Jesus told a number of parables, or stories with a purpose, while he was on the earth. In Luke chapter 15 Luke gathered three stories all with a similar theme: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each one there is a frantic search and passion for that which is lost followed by a great celebration when the item was found. The point of these parables is that this is the way God feels when a lost person repents and comes to Him.
It is not a particularly popular today to talk about people who are “lost”. It is politically incorrect and it makes the speaker sound rather arrogant. However, it is a term that Jesus uses. A lost person is one who has not yet come to a point of faith and trust in Christ. They may be searching for truth but they are looking for it in all the wrong places.
Have any of you women ever been lost when you are traveling (we know that no man ever is lost)? When we are lost we may keep driving but we have no sense of direction. You don’t know whether you are moving in the right direction or the wrong direction. There is an uneasiness that comes with being lost that can make you irritable. Sometimes children who are lost in a store will start to cry because they just don’t know where to turn or who to trust.
The person who has not found peace with God through faith in Jesus lives their life like this. They keep moving but they have no sense of meaning or purpose in their life. They avoid thinking about ultimate issues because they don’t know where to start. They tend to live for the moment figuring they don’t have to address eternal issues until they are ready to die. They may be angry.
A former President of the Southern Baptist churches got into trouble a couple of years ago because he suggested that Jewish people were unsaved and they needed to be converted to Christ. His words created a firestorm of protest. He was considered to be a judgmental bigot. However, what this man said was really no different than what the apostle Paul said in Romans 10.
Paul said the Jews had “zeal without knowledge”. He explained that a person must trust and confess Christ as Savior and as Lord to be a child of God. He concluded saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As we continue our study Paul gives us valuable information about lost people.
THE ONLY HOPE FOR PEOPLE IS TO HEAR THE GOSPEL
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
The argument of Paul is clear: if anyone trusts Christ they will be saved. Before this can happen they have to know the Lord and what is necessary for salvation. In order for this to happen, someone is going to have to tell the person. Before someone can tell another person, they must go.
We can talk about the lost, whine about the state of the world, and pray constantly for revival; however, nothing is going to change unless someone shares the gospel message with those who do not know. The problem is that we think more people understand the gospel than they actually do.
Have you ever watched Jay Leno in a segment he calls Jay-walking? In this segment, Leno goes out on the streets and interviews people. He asks them questions that most of us would think would be obvious and he gets all kinds of wild answers. For example, he might show a person on a University campus a picture of Vice-President Dick Cheney and ask, “Who is this?” He gets answers like, “It’s “Dave” the founder of Wendy’s Hamburgers.” We shake our head at this lack of knowledge and wonder what some schools are teaching.
I wonder what would happen if Jay asked the average person, “How do you get to Heaven?” Our eyes would be opened. We mistakenly think this is something everyone understands. We are wrong. We think the prevalence of Christian media ministries means everyone understands Christianity. Most people don’t watch those programs, and those who do, are confused by the wild and distorted things they see being done and said under the guise of Christianity. Just because there are many good Christian books, doesn’t mean non-believers are going to read them. We mistakenly think that because we build a church on the corner people will automatically enter the doors.
We must never assume that our family, friends or relatives understand the gospel message . . . even if they have gone to church all their life. It is always a good idea to start at the beginning in explaining the message of the cross and resurrection to anyone and everyone. You would be surprised at how many people know nothing of God’s grace extended to us through Christ.
Paul talks about the “beautiful feet” of the person who brings good news. Paul quotes Isaiah. Isaiah was talking about the messengers who would come with the good news that the Jewish exiles could go home. Paul rightly applied the idea of beautiful feet to those who share the words of hope and life with those who are lost.
Donald Barnhouse told of a man with the disease, elephantiasis. With this disease the leg from the knee down to the foot can become as large as 12-15 inches in diameter and naturally is quite painful.
This man, from Western Africa, became a radiant Christian but was able to do little because of his disease. What he knew he could do was tell others about Christ. He determined that every soul in the village would hear the good news of salvation. Though it was difficult for him to walk he went from hut to hut in that village to tell them what Christ had done in his life. Every night he would come home to be cared for by his relatives. After several months of enduring the discomfort and pain he had talked to everyone in the village.
Next he walked the two miles to the neighboring village. He would walk the two miles to the village, talk to as many people as possible, and then walk the two painful miles home. After several weeks every person in that village had heard about the death and resurrection of the Savior also.
The man thought that was all he could do. Soon he had a burden for a town that was ten or twelve miles through the African jungle. The missionary Doctor advised him, not to make the long journey to the village. His heart for the lost would not let him stay home. Early one morning he started off on the difficult journey. He had to stop many times but he made it to the village a little after noon. His feet were greatly swollen, bruised and bleeding. The people of the village offered him food but before he would eat, he told them about God and how he sent his son to die for them and then was raised from the dead. He told how Jesus had come into his heard and brought him, hope, joy, and peace.
That man went to every home in the village that day and because there was no place for him to spend the night started off near evening to return home. He walked through the dangerous jungle in the deep darkness of night. The man later reported that the only thing that kept him from being afraid was the wonderful joy of seeing people come to trust the Savior. Around midnight the Doctor was awakened by a noise at his front door. He found the man at his doorstep, almost unconscious with his leg stumps wounded and bleeding. The doctor took him into his infirmary and cared for the feet that were in such terrible shape. As the Doctor cleaned and cared for those feet he wept at the thought of such love and devotion to the Savior and for those who needed to hear the message of salvation. The Doctor could not help but think about the words from the book of Romans.
Oh, to have such a passion for the souls of men! The lost people in the world need people who will care enough about them to share the word of truth. We need to share with those around us, and we have a responsibility to promote and invest in missionary endeavors around the world.
SOME WHO HEAR WILL NOT BELIEVE
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
Paul tells us a second thing about those who are lost. Even when the gospel is faithfully presented, not everyone is going to believe. The Israelites had heard but most still chose not to believe.
This is hard for us to understand, isn’t it? Why would someone refuse to respond to God’s offer of forgiveness and new life? Perhaps it is the depth of the rebellious spirit, or the love of sin, or human pride that makes us resist asking for help.
Whatever the reasons, we need to understand this reality or we will become discouraged in our attempts to share the gospel with others. It is human nature to assume that when our attempts to witness bear no fruit, it must be because of something we did wrong. That’s not true. You can present the gospel flawlessly and some still will not believe. We must not give up, but we must also not be discouraged.
Think about all the conversations we have heard and shared about keeping out of debt. Every one of us knows that getting into deep debt keeps you enslaved and can squeeze the life from you. Yet that fact does not stop people from ignoring that wise counsel.
Think about all the speakers that come in to talk to young people about drugs and alcohol. Yet many ignore what they were told. It is not that they have not heard, it is that they choose not to listen. The same is true of the gospel. There will be those who will hear but will choose not to listen. Our job is to speak. It is God’s job to change hearts and draw people to himself.
SOME WHO BELIEVE WILL SURPRISE YOU
And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people. (Romans 10:14-21)
The Lord told Isaiah that people other than the Jews (the Gentiles) would come to Him. To a Jewish reader this would have been an outrageous idea. The Gentiles were pagans! How could God ever welcome them? Yet the Gentiles flocked into the church while the Jews remained outside.
It is an important reminder. We don’t know who is going to respond to the message of salvation and who will not. Church history is filled with stories of those who (like Paul) seemed to be beyond hope, yet trusted Christ.
St. Augustine was a man who lived a wild and immoral life. He lived only for the moment until one day he heard the message of grace and went on to become one of the leading theologians of the early church.
We are seeing this reality played out in the world today. The sophisticated western world is flocking after false religions while those in Asia, India, and Africa are experiencing great revivals of faith.
It is not up to us to determine who is ripe for the gospel and who is not. We must never write off anyone. Anyone can be saved. It is our job to pray and to testify. If we are faithful we will be surprised by what God’s Spirit can do. God is in the business of transforming those the world discarded.
Let’s try to be practical. What should we do in response to Paul’s words? First, we should be grateful. We should thank God for the beautiful feet that bought the gospel to us. It may have been a Sunday School teacher, a parent, a Pastor, a friend, an author, or a preacher on television. Thank God for that person who shared with you the wonderful message of salvation that is found in God’s Word. Thank God for their courage, faithfulness, and in some cases, persistence. If you have the opportunity, thank the person or people that God used to bring you to faith. Extend your hand, make a phone call, or write a note. Your thanks will encourage that faithful person or people more than you know.
Second, if the only way to belief is to hear, we need to work as a church to make sure unbelievers hear the Word. This is the reason we invest heavily in our radio ministry. Our purpose is NOT to make a name for our church or to exalt me as Pastor. The reason we invest in the radio ministry is that we believe people need to hear the Word of God proclaimed. In fact, if we had the opportunity we would look to expand our radio ministry into the Macomb area. People need to hear the gospel.
The sermons on our website, the books I’ve written, the tapes and CD’s we send out all have one purpose: to help people to hear the Word of God. We must continue to invest in getting the gospel out not only to our own community but to those around the world who have never heard about Jesus. We must be involved in missionary outreach personally and support our missionaries with our giving and with our prayers.
Third, to get the gospel to unbelievers we must personally get involved. Let me ask a pointed question: When was the last time you told someone about Jesus? When was the last time you encouraged someone to take advantage of the salvation that God offers to us in Christ? Most of us would say it has been awhile . . . maybe we have never done so. I have some practical suggestions,
- begin to pray for at least five people that you suspect don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ask God to work in their heart. Ask Him to impress them on your heart and to help you hurt for them. Perhaps these are relatives, friends, co-workers. Don’t exclude someone because you think they would never respond. Let God face that challenge. Pray for God to prepare their heart and then ask for an opportunity to share your faith with them.
- Intentionally look for ways to develop relationships with non-believers. Sit with non-believers at a sporting event or at lunch. Invite non-Christian friends to dinner. Get involved in a community club or organization, take a class at a community college, play sports on a non-church team. Do these things looking for an opportunity to share your faith.
- Look for opportunities to plant seeds. You don’t always have to give the entire gospel message; you can plant a seed. Share something you heard at church, read in your Bible or read in a book. Hum a Christian song. Let someone know you are involved in a Bible study. One sentence can say a great deal. Look for ways to demonstrate the love of Christ.
- Read a book or attend (maybe even host) a class that focuses on how to share your faith. We have a good video class we would be happy to let you use to start an at-home small group on sharing your faith. Let us know if you would like to be part of the next Evangelism Explosion Class. If you are afraid to share your faith because you feel you don’t know how to do so, get training!
- Invite people to worship. Make it a point to try to try to invite one new person a month. Don’t just invite them, offer to meet them and sit with them. Make it a special point to take advantage of our special services and events. Going to church won’t save anyone but it will expose them to the Word of God and the gospel message.
- Make time to greet a newcomer to our church. People need to see the love of Christ before they will believe it.
- Take a picture of your feet (or someone else’s) and place it in a prominent place to remind you about the beautiful feet of those who share the message of the gospel with others.
It may be politically incorrect to say, but it’s true, there are lost people in the world. They are drifting toward Hell and don’t even realize it. We have the privilege and responsibility to help these people find their way home. God’s arms are open; ours should be also.