A Renaissance Church Knows the Value of One
Someone once told me a story that they heard about Bill Hybels. Hybels was talking with an old friend who he knew went to another church in town. One day he casually asked the man, Are you looking forward to Easter Sunday? The man replied, No, I’m not. As a matter of fact, I never go to church on Easter. Hybels gave the man a sideways glance and said, You’re kidding! You don’t go to church on Easter Sunday? Don’t people get arrested for that?
The man replied, I don’t go to church on Easter because I can’t stand to see all those Chreasters. You know all the people who only show up on the two big holidays. They get themselves all dressed up to make their appearance, and they mess up everything at church, especially the parking lot. I mean who do they think they are fooling? They’re not fooling me and they’re certainly not fooling God! This has bothered me so much over the years that I just quit going to church on the big Sunday’s. I have no use for Creasters.
Now although this man didn’t come right out and say it, not only did he not have any use for those kind of people, he was convinced that God doesn’t have any use for them, either! Unfortunately he’s not alone, there are far too many of God’s Children that make the same judgments. We all have a tendency to make assessments of who is important to God and who is not. In churches we like to get the biggest bang for our buck, so we are ok spending money on Trunk or Treat where 1,000 folks come through our parking lot, but we struggle to spend money to meet the spiritual, emotional, or physical needs of one. We excuse that line of thinking by saying that God wants us to be wise stewards of His money, but we forget about the love that God has for the ONE.
This is not new thinking, we see these same attitudes popping up all through the scriptures. In fact, Jesus addresses this struggle time and time again in His teachings. As we continue our discussion on renaissance churches this morning I think we need to take some time and consider the concern that God has for the one.
In Luke 15, we see that Jesus found Himself surrounded by a large crowd of people, who would be considered undesirable, or maybe even Chreasters. These were the morally bankrupt people of the town and the religious elite believed that God wouldn’t have any use for these people. Actually the religious elite were complaining that Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God, was hanging out with… well… those kind of people. Jesus, of course, knew exactly what they were thinking, so Jesus told three very pointed and powerful stories.
Before we go any farther, I don’t want you to miss the fact that Jesus told three stories back to back, with a common thread. This is the only time we read Him of telling three parables in a row like this. If we repeat things because they are important, Jesus must really be trying to drive home a point. So this morning let’s look at Luke 15 and see why a renaissance church must know the value of one.
First we notice that, In each of the stories, something of value is lost; a sheep, a coin, a son.
That much is obvious even to a casual observer. But here’s something interesting; the values of the lost things become greater as the stories unfold. With each new story, the value of the lost things is greater than the last.
A sheep has economic value to a shepherd. Losing one out of a hundred sheep is a loss of 1% of his flock. But it’s actually more than that. That one sheep represented many more sheep, if you count the baby lambs that were yet to be born. So the sheep has some value today and tomorrow, economically speaking.
The coin the woman lost also had some economic value; approximately one day's wages. How would you like to lose a day’s wages? For some of us, that would be financially devastating. We simply can't afford it. Notice too, that this economic loss was not just 1/100th of what she had, but 1/10th. The shepherd saw a 1% loss. This woman lost 10%.
Then there was the lost son. Now in an farming culture, sons were economically quite valuable. They could work the fields or the flocks. But this son, rather than being a financial asset, had become a financial drain. He had claimed his share of his father’s estate, being the second son he would have received one third, and had squandered it in wild, reckless living.
But of all the lost things in Luke 15, he was the most valuable. How do you assign a dollar amount to a child? Even a child who has disappointed you. Even a child who has embarrassed and shamed you. Parents will and have spent massive amounts money, traveled countless miles, and risked everything if it meant that they could recover their child.
Each story describes something of value that has been lost and the all out search for the lost thing.
The shepherd leaves the 99 and goes after the sheep. He searches, Jesus says, until he finds it. I love that phrase, until he finds it.
One of the ways that I try to help around the house is by doing some laundry. Separate, wash, dry, and fold I’ve got it down. Now I didn’t say that I liked it so don’t bring any over to the house for me to do, I said I’ve got it down. Everything goes real well until I get to the socks, and if you have ever washed socks you know sometimes they get lost going from your feet to clean clothes. Usually I’ll come across a sock that doesn’t have a match. I look through the clothes basket and then I just put it back in the basket and wait for it to show up. I still have some baby socks just waiting for their mate to show up. For most of us that’s how we look.
Now I’m not sure what you think when you read this parable, but the shepherd didn’t leave the 99 sheep in a safe fenced-in pen. He leaves them in the wilderness, where it was dangerous. In leaving the 99, even for a short while, he was putting them in some jeopardy. Fred Craddock wrote, “Either the shepherd is foolish or the shepherd loves the lost sheep and will risk everything, including his own life, until he finds it.” What does this say about God and what does it say about the church?
The woman searches for her lost coin. Some commentators believe that these coins were a part of her inheritance, while others believe that it was from the headpiece that she would be wearing. When a Palestine woman was married her husband gave her a headband of 10 silver coins to wear signifying that she was a married woman; like a modern day wedding ring. If the woman was ever found to be unfaithful or displeasing her husband would remove a coin from the headband. Whether it is an inheritance issue or a marital issue the coins not only had monetary valuable, but they held an even greater emotional value and were sacred.
Now in every family there is one particular person who fills a very specific and much needed role; they are the family finder. Every family has one person who is better at finding lost things than anyone else. When I was growing up, it was my mom.
My dad had a big tool chest in the garage. Without fail he’d be working on something and go to the tool chest looking for something. When he couldn’t find it he’d slam a drawer and holler, Diane! and mom would stop what ever she was doing and walk to the garage. Dad would say, I can’t find my torque wrench, it is supposed to be in this drawer and it’s not. Mom would get a description of the lost item and then send him inside to get a glass of tea.
Mom would then start going through drawers in the tool chest, and in a few minutes she’d come out with the lost tool and say, Is this it? He’d ask, Where did you find it? She’d say, second drawer, near the back. If it’d been a snake it’d bit you.
Every family has a finder, someone that continues to search until they find what was lost. In this second parable, this woman is a finder. Before Isaac Newton ever discovered gravity she knew that if you lose a coin the most logical place to look is down. So she lights a lamp and starts to swept the house. Jesus says that she searched intently, carefully, or diligently until her fingers once again held the lost coin.
Finally there’s the search for the lost boy. Ahah! You say Jesus didn’t say that anyone went looking for that lost boy, there was no search. He came home all by himself. The father never went looking for him. Maybe, or maybe not. Let’s look again and see if that's how it happened.
When the prodigal son comes home the father throws a big party. Everyone comes to celebrate. Everyone, that is, except the older brother. So the father goes to the older brother and pleads with him to come to the party. Look in verse Verse 29, But he answered, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
Now how did the older brother know the prodigal son had squandered his father’s estate on prostitutes? How did he know his younger brother had been living the party life? I have always just taken it for granted that’s what happened, but how do you think he knew that?
Here is an opinion, and it could be wrong, and if I am you can put this in the trash can, but is it possible the older brother knew what his sibling had been up to because the father knew? What if the father went to the far country to see if he could find his son? Or what if the older brother had been the one who went to the far country and then after seeing his brother, he came home and told the Father?
Maybe that’s not how it happened, and maybe I just made that up because if one of my boys went to the far country I don’t believe that I could just sit at the house waiting. There is more than one way to search for someone or something that is lost. I know that when it comes to people you can’t make them do what they don’t want to do.
The Father would not have forced the boy to come home, because that’s not finding, that’s forcing. Forcing a grown man to do what you want is not finding him. Sometimes searching means going, finding, and bringing back. And sometimes it means staying, waiting, praying, and making home a place the lost want to come back to. But either way the boy was found.
The exciting part is that we see that each story ends with a celebration.
The shepherd finds his sheep and throws a party. The woman finds her coin and invites her friends to celebrate. The father finds his son and kills the fattened calf. Go back and look with me at the scripture reading from this morning in verse 7; Jesus 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 persons who do not need to repent.
That’s what it says, and if you are like me this is how you hear it: I tell you that in the same way there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, but there will be no rejoicing over 99 persons who are living the way that are supposed to live.
In other words, once you’ve repented, once you’ve given your life to Christ, once they’ve had the big party where it’s your name on the cake, it’s over. No more heavenly celebrating over your moral, spiritual or ethical victories. If you do the right thing, big deal. You should have done it. Why would heaven celebrate over what it expects you to do? Heaven saves it’s celebrations for the prodigals who come staggering back home, broken by their sin, and the rest of us are left feeling like unappreciated older brothers and sisters.
But that’s not what Jesus says; He doesn’t say heaven doesn’t rejoice over those who don’t need to repent. He said there is more rejoicing over one who does. That suggests that heaven does, in fact, rejoice over those who do not need to repent. When Jesus says, There will be more rejoicing, He’s telling you how heaven feels about you when you do it right, when you walk away from the temptation, when you hear the call of the world but refuse to answer, when you feel your heart being drawn to sin, but refuse to follow it.
When you are confronted with a temptation that appeals to your weakest nature, when a part of you wants to give in to it so badly, but a better part refuses, when you turn your back and walk away from what you desperately want to do because what God wants is more important to you, heaven celebrates that decision.
I don’t know if you needed to hear that or not, but I needed to say it. That’s one of the new things I found in this old story after having been gone from it for awhile. Over the past few weeks we have been looking at what we need to do to be a renaissance church. But there is this glaring point that we cannot get away from. If we are going to be a Church of, that lives like, Christ, a true renaissance church we have got to know the value of the one.
You see there is great value in the one.
There was one lost sheep, one lost coin, and one lost son. Jesus is saying that one matters, because one can do great things in His kingdom. One is worth the cost, because as my grandfather told me you can count the seeds in an apple, but you will never be able to count the apples in a seed.
A renaissance church knows the value of one, because we realize that every one of us were created in the image of God. We may not be living up to that image, but we were created in His image. There is value in one, because we can have real fellowship with God, and our minds, hearts, souls, and strength can be sanctified to Him. And there is value in one, because God showed Himself to us in the person of Christ. And Christ lived perfection, so that He could become the perfect sacrifice and help each one of us become what we were created for, the image of God.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God, wants everyone to be saved. While He is interested in the many, He still knows your name, He cares about you, He knows where you hurt, and He knows when you have sinned. He knows all about you, because He cares for and is intimately concerned about the one.
God wants us to be a Renaissance Church because people who matter to Him are lost. You will never lock eyes with anyone who isn’t valuable to God. And when something is lost, a search must be made. Because a celebration is waiting to be held in heaven. When people who matter to God are found, God throws a party, and today He longs to throw one for you. Because a God who cares for the one does not just throw out an invitation to the masses, He calls you by name.
Questions To Consider
Describe a time that you were lost. (As a child, driving in a new town, in a corn maze)
In these three parables the sheep was lost because of lack of attention, the coin was lost because of someone’s carelessness, and the boy was lost because of pride. How are people lost in these same ways today?
Can you talk about a time that you strayed from your faith or the church family?
What caused you to come home again?
What do we need to do to strengthen and encourage our family to make sure we do not allow someone to wander away or lose them out of carelessness?
What can we do to celebrate the lost who are found, and the saved who are actively working in the kingdom?
We spend a lot of money and time to do acts of service and evangelism. How do you know if the return is worth the investment?
How far was God willing to go to save one?
If God was willing to go that far, then how far should we go?