Ministry’s Wit’s End
His face was screwed up in frustration as he described his job, “He put me here in an impossible situation to do an impossible job, with no tools!”
Perhaps every pastor or lay-minister has felt the same. God places us in a circumstance that seems impossible, to reach people who seem unreachable. To our minds, limited by humanness, some things can seem impossible. Some people can even seem “lost”, but when we struggle with this feeling it is important to turn to the One who can find the lost.
The Bible’s Mission Impossible
In Luke 15 Jesus is discussing Biblical ideals and into the crowds come tax collectors and sinners (v.1). The Pharisees grumble then (v.2) so Jesus takes the opportunity to make a point. Jesus actually talks about “lost” things. First he tells of a shepherd who searches for a lost sheep, then a woman who searches for a lost coin. Finally, he tells the story of “The Prodigal Son.”
I think as a whole the Christian world has focused on the wrong word in this last story. The boy has become known as the “prodigal” which focuses on his endeavors and faults. Jesus, I think, had a different focus. The common theme among his three stories in this chapter is that of something lost.
The interesting thing is that the Greek word used here for “lost” is apolōlos which means “to destroy, destroy utterly.” Why, in the presence of the Pharisees would Jesus make this point: that these people should seek that which is utterly destroyed? In contemporary vernacular that would mean that once lost, these things don’t exist anymore. Yet not long after this, recorded in Luke 19:10 Jesus stood among men and said “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (apolōlos). Why, would the Son of man come to seek and save that which is utterly destroyed?
To Seek and Save the Lost
The shepherd of Luke 15:4-6 “lost” his sheep. According to the Greek lexicon, the sheep was “utterly destroyed.” There was no reason for the shepherd to believe the sheep was alive. Really there was no reason for the shepherd to leave the 99 sheep to search for the one that was utterly destroyed, but he did.
The woman who had ten pieces of silver in verses 8-10, but lost one coin had no reason to search so diligently to find it. It was utterly destroyed.
The father of verses 11-32, who waited patiently and watched for his son to return home, had no reason to expect his return. The “prodigal” son was lost, utterly destroyed.
We, as ministers of the Gospel, each one of us, have no reason to believe we can make a difference in this world. It is lost, utterly destroyed. Yet here we are, commissioned by Christ Himself to preach, and teach, and baptize those who are lost, in all nations.
Jesus Among Sinners
The Pharisees question Jesus because he is among and dines with sinners. He then discusses lost things, lost causes, and talks about the people who are willing to find them. Some today would call them crazy. Some would say they were wasting their time, but Jesus was also talking about Himself. He came into this world to “seek and save that which was lost.”
We can easily say that the people in our community don’t want to hear our message, that they won’t come to any meetings or events, that they’re too bad or too lost to change, but what are we really saying?
Jesus’ response would be “GO ANYWAY,” wouldn’t it? That was basically his response to the Pharisees. He was saying “I’m here to save them, why are you here?”
Why Are You Here?
If you aren’t able to go searching for the lost sheep in your area, maybe you can strive to be like the father in “The Prodigal Son”, who waited for his son and “had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). He celebrated when his son returned. He didn’t ask him where he’d been or why he left. He only praised God he’d returned.
I pray that God gives me the patience of that father when I’m working for Him, so that I can wait through people’s struggles, find them in their sorrows, and celebrate when they come Home. I hope that is your prayer.