We think 99% is pretty good. It’s not for God! One person said it this way: “If a batter gets a hit 99 times out of 100, he is the greatest player in baseball history. If a coach wins 99 out of 100 games, he’s the greatest coach in history. If you get 99 out of 100 on every test, you’ll end up with straight A’s. For most of us, 99 out of 100 is good enough. But it’s not good enough for God. He cares about the 1 just as much as he does about the 99. That’s the kind of God he is. He doesn’t write anyone off. As far as heaven is concerned, there are no hopeless cases.” (Ray Pritchard)
Maybe you are that one sheep that needs rescuing! We preachers make a mistake when we apply the teaching narrowly, proclaiming this is about evangelism and the need for the church go to the lost people that are not Christians. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the list is important, but I think the story more directly points to Christians that are drifting away from God. It has often been noted that the way a sheep gets lost is that it nibbles its way from tuft of grass to tuft of grass not looking up until it is out of sight of the flock…. Like sheep, we are all susceptible to slowly losing our center, not one dramatic event, but slowly eroding our commitments, holding back, making exceptions to our Christian values, then we look up and realize we have wandered far away and wonder how it happened.
On its face, this story is not about us going to share the gospel with those that have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior (although that is a good command) but rather, the lost sheep is a member of the flock that has wandered away.
To whom is the story directed? READ Luke 15:1-2. BTW, this is the setting for all the stories in Luke 15. The religious leaders disapprove of the people gathering around Jesus: “Tax collectors and sinners.”
Tax collectors are looked down upon by proper folks because they were in league with the Roman government as they collected taxes from the Jews for the Romans ….Jesus welcomed tax collectors ~~ traitors, hypocrites. Over the decades, I’ve done my best, to love people with a bad history between them and welcome both into our church family. A few years ago, two people asked me to their trial for moral support at Sumas Court. They were on opposing sides of the court case. Each had a lawyer and amazingly both lawyers asked me to come in and meet with them and their client to add my voice. And even more amazingly, both people blessed me and wanted me to sit down with the opposing lawyer. That is wild. For the common folks, at the time, tax collectors had crossed a line of no return. The idea of worshipping alongside a tax collector is nuts. God does wild things. Bless those whom you don’t understand, challenge yourself to put aside your prejudices, bad thoughts, divisions. If God is not willing to let anyone stay lost, neither should we! Even people we don’t like.
Tax collectors, rejected by the religious leaders, hang out with Jesus. A healthy community of faith has room for people who don’t get each other…
“Sinners” is the other category of problem people hanging out with Jesus. What a crazy category. It’s your choice: is “sinner” referring to somebody else that is worse than you? Or is it you? Maybe, for our purposes, let’s substitute the word “loser.” Hows this for a paraphrase of Luke 15:1: “Now the Christian rule breakers/compromisers and losers were all gathering around to hear Jesus.”
The religious leaders criticize Jesus for allowing compromisers and losers to sit at his feet and learn from him. Jesus answers with a story about a lost sheep, 99% is not good enough for God. He cares about the one.
So who is the story of the lost sheep about? You could apply it to the compromisers and losers that Jesus is not willing to let even one of them go, they need to learn, so here they are. They need to hear truth. They need to be loved and given an opportunity for salvation. It’s true the gospel needs to be shared with all people, including those that have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ.
But in the setting of the story of the lost sheep, it is the tax collectors and sinners/ compromisers and losers that are already with Jesus. The rejects are already listening to Jesus, and it is the religious leaders that are opposing Jesus. One way to understand this story: the lost sheep represents the religious leaders, those that are set in their ways, those that think they are better than others, those that are unteachable thinking they know it all. Jesus is not saying to the religious leaders to go search for the lost sheep, he is saying, “You need to be found and I’m not giving up on you.”
Whether I like it or not, society sees me as a representative of the established church in America. A segment of Christians flatly reject the church as being too far gone to fairly represent God in society. I see in this scripture Jesus is not giving up on the religious leaders. Even someone like me who thinks I am pretty good, who thinks I have it all together, who knows the Bible pretty well and understands nuances of the faith. This is a story about Him searching for the religious leaders, it is a story about redemption, there is room at the table for the religious leaders to sit beside the tax collectors and the sinners being taught by Jesus. I can honestly say one of my great joys as a person who spends a lot of time going out to see people of all situations is to be welcomed into the home of those that are most broken by human standards, those that are drowning in bad decisions and broken relationships ~ many whom love God and deeply desire forgiveness. Who am I to say because their earthly lives are messy they are not loved by God and a part of his flock? I am honored every time I am welcomed into the home of a “sinner.”
Whether we are talking about those that have never given their life to Jesus or those that loved the Lord with great conviction and have nibbled their way out of sight of the shepherd, the message of this story is the same: Lost people matter to God READ Luke 15:6b. God never gives up. 99% is not good enough. The reason I want this church to grow and for us to welcome even more people ~ NOT so I can pat myself on the back because I want to be the pastor of a growing church ~ the reason I want to grow is because I know at least 250 individuals that in my heart I am confident they would thrive in their faith among us and we would learn from them. They belong here, they just haven’t figure that out yet! Don’t you dare give up on the people you know too that need a family of faith. It’s not about numbers it’s about people. The shepherd knows exactly which sheep is missing, not a generic sheep. A good shepherd knows the personality of each sheep and which ones are more likely to get lost. In another place in the Bible, Jesus is depicted as the good shepherd, who calls the sheep by name…
The religious leaders, the tax collectors and sinners all need the Lord. God demonstrates his enormous capacity to love those that are lost. He is not content with 99% but goes and searches for those that wander away, those that are lost and may not even know it. We need to go to those that are lost, leave the comforts of the church family, the patterns, and go with the message of God’s salvation. But maybe, maybe, it is us that is wandering, us who draws lines that we ought not to draw excluding some from full fellowship with God not realizing we are actually distancing ourselves from God in the process.
If YOU are feeling distant from the Lord, the final image of these two verses ought to make your heart sing. When I start to feel sorry for myself, I feel alone, unloved, nobody cares, the Eeyore syndrome ~ nobody notices me. The clear truth of this scripture is that God does care, he is not content with 99% but will start searching for the one that has wandered ~ even YOU. And when he rescues the lost, there is great joy READ Luke 15:6b-7. The great emphasis on joy is inspirational.
Last Sunday some of my family was here including Rowan my new grandson. Since time was limited, Esther, Rowan and I went to see Joe Bronkema and then Norma Stenevich. What a great visit. What a great gift I was given. God used Norma to impress upon me what it means to have Great Joy. Norma is recovering from a major stroke and a broken hip.
- I took Rowan into see Norma and Norma melted at the sight of Rowan…(show picture). I wish all of you could have been there. I thought Rowan was the most amazing sweetheart, but Norma topped him with her joy, her affection. Norma’s joy over Rowan is my image of the rejoicing in heaven.
- A few days later I was back in the Health Care Center, and Norma was walking with a walker down the hall with an attendant. She saw me, she insisted on putting the walker aside, and she gave me the most amazing hug of joy you can imagine. Thank you Lord. I know what Joy is.
- A few days later I saw Norma again in the hallway. Jerry was there with Sophie, their little dog. A new person came by in the hallway and started fawning over Sophie. Sophie layed on her back and the woman rubbed and rubbed Sophie’s belly as the dog was in heaven. Jerry said Sophie loves attention and will lay there all day for a belly rub. I said, “Who doesn’t love attention, so do I.” and without missing a beat, Norma, who is still only able to speak a few words here and there, reached with her hand and started rubbing my head and my belly and laughed and laughed
Jesus love and compassion for those that are lost is unlimited. 99% is not good enough. He cares about all who wander away. He desires all have an opportunity to sit at his feet. He has compassion for the tax collectors, the sinners and the religious leaders ~ compromisers, losers, you and me. Search for the lost as Jesus taught us, go to where they are, welcome into the community of faith, never giving up on anyone the Lord has placed in your path.
And allow yourself to be found. When the Bible says sinners sat at the feet of Jesus, the invitation is for you and me. When I get to heaven, I imagine I will have unbelievable joy, but even greater than my joy ~~ the Joy of Jesus Christ when he sees me. Amazing Joy! Jesus has great joy over you! Amen