During my youth, we raised sheep for 4-H and FFA projects. One night, very earlier in my sheep raising career, we received a phone call from a neighbor. He had seen some sheep down at the corner and wondered if they might be ours. Our flock wasn’t large in those early days, only three or four ewes. Rushing out to the orchard we discovered a hole in the old fence. While dad patched the fence the rest of us rounded up the sheep. Let’s just say that it was an adventure, but we did manage to get them all back safely behind the fence.
One of Jesus’ well-known parables is that of the Lost Sheep. “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 ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? “When he has found it, 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 which 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 persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:3–7, NASB95)
When our sheep got out, we knew we couldn’t stop until they were all safely back. I remember being worried and anxious during the search, then relieved when they were all back home. While we didn’t call the neighbor over for a party, we did call to let him know everything was okay. Even though their escape interrupted our TV show (this was long before DVR’s or even VHS) there was joy when they were back safe.
Jesus sought out those who knew their sin; that understood they were lost. He didn’t look down on them or think that they were getting what they deserved or reject them because of how their company might look to others. Instead, He searched for them with the hopes of bringing them safely out of the wilderness of sin. That’s what prompted this parable,“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2, NASB95)
Jesus, in His response to their grumbles, told the religious folks that they did not understand the economy of heaven. Their assumption was that there was more joy in heaven over their self-approved law keeping than over the return of a wayward lamb. Jesus often called out the scribes, Pharisees, and religious folks for their folly. For instance, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25, NASB95) We can look back at them and laugh at their arrogance and religious pride until we realize that we may be just like them. We too can wash the outside of the cup; getting our lives to look right and acceptable to others. We don’t smoke, drink, or sleep around. We seldom cuss. We may publicly pray and have a bumper sticker that declares our faith. But, like the scribes, Pharisees, and religious folks, we may be ignoring the sins that cling to the inside of the cup-like lust, hate, and pride. We too are like the lost lamb; in need of repentance and the guiding arm of the shepherd. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, NLT)