Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’? I mean, did you feel pulled into the story? Try to place yourself into the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found? The parable really wants you to choose a side, doesn’t it?
It’s important that you do. Jesus does not speak these words to first-century Jews only. The point of his parable carries eternal implications for all people of all time. That is why it is important for you to answer: Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’?
Go back to our gospel lesson and you find two distinct groups, right? In Group #1, you have ninety-nine ‘found’ sheep. In Group #2, you have one ‘lost’ sheep. Those groups even have characteristics. In verse 7 Jesus says: I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Who are those people? More importantly, where are you?
Well, look at verses 1 and 2. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No one likes the tax-man. He takes your hard-earned money and ships it off. None of your money goes towards improving your city. Instead, your taxes pay for extravagant projects done some 2,000-miles away in Rome! Yet, a bigger problem exists: The tax collector is a Jew! One of you! Your high-school classmate! Your next-door neighbor! Your brother-in-law! Someone who lives in your community and sees your struggles and hears your frustrations and knows for a fact that Rome cheats you— and still participate in this injustice! As if that was not bad enough, that Jewish traitor can deliberately overcharge you! If you owe $100, he could bill you for $200. He sends $100 to Rome (it keeps Rome happy) and then he pockets the other $100. You can do nothing about that because Rome’s own soldiers protect their man.
So, the Pharisees have marked this tax-collecting group as ‘beyond hope,’ ‘not-going-to-heaven.’ You know what? They would be right! Those tax collectors will never enter heaven without Jesus! So, Jesus sits with them. He exposes a heart that worships money more than God, a heart that deserves hell. Yet, Jesus does not stop teaching there. He points to himself; he reveals that his obedient life cures them.
In our parable, the tax collectors are the spiritually lost found by Jesus. That makes the Pharisees the ninety-nine who see no need to repent. Why would they? The Pharisees have already set themselves in the column: ‘loved-by-God.’ They go to ‘church’ and give big offerings. They dress in fancy clothes. They have respectable wives and well-behaved children. They commit no crimes and carry no moral baggage. The Pharisee feels God must welcome him into heaven because his life is superior.
That feeling of superiority has an effect. The Pharisee sees no need for Jesus because of their action. Then, the Pharisees resent the Word of Christ reaching a group deemed ‘undesirable.’ Just look at those messy lives! It might appear that certain groups are undeserving of a good thing like God’s love.
That attitude did not only exist years ago. It still erupts today. Our congregation recently collected money for a Pastor-Training Institute in Vietnam. Now Vietnamese pastors will receive better training to share God’s Word with the Vietnamese. Still, after the history of violence, crimes, and torture the Vietnamese inflicted on Americans, you might not wish to help them. Maybe those foreigners deserve hell— or, at the very least, maybe they do not deserve my support. Last Wednesday, you relived horrific terrorist attacks. Innocent thousands died and even more still suffer! It might have been difficult to think anything good of the Middle East— without even considering that those people without Christ will go to hell. Still, maybe you think: “Good riddance!”
We could bring our thoughts closer to home. Many in your community behave far different than you (and I). You may even realize those lives inflict negative consequences. The meth-house does not really seem deserving of Jesus; it seems more deserving of punishment! The scruffy guy always walking around town, well, he looks lazy. That laziness does not deserve free forgiveness! That stranger who walks into church at the last minute— frazzled and disruptive and acts weird— well, what is she doing here?
We could bring thoughts even closer home. You know people who have different values and priorities. Your child has not been in worship for a long time. Your brother, your sister may worship the lake. Your neighbor treats travel teams like God. So many other things take priority! Maybe you think: ‘That’s fine. God will have mercy on them. They are good people. They cannot possibly go to hell.’
How do we reach these conclusions? By my own standard. I pull out my behavior, my home life, my worship attendance and expect the world to be what I am. If that person fails to match up, then just leave them lost. Just like those Pharisees, my own heart can rank people as ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ of Jesus. It boils down to me saying: “Well, I deserve forgiveness.” And Jesus says: “You have no idea how lost you are.”
So, Jesus searches. Isn’t that an astounding fact in this parable? Out of ninety-nine fluffy white bodies, Jesus actually notices one is missing— and he looks for it. He leaves heaven’s safety and puts on human flesh. He literally walks to hearts wandering in greed. He literally walks to hearts absolutely oblivious as to what happens after death. He literally walks to those who resist hearing a desperate need for the Savior. Jesus walked all over earth to rescue you. He walked into the death you earned and rescued you. He returns from death— alive! Alive, holding you alive in his hands.
Hearts can think only a select few deserve Jesus. Yet, this parable makes clear: The Lost Means the World to Jesus. That is why he searches for all. He wants all saved. We could put it this way: The Lost Means IS the ‘World’ to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
[W]hen he has found [the lost], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Do you see where you are? On the shoulders of Jesus!
When did that happen? Because maybe you don’t feel saved. Can you be sure that lie on Christ? Yes! [Y]ou who were baptized into Christ and have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism God attached his Word to water. So, when you were baptized, he said, you carry the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Yes, baptism has washed pride out of your (and my) heart. God does not recall your past. He does not lay out criteria you must meet before he will ever re-love you. Nope. He lays you on his shoulders and rejoices. He carries you into the family of believers with hop-in-step. It’s like he’s holding back from breaking out in a sprint! The Lost Means the World to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
Yet, God is not the only one rejoicing. Neighbors and friends rejoice. They so desperately want the lost found, and so they rejoice as another lost is found! Those neighbors and friends are you.
Did you know that on an average Sunday, about half of our fellow believers do not worship? You know those faces. You watched them baptized. You heard them, on their Confirmation Day, promise to regularly hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. They confessed their faults, heard God’s forgiveness, listened to the same messages you do. They are not here! Some worship only Christmas and Easter. Others barely come at all. Does that bother you?
Dear friend, those who love Christ love hearing his Word. Love for Christ does not make up excuses to be out of church. Love for Christ does not pack weekends with camping and fishing. Love for Christ does not brag that they already know everything about the Bible (and so they do not need to hear anymore). No, love for Christ finds reasons to be with God (read Hebrews 10:25 and John 8:31). Step back for a moment and see to whom Jesus speaks. You have Pharisees and tax collectors, the curious and the disciples. Understand, it is not only the Pastor’s job to go and reach the drifting. It is our job— together.
We gain motivation when we go back to these words and see where we stand in this parable. You are that once lost, now found sheep. You did not deserve rescue, you needed rescue. So, Jesus made you his priority and he rejoices over that!
Those drifting are worth our time. Each soul is worth our effort of hearing the gospel. Maybe your daughter who has not been in worship for a while. She’s just ‘taking a break from church,’ as she puts it. Maybe your friend is completely oblivious to anything ‘God.’ He just feels that everything will be alright in the end. Maybe you recognize a few faces you have not seen for a while. You really just do not know where they are. It is incredibly easy to say nothing, but then again, someone shared Jesus with you.
As able, take the opportunity to seek the stray. Use your own words and tell your child why you find worship important. Share your experience. Share your comfort. Share what you gain. Invite your neighbor to church— but do more than that. Tell them why you want them in church. Tell them about heaven after death. Tell them that you stand absolutely certain of heaven because of Jesus. Pray for the wandering. Pray that someone brings news of Jesus to the meth-house. Pray that violent nations find peace in Jesus. Pray for courage to welcome those walking by your church into church.
The Lost Means the World to Jesus. The world. Everyone. Seeing how Jesus gave up the world for you, you rejoice that Jesus gave all for the world.
The ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’ pulls you into its story. It puts you in the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found. It does that because Jesus in not speaking to first-century Jews only. He speaks to you.
The point of his parable carries eternal implications. You, once lost, now stand found. How humbling to see how undeserving we were! How amazing to see how rich we are! Now found, you, like Jesus, seek the lost because The Lost Means the World to Jesus.