Going Out and Searching
Matt. 18:12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Matt. 18:13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Matt. 18:14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
It's interesting to see that these sheep are already up on the mountain. There had been 100 of them but now one of them has wandered off. The intent was that they would all be on the mountain, in a safe place of refuge in the presence of the shepherd. Sadly one of them, and we don't know why, has wandered away and we know that if no one goes after the lost one, he/she will never find their way back. The good shepherd has to leave the 99 who are in a safe place and go out looking for the one who has gone astray. We don't know the details of the search but more than likely it is not an easy journey. There are many places where one can wander off and find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. And yet, the good shepherd goes to the place where the one is lost and finds the one who has gone astray and brings it home.
This section comes right after Jesus had been telling his followers that they have responsibility to care for the little ones and not to be a stumbling block to them. It's not God's will that any of the young and innocent children should be lost. It's not God's will that any of his precious children should be lost and so when the lost one is found there is great rejoicing.
Who are the lost ones in our lives? Who are the ones who may have been safely up on the mountain and gathered together and yet wandered away? In almost every gathering where I meet with people of faith they can tell me about those who were raised with faith in Jesus Christ and yet today they have left the fold and wandered away. Jesus was talking initially about little children; little innocent children. I think about the years of Vacation Bible School which I have either attended, led or where I've been a worker. I think of the precious and innocent young children who come and with such incredible faith they fall in love with Jesus. They sing about him, they color pictures of him and they memorize their scriptures. With a sweet joy and love they embrace everything there is to know about God.
Sadly, somewhere in their lives they have wandered away. Maybe some would even say that they have been driven away. What are God's children to do about this?
The story of the good shepherd has always struck me as one of those illustrative of the type of action we are to take. The good shepherd leaves those who are safe and goes off to find the one who is lost. The shepherd doesn't build a nice sheep pen on the side of the hill and hope that the lost one will someday walk by and decide to come back and join them. Instead, he goes out to the very places where they may be and seeks to find them.
We are to be active in reaching out to bring back the lost. Why is it that this concept seems to fail many these days? I think that the enemy has lulled us into thinking that everyone will some day be saved so we don't have to worry about finding them now. It's okay that they are lost somewhere because when all is said and done a loving God will simply take care of them. And so, we are willing to leave people alone in the lostness as we hang out on the mountaintop with the 99. Actually, these days it's about 26 that are left and 74 have wandered away and yet we don't seem to have any passion to go and seek after them. Why? Well, the 26 probably wouldn't like it too much. They wouldn't be getting all the attention of the shepherd and they may get frustrated so it's best to just hang out with those who are up on the mountain and let the rest wander away.
What would Jesus have to say about that kind of attitude? Obviously that was not his perspective nor his desire. If we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, then we ought to look like and act like Jesus. If Jesus was the good shepherd who left the 99 and went and actively sought for the lost, then so should we. There is no place for complacency in the Christian life. We are to be a people of action. Our Savior took action, coming to earth to die for you and me and on the cross. We must be a people who will go out and search, actively engaged in God's mission for this world.
Lord, please help me to be an active worker in your kingdom. May I never be complacent about the lost. Amen.