Hiding From God
As a child did you ever play ‘Hide and Seek’? Maybe today you no longer play childish games, and yet in many ways are trying to hide from God. Or could it be that you’ve gotten lost, you’ve gone astray, and need to be sought after and found by a God who would leave the 99 to go after the one?
One day Jesus wanted to have a group of people face up to the truth about their spiritual lives, about the human condition — that we want to hide, that we need to be found, and that there’s some confusion about being found.
And in typical fashion, he tells a story to help them understand both their own condition and their value to God.
And what I want to do today is walk you through this story Jesus told; look at why we hide and how it is that God goes about finding us; and then give everyone here an opportunity to respond to this story.
The story is found in Luke 15 in the New Testament.
Luke, the writer, says there are two groups of people.
One is a group of tax collectors and sinners that come to Jesus. These are not respectable people.
The other group are the Pharisees and Scribes. These are religious leaders in Jesus’ day — very respectable people.
Look at Luke 15:1
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
These religious leaders are complaining because Jesus is hanging out with all of these sinners who come to him.
So, in typical fashion, Jesus tells them a story. Verse 4:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.
Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:1-7)
Jesus talks about God and the human race in hide and seek kind of language.
Now hide and seek is a very simple game.
One person seeks, and everyone else runs off and hides.
And of course, if you’re playing hide and seek, the fun part is to be one of the hiders.
When you hide, you get to be in control.
You get to decide where you’re going to go.
You get to keep your eyes open.
You get to call the shots.
The hard job in hide and seek is to be the one who seeks.
Because the seeker has to deliberately let all of the hiders run away from him and place himself in the humble position of the one who will search on and on for people who are trying to evade him, who are laughing at his inability to find them.
No one wants that job, because if you take it, everyone is going to avoid you.
In the game of hide and seek, the one who seeks doesn’t even get much of a title.
In other games you can at least have an exalted job description.
The center is the one around whom the action flows.
Forward at least has a progressive sound to it.
The guard is someone who is protecting something that matters.
But in hide and seek, it is not that way.
What is it that we call the one who seeks in hide and seek? Anyone know?
Not “Captain It,” not “Chief Executive It,” not even “Cousin It” (for old Adams Family fans), just plain old “It.”
And no one wants to be “It.”
In fact, at the start of the game, what does everyone say?
“I don’t want to have any vestige of ‘Itness’ about me. I don’t want to be associated with ‘It’ in any form. I am Not ‘It,’ that’s what I am.”
And at the end of the game, if people have hidden themselves too well, if they evade “It” through the entire game, then “It” yells the words that ends the game.
“It” cups its hands and opens its mouth and shouts as loud as it can, words to penetrate the entire neighborhood. “It” ends the game by saying the old words, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen free.”
Have you ever wondered where that phrase comes from?
It’s a Latin phrase that means, “Liberate the oxen.”
No, actually, I don’t know what it means. I don’t know where it came from.
In the context of the game, of course, it means:
You can come home now.
It is safe to come home.
No one will chase you.
No one will tag you.
You won’t have to be “It.”
You won’t have to suffer any penalties.
You are free to come home.
It is the cry of grace to people who are hiding, that it’s time to come home.
“Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Now this story that Jesus tells is a story about searching. It’s a story about a shepherd and his sheep.
But the listeners would recognize it’s really a story about God and human beings, about God and us. God is the shepherd and human beings are the sheep.
But who is ‘It’ in this story? Who’s it?
“It” is God. “It” is the shepherd. God is “It.” God has gone off to search for hiding human beings.
When I was a Student Ministries pastor we made T-Shirts that said, “I found it.”
Students would ask, “What did you find?” And it was a way of talking about the idea that I found faith and that I found God.
Well, from a theological perspective that was backwards. Because the truth as Jesus says is — the ultimate truth is — “It” found me. That’s the way hide and seek works.
There’s a reason why Jesus tells the story this way.
Very often people are on spiritual journeys, and they think of themselves as “seekers” or as “searchers.”
And that may be the category you find yourself in this morning. You are searching for truth and searching for God. And that’s a wonderful thing.
And so you find yourself asking questions and reading books and having conversations, because truth is often elusive.
And there’s a certain truth to this perspective, and it’s a good thing to search.
In fact, the writers of Scripture say you can search with great confidence.
It’s important that you know that God does not get nervous or afraid when you have difficult questions to ask. It does not threaten Him.
In fact, he says in Jeremiah 29:13
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
God encourages people to seek. We are seekers.
But that’s not the whole truth about us. The truth about us is we are not just seekers, we’re also hiders.
You and I must come face-to-face with our tendency to get lost. We must own up to our tendency to hide from God.
This is as old as the human race. After the fall, after human beings sin, when God came to be with them, the man says — this is recorded in Genesis 3 in the Bible:
I heard you in the garden and I was afraid, so I hid. (Genesis 3:10)
Hiding has to do with our tendency to run from God, our tendency when we do bad things, when we develop character flaws, to avoid facing the truth about ourselves, to avoid being confronted with what it is that we’re becoming.
The writer of Scripture puts it like this in Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.
All of us have run from God’s plan for our lives. We have done things that we should not do. We have failed to do things that we ought to do. And we have a hard time facing up to it.
Sin always involves a choice to hide from God — it always involves a choice to hide from God.
I’ve told you before about how my mom would keep a jar of cookies in the kitchen that was off limits to us kids. We would get cookies when she wanted to give them.
Well, my youngest brother decided he wanted a cookie without asking for it. So he walked through the kitchen one day, headed toward the cookie jar. But my mom was right there.
So my brother did an odd thing. He closed his eyes and made his way through the kitchen with his eyes shut, fumbling all around the kitchen until finally he found the cookie jar, unscrewed the lid, pulled out a few cookies, put the lid back on and then backed out of the kitchen.
The whole time his eyes were closed. Because he was convinced that as long as he couldn’t see anyone, then no one could see him.
Now, developmentally this is not an unusual thing. Often kids go through this. As long as their eyes are closed, they can’t see you, so they think you can’t see them.
Of course, only a kid would be so naive as to try to pull a stunt like that, right?
Only a little kid would think he could get away with going to the cookie jar just by keeping his eyes closed, that by shutting his own eyes to reality no one else would be able to see reality, either. Only a kid tries something that immature, right?
You see, the truth about us is we’ve all been to the cookie jar with our eyes closed. We all hide.
There’s an amazing thing recorded in the very beginning of the Bible.
After the fall, after the first man and the first woman defy God and they lose his kind of life and his kind of community… and then the question is, how is God going to respond to that? What will God do? Listen to what happens.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-10)
Where are you?
Now that is an amazing thing if you stop and think about it for a moment.
Because, remember, this is God now. This is not some other human being. This is God who made the garden. This is God who created the man and the woman. This is the God who knows everything, from whom no detail of reality can be hidden.
So why does he ask Adam, “Where are you?”
See, he’s not confused. It’s not that he lacks information.
The point of this is, God has chosen that he will allow human beings to hide from him if they want to.
God loves these little human creatures so much that he only wants to be with them if they choose freely to want to be with him out of love. He will not force his presence on them. And so God allows human beings to hide.
“Where are you,” God says. God covers His eyes and counts to a hundred and says, “I’m it” when everyone says, “Not it”.
God says to the human race, “I’m it. Where are you?”
Who hides from God?
It’s the man whose priorities are so messed up that his kids don’t even know him and he can’t remember the last time he prayed or thought seriously about God. And he knows there are things that he should be getting around to, and he says, “I’ll do it some day when there is time.” He’s hiding.
It’s the woman who is filled with anger — anger at her mother or anger at her husband and children or anger at God because He hasn’t given her the kind of husband or children that she wants to have. And it’s kind of a frozen anger. Not many people see it, but she does. Every once in a while it surfaces and it frightens her. She is hiding from God.
It’s a couple that comes to church week after week. And they’re friendly, and they’re respectable people. But there is a problem. The husband is involved in a kind of a sexual behavior which he cannot control anymore. And it shames him and he wishes he could stop it. But he doesn’t wish that he could stop it enough to get help for it, to confess it. He’s hiding.
Everyone in this room knows what it is to hide from God. Every one of us has messed up in our lives.
For some of you the mistakes, the sin, the fallenness, the lostness, is on the front burner right now. You are aware of an act of betrayal or of cheating or of rage that has just badly damaged you or someone around you.
For some people here that hiddenness tends to recede. And you’re not even aware of it a lot of times.
But the truth about all of us is, we have all hidden from God. We have all been involved in dishonesty, in greed, in arrogance, in laziness that has hurt ourselves or hurt other people.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,” the writer of Scripture says. We’ve all been to the cookie jar with our eyes closed.
Every sheep is lost. That’s part of Jesus’ story. The sheep get lost.
But there’s another part to it. And this is critical to understanding what the Gospel says.
In Jesus’ story — I’ll put it in the form of a question — in Jesus’ story, what are the odds that the sheep is going to make it back to the fold on its own?
The odds are not good. The odds are not good because sheep are not bright animals.
One writer about sheep puts it like this:
“Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. Left to themselves, they will follow the same trail until it turns into ruts, graze the same hills until they become desert wastes, pollute the ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.”
Check out this sheep:
Video: Sheep traps himself twice
They are just not bright animals.
Sheep are not proactive. Sheep are followers.
If there’s a whole flock of sheep traveling and one of them goes over the side of a cliff, do you know what happens to the whole rest of the flock?
They all will follow right over the cliff — every one of them.
You would think that one of them, at least, would pause for a moment and say to himself, “You know, Sally went over the cliff and she never returned. I’m going to just reflect on this truth for a few moments before plunging ahead impulsively into the same reckless course of action.”
But no, it never happens that way. The sheep just says to himself, “Well, okay. I’ll give it a try. Doesn’t sound like a ‘baaaad’ idea to me.”
Now the sheep in Jesus’ story has only one thing going for it. The sheep knows that it’s lost.
The sheep does not say to the shepherd, “I’m not in such bad shape. There are other sheep far worse off than me.” The sheep doesn’t say that. The sheep is not in denial.
The sheep’s eyes are open, and it knows it’s lost. It knows it needs to be saved.
Now there’s an old term the English used for a sheep in a certain condition. They would call it a “cast sheep.”
A cast sheep was a sheep that had gone off on its own and had gotten on its back and was unable to right itself, unable to move.
One writer writes about this condition, the cast sheep.
“The way it happens is this, a heavy, fat or long fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax.
“Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns its back far enough and the feet no longer touch the ground.
“It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it’s quite impossible for the sheep to regain its feet.
“As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As they expand, they tend to cut off blood circulation to the extremities of the body, especially the legs.
“If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it’s cool and cloudy, it may survive for a few days. But left to itself, it is going to die.”
Now Jesus is saying this is the human predicament — yours and mine. It’s our story.
You cannot make it to God on your own.
Now this is where people are often confused about being found. People often say things like, “If I’m just good enough, I think that that will be okay to God.”
Or maybe, “If I attend church occasionally, try to believe the right things…”
Or, “If I do more nice things than I do bad things, hopefully it will all balance itself out.”
The writers of Scripture are very clear on this.
Paul, the writer of Romans, said — the wages of sin is death.
That left to ourselves, we are without hope. We cannot earn our way to God. We need to be saved.
And we can be. It’s possible.
And the place where God claims lost sheep is the cross.
The writers of Scripture say that on the cross the death that I should have died, and that you by all rights should have died, was died instead by Jesus.
That we were separated from a Holy God by our sin. Think of it in terms of like a moral debt — a debt of sin that we could not pay, and so Jesus paid it. Jesus suffered our punishment. He satisfied the just demands of a Holy God. He declared forever God’s willingness to forgive us and give us life.
The place where God claims lost sheep is the cross.
Isaiah 53:6 says:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
And the Lord has placed on Him the sin, the fallenness, the lostness of us all.
And those words find their ultimate fulfillment in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. At the cross, God was placing on Him the sin, the guilt, the moral indebtedness of you and of me.
In the days before Jesus, sheep were often offered as a sacrifice to God.
And the shedding of their blood was a reminder of the penalty of death that sin involved — of the sin barrier that separated us from God, of the penalty that needed to be paid.
But when Jesus came, a fundamental, new reality took hold.
John the Baptist, who told people about the coming of Jesus, when he saw Jesus, John pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The place where God claims lost sheep is the cross. And from that time on there has been no more need for sacrifice.
You do not have to try to earn your way into God’s good graces. It’s a gift offered through Jesus.
Now there are two groups listening to this story.
One of them was a very corrupt group. In our day, we would think of them like members of a drug cartel or something like that.
But the other group thought of themselves as very good people. They were very religious, they paid their taxes, they affirmed all the right values.
The difference between the two groups is, the first group was lost and they knew they were lost.
The second group was lost, but they didn’t think they were lost. They didn’t think they needed to be saved.
They were like a cast sheep saying to the shepherd:
“Why don’t you go on back to the rest of the flock. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just lie here on my back. I don’t need any help. I don’t want a shepherd. I didn’t ask to be saved.”
See, sheep have another very human-like quality. And that is they can be really stubborn.
That’s a quality a few of you in this room may know something about.
Let’s do a mass confession here. I’ll say a few things to kind of jog your minds, then I will ask you to actually raise your hands if you have ever wrestled with stubbornness in your life.
If you have ever once in your life been wrong and had a hard time admitting it.
If you have a hard time saying, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
If you ever find that you hate to lose an argument.
If you have ever been on a trip and you got lost, but you refused to ask for directions because you did not want to admit that you were lost.
If the remote control has ever had to be pried out of your fingers.
If you have ever been reluctant to say someone else is smarter than you, knows something more than you do.
Okay, it is just an open, honest, humble acknowledgment now. How many of you have ever wrestled with stubbornness in your life? Just raise your hands real high.
How many of you are sitting next to someone who wrestles with stubbornness, but is too stubborn to admit it and you need to give them some help?
Some of you have already acknowledged your basic lostness to God and have begun your journey with the shepherd. Some of you have done that.
Some of you are just here today to learn. You don’t know very much at all about God or about the Gospel, and you need some time to investigate. And that’s a great place to be, and I just want to affirm that you continue that process of exploration.
But some of you — and I just need to get real personal with you for a moment — some of you are fighting just plain stubbornness.
For some of you there’s a kind of pride or a hardness at work in your life at a very deep level. And it causes you to refuse to acknowledge to God your need to be saved.
Kind of a pride that causes you to clench your teeth and your fists and to refuse to open up to God and say, “I am a sinner.”
And you need to know that there is a kind of a danger that every time God tugs at a heart and the heart says, “No,” it gets a little harder.
Some of you are at a cross roads this morning about this decision, this ultimate decision.
And I want to give you a little reassurance from Jesus’ story.
It’s interesting to look at what the shepherd does not say.
The shepherd does not come to the sheep and say the things that I would be tempted to say —
“You stupid sheep. You have only yourself to blame. What were you thinking of, wandering off like this? Why couldn’t you be more careful? Didn’t you know the path was narrow, and the cliff was steep and the countryside was filled with wolves? Didn’t you know you would be in for trouble? Don’t come crying to me now that you’ve gotten lost.”
The shepherd doesn’t say these things. The shepherd just opens his arms and gathers the sheep around him and goes home and throws a party.
And you hear the laughter of all those sheep together at the end — no condemnation, no lecture, just a shepherd so filled with compassion towards the sheep that when he finds it, his heart melts.
And far from resenting the pain involved in the search, the sheep matters so much to the shepherd that he throws the party.
And there you hear the laughter of those sheep together at the end.
Now there is a staggering claim involved in this story, for the hearers understand that Jesus himself now has come as the good shepherd.
Jesus has come as God in human form, searching for lost people, searching for you and me.
He is not just a wise teacher. He is not just a religious leader. He is the Son of God. He is God made flesh, searching for humanity.
Now you have to respond. You and I have to choose how we will respond, what our reaction will be.
And the response that God invites you to make, by which people can become right with God, is to trust Him. It is a response of faith.
When my kids were little they would play a game called trust.
Anyone know how the game trust works?
It is a very simple game. One of my kids would stand on something like a table in front of me, turn their back to me — They can’t see me. They can’t hear me. They just have to trust that I’m there.
Because what they do is just fall backward into my arms.
They trust that I will be there to catch them. They trusts that I won’t let them fall to the ground and get hurt.
And generally I would do a pretty good job.
Now there’s a point in the game as they’re falling backward — there’s a point of no return.
At first, as you are leaning back, if you want to you can kind of fake it. You can step back and you can stay in control.
But if you are really going to trust, then eventually you reach a point where you abandon control and you go back far enough so that you’re dependent on the faithfulness of the one in whom you trust.
You’re placing yourself in the arms of the one that you trust. That’s the way the game works — trust.
God invites human beings to kind of play the game of trust with Him, to throw themselves into His arms.
To become a Christian or a follower of Jesus is an act of trust, and it involves simply this — it involves me saying to God, “I now confess my sins. I am a sinful person. I have done things I shouldn’t… and I have not done things that I should.”
And then I acknowledge my need. I recognize I will never measure up to God’s holy standards of perfection. That I will not make it to Him. I can’t earn it. I can’t be that good. I need to be saved. I am lost, and I need a power greater than myself.
And then to say, “Now I submit my life to You. I now make Jesus my Savior and my teacher and my guide and the Lord whom I obey. I make Him the shepherd of my life. I now confidently have thrown my life into the arms of God.”
Some of you are here today and you’ve been hiding from God for a long time, maybe because of pride or maybe because of fear or maybe because of confusion.
And you’ve been waiting for a moment like this.
God has spoken. God is not silent. God has spoken in His Son, Jesus Christ.
To all who want to hide, who need to be sought, who are confused about being found, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen free,” God says. Come out wherever you are, for the time of hiding is over. And the time for being found has now arrived.
It’s time to come home. No penalties. No punishment. No having to earn it. No getting caught. Just come home. Just trust Me.
Would you pray with me?
You may want to bow your head or close your eyes if that helps you to just kind of focus on the fact that God really is here, and that we can really speak to Him.
And now I want to invite you to commit your life to God today.
You may want to just put your hands in your lap and open them, put them palms up to kind of express physically your openness to God. You may want to do that.
But I want to invite you to say these words to God — if you’ve never accepted this gift of forgiveness and life from God, if you’ve never made Jesus your Savior — I’ll say these words out loud and you can just say them silently in your heart and mind. Say them to God as an expression of your desire today.
God, I confess my sin. I acknowledge to you that I am lost. I do things I should not do. I don’t even know why. And I fail to do a lot that I should do. I confess to you today my own sinfulness. And I acknowledge today that I need to be found, that I need to be saved. I don’t want to be trapped in stubbornness and pride.
And I understand now that Jesus Christ, your Son, was crucified on the cross, and He died in my place, and that you offer to me forgiveness and grace and life, not through my having to earn it by doing good enough, but simply as a gift. And so I receive it today, and I submit my life to you.
God, I throw my life into your arms. And from here on out I choose to follow Jesus.
And God, all of us here this morning, all of us human creatures who want to hide, who need to be sought, who get confused about being found, all of us thank you for this story, that you are a God to whom lost people matter.
We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.