by Wesley Paul
(Editor’s note: With this blog post we continue a new series, “The Stories within the Story.” Each article will include how to use specific passages and stories in scripture in gospel witness.”
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘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.’”
The Parable of the Lost Coin
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 2But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15)
In Luke 15, we see three stories that relate God’s concerns for lost souls, the value of souls, and the salvation of souls. But most importantly, all three stories draw our attention to the task of evangelism.
In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus states that the shepherd goes after that one lost sheep. He is not concerned about the religious or the churched folk. He is concerned about the lost one. Luke states, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus was on a search and rescue mission.
That mission has not changed. For our consideration, I would like for us to focus on the ‘search’ part of evangelism.
About a Ghanaian Witch Doctor
A while back, I was in Ghana preaching at a gospel meeting. When I realized that most of my audience was churched people, I stopped preaching and asked the audience to go into the streets and invite people to come to the evangelistic meeting.
The audience thought I was crazy. Thirty minutes later, the church was packed with a huge number of people from the streets.
When the meeting resumed, there was a sense of excitement and expectation in the air that was absent before. When I concluded my preaching and gave the invitation, several of the lost came and gave their lives to Christ.
One person asked the host pastor if he could say something. When he was given the floor, the man shared that he was a witch doctor/shaman. For some months, the same evil spirits that he called upon were now tormenting him and he feared for his life. So one day he left his village to get away from the spirits.
As he was passing time walking the streets, a lady from the church pleaded with him to come and hear a guest speaker. Seeing her invitation as a sign from God, he came to the meeting. As he listened to the word of God, he began to feel the chains of torment getting weaker.
When I gave the invitational prayer to receive Christ, he prayed with me. As he prayed that prayer, he felt the chains of torment break and realized his freedom. He concluded by thanking the woman for inviting him to church. After he shared, the church erupted in a great sound of jubilation. I saw firsthand (as did the audience) the power of going after lost souls.
I have employed this practice of sending out the audience to invite people who are unchurched or lost to an event. It is difficult for many as they are not used to going after people or making cold calls. I have noticed that the religious ones (usually pastors or elders) blow this off and simply watch the few that go out. Like the elder son in the parable of the Lost Son, they stand back and watch.
Do you know what happens when we stand back and watch? When we are disassociated with the task of going after souls? We can become like the elder son—bitter and angry. We can lose our joy and the spirit of celebration that comes from search and rescue.
All three parables in Luke 15 end with a celebration. Heaven rejoices over one soul who repents. So many of us are missing out on this joyful celebration because we are not on a search-and-rescue mission with Jesus.
So What Do We Do?
You might be wondering how you can be a better witness or engage in evangelism.
- Begin in prayer. Ask God to lead you to people who need a connection with Him. In Acts 8, God sent evangelist Phillip to the Ethiopian eunuch. When you begin praying God will burden your heart for a certain friend, family member, or colleague.
- Get a notebook and jot down names of people God places on your heart.
- Host an event to which you can invite lost friends, neighbors, and family members. There, you may have an opportunity to introduce them to the gospel or your personal story.
- If you are a leader or pastor, reflect on whether you are leading your people or church to look for lost people.
Evangelism is a search-and-rescue mission. Are you seeking? Are you going after souls like Jesus went after souls? If not, what better time than now?
Wesley Paul is founder and director of Wesley Paul International Ministries, which has conducted city-wide gospel festivals, pastors’ conferences, and evangelism and mission seminars in over 30 countries. Besides being an evangelist, he is also serves as a hospice chaplain.