Summary: We are called to join in with God by deliberately, intentionally seeking out the lost. When the lost are found we are called to join with God in rejoicing!
A few years ago I was reading a book by Stephen Gaukroger. He tells the story of a New York Methodist minister who saw the need to bring his ‘ninety nine righteous’ sheep back into the fold. He put an advert in the local paper:
“Lost, stolen or strayed; a large flock of Methodist sheep. They have been gone for some time. When last seen they were browsing along the road of indifference. Anyone finding these sheep please bring them home, if possible, and you will receive ample reward. If they refuse to come home drive them to the nearest fold, lock the door, and report to the undersigned. Plenty of fodder will be provided on Sunday.”
I don’t intend to speak for long this morning. Jesus often got his point across using short, punchy stories and illustrations. I have much to learn!
Jesus is coming under severe criticism from (Old Testament) Bible-believing Pharisees because he is actively seeking out and spending time talking and eating with the non-religious; people that the official religion wanted nothing to do with, people who were classed simply as ‘sinners’, people of low reputation, people that polite society avoided like the plague (15:1-2). The Pharisees and teachers of the law – the religious leaders of Jesus’ time – muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” I can almost taste the disgust, the disdain and the ‘driven-round-the-bend’ hatred coming from those religious gatekeepers. However, rather than simply glare and state that they are wrong, Jesus tells three parables. First of all a story about a lost sheep, then a story about a lost coin and then the story of two brothers, one of whom spends his inheritance but later realizes his mistake and returns home to be welcomed extravagantly by his father who places a ring on his finger and celebrates with a party (15:11-32).
In the parables of the lost sheep (15:1-7) and the lost coin (15:8-10) there are two themes I would like to draw out. One is a theme of deliberate, intentional searching and one is a theme of joy and celebration. As we capture and embrace these themes then we will avoid being the flock of lost, indifferent sheep that the New York Methodist Minister was calling back.
Let’s take a moment to invite God to search our hearts. Where are we before Him right now? Heavenly Father, please sweep away any indifference from our hearts. Please help us to hear and respond to your word to us in Jesus’ precious name! Amen!
The theme of deliberate, intentional searching: The shepherd owns 100 sheep but when one is lost he is not content simply to have 99 left. The lost one temporarily becomes his focus and even temporarily becomes more important than all the others (15:4). How important are lost sheep to us? Who are they?
God is like the shepherd. Through Jesus God seeks out lost sheep, and we are called to become more like Jesus. Deliberately, intentionally seeking lost sheep is central to God’s mission. This means there will be times when lost sheep are temporarily more important than sheep that are safely within the fold. Who are our lost sheep? Who has wandered off and needs to be deliberately, intentionally sought out? Name them before God now. Allow God to seek them out through you this week. ‘Back to Church’ Sunday is 30/09/07!
The theme of joy and celebration: Even when the shepherd found the lost sheep it was still the focus of his attention! He calls his neighbours and friends together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (15:6); likewise with the woman who found the lost coin. Rejoicing followed (15:9). Jesus said (15:7), “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents then over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Although we stopped our Bible paragraph at verse 10 today we could easily have continued through to the end of the chapter taking in the parable which is sometimes called the prodigal son, or the lost son, or the loving Father; or should it be called the parable of the angry, unforgiving elder brother (15:28)?
We are called each one of us to join in with God’s mission to deliberately, intentionally seek out the lost. We are also called to rejoice greatly when all sorts of different people repent and have their lives turned around as they are found by God.
I do not want us to be like those 99, supposedly righteous - very much indifferent – New York sheep.