I wonder whether you have ever had a eureka moment. One came to me unexpectedly but it was so very exciting. I would like to share it with you here. I have used it a few times when taking church services, and was inclined to not spread it around too much. But I think the time has come for me to share with you what I believe God shared with me.
But before I get into it, I want to encourage you to join me in the webinar (online seminar) Saturday 25th February 2017 from 9.00am to 9.45 GMT. It is free and there is no need to get dressed up and to go out. You can watch and listen to it at home, and I won’t even know if you are still in pyjamas! Seriously, Gordon Banks and I will be talking about simple ideas for rural or other small churches that can be used to share the love of God and the story of Jesus through the Spring months.
Please sign up for this today, if you are not otherwise committed on that day and time. You need to book your place in advance, and it costs you nothing. Once you have reserved your place, I will send you an email with additional helpful information. CLICK THIS LINK TO RESERVE YOUR PLACE.
Thank you. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Now, back to my eureka experience. I found myself wondering why Jesus told three super stories on the theme of lost and found, when one might have been sufficient. You will find these in Luke 16. The stories were a response to criticism of Jesus because he was keeping company that zealous Pharisees and teachers of the law considered inappropriate.
Story one is about a man who had 100 sheep but found he had lost one. So, he went and sought until he found it, brought it home and shared his joy with his neighbours.
Story two is about a woman who lost a coin. It was worth a day’s wages, but it might have had some other value. Clearly recovering it was important as she diligently swept the house until she found it. She also shared her good news with her neighbours.
Story three is about a man with two sons. The younger son is selfish and wants his share in the eventual inheritance to come to him immediately. He cannot wait for his dad to die. His share would have been one third of the value of the estate. So, with his share in his hand he set off to a far country where he wasted it on parties and prostitutes. When he was at his lowest, he finally came to his senses and realises how stupid he had been. He returned home, a somewhat changed man, and his father ran to meet him, and welcomed him back. He threw a party, much to the annoyance of his older brother. There is so much more that we could write about this third story, but my question was, why three stories. Surely any one of them was a good enough illustration.
The stories are about people repenting. Both Hebrew and Greek thinking had different ways of understanding sin. I’m not going to trouble you with the original Greek text. One understanding was what we often call original sin. This is our inherited fallen nature. As Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Roman 3:23. Our very nature comes short of the holiness of God. The coin was lost but that was its estate, and it had no culpability.
Another understanding of sin is iniquity or waywardness. Most of us will have got into sinful behaviour by fallowing the crowd, or drifting carelessly. Sometimes I find myself breaking the speed limit, not deliberately but because I was careless. Isaiah speaks about this in chapter 53, where we read, “All we like sheep have gone astray…”. When other sheep had been safely gathered in, one was still out on its own, vulnerable to be preyed upon by wild animals.
A third understanding of sin is transgression. This is the deliberate breaking of the law. It is the choice to sin. It is about knowing where the line is drawn and deliberately stepping over it. The son knew what kind of life his father would want him to live, but he deliberately chose the other lifestyle.
So, by using three different stories, Jesus illustrated the wonder of the gospel. Whether our sinfulness is the consequence of carelessness, whether we might claim it is not our fault, or whether we have deliberately chosen to sine, we are loved and sought by a gracious God. Does that thrill you? It certainly should.
But it didn’t end there. More recently I reflected on who was doing the searching. For the lost sheep, it was a good shepherd who sought and found it. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd”. For the prodigal son, it was the father who was looking for his son’s return and met him and welcomed him back. For the coin, it was a woman who diligently swept the dust and dirt away. For me this sounds so much like the work of the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us our need of salvation, and does the regeneration and sanctifying aspects of our salvation. Of course, God does not have gender but Hebrew scholars will be aware that in the Hebrew Scriptures the Holy Spirit is referred to with the feminine gender.
So, Jesus illustrates how all three persons of the Trinity share in saving the lost. By now you should at least have given one hallelujah! But, we are not finished.
In the parable of the lost coin, it is about the recovery or regaining of a treasure. You are so precious to God, and he wants you safe. In the parable of the lost sheep, it is about rescuing from peril and danger. Continuing in sin leaves us in a state of peril. In the parable about a lost son, it is about the recovery of a precious relationship. So, in seeking and saving you and me, God reveals how he sees us as precious to him, saves us from the consequences of our sin, and draws us back into his loving arms, restoring the relationship that was lost.
For me, this has been a mind-blowing journey of discovery. And I am not sure that it is fully ended. As John Robinson said as he bade farewell to those who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers (and mothers, of course), “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy word”.
I hope that these insights have been a blessing to you. We have such a wonderful Saviour and story to share. Let Gordon and me help you find some ways to share it, by signing up for the webinar. If you missed the earlier link, here it is again.
Items from the Diary
Thank you for your prayers during the past week. I have had some precious experiences through the privilege of bringing God’s word to others.
Saturday 18th Feb. I shall be sharing in an Area Executive Meeting for the Congregational Federation. There are some 30 churches, and we are encouraging them to plan at least one outreach this year.
Sunday 19th Feb. I shall be taking the morning service for Elstow Bunyan Christian Fellowship. This was John Bunyan’s home village.
Tuesday 21st Feb is my regular time with some of the men in HMP Gartree.
Wednesday 22nd Feb I chair an online meeting of the Congregational Federation’s Inter-Church Board. This is a responsibility I am in the process of laying down. Prayers are valued as its future is uncertain.
Thursday 23rd Feb I shall be sharing in a Chaplaincy Team Meeting.
Friday 24th Feb I shall share with others in my new spiritual home (Market Harborough Congregational Church) as we seek to share with other users of the premises that there is a living and loving church meeting in this building, and to which they would be welcome.
Saturday 25th Feb is the webinar at 9.00am. Through the week I shall be putting the finishing touches to this presentation.
Sunday 26th Feb in the morning I shall be taking a Family Service for Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester. Later I will travel to Chelmsford, Essex to meet up with Gordon Banks, ready for…
Monday 27th Feb Rural Mission Consultation hosted by the Diocese of Chelmsford. See more.
It is so encouraging to know that we are supported through your prayers.