Christmas: Lost and Found
Christmas: Lost and Found
What’s your favourite animal? What do you think is God’s favourite animal? I think I know. I think God’s favourite animal is sheep. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there are an awful lot of sheep in the Bible, and a lot of shepherds, too. Which has been a problem for me because I don't know much about sheep.
I saw them in books when I was little and they’re pretty easy to draw, but I grew up in the inner city so I never got to see a real one until I was in my teens believe it or not. I never got to know much about sheep. That was fine when I was a police officer, but it can put you at a real disadvantage as a preacher, because the Bible talks about sheep, shepherds and lambs a lot – it seems to be one of God’s favourite images and animals.
For example, ask most people what their favourite Psalm is. Most of them will say Psalm 23. What’s it about? It was written by David, a shepherd.
(Read Psalm 23)
The Lord is my Shepherd. That’s personal. What a picture! The prophet Isaiah says the Lord “shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather them in his arms and carry them close to is heart and gently lead those who have young.” (Isa. 40:11).
When you think of God, do you see him like that? Protecting? Providing? And if he’s a shepherd, what does that make me? Can you see yourself as one of his sheep? Depending on him, belonging to him, following him, close to him?
If we dress the kids up for the Christmas pageant, which one would you want to be? Mary? Joseph? You look like a Magi. I’d want to be a sheep. Because it seems like God really likes sheep.
There are not many places in the world where sheep are not raised, some more than others. Here in the UK we have one sheep for every three people. Australia has ten times the number of sheep as people. The ratio of sheep to people in New Zealand is 20 to 1! That's a lot of sheep! I don’t know who managed to count them all and stay awake.
There are lambs, sheep, and shepherds all over the Bible, because in Bible lands, from Abel right up to today, the people of Israel were mainly shepherds first, who became farmers, though over time shepherds found themselves out on the edges of society. They couldn’t get to the temple like they were supposed to. They weren’t trusted to be witnesses in court because they lived rough out in the fields.
Jesus called himself “The good shepherd,” who calls his own sheep by name. They hear his voice. He wants us to hear him. He’ll even lay down his life for the sheep. To me, sheep are just sheep. But not to a good shepherd. He knows the sheep. Names them, he’ll fight whatever wants to hurt his sheep. He notices if one is sick or struggling, or when one is missing too.
Another of the most famous passages in the Bible also involves sheep and we can read it in Luke 15. Some people were crowding around Jesus complaining about the company he was keeping, looking down their noses at the dodgy characters who seemed to love him, because he genuinely loved them.
At that point Jesus did something he does nowhere else and told three stories, so they (and we) would know who really mattered to God. You matter to God and today I want to give you the opportunity at the end to say to him “Lord I want to come home to your love this Christmas time.”
Jesus told these three stories about a lost coin, two lost boys, and of course a lost sheep. I just have time for the lamb’s tale.
(Read Luke 15:1-7)
Imagine that lost sheep. How did it happen? The same way it always happens. It happens one step at a time. Nobody gets lost all at once. You take a step or two in the wrong direction, take a turn for the worse. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it. Until you find yourself lost.
If you’re a child, maybe you were holding Mum’s hand. In the Christmas crush. Then you see something interesting, tempting, and you head toward it. You’re making your own way now. You just do your own thing. Then you’re lost.
You’re out driving. You don’t need GPS. You can rely on yourself. No need to ask for directions, that’s a sign of weakness to do so. Then, and you never exactly know where or when it happens; and you don’t want to admit it. You’re pretty sure if you keep going, the wrong way, it’s going to become, somehow, soon the right way. You’re lost.
An old hymn writer put it this way: "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." We all know what this is like.
The Bible says, “We all like sheep ...” If we stopped there I’m sure you’d agree. Sheep are cute. But it doesn’t stop there. A prophet called Isaiah said (53:6) “We all like sheep, have gone astray, every one of us has turned to his or her own way.”
But then he saw something, someone. 700 years before Jesus Christ was born that first Christmas, Isaiah was receiving revelations. A virgin would conceive! A child was going to be born. To us. A Son would be given. People would call him Wonderful, Counsellor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God.
Isaiah didn’t know what it would all mean but here he went on to talk about a Messiah who would come, he prophesied he would come, would grow up, one of us. He’d look like nothing special, and be rejected (Isa. 53:1-3). He would be beaten, bruised, pierced, and crushed, not for his sins, but for ours (Isa. 53:4-5).
That’s when Isaiah says that we are like sheep, all of us, lost sheep who go astray. We’re all like sheep. It’s not a compliment.
Sheep are not smart. They go off and get lost in bad places. Often that lostness doesn’t just affect them, it leads to hurt and heartache for us and everyone involved. Sometimes we even get lost deliberately. We turn away from God, turn our backs on what we know to be right.
Anyone watching would want to say, “Hey, turn around! If you keep going that way, you’re going to end up lost.” But we never think we will be. We think it’ll work out okay for us. We all have an inbuilt tendency to make our own way instead of following God’s way. But the good news is, God wants us back. So he became the Lamb of God, to save us.
The Lord comes looking for the lost ones. He goes after them. To save them, the Saviour comes to the slaughter, silent like a lamb, as his blood is shed, for us (Isa. 53:7).
(Read Luke 2:8-12)
Shepherds in the Wrong Place
The first people that heaven’s messengers came to tell the good news to, were usually the last to know anything—shepherds. The shepherds were “standing in their field of endeavor.” But they were lost. Especially lost when it came to knowing anything about God. They didn’t know all about the religious stuff that went in the Temple because they were excluded from it, they were not religious types or considered worth even bothering with by those with religious knowledge.
All they knew about was sheep. So God said, “Perfect! Gabriel, the rest of you, grab some harps and some golden trumpets and get down there.” They were in the wrong place, they didn’t know it. They needed to be in Bethlehem.
When I was in the police, if someone was lost, I didn’t arrest them. I gave them directions. So the Angels directed them, “You’re in the wrong place—you need to go to Jesus! Go and see, in that feeding trough, where the animals are. That’s where the Saviour is. Your Saviour. He has been born, for you! He is Christ the Lord.”
What did they do with the directions? This is what matters when you’re lost. This is all that matters really. What you do when the right way presents itself.
(Read Luke 2:15-18)
Great idea. Go and see. The Bible says “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” So I can’t describe how great this is. You have to see it yourself like they did. But when you do, you find it’s the most amazing thing.
The Greatest Gift
How can I describe the indescribable? What are you most looking forward to this Christmas? No. What’s the greatest gift you ever got? I know what it was. I just don’t know if you opened it yet.
The greatest gift you’ll ever be given, has already come. You don’t have to wait. The angel described it better than I can – the most precious, personal, and perfect gift.
It’s the most precious because you need it most “The Saviour.” It’s the most personal, because it’s “For you.” It’s the most perfect, “Christ the Lord.” And nothing else will last forever, so this is the most permanent gift too!
However far we may feel we have wandered, God wants us home with him for Christmas. None of us have fallen beyond his reach. He’s our Good Shepherd. He leads us on the right path, he restores your soul.
No matter how far we wandered, the good news is there’s always a way back. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we were the lost sheep, I didn’t! Until God finds us and brings us home.
If you get lost, what do you have to do?
This is hard I know—admit it. The other day I was driving and I think I can blame the snow covering a sign but I had been driving along lost for miles. I was somehow hoping the wrong road turns into the right road. It doesn’t work. The first step to going the right way is to admit we're lost, we've wandered from the path. One step at a time. Maybe you've been off for a long time. You’re not too far. That’s why God brought you here today so you could hear him calling you. Maybe you thought you're taking a minor detour. Don't take another step in the wrong direction.
Don't waste another day going the wrong way. Certainly not another year! Maybe God has been speaking to you every Christmas so far, telling you in your favourite Christmas songs or through family members or a million other ways that he has a plan to use you and a place where you can belong and a part for you to play in what he is doing in the world. God will meet you right here, right where you are and give you his love, his forgiveness, and his directions if you will pray to him. What better time than Christmas for you to give to God the only thing he wants—you?
He will love you forever, forgive you for everything, because a Saviour has been born for you. The Lamb of God, the miracle in the manger, come and see him. The Bible says, “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.”
Pray now and tell the Lord, “Count me in. Count me in, Good Shepherd, as one of yours. I’ve wandered, I’m lost, but now I want to be found by your amazing grace.”
Trust your Good Shepherd to lead you, to guide you, on the path that takes you, to the life he’s promised you.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”