Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
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 constantly seems to go against our expectations. Our priorities are, more often than not, in direct opposition to his.
No where is this more clear than in the world of ministry when we look at what is talked most frequently about and celebrated most consistently. In my experience we generally default to celebrating the fact that we have a whole bunch of really good Christians in our ministry/church/small group. Oh, we’re not so backwards as to measure only attendance. Our measurements hinge on the holiness and “christiany-ness” of the people who we’re ministering to. Do we have a group of people who are really working hard at obeying Christ, studying their Bibles daily, and praying together? Let’s celebrate! Have the believers in our care grown spiritually? Time to party!
Jesus, however, says that there’s more celebration in heaven over the recovery of one lost sheep than there is over the many already found. Jesus says that there are more parties in heaven when someone moves from lost to found than for when someone who is already in Christ gets in a small group or develops a Bible reading habit.
Which one are you and your ministry celebrating? Which are you prioritizing; the keeping, feeding, and training of your existing sheep or the recovery of lost ones?
Judging by the parables in Luke 15, Jesus thinks the priority (and the party) is for the recovery of those who are lost. Those who are the shepherds of God’s people are called to be missionaries, not managers. Somewhere along the way we get caught up with managing the growth of those who are already saved and lose sight of finding the lost. If we want to line up with God’s priorities for us we need to shift how we operate and what we celebrate.
Drawing from Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15, there are at least four things that we can to do create a culture that aligns with heaven and celebrates the recovery of lost sheep more than the management of the saved ones.
Trust God with the ones that are already found
“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?”
What a foolish shepherd! He leaves 99 sheep alone in the open country to go after one! Doesn’t he know that sheep are defenseless and there are predators around and that other sheep will wander off while he’s gone? That, at least, is how we generally operate. But not so for the ideal shepherd that Jesus portrays here. This shepherd trusts God to protect the sheep that are already with him. He operates as a missionary rather than a manager and goes after the one, knowing that God will keep those who are his.
Are we truly trusting God with those who are his, or are we spending our time fretting over keeping the sheep that we already have?
The shepherd doesn’t wait for his lost sheep to come back. The old woman doesn’t wait for her coin to show up magically. In both cases they search. Want to have lost sheep rescued through the ministry God’s given you and brought into the kingdom of God? Step out of your safe, found-sheep security and get out into the wilderness. Get down on your hands and knees and look in the places where a coin might go. Go where the lost are. Stop expecting them to come to you – they’re lost. Start searching.
Do you have time set aside in your schedule – especially if you’re a vocational minister – to be in places where people who aren’t believers hang out?
Welcome sinners and eat with them
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
When you go searching, don’t drop in to throw out a gospel presentation and then disappear. Instead, settle in and share a meal. Make friends. Jesus makes a point of spending his time in places where the lost spent time.
When was the last time that you shared a meaningful meal with someone who wasn’t a believer? Who can you name as a real friend that’s not a “found sheep”? If the religious people are muttering about you, you’re probably doing something right.
When a sheep/son/coin is found, party!
What we celebrate is a huge statement about what we value. Three times in this chapter Jesus emphasizes how much God values the return of a lost person. Heaven rejoices at the recovery of a lost sheep. God the Father throws huge parties when his lost children return home. We ought to do the same thing. After all, what better reason for celebration than the salvation of an immortal soul?
When someone who was lost is found, gather your friends and neighbors and party! Go all out in extravagance. Let your celebration echo heaven and be a statement to those in your ministry that what gets you stoked is the saving of the lost. Invite those who aren’t believers in to the party and let it be a statement to them that coming to Christ is more than just assenting to a set of rules.
I want to be like Jesus in this. Over the last few months I’ve found myself getting frustrated at the slow growth of the found sheep under my care. God used Jesus’ parables here in Luke 15 to push me back and challenge me to evaluate what I’m valuing, and I believe he may want you to do the same thing.
Let’s get our priorities straight. Celebrate the return of the lost sheep. Be a missionary, not a manager.