It was the afternoon of August 5, 2010. In a 121-year-old copper and gold mine in the northern part of the South American nation of Chile, disaster struck. There was a cave-in. Immediately, 33 men were trapped 2300 feet - almost half a mile - underground. They were trapped three miles from ramps that served as the entrance to the mine.
Fortunately, the 33 men were trapped in a pocket of air. Fortunately, there was a bit of food, water, and medicine in their area. However, there was no means of escape.
It was not only in the mine that fear was evident. Above ground there was fear, too. The concern there was that trying to dig through the dirt and the rocks to get to the men might cause a further cave-in, which would likely kill them, if indeed they were still alive, which, above ground, was not known. There was the added concern that even if the miners could be reached - and it was not certain exactly where they were - the time required to get to the men would far exceed the availability of food, water, medicine - and patience.
Despite the problems, rescue work began with the drilling of eight exploratory drill holes, mainly toward the area where it was believed the trapped miners might have been. August 22 - 17 days after the accident - a note written in bold red letters appeared. It had been taped to a drill bit, and was seen when the bit was pulled to the surface after penetrating one area believed to have been accessible to the trapped miners. The note read, “We are well in the shelter.” It was signed, “The 33.”
The note indicated the miners were alive. It indicated where they were. Both those things increased the intensity of the rescue effort, which was worked on 24 hours a day by Chilean authorities, more than a dozen multi-national corporations, and NASA. The result was three larger holes being drilled into the ground, each one at a separate place and at angles determined to not cause the collapse of the area where the miners were.
At the same time, a rescue pod was developed. It was a tube about six feet long and just 21 inches wide. It was to be used to bring the miners up, one at a time, through whichever of the three holes reached them first.
October 12, 2010 - 68 days after the cave-in - one of the holes reached the miners. The rescue tube was lowered through the hole, with a rescue worker in it. It was then time for the rescue to begin.
The first miner to be rescued was one of the strongest, healthiest, sanest of the men. He was chosen because it was considered he would be best able to handle any problems that might arise as he would be encased in the tube.
That man put a girdle around his waist. The girdle had been designed to stabilize blood pressure. He took an aspirin to keep blood clots from forming. He put on moisture-resistant coveralls. He put on sunglasses so his eyes would not be damaged when, for the first time in over two months, he saw the sun. He got in the tube and began the ascent, which worked very well, taking about 12 to 15 minutes.
With that success, the tube returned underground. One more man was taken to the surface. On and on it went until, several hours later - on October 13 - 69 days following the disaster - the last trapped miner and then the rescue worker were out of the mine.
If you remember that incident two-and-a-half years ago, you will recall the great concern for the miners during the days they were trapped. What a horrible thing to think about that those men in Chile were trapped and in great danger.
You will also recall the great celebration that followed the search and rescue mission. The great celebration came when it was announced the miners had been saved. That they were back where they were supposed to be. The president of Chile celebrated. The families of the miners celebrated. It was a celebration that seemed to be worldwide, that coming because news of the tragedy had been broadcast worldwide.
The concern and the celebration lead us to today’s Bible passage, which is the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in which we are told of an animal, a thing, and a man who were also trapped, lost in great danger. An animal, thing, and man who were also rescued.
To set the stage, we will begin with verse 1 of Luke 15.
In verse 1, and in verse 2, we read of Jesus doing something that caused Him to be criticized. What Jesus was doing was showing a willingness to associate with tax collectors and sinners - two types of people who were supposed to be avoided by good, orthodox Jews. Tax collectors refers to Jews who collected taxes for the Roman government. Sinners refers to Jews were who vicious in some way, certainly not acting like God’s people.
Good Jews were forbidden from having anything at all to do with both the types of people mentioned, but it was those groups that were, at least at this point of Jesus’ ministry, attracted to Him.
Tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Him teach. It was as if they knew they were lost. With that knowledge, they wanted to learn what to do to be found.
Tax collectors and sinners had been drawing near to Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes - the best of the best of the Jewish leadership - took exception to that, which caused them to murmur against Jesus, criticizing Him for receiving sinners and going so far as to eat with them. “Does He not know what kind of people are around Him?” they wondered. “If He does know, does He not care with whom He associates?”
Jesus was criticized for associating with people who, in the context of the report of the mine disaster in Chile, were lost. People who were trapped. In this case, trapped in their sins. In this case, in danger of missing God’s blessings now and Heaven later. Jesus was criticized, which led Him to tell three parables, each with a similar message.
The first parable is in verses 4 through 7. It has to do with a man in charge of a hundred sheep - a shepherd - who discovers that one of the sheep is missing. Jesus asked, “Does not that shepherd leave the 99?”
By the way, I understand that shepherds back then often worked in groups, so it was not like the shepherd being talked about let the other sheep alone to get in danger themselves. There would still have been one or two other shepherds to look after the 99.
But, Jesus asked, “is it not common for one of the shepherds to leave the 99 and go on a mission to search for and rescue the one which is lost?” And listen. To go after that one - to keep going after that one - “until he finds it.”
And listen to what Jesus said next. “And when the shepherd has found the lost sheep, what does he do? He lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”
Think of the significance of that. The significance from the stand point of the question, “Was that sheep worthy of being searched for, rescued, and rejoiced over?”
The answer is no. I mean, the sheep left where he was supposed to be. Any danger he was in was his own fault. He did not deserve to be rescued.
Despite that, the shepherd was concerned enough - he cared enough for the sheep - to search and to keep searching. To continue to search until the sheep was rescued. And then to show the sheep love. Love represented in getting it close and in rejoicing.
And then to get others to rejoice with Him. See it. Jesus added that when such a shepherd gets home, “he calls his friends and his neighbors together and invites them to rejoice with him for he had found what had been lost.”
Jesus concluded the first parable with the statement that “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance,” which means His teaching was not about the physical safety of a lost sheep, but the spiritual well-being of a lost person.
Jesus’ points? First, He taught that sometimes people - such as the ones who were following Him - get lost. And hey, the tax collectors and sinners should have done better than they were doing. As mentioned, they were Jews and therefore should have lived better than they were living. But they, like the lost sheep, had wandered away and were therefore lost spiritually.
And no, they did not deserve to be searched for. But second, Jesus, being the ultimate good shepherd, was willing to go after those who were lost. And to keep searching until they were found.
And third, when any lost soul is found, what is the result? It is rejoicing. Rejoicing even greater than was the case in Chile when the miners were rescued. And in this case, rejoicing, not only by Jesus, but in all of Heaven.
By the way, concerning Jesus’ statement about some who did not need to repent, let me say this. Everyone at some point in his or her life needs to repent. We know that is true because, as the Bible says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What Jesus meant by verse 7 is that the Pharisees and the scribes refused to acknowledge they were not perfect, which was a criticism of them.
In verses 4 through 7, Jesus explained why He associated with people who were not perfect. He explained that He did that so those who were lost could be found, which would result in rejoicing.
The same teaching is repeated in verses 8 through 10, which features the second of the three parables, which concerns a woman who had ten silver coins. Jesus asked, “What woman, having ten such coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently for it?”
To put that into context, it seems that most houses at that time in Palestine - at least the houses of those who were poor - were pretty dark, so a lamp would have been needed, even during the day. And I understand most such houses back then had beaten earth for floors, the earth covered with dried reeds. Looking for a coin lost in the reeds would be like looking for a needle in a hay stack.
That is the significance of the two methods of searching the woman used. Perhaps the coin would shine in reflection of the lamp light, or maybe the sound of the broom brushes against the coin would be heard.
A couple summers ago I was doing some weed-whacking down below the east side of the church building. My cell phone fell out of its case. It was lost. I got a rake and raked the area where the phone might have been. I hoped the sound of the metal against the phone would help me find it. But no. I walked around the area, hoping the sun would shine off the phone so I could find it that way. For a long time, that proved to be fruitless. But just as I was giving up, a sparkle was noticed. My phone was found.
That is the result the woman hoped for concerning her coin as she - see the word - as she “diligently” searched for it. In other words, she kept looking and she kept looking, not willing to give up the search.
Eventually, the woman’s hope was fulfilled. And how did she react? She rejoiced. And she invited her friends and her neighbors to rejoice with her. Why? It was because what had been lost had been found.
What were Jesus’ points in the second parable, which was not so much about a lost coin as it was about a lost person - a person lost spiritually?
Jesus taught that sometimes people - such as the tax collectors and the sinners who were attracted to Him - get lost. Maybe through carelessness. Maybe through others not paying enough attention to them to keep them safe spiritually. When that happens, there is concern, at least on the part of Jesus. Just as the woman was sad that something that belonged to her was missing, so is Jesus sad when someone who should belong to Him is missing.
So it is that, just as the woman searched for the coin, Jesus searches for lost souls.
And when they are rescued, there is rejoicing. And again, not only with Jesus. See it. Jesus added, “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The third of the three parables begins in verse 11. Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. One day, the younger of the sons asked his father to give him the part of his father’s property that would one day belong to him.”
The implication is that the asking was more like a demand. An ugly demand, as if the son was so tired of being home with his father that he could not wait until his father died. “Give me my inheritance now” is what the younger son demanded.
The father agreed. Which, by the way, is a wonderfully-accurate description of Jesus. Yes, He wants all people to be with Him. And yes, it is to our advantage to be with Him. But never will He force anyone to accept Him or stay with Him.
The father agreed to his younger son’s demand, and a few days later, the younger son took off, going to a country far away, where he lived recklessly. Perhaps morally reckless. Certainly financially reckless. He “squandered his property in loose living.”
About the time his money ran out, a great famine arose in that country. Very soon the younger son began to be in want. Just to survive, he took the only job he could find. He had not had to work before. Now he did. The only job he could find was feeding some swine, which refers to how desperate the son was. The depths of depravity to which he had sunk. You see, feeding swine was absolutely forbidden for a Jew like him. But that is what he hired out to do, and even that allowed just bare survival. He was so hungry that the pods the swine received looked appetizing to him.
That was the job the younger son did until - verse 17 - “he came to himself.” Until he came to his senses and realized that things back home - back where he should have been - were a whole lot better than things were for him. the son realized that his father’s hired servants had enough to eat, which was better than he had.
That realization led the younger son to decide to go back home. But remember the word in the other two parables? There is joy over a sinner who “repents.” Repenting is what the younger son planned to do.
His plan was that when he saw his father, he was going to admit that he had sinned against Heaven and against his father.
He also planned to admit his unworthiness. He decided to ask to be back home, not as a family member. He knew he had ruined that privilege. He planned to ask to simply be considered a hired servant, which refers to the lowliest of lowly servants. Lower than a slave in the hierarchy of service.
With that plan in mind, the younger son arose and headed for home. But while he was yet at a distance, someone noticed him coming. That someone was his father, who had, since the day the son had left, been looking for him. Waiting for him to return. Hoping for that day to come.
And no, the father had not gone out to search for his younger son, as had been the case with the shepherd and the woman in the other two parables, and as it had been with the rescue workers in Chile. But he had been looking for his son to come back to where he belonged. I just thought of this. I bet he prayed that his son would return.
So it was that that day, as the father once again looked toward where his son had gone, he did see his younger son. And how wonderful the reunion was. A reunion that started early because the father did not wait for his son to get to him. The father ran to his son.
When he got to him, the father embraced his son and kissed him.
Yuck. I mean, the son was dirty and smelly. His clothes and hair and countenance would have been anything but pleasant. But his father did not care. Why? It was because what had been lost had been found. The father rejoiced.
So much did the father rejoice that he ordered four gifts for his younger son.
He ordered that the best robe in the house be brought and put on his younger son. The robe represented honor.
The father ordered that a ring - the signet ring of the family - be brought and put on the hand of the younger son. The ring represented authority.
Orders were given to get shoes and put them on the younger son’s feet. You know what the shoes represented? It seems that only family members were given shoes to wear, which means the younger son was not to be only a hired servant. he was indeed to be considered a member of the family again.
And then instructions were given for a great feast to be prepared, the main course of which was to be the best meat available. Meat from the fatted calf - a bovine that had been specially cared for for a special occasion. The feast was to give friends and neighbors alike a chance to rejoice with the father that the son, who had been dead - dead to his father - was alive again. That he who was lost had been found.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. A season that directs our attention to the sacrifice Jesus gave as He allowed Himself to be crucified, which was a gift crucially important in His search and rescue mission for lost souls. A season that will end with Easter, when we will celebrate His resurrection.
Throughout this season of Lent, we are, as we did today, going to concentrate on some of the teachings of Jesus. We will do that as we concentrate on the love of Jesus. As the theme for this season has it, the extreme love of Jesus. For today, the extreme, incredible spiritual love of Jesus. Love shown in His concern for the spiritual welfare of people.
The challenge throughout this Lenten season is going to be that we match that love as we associate with people. That we do what we can to help Jesus lead people to repent and get right with God so they can be found and get to where they need to be spiritually.
To do that whether we think they deserve to be blessed that way or not. Remember the comment about the sheep, who on its own wandered away into danger? That was certainly the way it was for the younger son in the third parable. He was nasty and disrespectful and wasteful. He certainly was not worthy of his father’s love.
In fact, the last part of Luke 15 reports that that was exactly what the younger son’s older brother said. The older brother was actually very upset with the celebration of the younger son’s return. The older son had stayed home and done the work assigned to him, but had never received any special treatment, but the younger son, who had disobeyed and left and dishonored the family, was now being rewarded. The older son was so angry he refused to join the party
I wonder. Would the older son have complained about the lost sheep being celebrated? Would he have said that if the animal was stupid enough to get into trouble, let him suffer and die?
Would he have complained about the lost coin? Would he have said that if the woman was careless enough to lose a coin, she deserved to be poorer?
I wonder. What is our reaction to those who are lost - to those who are trapped in their sins? I ask that because it is so easy to be like the Pharisees and the scribes were in writing off tax collectors and sinners. It is so easy give up on those who choose to not be with God and stay with God.
But Jesus? He cares. He cared enough to search for us before those of us who are Christians now - before we believed in Him. He cared enough to rejoice when those of us who are Christians now were rescued.
Jesus continues to care for those who still are lost.
Will we join Him in that? Will we match His extreme, incredible spiritual love? Let’s work on that, even this week as we pray. May some of our prayers be for those who need to be found spiritually. May some of them be for the strength and the courage we need to help those who are lost to be found and rescued, whether it is talking to them or helping them in the name of Jesus or living in ways that our acceptance of Him is evident.
Let’s do that so there can be more and more celebrations. Greater celebrations than occurred in Chile two-and-a-half years ago. Greater celebrations than the one hosted by the shepherd and the woman and the father in Luke 15. Celebrations that are enjoyed all the way to Heaven.
Today’s closing song is Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. In verse 1, we will sing of Jesus’ love. A love so strong He is willing to search for and rescue lost souls. In verse 2, we will sing of the result of being rescued by Him, which is Heaven. In verse 3, we will sing of our desire to live for Him, which we know includes being part of His search and rescue missions for lost souls.
Jesus love me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me! He who died Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin and let His little child come in.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
Jesus, take this heart of mine, make it pure and wholly Thine;
On the cross You died for me. I will try to live for Thee.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
For Jesus, 99 of 100 people is not enough. He will keep searching for the lost one. For Jesus, 9 0f 10 is not enough. He will keep searching for the lost one. For Jesus, one of two is not enough. He will keep looking for the lost one, waiting for that one to return.
Jesus’ searching and waiting were certainly shown in the weeks and days leading up to His crucifixion as He taught and suffered and then died as the perfect sacrifice for the sins that cause anyone to be lost.
And when anyone returns to Him - when each one is rescued - the rejoicing will be greater than it was in Chile. It will be greater than what the shepherd and the woman hosted. It will be greater than the great feast at the father’s house. It will be rejoicing in Heaven.
May that rejoicing be felt by us, too, whenever we see someone who is lost repenting and being found. Whenever we know of someone accepting Jesus as the Savior He is. Amen.