October 13, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 15:3-7 (NRSV)
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and 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.
In response to some religious elites who showed little concern for those who were spiritually lost, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who leaves his large flock to seek one lost sheep. When he finds the one, he rejoices greatly, inviting his friends to join in his celebration. The more we become like Jesus, the more we will be eager for those who are “lost” to know the saving love and grace of God in Christ, and the more we will celebrate when the “lost” are “found.”
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In the opening scene of Luke 15, the religious elites are grumbling because Jesus is hanging out with people they consider to be unsavory: tax collectors and other notable sinners. In response to their crankiness, Jesus tells two stories, one about a lost sheep and the other about a lost coin. Both stories make a similar point. In today’s devotion we’ll focus on the first story about the lost sheep.
Jesus begins, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4). The way he asks this question shows that Jesus expects his listeners to be the kind of shepherds who would in fact leave the ninety-nine to search for the one. Though he doesn’t say so in the story, Jesus probably assumes that the ninety-nine sheep are in good care, perhaps being watched by another shepherd.
The main point of the story is not what happens to the ninety-nine sheep, however. It’s not even focusing on the finding of the lost sheep. Rather, the emphasis of Jesus’s story is upon the reaction of the shepherd when the lost sheep is found. First, “he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices” (Luke 15:5). That seems quite sensible. If you’ve ever lost something and looked hard to find it, you probably rejoiced when it was found as well.
But the shepherd is not satisfied with his individual joy. Rather, when he gets home, “he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’” (15:6). Communal rejoicing of this sort must have been a party, a happy celebration. The shepherd wants his friends and neighbors to share in his joy. For those of us who live in individualistic cultures, such sharing might seem a bit over the top. But Jesus wants to emphasize the greatness of the joy experienced first, by the shepherd, and then by his friends.
The moral of the story, according to Jesus, is this: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). In the context of Luke 15, Jesus is delivering bad news to the religious elites who, no doubt, would have thought their righteousness would have mattered most to God and the angels. Though not denying the value of right living, Jesus reveals that the hosts of heaven are most excited when one who is lost is found. Being found, in this case, is a matter of turning away from sin and toward God. It’s choosing the way of God’s kingdom. When someone does this, Jesus reveals, there is a rocking heavenly celebration.
As I reflect on this story of Jesus and its punchline, I think of my time as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. When I began there was an abundant concern for lost sheep as long as they were in faraway lands with missionaries we supported. We weren’t as concerned for the lost sheep in our neighborhood, but were mainly interested in the spiritual flourishing of ourselves and our families. But, as God worked on our hearts, our priorities began to shift. We realized that we existed as a church, not just for ourselves, but also for our neighbors, including the “lost sheep” who didn’t know the Lord. We discovered the joy of seeing people come to faith in Christ. Now, I’m not suggesting we completely abandoned our baseline self-interest. But we did shift a good bit from the perspective of the religious elites to that of the shepherd and his friends celebrating the finding of the sheep.
The more our hearts are formed by the Holy Spirit, the more we become like Jesus, the more we will discover that our priorities are transformed from self-interest to other-interest. And the more we will rejoice when we see God’s saving grace find those who were lost.
To what extent do you sometimes feel rather like the religious elites in this chapter of Luke?
How much do you care for those who are lost?
In what ways do you participate in looking for the “lost sheep”?
When people respond to God’s grace through faith, how do you respond? What do you feel? What do you do?
Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about this passage from Luke and its implications for your life.
Lord Jesus, thank you for telling the story of the lost sheep. This is such a moving picture of the tenderness of God and the heavenly host.
Help me, Lord, to be like the shepherd. Give me compassion for the lost. Move me to action in an effort to reach them with your grace.
And when people turn to you, may I rejoice, joining in the celebration of heaven. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s Pastoral Priorities
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.