Several translations (NIV, ASV, KJV, NASB) phrase Luke 19:10 in an interesting way. That is the well-known line of Jesus after the story of the wee-little man, Zacchaeus, where Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” The words that which was catch my attention. It’s not just the lost, but something about the lost that Jesus came to look for and restore.
Maybe the detail is insignificant or hermeneutically wrong, but to me this changes the conversation from a who question to what. I would submit the follow-up question Jesus hoped for was not, “Who are the lost?” Rather the appropriate question is, “What is it that has been lost?” Or, more fully, “What is it in people that has been lost?”
I think Jesus provides the commentary on this a few stories later in Luke. When he is pressed about taxes, he answers that the image of Caesar is inscribed on money, so “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Luke 20:25). Then by inference Jesus adds people are inscribed with the image of God. Therefore that which was lost is the image of God in people. What Jesus came to look for and restore is what we ought to be as divine image bearers.
Ray Stedman wrote in The Perfect Man “He is not talking only about coming to save lost people; he has come to save that which is lost. Well, what is lost? Perhaps you say it is men who are lost. No, it is man, the secret of our humanity. We no longer know how to be what we were intended to be. The whole dilemma of life is that we still have, deep within us, a kind of racial memory of what we ought to be and what we want to be, but we do not know how to accomplish it.”
This significantly changes the way you should see people. Mark O. Wilson, in his new book Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus says, “They are lost treasures, not lost causes.” We know Jesus seemed to see people this way by the stories he told of pearls, sheep, coins, and sons. People matter to God. He has inscribed himself on every man, woman, and child. The way Paul said it is, “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). When people find God (or, if you like, God finds them) they come face to face with that which they’ve been looking for.
Your church, neighborhood, and city is full of treasure. And that which is lost is lost treasure, not a lost cause. What would the difference be if they were treated like lost treasure?