On January 3, 1982, an Air Florida 727 took off from Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, headed to Ft. Lauderdale, FL with seventy-nine people on board. Due to ice buildup on the wings, the plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and landed in the Potomac River, which was also covered in a thick layer of ice. Seventy-three people in the plane and four motorists on the bridge were killed.
Six people survived the crash. When they surfaced, they couldn’t swim to shore because of the ice in the river. They clung to a piece of wreckage that was floating in the water. The water temperature was 31 degrees. Hypothermia was quickly setting in. One survivor said the cold water against their skin felt like knives were being shoved into them.
Within several minutes, a police helicopter arrived and dropped a lifeline to the people in the water. One survivor was so cold, disoriented and temporarily blinded by the jet fuel in the water that she couldn’t hold on to the line. She kept falling into the water and was close to drowning.
By this time, a crowd had gathered on the river bank. One bystander took off his heavy coat and jumped into the frigid water to save her. He didn’t just stand on the shore and shout, “Come on. You need to try harder to get to where I am.” He left the safety of the bank and jumped into a river covered with ice and jet fuel. He did it so he could save her and bring her safely to the shore.
We too have a Savior who was willing to leave the safety of the shore and jump into the water to rescue us. Luke 15:1-10 says, “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: 4 “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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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.
8 “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? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
We can have trouble understanding the importance of this conversation because of our contemporary culture. Many families no longer eat the majority of their meals together. When families don’t eat together, they don’t invite others to join them.
In Jesus’ day, it was very different. Meals were very important events not only for family functions but religious ones as well.
In his book Religious No More Mark Baker writes: “In the Pharisees’ campaign to return holiness to Israel they used table fellowship as ‘the major vehicle of social and religious ostracism…. To share a meal with a person was an expression of acceptance; to refuse to share a meal symbolized disapproval and rejection.”
Since God chose them to be his people, many of the Jews thought they were better than the surrounding nations. They became spiritually arrogant and refused to eat with sinners and Gentiles. Essentially, they were telling the sinners, “It doesn’t matter if you’re freezing and the river is full of ice and jet fuel, you need to find a way to get on to the shore on your own if you want to be like us.” Now they’re judging Jesus for reaching out to them.
Through parables, Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees and the teachers of the law their thinking is wrong. Sinners aren’t people to be ignored. They’re people the Pharisees and teachers of the law should be chasing after to bring into the kingdom.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “You’re missing the point of why God chose you to be his people in the first place. You’re supposed to be jumping into the deadly water to help them safely reach the shore.”
As followers of Jesus, we have to constantly watch that we don’t start thinking we’re better than the people who aren’t following him. Or who aren’t following him as we do. If it wasn’t for Jesus seeking us, we’d be outside of the kingdom too.
In a December 6, 2017 Huffington Post article titled, Dear Christians: Take Off Your Halo and Reach Out Your Hand, Christian author Chris Carter reminds us, “Creating hard-lined impenetrable boundaries and distinct barriers to protect your hearts is exactly the opposite of what God calls us to do. He calls us to have our halos in our outstretched hands for the taking. Our Halos are not ours to protect and certainly not ours to hold high above the crowds. We have not earned them, we have been given them. They are a free gift, and we are called to spread the news of the gospel to EVERYONE.”
Many times, this passage in Luke is used to remind us church folk that we don’t want to forget our purpose. However, we don’t want to stop there. Look at what Jesus is telling the Pharisees and teachers of the law. “I haven’t come to hang around with those who have safely arrived on the banks of the icy river. I’ve come to seek the ones that are drowning because they’re separated from God.”
At some point in our lives, every one of us was lost too. You may be thinking, “But I’ve been going to church since I was a baby.” That may be true but we all know stepping into church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than me walking into a doctor’s office means I need a mammogram. Every one of us has to come to Jesus though faith. Some among us did this at an early age and can’t remember a time when we weren’t a Christian. Many of us, however, became Christians after a lot of searching and thinking about whether or not the Bible is true.
None of us would be reconciled to God if it wasn’t for Jesus.
Do you notice the three main points describing how each of us receives salvation? The first is Sorrow. It isn’t our own sorrow. The text doesn’t say the sheep is sorry it’s lost. The coin doesn’t care where it’s at.
The shepherd is sorry a sheep is missing because the flock is incomplete. He makes finding it a top priority. The woman is sorry a coin is missing because her pile is incomplete. She urgently searches for it.
When anyone is outside of the kingdom of God, Jesus is sorry because the kingdom is incomplete. Bringing us in a top priority. Jesus knew we couldn’t be found if he stood on the bank and ignored us while we perished. He had to jump in to the cold, dangerous water with us.
This brings us to the second point – Seeking. The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the safety of the sheepfold to go looking for the lost one. While he may have some idea where it is, the truth is it could be anywhere. Seeking it out can be dangerous and time-consuming. The woman leaves the nine coins in a pile and spends her time looking for the lost one. While it may not be dangerous, it can be time-consuming and frustrating.
For those of us who are following Jesus, he sought after us until he found us. For those of us who still aren’t following Jesus, he’s still seeking us. He left the safety and comfort of heaven to jump into our world of filth, perversion and sin so he could pull us to safety.
He does this because we’ve valuable to him. 1 John 3:16 says, “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Once he saves us, there’s Celebration. After they find what they’re looking for, both the shepherd and the woman call their friends and neighbors to say, “Rejoice with me, I’ve found what I was seeking.” Jesus says there’s celebration in heaven when one sinner repents.
Have you ever wondered what the celebration in heaven looked like when you repented?
Jesus wants us to eat at his table. He doesn’t want to exclude us because we aren’t good enough. He does everything he can to help us make it to the banquet.
The woman drowning in the Potomac didn’t have the strength or ability to save herself. Someone else had to save her. We were drowning in our sin and rebellion. Jesus jumped in to save us.
If you’re still drowning, allow him to rescue you today. Give your life to him and accept him as your Savior.