Looking at the grace of God, a grace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension. A grace which just makes no sense to us, because the only ways we can understand are the ways of our world, the ways we have learned and lived our whole lives. Consider this story of a shepherd and a particular lost sheep.
“”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.” Luke 15:4-7 ESV
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting this one. It seems simple enough, but when I really consider it, what about those other ninety-nine sheep? Jesus tells us this man (God the Father) would leave ninety-nine sheep in the open country to chase after this one fool sheep who wanders away. In the open country, unprotected, there would be thieves, wolves, and any number of other threats. More could simply wander off. What if he comes back with this one lost sheep, celebrating and thanking God, and twenty more are missing? Then what?
It makes no sense to us (at least me) because I am too busy counting. I like to know I’m doing the right thing, making the right decision. So why would I leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep vulnerable to attack, unprotected, to go chasing after one scoundrel who never should have wandered off in the first place? In trying to win back this one little sheep, I’m not going to risk losing any of my good sheep.
But here’s the thing about God and his grace – if you’re busy counting, doing the math, you’ve missed the whole point. In the words of Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing About Grace?, “Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.” God’s grace is a free gift, not something we can ever earn.
God’s not doing the math. God is not about making sure we have done ten more good things that bad things in our life so we can then somehow be found worthy of his love. God is not even about distinguishing “bad” from “good”. (What was that tree Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from in the garden?) If he were, he had ninety-nine perfectly “good” little sheep and would never have left them to chase after that one “bad” sheep. But, as Jesus also says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” Luke 5:32 ESV. That one lost sheep is the whole reason Jesus ever came…
God did not come to us in the form of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, because of how righteous we are. He came to chase us down because we are all his lost sheep. He comes out of heaven, walks with us on earth, joins us in our mess which we have made, and guides us back. He is gathering his flock. If we have been brought back into the fold, now we get to join Jesus in chasing down the rest of those lost sheep. We are out in the open country, there are wolves watching and waiting. If we are just standing still, how easy will it be for the wolves to pick us off?
So we don’t stand still. We join Jesus in his search. In our search, we draw closer to Him, we become more like Him. As we become more like Him, we too begin to stop counting. We too begin to see the value of one lost sheep. We too will leave ninety-nine in open country to chase the one who has strayed.
There are so many lost sheep. So many that, as Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2 ESV. If you are that lost sheep, Jesus will not rest until he has tracked you down. He’s come all the way from heaven to find you. If you’re one of those ninety-nine in the open country, the wolves are watching and waiting for their chance to strike. Quit standing still, go with Jesus, and find that lost sheep He is looking for.