In Luke 15, we read two parables about something valuable that was lost. In both stories, the lost item—whether a sheep or a coin—has monetary value. Nobody, including the religious leaders who valued material things, would ignore such a loss; rather, they would make every effort to find it, and they would rejoice when they found it.

If this is true about things that are lost, shouldn’t it also be true for people who are spiritually lost? The term “lost” refers to those who are not Christians, those who are outside of the household of God but whom God desires to come home. You can see this in the story of the prodigal son, where the father says about the son who has repented and returned home that “he was lost and is found” (verse 31). Clearly, the lost things in these parables represent people who are spiritually lost.

Shouldn’t we respond to people who are lost in the same way or an even greater way than we would to lost things? Shouldn’t we exhibit the same efforts and perseverance in searching for them? Shouldn’t we be filled with joy when they are found? I believe that this passage exists primarily to remind Christians of how they should respond to the lost. You could also interpret these parables as illustrating how God responds to and searches for the lost. Even if that is the case, the message remains essentially the same because if God responds in a certain way to those who are lost, then it is obvious that Christians should follow His example.

I. THE FIRST THING NEEDED FOR REACHING THE LOST IS COMPASSION (LUKE 15:1, 2)

Tax collectors and sinners gathered around Jesus. These lost people were not running from Him; they were running to Him. They were not avoiding Him, ignoring Him, or even hostile toward Him. Why were sinners so willing and even eager to listen to Jesus? It certainly wasn’t because Jesus had an easy message that tickled their ears. It wasn’t because Jesus compromised on sin and said that everything they were doing was acceptable. They weren’t gathering around Jesus because He was putting on a sensational show of signs and wonders. At this point in Luke’s narrative, the emphasis is on Jesus’ teaching; miracles are hardly even mentioned.

Why did the “lost” seek out Jesus rather than run from Him? I believe the answer is His compassion. Jesus loved them and showed His love to them in a compassionate way rather than through condemnation. In verse 2, the Bible says that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Greek word translated “welcomes” in this verse can be defined as “to receive as a friend.” This was Jesus’ attitude toward those who were lost in sin. Jesus welcomed them; He was compassionate and accepting of them despite their sins and faults. He was a friend, not a foe. Jesus had an attitude that attracted lost people. What about us? If we as individuals and as a church are going to reach people, we will have to show that same love and acceptance.

II. THE SECOND THING NEEDED FOR REACHING THE LOST IS EFFORT (LUKE 15:3-5)

In these two parables, Jesus emphasizes the effort that went into finding the lost. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said that the shepherd would “leave the ninety-nine sheep in the open country and go after the lost sheep. . .” In the parable of the lost coin, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house, and searches carefully for the lost coin (verse 8). 

In both cases, the lost thing had to be sought after with great effort. The shepherd did not wait for the lost sheep to wander home, and the woman did not wait for the lost coin to turn up. In our Christian lives and in the church, it sometimes seems that we do the opposite. We tend to wait for the lost to come to us. We’re passive rather than active. We’re waiting for people to come to Christ instead of putting effort into bringing them to Christ! I know that I have been guilty of this. I want people to be saved, but I haven’t made a great effort to search for the lost. This has to change if we’re to reach the lost as Jesus did. 

In reality, how do we practice this principle? There are several things we can do. First, a significant part of our prayers should be for the lost. Second, we must make every effort to reach the lost. While it is important that the church as a corporate entity make every effort to reach the lost, the most important thing you and I can do in reaching the lost is to do our best to share Jesus with everyone with whom we come in contact. 

III. THE THIRD THING NEEDED TO REACH THE LOST IS PERSISTENCE (LUKE 15:4-8)

In both parables, Jesus notes specifically that the person continued seeking after the lost item until it was found. In other words, Jesus seems to be pointing out that persistence was necessary for success. After all, lost sheep among spacious fields and hills and lost coins on the dirt floor of the Jewish home would not have been quickly or easily found. 

It’s the same with reaching the lost. It is not easy to reach people’s hearts so that they receive Jesus. Usually, our first efforts do not meet with success. Sometimes it takes years and years of persistence, but we should not be discouraged or give up. If a sheep or coin was valuable enough to persistently search for, then people who are spiritually lost are too valuable to give up on. Even when our efforts do not pay off quickly, we must remember how valuable these souls are to Christ, and we must keep trying to reach them.

CONCLUSION (LUKE 15:5-7, 9, 10)

The religious leaders of the day had been indifferent toward the lost and even antagonistic to their coming to Jesus. Jesus used these two parables to illustrate how wrong their response was, especially when compared to how they would have responded to recovering something far less valuable. Jesus pointed out how joyful they would have been at the recovery of a lost sheep or a lost coin; certainly then, they should be joyous instead of angered when lost souls return to Jesus. 

Jesus pointed out that what matters most to God is the lost. They matter so much to Him that when the lost are found—even one of them—all heaven rejoices and throws a party! There is more joy over one sinner coming to Jesus that over 99 people being right where they’re supposed to be with God. If lost people matter this much to God, shouldn’t they matter as much to us? Shouldn’t we be willing to give everything needed in order to reach the lost? My answer is “Yes,” and I hope yours is also. 


General Conference Ministerial Association