The Lost and Found
Luke 15:4-7 (NIV)
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
When the King of Glory humbled himself and took up a mantle of flesh, this is one of the many things that He told us in an attempt to express our Holy Father’s heart for the lost. Jesus further assured us that His words were not His own, but that every utterance was only what Abba had given Him to pass along to His children.
When one thinks about it, Yeshua was doing nothing new during the days of His flesh as it pertains to His relationship to The Father. He had always served as “The Word of the Lord” since before the dawn of creation and was simply continuing at that time what has always been His role in the Holy Trinity. God does not change – He always has been what He is today, and will remain gloriously unchanged a trillion years from now. So is there, you might wonder, an example of this magnanimous mindset in the pages of the Old Testament? A dispensation often misjudged because of the great times of judgment in which mankind forced our Holy Father's hand? Did He ever leave the ninety-nine and search for the one?
For the answer we must go to sea…
There was once a ship that departed from a seaport in Tel Aviv on a journey that would take it to Spain. The weather was nothing that might concern a captain or his crew – a sunny and pleasant day with generous winds and tightened sails so that the departure was an occasion for quiet revelry and happy singing.
How could have they known (beyond the usual tug of sailor melancholy) that they were disembarking into a nightmare that would forever change their lives?
Hours later they were too stricken with terror to even consider the question.
Relating the horror of such a moment is a task with which sailors have struggled for centuries. The stories are told over pints of brew in the hearing of “land-lubbers”, each taut with excitement and hanging on every word as they try to fathom a swell of water rising like a towering monster out of the sea – a swell that must be attacked if one wishes to survive. How to express the inertia of climbing an enormous wall of water that is ever changing to form hanging precipices and bone-crushing drops – or the queer sensation that turns over in the gut with each new peril? How to properly portray the experience of an entire world consumed by throbbing giant waves that are churning with rage; vexations thrown into sharp relief by blinding streaks of lightning and deafening claps of thunder that are loud enough to override the din of the torrent? Ships that are fortresses on sunny afternoons suddenly seem little better than toy rafts – their plight on the mountainous billows like that of an insect on the back of a raging elephant.
Hour by hour, tethered to the mast with ropes, bodies electric with terror as every creak of the ship betrays a strain for which it was never designed. Two and three sets of hands clutch the rudder with white-knuckled urgency, guiding the boat over a writhing landscape that changes with every passing second – as though the sea has somehow arisen to personally counter your every move. Up and over, one cavernous wall after another, never more than a breath away from the fatal plunge that will send the ship to its doom.
The captain screams orders designed to aim the battered craft in the direction of the newest horror to morph out of the sea, where another anxious climb begins in a death-struggle that seems like it will never end. Relief has no friend here – for one no more than clears a summit when the subsequent plunge is upon you and another ravenous behemoth rises to take your life.
Add to all this the exertions below-deck where enough of the ocean has spilled in to make it perfectly clear that sinking has begun if something isn't done to counter the rising water. Sailors work tirelessly with buckets to stem the rise, while the captain has passed the point of caring for precious cargo and has thrown most of it overboard in an effort to lighten the load. Anxiety rises with the water level, and with every ounce of sea that is drawn aboard there comes a precipitous drain of hope. Thoughts now turn to the unthinkable as the death-struggle exacerbates. One is taunted by nightmares of carnivorous beasts circling the boat – grinning mouths lined with jagged rows of razor sharp teeth and black eyes that roll back for the kill. Shocks of blistering pain and seas dyed red with blood – or the filling of lungs by the same water that is even now overrunning their holds. These brave men try desperately to steel themselves against the inevitable, for many have passed into the eternal thus, and so it appears shall they.
Such was the plight of this little ship from the port in Tel Aviv.
In short order even seasoned sailors had abandoned all hope and began to call out to whatever god they held dear. Then the oddest news reached the captain, who was already of the opinion that he had likely seen it all. Their lone passenger – a stranger who had booked a ride on this doomed expedition, was below in his quarters – and was asleep. One can sympathize with the captain when he went to this man and roused him, shouting, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
Imagine a circle of terror-crazed eyes greeting you as you rise from slumber in a ship that is rocking and creaking as though it is about to break apart. Stark-white sea-soaked faces glare accusingly upon you – for the lot has been cast and it implicated you as the central focus of this unspeakable calamity. This is what Jonah saw when it dawned on him that his run from God had all been folly, and that the moment of his atonement was upon him at last.
The Bible records the subsequent conversation as follows:
“So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’
The man answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’
This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)”
Seamen are a naturally superstitious lot and ever have been. To this day it is common knowledge among sailors what a serious business is to be labeled “A Jonah”. Make no mistake, Beloved, this revelation pounded through them like a bolt of lightning. Foxholes breed no atheists, and no foxhole ever dug can present as many dangers as what regularly meets a ship when traveling the depths of God’s vast oceans. These men were primed by experience and were ready to believe - and Jonah’s revelation was more alarming than the sum of their terrible experience up to that point.
God’s Word further records:
“The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’
‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’”
Stop everything, my fellow wretched-sinners-saved-by-grace - and ponder what you just read. This man, who has earned the laughter and derision of nearly every ignorant theologian since the story was first recorded, had the intestinal fortitude to look his moment of judgment in the face and declare with absolute truth his terrible sentence. Could you have done it? Could you endorse being thrown into the gale and certain death as a means of saving everyone else on-board? Have we ever examined our own pitiful plight with such bald honesty? Jonah will forever be honored by our Holy Father for this one moment – this brave-hearted instance of time wherin he could have easily claimed ignorance and spared himself the sailor’s scrutiny. He instead embraced Adonai’s judgment and gave himself over to the Lord’s justice.
We all know how the story goes. These good-hearted men refused to cast Jonah into the sea until it became clear that escape was beyond them – that death was coming for each of them regardless. In desperation they finally relented, and the Bible records what happened:
“Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’”
Can you imagine it, brothers and sisters? Watching a man being thrown overboard into seas that are churning up hundred-foot waves?
“Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”
The story of Jonah has for centuries been known for the foolish prophet who was swallowed by a fish, and rightly so, for this is truly what happened. The story is also known for the wicked city of Nineveh – against whom Jonah had been sent and from which Jonah was trying to run. We know that great salvation came to 150,000 people because of Jonah’s eventual obedience – that our Holy Father in His great love spared the city because they humbled themselves and repented of their sin. We preach (and rightly so) that Father is no favor of persons – that the larger point to the book of Jonah was found in its final sentence, which was an expression of concern for that ungodly multitude.
But carefully consider what God did in the discourse of this tale...
From those who are given much, much has always been required - and the Old Testament is filled with examples of judgment that was set upon prophets who were acting in a manner unworthy of their lofty position. One prophet was even mauled to death by a Lion for stopping to eat in a place that he was instructed to avoid. Thus is begged the logical question - Why did God indulge Jonah so? How was this rebellious prophet not simply stricken blind or lame until he agreed to repent? Father has no limitations and could have at any moment steered Jonah back to Nineveh by any other (more conventional) means. Must have He used a fish? Or was there a deeper purpose for the detour that God allowed Jonah to take on the way to finally performing His will?
Is a single soul really worth that much to our Father?
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus did not cast His mind back to that little ship as He told the story of the lost sheep, assuring His disciples that one soul saved was cause for more rejoicing in Heaven than ninety-nine souls who did not need to repent. For what many fail to consider when studying Jonah is that our gracious Father went out of His way to indulge a prophets’ overt disobedience – all so that the radiance of His Glory might be demonstrated and His eternal salvation given to a few simple sailors.
Long before Yeshua came in the flesh, the story of Jonah clearly illustrated that The Great Shepherd was already doing what He always does best. He had gone in search for a few lost sheep - a powerful story of salvation that still resonates to this day.
Praise the Lord for His indescribable mercy and unfathomable grace!
Your brother and servant in Christ Jesus our Lord,