Have you ever been one before?
Have you ever been the sheep who was led astray from its herd? Maybe it was out of ignorance, out of curiosity, or out of temptation to seek the grass that seemed greener over there instead of here with your shepherd?
Maybe the lost sheep finds a temporary satisfaction in a nice patch of grass as a reward for their seeking, but it is likely not long before they realize how alone they are.
Being alone means it is vulnerable and susceptible to serious danger. Being away from the herd and the shepherd means it doesn’t have the guidance and added protection to lead it where it was meant to go. The sheep now lost is on a path of fighting for its life all on its own.
The temporary gain of pleasure is now replaced by utter fear of the real dangers of this world.
Imagine now that you are part of the sheep within the herd who was not led astray. You stayed with the rest of them trekking forward. You are focused on your shepherd’s direction and guidance. You are not concerned with the one who was led astray because you probably didn’t even notice. Or maybe you did take notice, but you were too busy trying to keep yourself safe and following the path. You find safety in your herd and with your shepherd, so you stay with them.
But our Shepherd…He notices the one sheep who got lost.
His heart turns towards it as it walks…or runs…away.
The Shepherd knows the dangers present in trying to manage life apart from Him. That is why He leaves the herd of ninety-nine in the open country to go after the one who is lost until He finds it.
He cannot bear the thought of the lost sheep who is alone, trembling in fear, and susceptible to life on its own. He has the protection it needs. The lost one is just as important to Him as the rest.
Turning away deliberately or ignorantly does not mean you are less than the rest of the sheep who chose to stay on the path.
I’ve definitely been the lost sheep before. I cannot begin to explain the joy I feel that Jesus comes for me every single time. He never fails me. He always finds me and leads me back to where I belong. He never gives up on me.
But lately, I have to admit, I have been the sheep within the herd of ninety-nine. While I am happy to be on the righteous path that God wants me on with my fellow believers surrounding and supporting me…I, too, have started to notice the one lost sheep. Normally, I don’t. I keep moving on with my life as I know it.
This is why it is so beautiful to know that we have a Shepherd who not only notices, but takes action. He cares. He aches for that lost sheep to come back.
I have found myself now stuck. The herd of 98 is momentarily content and grazing closely together, Jesus is headed in another direction to go find his lost sheep, and I am about ten steps outside of the herd watching Him go after it. I am close enough to the herd to stay protected, supported and grateful for that, but I am suddenly aching for Jesus to come back with our beloved companion. I am not content to continue grazing. I am not entirely self consumed with my own troubles and safety. I still care about the rest of my herd yet I find myself wanting to go with my Shepherd right now because my heart is also breaking for the one who is lost.
I wonder what it would feel like if the ninety-nine decided to empathize for the lost sheep like Jesus does, if they focused on finding it like Jesus does, and if they laid their self-preservation down to follow the Shepherd? How much more loved would the lost sheep feel watching not only His Shepherd come to sweep him to safety, but seeing the other sheep beside Him who cared enough to look for him, too?
I want to be more like Jesus in this way. Ultimately, He knows how to get there. He knows what to do. He knows the outcome. I can’t do what He does. I can’t throw the lost one over my shoulders like Jesus can because I am a sheep myself. The lost sheep will find ultimate joy in the One who rescues him.
But my focus can be where Jesus’ is. I can care for the lost like He does because I know what it is like to be lost, too. I know what the relief feels like when Jesus carries me on his shoulders.
I don’t need to be the Rescuer, but I want a heart that cares like His does.
‘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.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And 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 that was lost.’ Just so, 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. ‘