So…you think you are found and have it all figured out.
One of my favorite parts about Jesus’ teachings recorded in the Bible is his use of parables around not only those who were eagerly listening to follow him, but also to frustrate those who mocked him from a distance. Jesus used these stories to comfort the seeking and confuse the blind. One story could end in both cheering and arguments. He literally pierced the hearts at both ends. As the readers, we get to see all of the events unfold.
One of my favorite parables is the story of the Lost Sheep:
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! So Jesus told them this story: “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? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 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 15:1-7 NLT)
As the Pharisees and the teachers gaze on to this scene before them, they observe the town’s scarlet lettered individuals sit down to listen to this new message of hope and promise of forgiveness. For these leaders, this message fell on completely deaf ears. Their right to be called rabbi was hinged on their strict obedience of the law, even adhering to additional rules they added to the list. For these men, strict obedience was their religion. If they followed these directions, precisely, they earned their prized title. They literally thought closeness with God equaled how well one could follow the overbearing laws. Every moment of their day was spent adhering strictly to the law. There was no room for associating with sinners and still get everything completed to earn their title.
As the Pharisees gaze on, the “tax collectors and notorious sinners” drew close to Jesus as he taught. Can you imagine the hope Jesus brought to the crowds with this parable? Any individual not worthy to wear the clothes of a Pharisee or a religious leader was crushed by the weight of their inability to follow the demands of the law. Surely someone in the crowd that day felt alone, broken by the decisions they had made and perhaps bought into the lie that they were too far from Gods forgiveness. Yet, the irony is here too. Right in front of these burdened, labeled and broken people is Jesus. His message continually pierces their heart, leaving them wanting more hope in a world where they had been shown they no longer mattered.
Jesus knew those present on both sides this day. He knew the hearts and spoke directly to both groups through the same exact story. To the leaders, this illustration no doubt left them feeling worthless and made them question what they were chasing after in life. To the crowd, the sheep offered comfort, acceptance and a second chance.
So, which group was Jesus offering to lift on his shoulders and carry Home?
To the Pharisees, the ending line would have caused quite a mind stopping moment! Imagine listening to Jesus’ words as you silently label the people present. You have made so many proud, rising above the standard and following the law perfectly. You have what it takes to be in this chosen, elite group of men of God. Your parents are proud. You are well-known in your town and you have worked so hard to get to where you stand today. Then suddenly your world comes crashing down with these words:
“…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 15:7)
But the Pharisee’s cry, “But we are righteous! We obey every law to the fullest extent! We have memorized Gods law and teach it daily. We deserve that joy too!” Wouldn’t your reaction be right there with these leaders, shouting for some vindication for the hard work you have put forth all of your life? This moment completely turned their worldview upside down. They were left with a choice, a decision that had to be made. Were they going the right way? Were they doing what was right in the eyes of The Lord or were they missing something? Were they indeed the ones lost here?
Of course the crowds were expecting to be blown away by yet another teaching by Jesus. After all, he had redefined everything they thought they understood. Yet, this teaching brought a new message of hope perhaps to the very ones the leaders couldn’t stand to be accepted by Jesus. Tax collectors were disowned by everyone in their town. In a sense, they had deserted their own people to work for a government that ruled heavily over the Jewish people. Not only did the tax collectors take money for the government, but they were allotted a percentage for themselves. This decision for employment came with a huge price. Carrying this burden on a daily basis was not for the faint of heart. No doubt they came to Jesus hoping for a way to breathe easier. As they joined him around the dinner table with friends, they were being filled in more ways than one. They were accepted by Jesus right in the middle of their sin and his love for them in these moments forced these traders to question everything they had ever known. As they heard the last sentence refrain in their hearts they questioned, “Could this really be true? Can I be forgiven? Can The Lord really find joy that great, in me?”
Both groups had to question if they found the joy and excitement they desired in this life by continuing in the direction they were being prompted or if there could be more. Suddenly, both groups found themselves questioning everything they ever held true. What was their real value in Gods hands? Could this parable be about them? Could they be utterly lost and not even know it?
Yes dear friends, the lost in this crowd were masked very differently. Some thought they had life completely figured out. Others questioned if they could even approach the presence of God and be accepted. Some found hope. Others found more questions.
Where are you in this picture?
All sheep belong to a shepherd. All sheep can be found.
Perhaps the Great Shepherd is whispering –
‘My child, I bore your sins’ in My body on the cross, so that you might die to your sins and live for righteousness; ‘by My wounds you have been healed.’ For My child, ‘you were like a lamb going astray,’ but now you have returned to Me – the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. (1 Peter 2:24, 25 NIVUK)
Have you ever felt found only to discover you were lost? I’d love to hear your story in the comment section!