By Vicki Tekwani
‘Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And so He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the other ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.’ - Luke 15:1-7 (NASB)
Whenever I think about God’s heart for the lost, I am reminded of the picture of Jesus reaching out to the stray sheep who wandered off and got stuck in a ditch.
The parable of the lost sheep has always baffled me. Why would Jesus, the Great Shepherd, leave ninety-nine perfectly healthy and faithful sheep, to go after the straying and rebellious sheep who decided to wander off? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to simply focus on the ninety-nine who were with Him and mourn the loss of the stray, rather than leave the ninety-nine for a while to search earnestly for the lost one?
If we contextualise it to today’s setting, with a pastor as our shepherd, often leaders may struggle with the rationale of leaving the ninety-nine well-behaved church members for a while, just to go after the one ‘sheep’ who decided not to turn up for service or was living in sin. In fact, we could even justify it as a strategic leadership decision to stay with the faithful ones, and be comfortable in the holy huddle which provides familiarity and respite from the ‘wickedness’ out there.
However, Jesus shares this story to show us His own heart for the lost and the broken. So, what exactly can we learn from the Great Shepherd?
1. He came for the lost, not the righteous.
This sounds so simple, but is worth emphasising from the outset. Jesus left the ninety-nine righteous ones for the one sheep who strayed and got lost. That is the heart of the True Shepherd. Jesus came to heal, redeem, and rescue the lost and the broken – the ones who did not know God, and were despised and beaten down by the religious order. He did not come to make the lives of the righteous better, but to reach the lost. He was not exclusively available to the believer, but was inclusively welcoming of every precious soul, sinner or not. The Pharisees loathed Jesus because they assumed the Messiah had come specifically for the Jews, but Jesus made it clear in Mark 2:17, when He said to them: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
2. He spent time in the streets and marketplaces, not just in the synagogues.
Jesus did not come just to fellowship in the synagogues where the righteous were found, but to pursue the lost and broken who were in the streets and marketplaces. In Luke 15:2, we see the reactions of the Pharisees when Jesus was spending time with the sinners and tax collectors. They were so disturbed that the Messiah, the Saviour of the Jews, would be found in the company of the scum of society.
But Jesus constantly disrupted the religious traditions the Pharisees had set in stone, displaying a far superior way by constantly being around those who needed Him the most. He was not interested in sitting on a pedestal, distant from the likes of imperfect people. Instead, He was found sitting and dining at tables reserved for sinners, simply because He loved them. He displayed true love and compassion for the down and out, and showed a higher way of relationship over rituals.
3. He was constantly with the ‘one’, not just in the crowds.
Just like the Shepherd who left the ninety-nine for the lost one, Jesus was always stopping for the ‘one’ along His own journey – the woman with the issue of blood, the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, the Samaritan woman, and many others. Crowds had no sway over Him. In fact, there were many instances in the Gospels where Jesus would slip away from the crowds to pray and be alone. He did not count the crowds unless He was feeding them, and never went in search of bigger crowds to preach to. Jesus knew it was not about the crowds alone, but the ‘one’ the Father had placed in His heart to reach out to. If Jesus, who had such a limited time on earth could stop for the ‘one’, we should consider making time for the ‘one’ God has placed in our hearts!
The good news is, God has already placed people around us to whom we can reach out. Here are some practical ways we can engage with them:
a. Love God = Love people.
Friends, it starts and ends with Jesus! Firstly, let’s come back to our First Love. When did we last have an uninterrupted time of devotion with Him? Jesus is the Source of agape love and compassion. When we love God and receive His perfect love, we would naturally want to share that same experience with others. The only way we can love people authentically is by an overflow of God’s love first poured out to us. After all, we can only give what we have received. Lastly, when we love God and spend time with Him, we naturally become more like Him, emulating His heart and burden for the lost.
b. Understand the ‘why’ before doing the ‘what’.
Religion can make us so busy with practising the art without understanding the heart behind it. Why does God command us to preach the gospel and make disciples? Why does Jesus ask us to pray for workers to be sent out to the harvest? The simple answer is this – because of His great love, He desires that none shall perish. When we understand the ‘why’, the ‘what’ becomes meaningful, possible, and natural. We are then motivated to go out of our comfort zones and engage with the lost, because God’s vision and zeal for the lost consumes us!
c. Start with what you have.
Start where you are, with what you have, and with who God has placed in your life! It could be a friend, a close colleague, a gym buddy, or a classmate. The first thing you can do is to PRAY for your ‘one’.
Secondly, be a small blessing. Send an encouraging text, write a card, or buy a drink for that person. You never know what seeds you are planting! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Let’s be faithful in the small things and never despise the days of small beginnings. Seeds are always small, but have the potential to grow further. Our responsibility is to plant the seed and water it, but it’s God who brings the increase!
In closing, I would like to share a chorus of one of my favourite songs. I hope it encourages you to be a blessing to that ‘one’ person today.
“Help me to love with open arms like You do
A love that erases all the lines and sees the truth
Oh that when they look in my eyes they would see You
Even in just a smile, they would feel the Father's love”
– ‘For the One’, written by Jenn Johnson and Paul McClure