The God Who Searches for His People
The Lord Jesus told the parables of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine in the open country and he went after the lost sheep, and the woman lit a lamp and swept the house and searched carefully for the lost coin. Neither of them shrugged their shoulders and thought, ‘Only one . . . we can live without one.’ No. They searched for what they had lost. There was a husband and wife in Portugal who were enjoying a meal in the grounds of their hotel, but when they popped back to their room to check on their wee daughter Madeleine they found that she was missing from her bed. They didn’t think, ‘Just a tiny girl. We’ll conceive another one . . .’ They began a search which some years later they are still continuing. ‘We’ll never stop looking for our daughter,’ they say. They were moved to search by love and compassion and fear, and they followed every lead searching for the one they’d lost. They called in the police of two countries, and private investigators, and the British government, and even the Pope. They spoke to the media and did everything in their power to find the one they had lost. They are still searching as I write; they will never give up.
Men and women are lost, but God seeks for the lost. That is the elementary but glorious message of these parables. We are lost people but Jesus hasn’t given up on us. Why did he come into the world? He tells us very clearly, ‘To seek and to save that which is lost.’ So let me make this fact very clear, uncomfortably clear to some of you who tell me that you are the ones who are ‘seeking for God.’ I have often told you that the New Testament language is quite the opposite, that it doesn’t show us people who are seeking Christ, in fact it says quite categorically there is none seeking God. The sheep has deliberately gone off from the flock. The coin has no ability to search for its owner. Neither lost sheep nor lost coin has been searching for its owner. What we find in the Bible is this – the Lord God Almighty is actually seeking men and women. I find that the theme of these first two parables is of God seeking for us, and the condemnation within the third parable of the prodigal son is that his older brother did not set off urgently seeking for him in the distant city. He was not a godlike man. I find Jesus saying here, ‘God is seeking you.’ That is why you could not keep away from this congregation and this preaching today as on other Sundays. He is seeking you here and in the testimony of your friends, in their encouraging you to believe in the Lord, in the preaching of the gospel, in the offer of pardon and forgiveness through Christ, in the prayers of your parents and friends, in the Bible that you read and the Christian books you’ve been given and in a host of providences that have made this world less and less satisfying, and in your satisfaction at being in the presence of other Christians. In all of this God is showing evidence that he is seeking you.
I am afraid that a great deal of what you refer to as your ‘seeking’ is the seeking of a better invitation than you’ve had so far. You’re wanting to hear the gospel with more excitement. That is what you are seeking. You’re wanting to feel it more deeply. You desire to hear it more persuasively so that you won’t have to make that painful, lonely, personal decision all by yourself of entrusting yourself to Jesus Christ for ever. You are demanding the tingle factor – goose-pimples, and shedding a few tears, and something like an electric current running up and down your spine, and the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, and a handsome charismatic preacher smiling at you, and you are half falling in love with him and he is telling you that you have become a Christian – and then, when a combination of those factors occurs, then you think you’ll know that your search is over and you have found God. ‘Ah! I’ve found him,’ you say. But have you? Is it God whom you have found or the tingle factor? Don’t trust those who tell you that that tingle is God. There is one way to hell and it is the tingle way, just as there is also the intellectual and cerebral way to hell. The devils are going that way.
I am saying to you that you have no need to search for Christ. He is here, where the gospel is preached. Your search is over. The Lord Jesus Christ today is not an object that you have to search for as if he were somehow lost and buried away in some mysterious place, in a cave in the Himalayas that requires a trip to Nepal, or on a distant island in the south seas, or off in some lonely cell behind granite walls in Scotland, or some such inaccessible and forbidding spot. It is not true for a single moment that the Saviour or the Holy Spirit is so far from you that you’ve got to seek him, because where two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is. In the preaching of the Bible he is near you, in the word of faith which we preach, that word is nigh you. Your task, your obligation and your privilege is not to be seeking him, and shaking your head sadly that it is so difficult to find Jesus Christ. No, he is the one seeking, and he is so near that as you hear these words you are hearing his words to you. He is seeking you now.
You don’t need to go away from where you now are to find him; you don’t need to say you will seek for him somewhere else, in your bedroom, or in the garden, or in a corner of a great cathedral with the choir singing softly in the background and the smell of incense in the air. There is no need to leave this very spot without him. He is not the one to be sought for; he is the one seeking you at this moment. He has made you willing to accept the invitation of your friends to come with them to church. He has created in your heart an interest in him. He has enabled you to tolerate the thought that you are a guilty sinner who needs a Saviour. His words to non-Christians are not, ‘Seek!’ He is not saying, ‘Search within yourself. Go in and in and in and in, into the depths of your own experience and emotions.’ No. He says, ‘I am here; I am ontologically distinct from you. I am a living being outside of you, and so you come to me now.’ He is here because he is seeking for you. He is not seeking your seeking, or your more intense seeking or deeply emotional seeking, weepy seeking or sighing seeking. He is not waiting and waiting until you have sought enough! ‘Enough’ – that damnable word! Take him now just as you are! Obey him when he says, ‘You come to me.’ He is watching if you are receiving him as your prophet, priest and king. The voice you are hearing is his voice. The light that is shining on you is from the lamp that he has lit. The brush that brushes away all the wrong ideas of a lifetime is his brush. The energy that is working on you is his. That hand upon you is his hand, and he is saying to you to come to him, and to enter the kingdom of God by the door, and he is the door which he sets before you. Enter! He is not saying keep seeking for the door. No, he is saying here is the door, right before you. I am that door and you must enter through it. So, they were lost but one went and searched for them . . .
Then they were found. The shepherd knows the land surrounding the open country. He knows the gullies and caves, the precipices and the rivers. He knows where a sheep might go and get stuck. He is skilful and powerful; he has resources of energy; he is focused on finding this sheep. The woman is also determined to find her silver coin. The floor of her little room is beaten earth covered with rushes and dried reeds. There is one window 18 inches across, but she lights a lamp and starts to look methodically and carefully in every nook and cranny. She sweeps the floor and searches relentlessly until she finds it. They both are successful. It is no thanks to the sheep that it is finally found. It is no thanks to the coin that it is found. It is all because of the ones searching diligently. They have made up their minds that they are going to find what was lost.
What is it telling us? What are we to understand? That if today we’ve been found, then it is all a result of the sovereign, gracious search of God. What are we to understand? What great lengths the Lord has gone to in order to find us. He was in the beginning with God and was in fact God and yet he chose to come into our world by being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. What a journey he made from the glories of heaven to save us. He was born in a stable and lived in a carpenter’s home for thirty years. Then he was opposed by men, misunderstood by his family and friends, despised and rejected. They finally lashed him and beat him up and crucified him and killed him and buried him so that he, the Lord of life, even tasted death. He did all this seeking us and saving us. What a seeking was his, going to the people who had known him in his local assembly in Nazareth who wanted to kill him when he preached in that synagogue to them, going to a proud Pharisee’s home to eat while stared at with their cold disdain, going to the well in a Samaritan village who hated Jews like him, going to hard defiant Jerusalem who killed all the prophets God had sent there before Jesus, yet there too our Lord went, seeking to protect and save them all. I would have found you all but you refused to be found by me.
Today sinners grumble that it is all so hard, that church people don’t love them, the sermons are too long and they don’t understand them. The truth is they don’t want Jesus to find them. They remain oblivious and impervious; but what grace, he’s pursuing them still. He has brought circumstances to bear upon them, – an affliction, a broken heart, the loss of a loved one, a time in prison, the break up of our marriage. Or perhaps he has brought blessing and obedience, the recognition of his vast kindness to us and that has led us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). He has brought people and opportunities into our lives. He has put a book or a leaflet into our hands, and thoughts and desires into our hearts. We have been placed in just the right place at just the right time to hear what we needed to hear.
Like the man in the parable he came seeking for his lost sheep. Like the woman in the next parable, Jesus has lit a lamp, and he has swept the house and searched carefully. He has persisted until he’s found little, insignificant, sinning . . . you! If I am a believer today it is because God went on the hunt for an inconspicuous dirty person like me. He’d made up his mind. I chose him, yes, but because he first chose me. I love him because he first loved me. I found him because he first found me. I believe in him because he first gave faith to me. As John Newton said, ‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.’ We can paraphrase the words of Paul to the Corinthians, that not many wise by human standards are found, not many influential, not many of noble birth, but God found the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God found the weak things of the world to shame the strong; God found the lowly things of the world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before God, ‘I am a Christian because I found you, and I found the truth, and I found heaven.’ No. We are what we are by the grace of a searching God. He found me – blessed be his name!
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Saviour true, No, I was found by Thee.’
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