We all need to know: even if I was the 1 that went astray that God would leave the 99 to rescue me.
If you haven’t noticed, I really like how Jesus taught in parables. Somehow the use of metaphor makes truth so powerfully tangible. Luke chapter 15 brings a powerful message we need to hear and a message we need to know.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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.
A poignant image, to be sure. I don’t have livestock and I’m not the most familiar with sheep… and yet, even for me this passage evokes such strong imagery and brings a deep understanding of the heart of God.
In a world filled with people struggling to develop worth, fighting to attain the unachievable, desperately searching for meaning among lies and twisted truth… there is a message we need to know: no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far we’ve turned away God is the Good Shepherd who comes to find us.
With incredulous disbelief we struggle to embrace this truth while and simultaneously clinging with every fiber of our being to this beautiful, sacrificial love of God. I hear children, teens and adults alike sing with everything they have, “O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God; O, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine; I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away”
as they praise God and speak truth to their hearts and minds.
There is another truth we need to face head on. A truth just as deep, as powerful, as motivating. One that we see when we look up from ourselves and peer to our left and we glance to our right.
And we see… we see the beauty of this message for us as it is for the person next to us as it is for the person across the globe from us. God is good. Sometimes our eyes are open a little wider to what that really means.
God has come to rescue each of them as well. They are also the 1… and sometimes that means we are 1 of the 99.
The parable of the “Lost Sheep” as we know it wasn’t the only parable in Luke Chapter 15. Jesus continues teaching with the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his propertybetween them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Sometimes we need to know we are the 1 and sometimes we need to know we are 1 of the 99 as we also hear the truth God has for us as we see ourselves as the prodigal and as the older son. What a challenge God gives through the words of the father to the older son, “My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Ever get mad that God’s grace extends to the undeserving? Funny that it is amazing grace when applied to myself and extreme injustice when that grace forgives my enemies. Oh how much we still have to learn about what it means to be loved and to live from that love. We still to learn to live loved.
When we do we see what only true love can let us see, the very thing that Jesus saw,
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When is the last time you looked around with compassion that comes from that kind of love? Love that knows what it means to be the 1 and love that knows what it means to be 1 of the 99: safe but not sedentary.
Jesus’ response? “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.”
When we know (like the older son) safety and security of being truly loved we can look with compassion on those who like the lost sheep are a harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd. And we can know how important it is for us to bring the message of unfailing hope, real rescue and true love. Then we know, as 1 of the 99, it is time to go. Not to be lost but to take the message of what it means to be found.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 18-20
God is the only one who can save but He has bestowed to us the privilege of bearing the message of Christ to the world. Who is the 1 on your heart? Where is the place God is calling you to go?