The story of the lost sheep places the spotlight of God on the searching shepherd. In contrast, Christ knocking at the closed door points clearly to the necessity of a human response.
The 15th chapter of Luke elucidates more of the character of God than the best and most carefully written books of theology. It has within its 32 verses three thrilling stories. One is about a lost sheep, another deals with a lost coin and the final one describes a lost boy. The major thrust of this chapter leaves an indelible impression upon the mind of the casual reader of the pursuing love of an unrelenting God.
In each of these three parables in Luke, a voice shouts to the reader, “God loves you.” The chapter begins by reminding us that the publicans and sinners had gathered to hear Jesus. The publicans were those Jews who had agreed to collect the Roman tax from the Jews. They were looked upon as traitors.
The sinners were those who treated the religious law carelessly. They had come to hear Jesus. The Pharisees, who were self-appointed critics of Jesus, began to whisper among themselves saying, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” The Pharisees were noted for their narrow and strict interpretation of the law. Their goal was perfection through observing the ritual requirements of the law.
To receive sinners was bad, but to eat with them was even worse. The implications of eating with sinners was a clear indication that Jesus had chosen them as friends. With these thoughts upon the minds of the Pharisees, Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, coin and son.
Let us look at the story of the lost sheep. We not only learn something of the nature of God, but also the worth of man. The good shepherd had a hundred sheep but when the shadows fell and one was missing, he left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Jesus was lifting up the importance of just one. Never discredit your worth or the worth of a fellow pilgrim.
God is hurt when we are lost. This was news to the Pharisees. They saw God as one who stubbornly stood on his rights, driving to permanent exile those who had strayed from Him.
Have you ever lost something and couldn’t rest until you found it? The shepherd searches for the lost. He comes to us when we are lost. This is the only method of reception.
God never considers that he has found us until we return his love. The search is evidenced by our unrest, by our yearning after something more than we have, and by the dull dissatisfaction with what we feel. It is so easy to put him away. Jesus is here to rescue us. He says: “Don’t be afraid, I am with you always.”
Robert V. Ozment is a retired United Methodist minister.