of us being sick with sin, but the Bible also tells us, that in and of ourselves, we are hopelessly lost. What do I mean by that? Well once again, we have to think about the images God uses in His word to describe our moral and spiritual condition. Yes, we are described as straying and lost sheep. But we are also described as...
1. Spiritually Enslaved
Just as he does here in Luke 15, Jesus also corrected the misunderstandings of some of the religious leaders in John 8:34...Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
And Paul used this imagery in several places, one of them being Titus 3:3...For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
So our lost-ness in sin is slavery in sin. The freedom to do what we want is nothing more than the shackles of spiritual bondage. But there's more. As lost sheep, we are also described as...
2. Spiritually Hostile
The Bible does not say we simply disagree with God as sinners, or that we are simply indifferent toward or neglectful of God. Before Christ, God's word states we once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds...(Colossians 1:21) In Roman 8:7, Paul also tell us ... the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God...
Given this language of warfare, it is not surprising that Paul, because of sin, rightly labels us as “enemies” of God in Romans 5:10. And yet, there's more. These images of slavery and hostility are extremely strong in terms of describing the extent of our lost-ness. But, believe it or not, the Bible uses an even stronger image than these to portray our desperate straits. As lost sheep, we are also described as...
3. Spiritually Dead
Listen to how Paul weaves together multiple images, including that of death, in Ephesians 2:1-3. He writes...
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
When it comes to extreme severity, it doesn't get more extreme than death. Spiritual death. And there are no exceptions. (v. 3) “We all...like the rest of mankind”. What does this mean in terms of the extent of, the seriousness of, the severity of our lost-ness as lost sheep? Paul puts it this way in terms of our ability, as lost sheep, to find our own way back to God's path:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is NOT able to understand them... (I Corinthians 2:14). And again...
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it canNOT.  Those who are in the flesh canNOT please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
Probably the clearest explanation of our lost-ness in all Scripture is in Romans 3:9-12. Listen to how Paul summarized everything we've already seen...
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All [like sheep] have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)
III. The Equation Explanation
The parable of the shepherd seeking his lost sheep in Luke 15 is a powerful and precious picture, isn't it? But to truly understand and truly appreciate the depth of that parable, we have to be clear about the fact that, according to the Bible, lost-ness is not just “having a bad day”, or being “a little off”, or “having a tough time”, or “making some mistakes”, or being “spiritually rudderless”, or being basically a good person who made some “unfortunate” or “unhealthy” decisions, or got in with the “wrong crowd” at some point.
No, being a lost sheep is a desperate, dangerous, and deadly position of total defiance against God and His will, a condition we are helpless to change. Why is it so important we accept this reality? Because of this equation: Value x Cost x Distance = Depth.
The immeasurable VALUE of your life, multiplied by the incomparable COST Jesus paid in rescuing you, multiplied by the DISTANCE downward you had sunk into the prison and filth of your own sin, should equal...should equal...the DEPTH of your humility before, gratitude toward, praise to, and love for the One who saved you. (2x)
When we are tempted to believe our condition was not or is not as bad as I've made it out to be, our humility, gratitude, praise, and love will be shallow. Think especially about the issue of DISTANCE in light of what we've talked about today. If in the parable, the lost sheep had been just over the next hill, the parable would lose it's impact (“Oh, there you are”). What is implied is that the sheep was badly, hopelessly lost. That is what makes the rescue so triumphant!
Is that how you understand your own story? Are the features of lost-ness we talked about today features of who you are apart from the grace of God? The Bible says so. Some of us were poorly taught about the utter sinfulness of sin. Others of us find ourselves forgetting just how far lost we were. Still others are poassibly just coming to grips with their condition this morning. Wherever you are. You must see how important this correct diagnosis is.
Of course, distance cannot be separated from cost in that salvation equation. The peril, the danger in which Jesus placed himself to rescue us was nothing less than the cross and the wrath of God. Let's end this morning by hearing and savoring what the Apostle Peter tells us about the divine rescue mission of the Shepher for His sheep. Please let this inspire humility, gratitude, praise, and love in your heart this morning:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (I Peter 2:24-25)
More in Lost & Found: Savoring So Great a Salvation
February 28, 2016A Found-ness Worth Celebrating (Luke 15:1-7, I Corinthians 1:4-9)
February 21, 2016Laid on His Shoulders (Luke 15:1-7; Ephesians 2:4-10)
February 14, 2016A Shepherd Knows His Sheep (Luke 15:1-7; John 10:24-28)