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In Luke 19:10 Jesus said ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’. In 2Corinthians 4:3 we read that the Gospel is hidden to those who are ‘lost’ [KJV].

This spiritual lostness began in Genesis 3: there we lost our way, we lost our connection with God, we lost touch with our identity and our purpose, and we lost our knowledge of God.

As we read the Bible we find that the term ‘lost’ is applied in various ways.

Lost, the default human position
Luke 15:8-10 is the parable of the lost coin. While the focus of this parable is on the diligent search for the lost and the joy of finding the lost, we can also see here a picture of the total inability of the lost: not even aware of its lostness; not even aware of the sustained search; totally ignorant of its value and its preciousness; powerless, immobile, lifeless. This is the default spiritual position of every human being.

Lost, by one’s own foolishness
The parable of the lost sheep [Luke 15:1-7] also focusing on the diligent search and the joy when the lost is found, portrays those who are lost by their own thoughtlessness. The sheep knows the truth about the shepherd. But it carelessly wanders away; in its stupidity it ignores him when he calls, wandering further. It did not intend to take itself far away from the shepherd but that is the inevitable result of its foolishness. Here is a person who has, perhaps, been taught the truth about Jesus Christ, and, never intending to distance himself from that knowledge, thoughtlessly drifts away, letting go of that truth bit by bit, taking on more and more of secular worldviews, until he is far away from the Shepherd.

Lost, by a deliberate choice
The lost son made a deliberate, informed, decisive choice to remove himself from the father and the father’s values. He knew what he was doing, and he wanted to do it. He knew what he was leaving, and he wanted to leave it. He knew it would hurt his father, but he wanted to do it. Here again we have a person who knows the truth about God, but this one deliberately rejects that truth, deliberately removes himself from all and every influence of God.

Lost, because of human failure
God speaks in judgement against the selfish and godless human ‘shepherds’ to whom he had entrusted the well-being of his sheep:

‘My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray’ [Jeremiah 50:6].

‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not the shepherds take care of the flock? … You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.’ [Ezekiel 34:2-4; read verses 1-10].

In context, God was speaking against the kings, priests and prophets of Israel, because of whom the Israelites had followed after idols and incurred his judgement. In our contemporary setting the warning applies to all in positions of church leadership: people are lost because church leaders have failed to teach the truth or have taught error; people are lost because church leaders have been charlatans; people are lost because church leaders have imposed tyrannical legalistic expectations on their congregations; people are lost because of the godlessness of church leaders. Hence the instructions to elders in 1Peter 5:1-3, and hence the clear and detailed responsibilities and outcomes spelled out for gifted leaders in Ephesians 4:11-16.

Lost, but seeking the truth
Luke 19:1-10 contains the report about Zacchaeus. The Greek text of 19:3 makes it clear that Zacchaeus had an on-going desire to find an answer to the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ This man was spiritually lost - materialistic, dishonest and apparently godless, but he had heard about Jesus, and what he has heard has stirred a longing in his heart. There in the branches of the sycamore tree he hears the words of divine appointment ‘I must stay at your house today’, an appointment that was a meeting with God incarnate. Zacchaeus was seeking the truth about Jesus; Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus, the lost. In finding the answer to his question he found God, and he himself was ‘found’.

The lost can be found
The woman found the coin. The shepherd found the sheep. The lost son, brought to an end of himself, remembered his father and returned home in penitence, expecting nothing and finding acceptance from his waiting father. To the lost people of Israel, mistreated and mislead by their human shepherds, God said ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look for them. I will rescue them …’ [Ezekiel 34:11,12].

And Zacchaeus … in Zacchaeus we see the sovereign, seeking, saving love of God at work. In the heart of Zacchaeus the Spirit of God had created a desire to find out ‘who is Jesus?’ So he left his tax booth, he climbed the tree. Little did he know that this day, this moment, this meeting had been planned from eternity. Little did he know that this day he would find out more than he ever imagined. There in his house, there at his dinner table, Zacchaeus listened to Jesus and in finding out who Jesus is Zacchaeus was reunited with God.

The scripture exhorts us ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near’ [Isaiah 55:6] and assures us that ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ [Jeremiah 29:13].  

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016