1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! (Luke 15:1-2 NLT)
Luke 15 starts with a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This conflict, one of many, was over the fact that Jesus’ “congregation” included despicable people such as tax collectors and other notorious sinners. Jesus loved sinners and wanted them to turn to God. Jesus also loved Pharisees and religious people and wanted them to “get it,” and to understand that lost people matter to God. So instead of engaging in an argument with them over who’s in and who’s out, or who’s accepted by God and who’s rejected, Jesus told them three stories. He provided no explanation, no points of application, just three stories.
Jesus told stories with a purpose. To show how God loves people, Jesus told stories about a shepherd and sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. To show how God cares for the poor, Jesus told stories contrasting the selfish rich with the desperately needy poor. To show how God loves people of different races, Jesus told stories about the Samaritans, mixed-race people the Jews despised. To show that Jesus values women as much as men, he told many stories in which women were the key characters. This is one of Jesus’ “If you have ears to hear, listen up!” moments!
The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:3-7 NLT)
Jesus told them a story about a lost sheep. In a couple of the translations I was reading, Jesus said, “If you had a hundred sheep and one got lost, what would you do?” Jesus didn’t want his hearers to just pass this off as a story about an unnamed shepherd in the wilderness with his unnamed sheep, so he put them in the story.
We have a dog named Jake. He’s an English Springer Spaniel who just turned six in November. Jake has become semi-famous in Central Oregon because when we walk in the desert east of town almost every day, Jake finds bones in the desert and I post pictures of Jake and his bones to Instagram. You can find lots of pictures of Jake The Desert Bone Dog on my Instagram account and my Facebook page.
About a month ago, on one of our early morning walks, Jake got lost! I had just said, “Hey Jake, you seem very subdued today.” He wriggled his bottom and headed off the trail into the junipers. When we’d walked a couple hundred yards further, I asked Jean if she’d seen Jake. We looked around for him. I whistled and waited and whistled again. Nothing—Jake was gone! After a few minutes we made a plan to separate and while Jean went back for the car, I walked cross country in the direction of where I’d see him last. After pointless searching, whistling, and waiting, I headed back to the trail. Jean came along in the car and we drove north to another road beyond where we’d last seen him. We drove and drove and looked and looked. We’d stop the car and I’d get out and whistle. And wait. We decided to separate again. So Jean took the car to go back toward where we’d last seen him and I again headed across country, toward where we’d parked earlier, planning to retrace the entire route. Jean called about 10 minutes later and had found him on the road below, far from where we’d lost him. He was really glad to see her and to get back in the car! I started across country to meet her at the point we’d originally started the search, preparing some choice words to deliver to Jake when I saw him. But when I got to the car, I was so glad to see him and he was so glad to see me those choice words didn’t seem to matter!
While Jake was lost, I felt fear! And we prayed very fervently! We asked God to do what he could to direct Jake toward us. We asked God to direct us toward Jake. We didn’t know whether God would have more luck directing Jake or directing us, so we covered both options. We did what we could. We tried to think like a dog. We made a plan that involved whistling and praying and looking. I was thinking about how afraid he would be and I was afraid he’d do something stupid(er). I felt such joy when we found him! Do I love him less for getting lost? No, but when he was lost I realized how much I love him!
I can assure you of one thing, when Jesus says, “If one of your sheep gets lost…” he now has my full attention! I can feel what he’s talking about.
Jesus doesn’t tell us which sheep got lost! Was it that young sheep that was constantly sticking his nose in the weeds, wandering off? Was it that little lamb that was too weak to keep up with the rest and simply got left behind? Was it that old sheep with arthritic joints that had trouble walking? It was one of his sheep and he loves and values every one!
Jesus says, “If this was you, and one of your sheep was lost in the wilderness, you’d go find it!” You’d leave the other ninety-nine sheep in a good spot where they wouldn’t wander off and you’d go find the lost one. And when you found it you’d be so glad to see it safe again that you’d forget all about the things you were going to say to that dumb sheep! You’d pick it up, carry it home, and tell everybody how glad you are to have your sheep back safe and sound. Like I just told you about Jake!
Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus loves every sheep (that’s you and me, whether we’re presently lost or found) even more than I love Jake. And Jesus searches for lost sheep passionately and rejoices ecstatically when he finds the one that’s lost! In fact, Jesus said all heaven rejoices! Sometimes that lost sheep might be you or me, sometimes it might be someone we don’t even think should be part of the flock. But Jesus loves us all equally and searches diligently when we stray. That’s why there are some people in Jesus’ congregation that we really wonder about. And maybe they wonder about us. But Jesus loves us all! And if you’re currently lost, he’s looking for you!