Evangelism focuses on reaching out to people who are lost. Depravity of human beings is described as ‘lostness’ in the Scripture. Luke 15 is an interesting chapter on lostness of humanity with three parables told by Jesus. Pharisees and scribes considered all people as sinners, who were ignorant of the Law. (John 7:49) The Pharisees opposed and grumbled as they did not appreciate Christ’s love and motive to reach out to sinners. The three parables describe four kinds of people who ought to be evangelized. The parable of the Lost Coin appeals to women who live indoors, while the parable of the Lost Sheep appeals to men who work outdoors. The parable of the Lost Sons brings to focus the context of the family.
The Lost Coin
Coins were not very common in those days in
The young woman took all efforts to search for the coin. The houses of the poor at that time did not have windows. So, lighting the lamp was necessary to have proper vision. Light was just not enough for the search operation. The floors were generally of mud, so she took a broom to sweep the floor to search for the lost coin.
There are three important lessons in the lostness of the coin. First, the coin did not know that it was lost. Second, the coin did not know its creator or owner. Third, since the coin did not know it was lost, did not know the master, it did not know how to get back to the owner. In other words, people who are lost do not know that they are lost; they do not know the true living God and do not know Lord Jesus Christ as the way of salvation.
There are people in the world today, who are called as ‘Tribals’, ‘Primitive people’ and ‘Indigenous people’. They live in remote areas of several nations, in hills, wilderness areas, deserts, forests and islands. The modern civilization, technological advancement, communication etc has not reached them yet. Most of these people are illiterate, wear scanty dress, depend on forest products or other natural products and hunt for their survival. The so called basic amenities like running water, electricity, hygiene are all luxury things they can ill-afford. In most places they are exploited by other people. They are under perpetual slavery, like the Israelites under Pharaoh.
Some people are possessed by evil spirits and do not know that they are lost. Their thinking faculties are controlled by evil spirits and they do not have freedom to know the true God. One example is recorded in the Acts of Apostles. “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her.” (Acts 16:16-18) For this girl, the owners were men who exploited her to earn money. She did not realize that she was created in the image of God. Such people also need deliverance from demon possession and from social structures that makes them slaves, so they can hear the gospel.
Like the virgin woman, every individual believer has a job assigned in God’s vineyard. Some are called by God to search for the ‘Lost Coin’ by sharing the gospel among tribals or among people who are made slaves by evil spirits.
The Lost Sheep
All human beings are sinners, who go on in their sinful ways, just like the lost sheep that had gone astray. Human beings are wayward and often choose foolish paths like that of a sheep. First, a sinner is lost to God. A sinner engulfed in sin and darkness is separated from the Holy God. Second, a sinner is lost to the flock. A sinner is lost to all holy beings, like angels. Third, the sinner is lost to himself as he is not sure about his future.
The prophet Isaiah declares that the whole humanity has gone astray (Isa 53:6). God values humanity like that shepherd who valued the one lost sheep. The shepherd knew that the ninety-nine were safe and sound, and began to search for the lost one. The Holy angels, a holy flock was there with God, but God sent His Son to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Humanity is like the lost sheep, while the angels are like the ninety-nine sheep. The shepherd cared for the lost sheep and carried it upon his shoulders. Similarly, the Lord Jesus Christ loves sinners and carries them and keeps those who trust Him under His protection.
The sheep, engulfed by the darkness at the end of the day, unable to free itself from the trap, knew that it was lost. But it did not have the strength or capacity or knowledge to come back to the shepherd. Unlike the coin, the sheep has a self awareness that it is lost. The sheep just knows that there is a shepherd and there is a way of salvation but it neither has the knowledge or relationship with the shepherd, nor has the capacity to find the way by itself. There are millions of people like this lost sheep in the world. They are aware that they are sinners; they are looking for a shepherd who can take them to a safe place. They are generally termed as ‘seekers’, who are seeking for truth or way of salvation. These seekers may be knocking at the wrong doors for salvation. They try alms giving, pilgrimage, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, austere lifestyle, etc… These seekers are trapped in the thorns of materialism, consumerism, social structures, ideologies, belief systems, religions etc. The Ethiopian eunuch, who was the treasurer for the queen of Candace, was like a lost sheep. Philip, the evangelist joined him. Unable to understand the writings of the prophet Isaiah, The eunuch asked Philip, “How can I understand unless someone explains this?” (Acts 8:26-38) Even though he was a learned man, he did not have the capacity to understand the Saviour or the way of salvation. There was a need for an evangelist (Philip) to evangelize him and baptize him.
The Lost sons
The parable denotes that God is the Father of all humanity - all descendants of Adam and Eve. Through this parable Lord Jesus Christ was teaching the proud Pharisees, who saw common people as lesser human beings, that they were indeed their brothers, created in the image of God.
People are of different characters. This parable divides humanity into two kinds of people. One who is sober, austere and apparently righteous. The other was volatile, dynamic, impatient, curious, and willing to take risks and explore. The former represents the Jews or specifically the Pharisees, while the later represents the Gentiles.
The Younger Son
The younger son demanded his entire portion or inheritance. He did not want to try out a portion as probation with limited authority, but wanted all with complete freedom. God’s general gifts in nature are given by common grace, while spiritual gifts are given to those who seek them in faith. But these gifts are not rights that can be demanded. The younger son wanted to get away from his father’s control, management or supervision. The spirit of rebellion was much evident in the conversation with his father. The father let him go in order to learn the folly of his unwise and immature decision. Unlike the virgin or the shepherd in the other two parables, the father did not go to search for his son, because the son took a deliberate decision to walk out of his home. The Son would have to make a decision to come back home.
The younger son used up all his inheritance by unwise and even sinful spending. A sinful state let us go further astray, moving further away from God. The direction and distance widens the gap between the sinner and the Creator. It is also a wasting state, where the young man lost all he possessed. In a sinful state, even doing the best, productivity is nil. It is also servile state where a person becomes a slave of sin, its habits and the fashions of the world and Satan. A sinful state is a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.
He realized his inadequacy, and also began to appreciate the graciousness of his father.
The prodigal son, in a state of despair and hopelessness, thought of his home where hired servants were better off than him. This consideration was the first step towards conversion (Ezek 18:28). To consider means to look inward, reflect, reason and make a decision. The hired servants had enough. There was also room in his father’s home. There would be hope for him there, which could not be found in the place where he was in sin and loneliness.
The father’s body language was amazing. He was looking (eyes) for him in mercy and grace. He ran towards him (legs). He had compassion on him (heart). He embraced him (hands and shoulders) and kissed him (face and lips). The son came in rags and was clothed, came hungry and was fed, came to be a servant and was accepted as son, above all there was also a celebration.
The younger son knew that he was lost, knew his father, and knew the way back home, so he was expected to come home. The father diligently waited for his return. The door of grace is always open to welcome a sinner. There are people who know that they are sinners, understand that Lord Jesus Christ is the way of salvation but they have not yet come home like the prodigal son. People, who are born in a Christian family and do not have personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, are like the younger prodigal son. Generally, they are called ‘nominal Christians’ or sometimes ‘Festival Christians’(they come to church for Christmas and Easter). They also need to be evangelized. The children born into a Christian family also need to be evangelized.
The Elder son
The elder brother was like the Pharisees, who were envious about commoners and harlots entering the
The elder son always lived with his father, but never understood his father. The love, forgiving attitude, grace, and mercy of his father were alien to his thinking. He was lost within the home, for he was unable to grasp the vision, plan and purpose of his father. There are Christians who are happy and satisfied that they are saved. They are not concerned about others who perish. Therefore they are not involved in evangelism. Like the Pharisees, who were well versed with the Law, these Christians may be well versed with the Gospel. The Pharisees miserably failed to understand the spirit of the Law, just like these Christians fail to understand the spirit of the gospel, which is proclamation of the Good News.
All the three parables contain celebration. The virgin called her friends and neigbours. The Greek word used in this text denotes feminine – the woman called other women for a celebration. When a sinner repents, the Bride of Christ rejoices.
The joy and hope of finding the lost sheep helped the shepherd to endure all hardships and take risks. Christ considered the suffering of the cross as a joy as that was hope of humanity reconciling with God. When a sinner repents, Lord Jesus Christ rejoices to see the fruit of His labour.
The father called for a celebration with all his family members and servants in the parable of the two sons. In heaven, in the presence of the angels, there is a great celebration. The whole creation celebrates when a sinner repents.
In all the three parables, the Lord Jesus teaches God’s attitude towards sinners. God does not approve the rebellious attitude, evil deeds and wayward life of sinners, but He welcomes them back to fellowship when they repent. God responds according to the need of an individual. The search operation in the case of the Lost Coin was different from that of the Lost sheep. The Lost son was expected to return. There was waiting and no searching involved.
It is an amazing fact that God looks upon His disciples to be partners in the work of evangelism. He expects every Christian to be a witness, share the gospel and bring people into the