In Luke 15:1-7, Jesus addresses the Pharisees’ criticism that He receives and eats with sinners by telling the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus said:
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, will not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that one that is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulder, rejoicing, and when he cometh home, he gathers together his friends and neighbors, saying into them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
This parable beautifully demonstrates the difference between our Lord and the Pharisees He reprimanded. The Pharisees believed anyone was expendable for the sake of their cause.
In John 11:50, Caiaphas, the high priest, said that it is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation perish not. Basically, to maintain their position and the good favor of the Romans, it was best for them to arrest Jesus and turn Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. In doing so, they could show allegiance to the Roman government and keep their jobs.
To the Pharisees, one man is expendable. However, to our Lord Jesus Christ, every single individual is precious, and none are expendable. Hence, our Good Shepherd’s search for the lost sheep.
However, over the years, some Bible teachers have begun to misapply this passage. Some of the worst offenders of this belong to the church growth movement.
They teach that we must find that lost sheep at all cost, even if it means losing the 99. They say things like, “I’d rather offend 99 church members than one seeker.” It sounds righteously passionate, unless you are one of the 99.
This viewpoint wildly misunderstands who we are in the story. If our understanding of this story is that we must leave the 99 to find the one, then we’ve missed the point.
The point Jesus made in the parable of the lost sheep is that we are all the lost sheep. He seeks us, His lost sheep. And when He finds us, He rejoices, and carries us on His shoulder the way an ancient shepherd would rejoice over and carry his found sheep.
You see, the shepherd didn’t merely love his flock, He loved every individual sheep. It wasn’t the flock that was important to the shepherd, every individual sheep was important to the shepherd.
Likewise, Jesus didn’t merely die for the sins of the world, He died for YOUR sins personally. He loves you personally. He regards you, the individual, the way that shepherd regards that individual lost sheep.
As for the 99, they were safe and secure the whole time. The idea of leaving the 99 sheep in a safe place while searching for one lost was so common, Jesus introduced the story by saying “What man of you wouldn’t do this?”
None of those Pharisees would risk 99 sheep to save one, but they would secure 99 to find one. And that’s what the Lord was pointing out. God loves all His sheep, even those who don’t wander off.
This same principle is upheld in the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10. Every individual coin is precious to the woman, so when one is lost, she searches diligently for it. She doesn’t discard the other 9. She secures them and finds the lost coin.
This same principle carries over into the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The father loves both sons individually, and when one rebels and leaves, the father eagerly awaits his return. When he returns, the father celebrates.
Each and every one of us is the prodigal son. As for the other brother, a reminder. The father does not disown the other brother for being upset. Instead, he reminds the other brother that he was always with the father, and was always loved and blessed by the father. Those of us who know the Lord as our Savior would do well to remember that we are in the Lord’s presence, are blessed by Him, and that we should rejoice with Him when sinners repent… Even if those sinners are repenting from the sins of pride, legalism, and being judgmental.
The Lord rejoices at the repentance of Pharisees too.
So no matter where you are, whether you are laying in the gutter of skid row, or whether you are sneeringly looking down on others from your ivory tower, Jesus loves you, is seeking you, and is calling you to repent and be reconciled to Him. The day you do that is the day He rejoices.