Summary: 3rd Sermon on the astounding mathematics of grace. This one is on the parable of the lost sheep. I also have graphics available.
(Count out 99 people and have them stand up. Then pick out 1 and ask this question) Which group is most important? Which group is the most valuable? In the economics of the world, it’s the ninety-nine. Insurance professionals will get out their actuarial tables and tell you that you have a whole lot more to lose with the 99 than you do the 1. The old proverb says a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Spock in Star Trek said it this way, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Obviously the 99 are more important and more valuable. (Go ahead and sit down.)
We’re in the third week of a series called Kingdomnomics where Jesus turns the economics of the world on its head. He takes what our world says is valuable and important and says, “No, it isn’t.” And he takes what our world neglects and overlooks, and says, “This is of great value and worth. This is worth your time. This is worth your money. This is worth your investment. This is worth your life.”
That’s exactly what Jesus does here. He says the one is worth enough to leave the 99 and to hunt high and low until you find the 1 and bring them back. How could Jesus ever say the one is worth leaving the 99? This is the astounding mathematics of grace.
What do you do when you lose your keys, your wallet, your cell phone, your wedding ring or something important to you? You look for it, right? As soon as you discover its missing, you priorities suddenly change. You abandon everything else until you find it. Everything else comes to a standstill, and you turn everything upside down until you find it. You will quit what you’re doing. You will put off important projects. You might even cancel appointments until you find your keys, your wallet, your ring. In that moment that it’s lost, it becomes the most important thing to you. That’s how God feels about lost people. That’s how God feels about you when you are broken off from Him. Jesus loves the lost with abandon. If that’s the way God feels about those who don’t know him, how do you think we should feel?
Let me put this story in proper context for you. Jesus is telling this story to Jewish religious leaders, to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were criticizing him for letting tax collectors and sinner sit in on his teaching, instead of turning them away. The religious leaders were fond of putting people into categories. There were those who were loved and blessed by God, and those who were not. There was the clean and unclean, the righteous and sinners. Sinners were the people God had written off. He didn’t care for them. He didn’t love them. Among this group were the very tax collectors and “sinners” that were listening to Jesus teach. The teachers of the law would never stoop so low as to teach these people, because God had nothing to say to them anyway. If God didn’t care for them, they reasoned, why should they?
They even had a saying, “Let a man never associate with a wicked person, not even for the purpose of bringing him near to the law of God.”
And Jesus comes along and tells this story that turns their logic on its head. The very thing you think is worthless, Jesus says, is worth most in God’s eyes. This parable was Jesus’ way of telling the Pharisees and teachers of the law the value of every person. Jesus is declaring for us the tremendous mercy and patience of a loving God and Father.
Even the casting of the shepherd as the main character in the story is a brilliant move. According to the way the Pharisees and teachers of the law categorized people, shepherds were on the same level as tax collectors and sinners. They were unclean. One Rabbi writes, “In the whole world you find no occupation more despised than that of the shepherd.” They were considered thieves and were not allowed to provide testimony in court. Jesus tells this story in a way that casts the Pharisees and teachers as the shepherd. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep…” He puts them in the sandals of the shepherd, on the same level as the people they say God doesn’t love.
In so doing, he teaches them, the sinners who are listening to this exchange, and those of us reading it here this morning three very important things about how God values lost people, and how He loves them with abandon.
I. Just like the Shepherd, God takes the initiative in finding lost people.