Sunday, October 18, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
I Once Was Lost
#1—Lost and Found


Parents: have you ever lost a kid? There is no more terrifying feeling than to think that your child is lost.

ILL: In 1999, when Michael was 10, we were doing some backcountry skiing with a group, and for almost an hour, I thought that I’d lost him—that he’d skied off by himself. It was one of the most awful hours of my life! And when I finally caught up with the group and found Michael with them, he just said, “Hey Dad!”, completely oblivious to the sheer terror I’d been feeling!

If you have lost a child, what did you do? You launched an all out search!

ILL: Another dad had an experience similar to mine, except his 12 year-old son ran ahead on the trail to beat his dad to the car, and got lost. When his father got to the car, the boy was nowhere to be found. That dad quickly called for help, and for 2 days, that father and hundreds of volunteers combed the woods before they found the boy, alive and well. That dad launched an all-out search to find his lost son. He didn’t do it because the boy deserved it: “Well, you’ve been a good kid this summer–kept the lawn mowed and your bed made. I just thought I owed it to you to find you–you know, as a reward for all you’ve done.”   He searched non-stop because he loved that boy.

I believe that God is in all out search mode, looking for lost people for one reason: because He loves them.

Today, we kick off a new series, “I Once Was Lost.” When we’re done, we’ll come back to “The God I Wish You Knew”. But for the next four weeks, I want to cast a fresh vision for our mission. We help people find and follow Jesus. Why is that important? Why not just live and let live? Why do we insist on helping others find and follow Jesus? I want to answer those questions today, and then in the next three weeks we’re going to talk about how we do this: how we help people find and follow Jesus. But we’re going to start with the why.

The Big Idea: Jesus came on a search and rescue mission to find lost people and bring them back to God. He passed that mission on to us.

We are going to look at three “why’s”: why Jesus came, why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why this is our mission too.


  1. Why Jesus came.

Why did Jesus come to earth? Why not stay in heaven with His Father? Why did He come? The answer is in a story.

Luke 19:1–10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem where He will die for the sins of the world. He is on His way to do the most awful and most important thing that will ever be done. But on the way, He stops in Jericho to meet with a man that everyone considered a lost cause.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. This means that he was a Jew who worked for the Romans who occupied and controlled Israel—which made him a traitor. He collected taxes for the enemy from his countrymen, and he got rich doing it—which made him the most hated man in town.

When Jesus saw Zac up in the tree, he said, “Come down now, I must stay at your house today.” Notice the word “must”. It’s a Greek word that means, “under necessity or compulsion,” and Luke uses it regularly of divine necessity. Jesus may be saying, “Zac, God told me that I must come to your house today.”   This wasn’t just an serendipitous meeting; Jesus was on a mission. God had sent Him to find this lost soul that everyone else had given up on.

And notice the townspeople’s response. Everyone was offended. They muttered: “Of all the people! He could have gone to anyone’s, and He goes to that sinner’s house!” It was scandalous! To help you feel what they were feeling: what would you think if you saw me going into a strip club? How many of you would mutter? “What is Joe doing?” That’s how everyone felt about Jesus going to Zac’s house—scandalous!

Everyone was offended—except Zacchaeus. He was delighted. And he was converted. “Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor. And if I’ve cheated anybody, I’ll pay him back four times the amount!” I’d say that’s a pretty good sign of conversion! Usually it takes a while for someone’s conversion to reach all the way to his wallet, but Zac was so thoroughly converted that it happened instantly!

Jesus saw this and said, “Today, salvation has come to this house!” This dude is saved! Compare Zac’s story to the rich young ruler’s story, which we mentioned last week, and Luke records just before this story, in chapter 18. When Jesus called him to give away his money, he couldn’t do it. He loved his money more than Jesus, which prompted Jesus to say, “It’s hard for the rich to be saved.” Hard…but not impossible, as Zacchaeus shows.

Then the punch line: Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Here is why Jesus came. He came to seek and to save the lost. He came on a search and rescue mission. He came looking for lost people, like Zacchaeus…and you and me.

So what does it mean to be lost? No doubt Jesus knew the Old Testament scriptures that referred to God’s people as sheep. For example:

Psalm 100:3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

God’s people are the sheep of his pasture; but they are stubborn, self-willed sheep who go their own way.

Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

We are all like sheep who have gone astray; each of us has gone our own way, not God’s way. We’ve gone astray and gotten lost. And what happens to lost sheep? They are defenseless and vulnerable to predators—they don’t last long. They perish. But we are God’s sheep, and He promised to come find us and rescue us.

Ezekiel 34:11–12 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

God said, “I myself will search for my sheep.” And He did. God came and lived among us, the Word became flesh. Jesus came to seek and save the lost sheep. Jesus knew all these OT scriptures and used this metaphor—we are lost sheep, and He is the shepherd who came to find us.

A lost sheep is not where he is supposed to be; he is far from the shepherd. To be lost means that we are not where we are supposed to be; we are far from God. And it also means we are in mortal danger. As I said, lost sheep, if they weren’t found, perished. They died. And apart from God, we perish.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The word “perish” is the same Greek word that is translated “lost” in Luke 19:10. To be lost is to perish. Please don’t miss this. Please understand what is at stake. Lost people perish. When I thought my son had skied off by himself and was lost in the wilderness in the middle of winter, I knew what was at stake. He could perish. That was the source of my panic and the all out search. Lost people perish. The stakes are high. It’s life and death.  

Lost people perish. So Jesus came to find us.

This is why He came: to seek and to save the lost. And to find us, He had to hang out with us.


  1. Why Jesus hung out with sinners.

Zacchaeus wasn’t the only lost person that Jesus hung out with. You could often find Him with a crowd of lost souls around Him, and this was a constant source of irritation to the religious, who thought that Jesus should just hang out with the good people.

Mark 2:15–17 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Why does Jesus hang out with lost people? Precisely because they are lost! It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. So Dr. Jesus hung out with the sick. The only way sick people get well is if a doctor hangs out with them. The only way lost people get found is if a found person hangs out with them!

Notice that there were many of these lost people who were following Jesus. Jesus attracted lost people—lots of them. There was something about Him that made these far-from-God people feel at home with Jesus. Is that true of you?

ILL: David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons did extensive research for three years on what young Americans think of Christianity, and they published their findings in a 2007 book called UnChristian. They discovered that most young Americans think Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, anti-gay, too pushy, too political and too sheltered. In other words, they don’t think we’re much like Jesus.

We need to honestly ask ourselves why Jesus attracted lost people and His followers often repel them. And we need to start being more like Jesus. Jesus was constantly getting called on the carpet for the company he kept.

Luke 15:1–3 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

Same scenario—Jesus hanging out with lost people—but a different answer this time. Instead of a metaphor about sick people and doctors, Jesus tells a story—actually, He tells three stories: about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Why does He hang out with lost people? So He can find them and bring them back to God.

A shepherd had 100 sheep and one of them wandered off and got lost. What did he do? He left the 99 safely at home, and launched an all out search for that lost sheep. He knew what was at stake: find the lost sheep or it’s a wolf snack! When he found it, he carried it home and threw a party to celebrate!

A woman had 10 coins and lost one of them. What did she do? She tore her house apart—she went into deep cleaning mode—it was an all out search. That coin was valuable to her! And when she found it, she threw a party to celebrate.

A father had two sons, and the younger one asked his father for his share of the estate and left home and blew it all on wild living (we told this story two weeks ago). But one day he came to his senses; he returned home, broke and broken, and his father welcomed him home and threw a party to celebrate.

“Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Because He loves them. And because they are lost and need to be found. The only way that lost people are found is if a found person will hang out with them.

Let me say it another way. Friendship is the bridge most people cross to come back to God. If a lost person doesn’t have a Christian friend who will hang with him and love him, he will probably stay lost.  

There is a tension here that we live in. On the one hand, we need to love people with no strings attached. The first commandment is to love God with all you’ve got, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Period. Love your neighbor simply because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t view your neighbor as a project—no one wants to be your project. View them as a friend and love them. On the other hand, we know what’s at stake and we want our neighbor to come to Jesus. We want our friendship to be redemptive. We pray for them and look for opportunities to share Jesus with them. So we live in the tension between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I want to love my neighbor with no strings attached, and I want my neighbor to find and follow Jesus. It starts by simply loving your neighbor—hang out, be friends, earn their trust. When that happens, friends share what matters to them, so you’ll have natural opportunities to share Jesus. And what does it mean if your friend refuses to follow Jesus, says no to you invitations to church? You keep loving them.

Jesus hung out with lost people because He loved them and because He wanted to find them and bring them back to God.

So what would it look like for you to hang out with lost people? Of course many of you do all day long at work, or school. Here’s an idea: what would happen if every one of us simply got to know our neighbors—the people who live on our block, or closest to you. Jesus said, “love your neighbor.” We know that means the guy who works at the next desk, or the gal who sits next to you in math. But it also means the people that live closest to you. For the next couple weeks, I’m going to dream with you about what might happen if we simply got to know our neighbors and be friends. I believe it could be huge—huge for us, our neighbors, our church and our community. I want to cast a vision for neighboring. If you want to get an idea where we’re going, read this book: The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.

Why did Jesus come? To seek and save the lost.

Why did Jesus hang out with sinners? To find them and bring them back to God.

But why should I do that? Why is this our mission?


  1. Why this is our mission.

Jesus passed His mission of seeking and saving the lost on to us. Here are His final words to His disciples:

Matthew 28:18–20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We call this the Great Commission. There are four verbs in the Great Commission: go, make disciples, baptize and teach. The main verb that is imperative in mood (a command) is “make disciples”. The other three verbs are participles, verbs that modify the main verb. So it could read, “In all your going, wherever you go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them.” The command is to make disciples. A disciple is a learner or follower. We make disciples of Jesus—we help people find and follow Jesus. That is the mission that Jesus left with His followers. If you are a follower of Jesus, this is your mission too. You are on a search and rescue mission. You are to help people find and follow Jesus.

And we do this wherever we go. We are always on mission, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

ILL: In a moment, you’ll see a great video—it’s Dan Brossoit’s story. I want you to notice that someone shared Jesus with him—it was a friend at work, at the gym. Dan came to Christ here—but long before he got here, someone was on mission at the gym!

I have friends who are following Jesus because I was on mission at our kids’ games, or while shopping, or at school. Wherever you go, you are always on mission, always helping people find and follow Jesus.

ILL: A few years ago, we spent the night in Concunully, Washington while on a motorcycle trip. I saw this really cool sweatshirt. “Off duty. Save yourself.” Of course, what makes it funny is that it’s ridiculous. Can you imagine a lifeguard or search-and-rescue person or doc or EMT saying, “I’m off duty—save yourself?”   Of course not!

No Christian can say it either. You are a follower of Jesus, and you are on mission—always, wherever you go.   We understand what is at stake: people are lost, far from God, and perishing.

We help people find and follow Jesus. We help people move from lost to found to follower. How do we do that? It starts by simply being friends. We do what Jesus did and we hang out with people who are far from God. We love our neighbors, whether it’s the person next door, or in the next cubicle at work or the next desk at school. The gospel has always traveled from person to person along relational lines.

We call it “Find, Tell, Bring.”

  • Find someone you love.
  • Tell them what you know.
  • Bring them to church.

We got it from the Bible. In John 1, the first thing Andrew did when he met Jesus was to find his brother Peter, tell him about Jesus, and bring him to meet Jesus.

When Philip met Jesus, the first thing he did was find his friend Nathaniel and tell about Jesus and bring him to meet Jesus. “Come and see,” he said.

In John 4, when the woman at the well met Jesus, the first thing she did was find her neighbors, tell them about Jesus, and bring them to meet Him.

In all three stories, when someone met Jesus, they found people they loved—a brother, a friend, neighbors—and told them what had happened and brought them to meet Jesus. Find, tell, bring.

But it all starts with a relationship. It starts by loving your neighbor, by being a friend. We’re going to spend the next three weeks unpacking how to do that better, because we know what is at stake. People are lost and perishing.

We help people find and follow Jesus. We help people move from lost to found to follower. Someone did that for you. Who was the person, or who were the people, who hung out with you, loved you, talked with you, listened to you, and helped you move from lost to found?

I once was lost. But one Saturday morning, Don Lang, my 8th grade classmate, knocked on my door and invited me to a youth rally at his church that night. I didn’t want to go, but didn’t want to disappoint my friend either. So I went and was ambushed by Jesus. My entire life changed because Don Lang knocked on my door and made an invite. I once was lost, but now am found. I moved from lost to found to follower. And now I return the favor. I help others move from lost to found to follower.

What’s your story? Who knocked on your door, or hung out with you? Who helped you move from lost to found to follower? Here’s Dan’s story.

Video: Dan Brossoit

We help people find and follow Jesus. Why? Because of stories like that. Because people are lost and perishing without Jesus. Because I once was lost, but now I’m found, and I’m on mission with Jesus. So are you.