Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘‘Finding What Is Lost:
A Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); A Coin (Luke 15:8-10); A Son (Luke 15:11-22)”
© March 22, 2015, by Steve Mickelson
Based on a Message Shared at BLCF on October 20, 2013
BLCF Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #598 (The Shepherd Psalm – Psalm 23); Prayer
Opening Hymn #288: Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound
Scripture Verses: Ezekiel 34:11-16, Luke 15:1-22, Jeremiah 23:1-8
Let us pray…
Amazing Grace, our opening hymn this morning, is a testimony in song authored by John Newton whose faith conversion was as dramatic a change as the apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Here are the Wiki bits of John Newton:
“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.
Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (forced into service involuntarily) into the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. However, he continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.
Author Gilbert Chase writes that “Amazing Grace” is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns,” and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. “Amazing Grace” saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, occasionally appearing on popular music charts.
For the Trekkers out there, Amazing Grace was piped by Commander Scott at the funeral of First Officer Spock in the movie The Wrath of Kahn. If you are not a follower of Star Trek, the point is that Amazing Grace has become synonymous with the life testimony of Christians, often sung at a believer’s funeral to praise and express gratitude in the promise of the resurrection through our Lord Jesus Christ.
But John Newton, not to be confused with contemporary singer Olivia Newton John, before his conversion, lived the life of a lost sheep described in Ezekiel 34, without love for God or fellow man. He became wealthy at the expense of the lives and freedom of others. But like Saul of Tarsus, the Lord had a plan for Newton: a plan of conviction and conversion of faith that led John Newton to become a minister of God, spreading the gospel of Jesus.
But more than gathering together His lost sheep, the Lord will send the lost sinners a new shepherd and reclaim from a life of sin and destruction His beloved human sheep. Ezekiel 34:11-16 (ESV):
The Lord God Will Seek Them Out
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.[a] I will feed them in justice.
Footnotes: a. Ezekiel 34:16 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate I will watch over
To reaffirm how Jesus fits in the picture, let us look at the prophecy, where the Lord is described as the “Righteous Branch” in Jeremiah 23:1-8 (ESV):
The Righteous Branch
23 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.
5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
The love that the Lord has for us is so great that he rejoices every time a lost human sheep returns to his flock, as is expressed in the three parables we have printed in today’s bulletin. The first is found in Luke 15:1-7 (ESV):
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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.’ 7 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.
We all have experienced the loss of something valuable. We worry and fret over what is lost. But like the lesson from Ezekiel, the Lord will go out and seek the lost sheep, bring it back to the fold and celebrate its return. For every lost soul or sinner that is saved, there is a celebration in heaven.
For those who may not identify with the sheep in the first parable, we have the parable of the Lost Coin, Luke 15:8-10 (ESV):
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Footnotes: a. Luke 15:8 Greek ten drachmas; a drachma was a Greek coin approximately equal in value to a Roman denarius, worth about a day’s wage for a laborer
And just in case we still do not understand what the Lord has told us, he teaches us the lesson again, in the parable of a son that is lost in Luke 15:11-22 (ESV):
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[b] 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son not only teaches how the Lord desires us to return to Him, but how He has compassion for us and is willing to forgive us all of our transgressions.
By teaching the same lesson three times in three different parables, the Lord indicates how much He cares for His lost sheep and the priority He places returning sinners back to a righteous place.
I remember some years ago, how Sophie had lost her engagement ring at a church function. Sophie looked everywhere in her pockets for the ring. She had retraced her steps through the evening. Eventually, Sophie received a call from a friend that the young daughter of one of the ladies had found her ring. How relieved and happy she was when it was returned.
And when a sinner returns to the flock, he has the confidence and peace of mind as well, that he is safe at home with the shepherd, as we see in Psalm 23, which I would like to read for our closing prayer:
Let us pray…
Psalm 23 (ESV): The Lord Is My Shepherd – A Psalm of David.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f]
in the house of the Lord forever.[g]
Footnotes: a. Psalm 23:2 Hebrew beside waters of rest b.Psalm 23:3 Or in right paths c. Psalm 23:4 Or the valley of deep darkness d. Psalm 23:6 Or Only e. Psalm 23:6 Or steadfast love f. Psalm 23:6 Or shall return to dwell g. Psalm 23:6 Hebrew for length of days
Closing Hymn #49: A Pilgrim Was I and A-wandering
Benediction Hebrews 13:20-21(ESV):
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.