When reading the parable of the lost sheep (Matt 18; Luke 15), we may see ourselves as the shepherd or as a sheep in the fold with ninety-nine others. We might even identify with that one lost sheep and remember a time when we needed to be rescued.
Yet how often have we pondered the search itself?
Searching for a lost sheep must have been both challenging and time-consuming. It was always risky. It meant leaving the safety of the open field to search remote and dangerous places. Climbing cliffs, crawling into dark caves, searching unknown places in the wilderness where predators roamed. But that is what a good shepherd did. He took whatever risks were necessary and went where he had to, to find his lost sheep.
To what lengths then are we willing to go, to reach the lost for God? Several scriptures remind us of just how important these ‘sheep’ (people) are to our heavenly Father.
Thus Paul wrote to Timothy that God wants all people to be saved.
“This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3–4
Peter likewise wrote:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Perhaps no passage communicates the love of God better than John 3:16 “
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son”,
Jesus highlights this same thought when he follows the greatest commandment with a second – which is just like it: to “love your neighbor as yourself” Mark 12:31).
If God is number one in our lives, if we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and if lost sheep are so important to God, then we ought to value people as highly as He does. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That kind of love shows up when we are patient and compassionate with those who frustrate us. And when we not only accept those who live differently than us but go on to love our enemies, that is the love of God at work in us.
What a pain it must have been for the shepherd to discover that a sheep had wandered away. No more relaxing on the hillside. No more daydreaming. No more comfortable strolls in the field while watching the flock. The shepherd had to spring into action and put comfort out of his mind.
As Jesus gave up the comforts of Heaven to come to earth and minister to us, we in turn ought to strike the balance in our lives to spend time and energy on our mission.
We spend plenty of time advancing our careers, investing in schooling, or pursuing health and wellness. Hobbies, sports, recreation and vacation time all add up. What if we counted up all the hours, days, weeks, months, years, that we have spent on ourselves and compared that to the time which we spend on the Lord’s work? What would that look like? What if we got up off the couch, turned off the TV, quit surfing the net or gaming and turned our eyes toward the ‘lost’? We might discover that some of the Lord’s sheep have gone missing.
Searching for lost sheep takes time. It takes effort and devotion. It is intentional. It goes about the business of seeking the lost with an awareness of dangers all around. To find the sheep and restore them to the Lord, those who seek must understand the ones who have wandered away consider what it will take to bring them back to God.
Having counted the cost, let’s invest in the search!
Where would we be had someone not come looking for us? Where would we all be had Jesus the good shepherd not laid down His life for the sheep? Praise be to God that He was not too busy or distracted! Praise God that even sinners were worth His time!
When people complained that Jesus had gone to be the guest of Zacchaeus, “a man who was a sinner”, Jesus said that: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:9-10
Jesus came to save sinners. He now calls us to do the same!