On December 22, 1996, a man working on an icy bridge over the Elizabeth River in Virginia fell 70 feet into the river below. He was seriously injured and could do nothing to help himself -- and the strong current began moving him downstream.
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Joseph Brisson, the captain of a passing barge, saw the accident and was faced with a life-or-death decision. He knew the worker would freeze and drown if someone didn't act. So he dove off the barge into the frigid water, located the man, and kept him afloat until help arrived 30 minutes later.
When asked what motivated him to risk his life for someone he didn't even know, Brisson told reporters: "I have a family; I thought about that. But I thought about how life is very important. I'm a Christian man, and I couldn't let anything happen to him."
That day, Joseph Brisson acted like Jesus. He disregarded his own personal comfort and was willing to give his life to save someone who would have surely perished without him. Jesus said, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). There are three aspects of Jesus' mission to seek and save the lost which He revealed in three parables in Luke 15.
Jesus Counts the Lost
In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus told the well-known parable of a shepherd who owned 100 sheep. When the shepherd discovered that one of his sheep was missing, he left the 99 secure and went back to find the one that was lost. The point of this parable is that every sheep is important. "The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish" (II Peter 3:9).
Today, people leave pennies lying on the sidewalk because one part of a dollar is considered worthless. But one of everything is important to God -- one sparrow (Matthew 10:29), one hair (Luke 12:7), and certainly everyone created in His image (John 10:14). God counts all of the six billion souls on earth and knows them by name. And Jesus came to save each one.
Jesus Cares for the Lost
Jesus' second parable (verses 8-10) was about a woman who had ten silver coins. While the first parable focused on counting, this parable focuses on the carefulness of the search. Jesus makes a special point of noting three things the woman did to find her lost coin: she lit a lamp, she swept the house thoroughly, and took great care in looking for it.
Just a cursory reading of the four gospels reveals the care and diligence which went into Jesus' search for the lost He came to save. Countless discussions, answering questions, miracles, enduring ridicule and persecution. Jesus never threw up His hands and said, "It's not worth it; the coin is gone. I've got more important things to do." How thankful we should be that Jesus searched until we were found.
Jesus Has Compassion for the Lost
The final parable (verses 11-32) concerns a prodigal son: "But when [the prodigal son] was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (verse 20). In this situation the father had done everything right and the son had done everything wrong. Normal human tendency would have been for the father to respond to the son with anger when he asked for forgiveness and a second chance (that attitude is seen in the older brother who was enraged by the father's compassion).
How many years do most people spend in profligate living before they turn to God and ask for a chance to "come home?" How many of those people has God ever refused?
When Jesus Christ came to earth to rescue the perishing, He counted, cared, and had compassion -- and still does today. If you are not yet "found," it is not because Jesus has stopped looking for you. It is because you have turned and moved back into hiding whenever He has drawn near. I plead with you to come into the light and be carried tenderly into the fold of His sheep.
In an issue of Discipleship Journal, author Jean Fleming wrote about something angel-like that happened at her church. The pastor announced that a young boy named Crockett had given his heart to Jesus that week. One of Crockett's four-year old buddies, hearing the good news, jumped up on the seat of his pew, thrust his fist into the air, and yelled, "Yeah, Crockett!"
Such is the unabashed joy in heaven when the lost are found: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). I pray that if the angels in heaven have never shouted, "Yeah, (your name)!" that it might happen today.
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