One Lost Sheep
On Thursday, November 11th, we celebrate our veterans! Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed annually for honoring those who have served in our armed forces. We thank God for the veterans in our church, as well as all veterans, who served and sacrificed to protect our nation. The U.S. military has long been known for its courageous motto to “leave no one behind on the battlefield.” It’s a sacred commitment between fellow soldiers. Although not a perfect comparison, Jesus’ parable in the gospels reminds me of this commitment.
In Luke 15, the Pharisees and religious leaders were complaining that Jesus befriended and ate with tax collectors and sinners. In verses 3-7, it says “Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.”
Jesus’ parable speaks of a shepherd with a hundred sheep. Discovering that one of the sheep had gotten lost, he leaves the 99 and gives his attention to finding the one. Even though it says the shepherd leaves the 99 in the open country, I don’t think it means he leaves them all alone (that could be disastrous). Typically he would have a helper that could watch the flock temporarily or he would get another shepherd to help. Although one sheep out of a hundred might seem insignificant, he makes the one his priority. A lone sheep would be easy prey to get hurt or be attacked by other animals. For the shepherd, it was more than a duty, it was personal. In fact, it was common for the shepherd and sheep to have a relationship, to know each other. Much like we know our pets and our pets know us. For example, when the shepherd led his flock out of the pen, he would call them by name one at a time (like Longears or Whitenose), for the same pen would often hold flocks of sheep of different shepherds. Upon hearing the shepherd call out their name, they would step by and around the other sheep to exit the gate (I wish my kids were that obedient and courteous 🙂). That’s why John 10:2-4 says “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” When the shepherd finally finds the lost sheep, he’s overjoyed.
This is Jesus’ ministry, to seek and save the lost; to bring the repentant sinner back to God. In the parable, the lost sheep are the tax collectors and sinners. These are the people he came for. And if we recognize our own sinfulness, then we are that lost sheep as well. None of us are righteous. There’s no one he doesn’t need to come after. Isaiah 53:6 says “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Thank God for our Good Shepherd who calls us by name, relentlessly tracks us down, and seeks to restore us to the flock. And when he does, God is pleased and there is great rejoicing in heaven!