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An Atoning Love for the Lost

Romans 9:1-5

Jim Davis

A shepherd who had been given a position of great honor by one of Scotland's kings would often go alone to a certain room in the palace. The king became suspicious and thought he was plotting a conspiracy. So he asked to look inside this secret room. To his surprise, all that was there was a chair, a shepherd's crook, and an old plaid scarf. "What does this mean?" asked the king. The nobleman answered, "I was a humble shepherd when your Majesty promoted me. I come to this room to look at the crook and the plaid scarf. They remind me of what I used to be--and that I am nothing but what the grace of the king has made me."

How do you think the king felt when he discovered the deep appreciation this man had for the king’s blessings? That is much different from one receiving such blessings and squandering them.

Romans 9:1-5
I speak the truth in Christ-- I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit--
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (NIV)

God richly blessed the Jews. They were adopted as God’s children, God had made a special covenant with them, God gave them a law to guide them; God had given them a temple that signified his presence with them, and he had made promises to them and he always kept his promises to them. From their patriarchal fathers Christ ancestry was traced. God had entered the human race through Jewish seed. The Jews had squandered their religious heritage. They squandered it all as they refused to accept Christ. They were lost in spite of God’s blessings.

It is mind-boggling to try to understand how one could squander such blessings. God led the Israelites out of Egypt by means of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. When they crossed the Red Sea they began to rebel. When Moses went up Mt Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, they made a golden calf to worship. How could they do such a thing?

Exodus 32:30-32
The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin-- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." (NIV)

An Atoning Love for the Lost

I see something more shocking than squandered blessings. I see the willingness of Moses and Paul to lay down their lives for those they were leading and teaching. Moses seeks God to make atonement for Israel saying, "But now, please forgive their sin-- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." Paul says, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel."

Moses and Paul had an unbelievable willingness to be sacrificed for Israel. They wish to be cursed by being separated from God if it would save those who squandered God’s blessing. They were willing to swap their salvation for their doom if it would lead to their salvation.

The great people of the past shared God's concern for the lost. The psalmist writes, "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed." (Psalms 119:136 NIV) The sure sign of a great Christian is his or her concern for the lost. In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul is rejoicing over salvation in Christ. In chapter nine, Paul looks at the Jews who were lost; and wept. He was willing to be cursed and cut off from Christ for the salvation of his people. Paul was willing to stay out of heaven for the sake of the saved, and willing to go to hell for the sake of the lost. (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Right, Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill. Page 101.)

Here are men who love souls! Who long to see souls saved! Who want more than anything else to see others won for Christ. The immense blessings received by the Israelites only deepen the anguish and add to the burden that having received so much, they should have so little.

This compassion for those who are perishing is evidence that we have the heart of God. Sometimes we need to be reminded of just how much God loves all of those for whom Christ died. And we see this great compassion in the apostle Paul.

May we know that burden for our own families, friends and acquaintances that are without the true knowledge of God!

Compassion Cultivates Hearts

The depth of Paul’s concern for the lost is revealed in his willingness to give up his eternal salvation for the people. Why did he care like that? It was because the Lord stood in Paul’s shoes at Calvary and now Paul was standing in Christ’s shoes. He cared that much because he was inhabited by One who cared that much. Jesus was the One in history who was willing to leave his eternal throne of glory, be made a man and die an excruciating death on the cross, because he cared about people like you and me. Christ is the real source of this kind of love.

Sharing Christ's concern for the lost is more than a five-step plan for salvation. Some try to communicate the gospel with no concern for the person being taught. They do it out of duty. They do it to save themselves. They feel that they will be lost themselves if they refuse to do so. To them sharing the gospel is a matter of self-preservation.

I am talking about loving a lost person like Christ loves that person. The motivating factor is not to share theology, but to share one’s self with the love of Christ. Our mind- set makes it difficult. When we look out at a lost world we see what is wrong. We tend to see only the negative. We understand their condemnation, but do we understand their deepest needs.

Matthew 9:35-38
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (NIV)

The world has been harassed and left helpless by churches as churches fail to lead it to Christ. We can become more interested in building churches than building people. People are harassed and left helpless as we endeavor to measure everything numerically as we count heads and count the contribution. When we endeavor to measure everything numerically, we have a tendency to overlook the deepest needs of the person’s heart.

When Jesus looked out at the crowds, he looked into the hearts of people. Jesus saw the deepest needs of humanity. He looked beyond the superficial disguises and saw the fields ripe for harvest.

Matthew 14:14
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (NIV)

Matthew 15:32
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (NIV)

Matthew 20:30-34
Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.

"Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (NIV)

Two blind men saw with their hearts what others could not see with two healthy eyes. The blind men said, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" Few in that crowd saw Jesus as the Son of David. Jesus’ compassion to others had cultivated their hearts to see him.

Jesus performed many of his miracles of healing for individuals long before he told them what to do to be saved or who he was. The cripple at the pool of Bethesda (John 5) and the blind man (John 9) are examples of Jesus showing his compassion before he revealed to them who he was. Jesus cultivated their hearts through his compassion.

Compassion for Evangelism begins at Home

One of the basic tenants of Jesus' teaching is that we should love one another. Jesus tells us that there are three categories of people we are to love. We are to love one another (other Christians—John 13:34-35). We are to love our neighbor (people in general—Matthew 22:39). And we are to love our enemies (people who don't like us—Matthew 5:44). So, you see, there is no one who we are not to love. Everyone fits into one of those three categories.

Love makes Christianity an appealing way of life. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. All too often, people have used even Christianity as an excuse to treat one another harshly, even to persecute and kill one another. Some people point to those events and rightly condemn them. Sadly, they then write off true Christianity as well. But true Christianity is not like that at all.

This does not mean that we accept as true everything that someone may do or teach or believe as right. Sin is still sin, and false teaching is still heresy. But it does mean that we love the people who may be doing wrong things or teaching false doctrine. You see, when Jesus told us to love people, He did not limit it to people like us, or people we agree with, or just our friends.

All of us want to be loved unconditionally for who we are, warts and all. Even when we are bad, we want to be loved. Even when our behavior is out of line, we want people to love us as a person. We know deep down this is the only kind of love that will motivate us to change. Some people act up to get attention. They are afraid no one around them cares. The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy—an attitude of "I don’t care."

Sharing Christ concern for the lost begins at home. Do you know what you have to do before a church can grow? You have to teach church members to love one another. You have to share the love of Christ for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul's love for the lost began at home. It began with his Jewish brothers. That is where it begins with us. It begins with fellow Christians. Paul suffered agony for our salvation.

2 Corinthians 11:24-28
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (NIV)

It is little wonder that he continually admonished Christians to love each other. The majority of admonitions in the New Testament are directed toward admonishing Christians to love one another.

Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)

1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (NIV)

1 John 3:17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (NIV)

Love can easily become superficial. I have been in assemblies where those in the assembly have been encouraged to hug the person next to them. Or, maybe they are encouraged to tell the person next to them that they love them. I am not going to do this. So relax.

I can think of something that would be more impressive than a hug or telling someone you loved him or her. Get each person to repeat these words to each other: "I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit--I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For [if necessary] I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ [for your sake]." (Romans 9:1-4) Or say with Moses, "Lord if you will not forgive them, blot my name out of your book of life." Or to make it much simpler, just turn to the other person and say, "If need be, I would die and go to hell for you!"

You can relax. I am not going to ask you to do this either. I just want to impress upon you that effective evangelism begins with the way we love our brethren. Love for the brethren blossoms out into the world. There will be tears on the day of judgement rolling down the cheeks of the saved. They will be crying over a lost world they have given their lives to save.

John 13:34-35
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV)

Jesus spoke these words at the last supper. He had just finished washing the disciples feet. It was just after they refused to wash one another's feet. The final scene in the upper room is the most graphic manifestation of God before his death on the cross. It was the grand finale. It was the last important statement he made to them before his crucifixion. It was God on his knees washing the feet of his disciples. Following this he descended into the pits of hell to purchase our salvation as he died on the cross. Christ experienced hell for each of us. Paul was willing to do experience hell for his lost Jewish brothers.

When love covers the sins of others it is an atoning love. Peter writes, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8 NIV) It is then we find it easier to forgive as we have been forgiven. Love creates an unceasing anguish for the welfare of others. Love is a greater motivator than guilt. True Christian love is sacrificially enduring.

The most encouraging thing I hear about this congregation is how we accept newcomers. Some newcomers told me the other day that they truly appreciated how the congregation accepted them. The greatest drawing power this congregation can have is to accept others as Christ accepted them. If you do this they will stick around to listen to what is taught even when the sermons are bad. Our lives create the thirst for what we teach.

Motivation for Change

A group of prospectors set out from Bannock, Montana (then capital of the state), in search of gold. They went through many hardships and several of their little company died en route. Finally they were overtaken by the Indians who took their good horses, leaving them with only a few limping old ponies. Then they threatened them, telling them to get back to Bannock and stay there, for if they overtook them again, they would murder the lot of them. Defeated, discouraged, and downhearted, the prospectors sought to make their way back to the capital city. On one occasion as they tethered out the limping ponies on a creek side, one of the men casually picked up a little stone from the creek bed. He called to his buddy for a hammer and upon cracking the rock, he said, "It looks as though there may be gold here." The two of them panned gold the rest of the afternoon and managed to realize twelve dollars' worth. The entire little company panned gold the next day in the same creek and realized fifty dollars, a great sum in those days. They said to one another: "We have struck it!" They made their way back to Bannock and vowed not to breathe a word concerning this gold strike. They secretively set about re-equipping themselves with supplies for another prospecting trip. But when they got ready to go back, three hundred men followed them. Who had told on them? No one! Their beaming faces betrayed the secret!

Love for others is seen on our faces as well. You don’t have to tell a person you love them, it naturally shows on our faces.

I realize that I cannot make atonement for the lost, but I have a responsibility to the lost. We must understand our responsibility to the lost, but our sense of responsibility should arise as a result of our love for the lost.

We understand the kind of concern we must have for the lost as we read about Ezekiel's call to preach to Israel.

Ezekiel 33:1-9
The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.' "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. (NIV)

Our responsibility for the lost has a direct correlation with our own salvation. If we refuse to give them warning, we will be lost.


The world is in crying need of Christians who have a burden for souls. Yet many of Christ's followers are complacent about the fate of the lost and the need of pointing them to the Savior. As David Augsburger expressed it in the book Witness Is Withness, we must have a "passion born of compassion." Augsburger went on to cite some worthy examples: "It is the cry of John Knox, 'Give me Scotland or I die'...; of George Whitefield, 'Give me souls or take my soul'; of David Brainerd, 'I care not where I go or how I live or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep, I dream of them; when I awake, they are first in my thoughts.' Brainerd continued, 'No amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned, sympathetic love of human souls.'" (Via Infosearch Database)

Luke 24:46-47
He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (NIV)

Mark 16:15-16
He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (NIV)


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