It's easy for us to shield ourselves—not consciously, not maliciously—but nevertheless, to pass on the other side in order to remain unaware of the pain and the spiritual hopelessness that is around us. That was not the way of Jesus. He looked for the pain. He searched for lost people. That was the first step in redeeming them.
Jesus gained a reputation for associating with those who were considered outcasts. Pariahs, undesirables, the unlovely of the Jewish culture—all these gathered around Jesus. This disturbed the Pharisees and scribes, the dignitaries and clergy of the day. They had adopted a tradition that taught salvation by segregation: keep yourself away from anyone who is involved in sin; that is how you can secure your own redemption. It was part of their working philosophy to isolate themselves from those who were sinners. Jesus came and defied that tradition by openly associating with the pariahs of the culture.
It was on one of these occasions that the Pharisees began to grumble and complain about Jesus' companions. In response, Jesus tells a series of parables, the first of which reads as follows:
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. (Luke 15:4–7)
This parable is called "the parable of the lost sheep." There are those today who don't believe that anyone is lost; they reject the whole concept of being lost. There are those who are universalists, who believe everyone goes to heaven automatically; justification is not by faith or works, but simply by death—because no one is truly lost. Then there are those who say that, given enough time, lost people will eventually find their way back. We just need to leave them alone.
However, if no one is lost, or if they will find their way back on their own, then the mission of Christ was a waste of time; the atonement of Christ was not needed. This casts a shadow upon the whole mission of Jesus Himself.
Jesus defined His mission by saying, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). He didn't simply say that He came to save the lost, but that He came to seek and to save them. That is, before the lost can be redeemed, they must first be found.
It is finding the lost that necessitates the endeavor of missions. It's easy for us to deceive ourselves into thinking that no one is lost, and one way of doing that is to distance ourselves from the search—that is, to make sure that we keep ourselves uninformed about the needs of the lost, to insulate ourselves from knowing what is really going on in the world. For instance, we don't go out of our way to understand and learn about all of the people who are starving in this world. When we are confronted with it, our consciences are pricked and we are moved to action. But we don't go out of our way to find misery; we think there's enough misery in our own lives, without looking for more.
When I was a child, it was still normal for the doctor to make house calls, where he would actually come to your house. Every day, he would drive through the community and visit children, the elderly, or whoever was sick. Today, if you're sick, the doctor is not going to come to you; you have go to the doctor. Unfortunately, many churches operate the same way; they hang out a shingle and invite people to come to them.
But Jesus didn't have a building; He didn't wait behind closed doors for people to come and see Him. His was a ministry of "walking around." He went out to where the people were. That's what missions is all about. The ministry of Christ was a ministry of searching for pain and for those who are lost.