Laid on His Shoulders (Luke 15:1-7; Ephesians 2:4-10)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Luke 15:1–15:7, Ephesians 2:4–2:10
Lost and Found: Savoring So Great a Salvation
Laid on His Shoulders
Luke 15:1-7, Ephesians 2:4-10
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
February 21st, 2016
I. The Greatest Rescue Mission
Over the past couple of weeks, we have been talking about some of the biggest, and deepest, and most amazing concepts to be found, not only in the Bible, but in all the universe. And these concepts all revolve around the idea of...rescue. What kind of rescue? The greatest rescue, the greatest rescue mission, ever undertaken.
And in His mercy, God has provided us, in Scripture, with many everyday illustrations of this incomparable rescue. The picture we have been looking at over the past couple of weeks is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-7. Turn there if you haven't already.
You may remember that in our first lesson, we explored what the Bible teaches us about the kind of 'lost-ness' to which the parable refers. What does it mean that we are lost sheep? How lost are we? In our second lesson, we considered what it means that the shepherd knows his sheep. He knows the full number, doesn't he? And so he knows when one is missing.
Of course, as we saw, both of those aspects of the parable reflect big and wonderful realities described in many other places in Scripture. This morning, we will talk again about those first two aspects of the parable. But we will do so as we tackle a third aspect of this story.
II. The Passage: "He Lays It on His Shoulders " (Luke 15:1-7; Ephesians 2:4-10)
Listen again to what Luke records about Jesus and this parable of the lost sheep. He writes:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [i.e. Jesus].  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  So he told them this parable:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Did you notice what happened when the shepherd finally found his lost sheep? We are told in verse 5 that when he finds that lost sheep, “he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Isn't that a beautiful picture? But wait. What exactly does that picture represent? Well, in the context, it represents Jesus' successful ministry among “the tax collectors and sinners”. Many of these people were being spiritually rescued through the love of God in Jesus.
But when we think about that image in the larger context of the Bible, I think there is more we could say about how God rescues lost sheep like us. And one passage that gives us an even bigger vista on the seeking-saving work of the Good Shepherd is Ephesians 2:4-10. Turn there if you would. As we saw in our first lesson, Paul has just described the desperate spiritual condition the Ephesians once lived in, how they were (v. 1) “dead in [their] trespasses and sins”. But look at what Paul goes on to say about the rescue they experienced...
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
These are arguably some of the most powerful verses in all Scripture. Why am I connecting them to the parable in Luke 15? Unlike some of the other key passages we've looked at, the shepherding metaphor is not used here in Ephesians 2. So what's the connection? I believe these verses give us an even better understanding of what it means that the shepherd laid that lost sheep on his shoulders. Let me explain but sharing with you three truths that either flow out of this passage, or are connected to certain ideas in this passage. First of all...
1. Though We are Called to Believe, Faith is a Gift from God
Verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2 are well known by many of us. But if we think carefully about the way Paul says what he says, and the overall context, I think we see this very idea. Look again at verses 8 and 9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Now I want you to notice that verse 8 is not the first time in this context that Paul has used the phrase “by grace you have been saved”. Look at verse 5. We read that God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. But when he adds “through faith” in verse 8, Paul is quick to qualify what he means: “And this is not your own doing”. Since it was God who “made us alive” when we were spiritully dead, Paul wants them to know that all of it, saving grace AND saving faith, all of it is God's gift. We have absolutely no grounds to boast.
And we find these same ideas in other places in the NT. In John 6:44, Jesus declared: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
And this work of drawing involves God's work on the heart. Listen to how Luke describes God's work through Paul's preaching ministry: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
This work of God on our hearts, when the gospel is in our ears, underlies what Paul told the Philippians: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake... (Philippians 1:29)
And of course saving faith in God is always preceded by repentance, that inward turning from sin, that inward remorse over and rejection of sin. But again, listen to what Paul tells Timothy about God's gift of repentance:
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (II Tim. 2:24-26)
Of course, our biggest struggle with this idea is that we mistakenly believe that God giving the gift of faith somehow relieves of us the responsibility to trust him. No!
When Paul says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9,13), God is truly encouraging us to believe.
When Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), He was and is truly calling us to come and faith...to respond by trusting Him.
But when we respond to that call, when you responded to that call, no matter how many weeks, months, or years ago it was, you can be sure that when you pull back the veil through God's word, you will see your response was the gift of God.
And if we go back to the parable of Luke 15 for a moment, we will see this same dynamic at work. Remember verse 5 of the parable? It told us the shepherd laid the lost sheep on his shoulders. But when Jesus explains the point of the parable in verse 7, notice what he says about the one “sinner”, the one lost sheep: he connects the shepherd's rescue to the sinner's repentance. Do you see that?
But anyone who hears the parable knows that a sheep does not feel bad about wandering away; a sheep does not wander back to the shepherd with its head hung down and its stubby tail between its legs. It is found and carried home.
But both things can be true, because as we've seen, it is God who gives the gift of repentance and faith. But there's a second truth we see here, a second truth that reminds us why God needs to work in this way. God's word also tells us that...
2. Without the Gift of Faith, We are Helpless to Believe
Remember how verse 5 of Ephesians 2 pointed us back to the first three verses of that chapter. It reminded us that all people, not exceptions, that all of us, apart from God's grace, are dead in our trespasses and sins. Spiritually speaking, we have the same amount of awareness and ability that a corpse us; which of course is zero. Remember how Paul expressed this in Romans 3:9-12:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Do you see why faith has to be a gift? There is nothing in us that would trust God. We are spiritually dead. We are spiritually hostile to God. We are slaves of sin. That's why Paul went on to state in Romans 8: 7, 8: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
If faith is the empty hand of the heart, only God can unclench the fist that is holding so tightly to sin and self. Only God can open that hand. Faith is the gift of God. But there's a final truth here, one that connects us back to our last study. We must also see that...
3. The Gift of Faith is Given to Jesus' Sheep
As we learned last time, Jesus knows his sheep. He knows the exact number of those who belong to his flock, because God has chosen that exact number to be in His flock. John 10:29 told us clearly that those sheep had been given to Jesus by God. Look at what Jesus said earlier in John's Gospel about those give to him...
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Every one chosen to be in the flock of Jesus, will come to Jesus in repentance and faith. No exceptions. This is precisely the big, big picture that Paul paints for us in Romans 8:28-30. We looked at verses 28 and 29 last week, but listen to the entirety of that passage:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Do you remember what Paul said in Ephesians 2:10...For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. That “beforehand” connects back to the “predestined” in Ephesians 1, which connects us to the “predestined” in Romans 8. And if God has chosen us for Christ, then He will surely call us to Christ. He will draw us. He will open our hearts. He will grant us repentance and faith. He will make us alive.
III. Help My Unbelief
And He has, hasn't He? In the hearts of so many here, He has. And as we consider this, all this, as we take in this sweeping vista, is there any way we can say that God does not deserve all the glory?
Truly as the prophet Jonah declared, “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). We have no grounds for boasting, do we? Not even a square of inch. It is not even possible for us to say, “I made a good choice when I chose Jesus”. As John reminded his readers in I John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.”
So think for a minute about your own story. Do you remember where you were when the shepherd found you? Do you remember how he picked you up and laid you on his shoulders and carried you home? He carried you. He carried you. You can't be a Christian if that story is not your story. “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
How should that affect us? How does it stir you when you think about everything God has done to rescue you? Well, as we've talked about each week so far, understanding the greatness of “so great a salvation” should inspire in us even deeper degrees of humility, gratefulness, praise, and love. Has it? Will it?
Think about this for a moment. If faith is the gift of God, and we are still called to walk by faith, shouldn't we be asking Him for a stronger faith? Isn't this what the man in Mark 9 was doing, the father of a demon-tormented child; isn't this what he was expressing to Jesus when he sought relief for his son:
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.  And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’!(?) All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-24)
Can you relate to this man? Are you struggling to trust God in this or that way, in this or that area, in this or that relationship? If you are, I'm here to encourage you in the same way God has encouraged me. He calls us to bring whatever faith we have and use it to ask for more. And we can do that knowing that even what we bring is from Him. Faith is the gift of God. Don't be afraid to ask him this morning to help your unbelief. And as God answers our prayers, may it be said of us the very thing Paul said about Abraham in Romans 4:20...No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God...
And maybe this morning you know you're a lost sheep. Maybe you know you need Him to carry you to safety, into the safety of his home. If so, He is calling you, not to ask whether or not he has given you the gift of faith; but rather, He is calling you to believe. He is calling you to trust Him; to trust that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, did it all. All we are called to DO is believe that Jesus DID it all.
On the cross, the Good Shepherd laid down his life for His sheep. He secured for them the destiny God planned beforehand.
So whether you are in need of a stronger faith, or you are ready to trust Christ for the very first time, you can rejoice that God has given, is giving, and loves to give the gift of faith. Let's thank Him together or the gift He alone can give, and for “so great a salvation”.
More in Lost & Found: Savoring So Great a Salvation
February 28, 2016A Found-ness Worth Celebrating (Luke 15:1-7, I Corinthians 1:4-9)
February 14, 2016A Shepherd Knows His Sheep (Luke 15:1-7; John 10:24-28)
February 7, 2016Seriously, How Lost Could We Really Be? (Luke 15:1-7; Isaiah 53:6)