“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” Luke 15: 4-7.
Have you ever experienced great loss? I am not talking about money or jewelry, but about someone who is really special to you. When my eldest son was young, he had the habit of running off without our permission to explore during family outings. One day, on a family trip to the biggest mall in São Paulo, this habit of his gave me a taste of this horrible feeling of loss. When my wife said she was going to the bathroom, the little one said he also wanted to go. While I waited for them, I decided I might as well use go too. When I returned to the agreed meeting place, the two had not yet returned. After a while, my wife arrived alone. She looked at me in surprise and was almost as quick as I was to ask, "Where is the boy?" She then explained that he had said that he would come to meet me. When he did not find me where he had left me, he decided to explore on his own. Imagine the desperation of two inexperienced parents looking for their son in a crowded mall on a Sunday afternoon. This story only had a happy ending because we remembered a play area where parents left the children while they shopped. How he had liked that place. We had passed in front of it a little before, so we decided to look for him there. Surprise, there he was. But the tightening in our hearts that we both felt is something I would never want to experience again. It was a terrible feeling until I found him safe. Needless to say, the joy of the outing was over and all that remained was to muster up the little emotional strength we had left and return home.
Jesus told a parable about a young man who also lost something of great value. It is the story of a shepherd who discovered that one of his flock animals had gone astray. If we were to draw a parallel with our lives today it would be like losing a beloved pet. You would have seen posters on the walls of your neighborhood stores with pictures of lost animals along with the promise of a cash reward for anyone who gave just a clue to the pet's whereabouts. Imagine the scene: After spending the day with his sheep, he decides to return home. He leads the sheep towards the corral and begins to check if any are missing. When the last one enters the fold, he realizes that he is missing one. He even knows which one it is. It is possible that he was accustomed to running after that mischievous sheep. And now, what would he do? It was late and predators were on the loose in search of prey. Was the little sheep hurt? Had he fallen into a pit? Had a dangerous animal found it first?
The shepherd does not think twice. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the safety of the fold and faces the night in an attempt to rescue the lost. It is late, and the only light he has to go by is the moon. He retraces all the steps he had walked throughout the day in the hope that the stray sheep might be around.
It is interesting to note that Jesus never used the parable of the lost dog, the stray ox, or the cat away from home. These animals have a keen sense of direction and know how to go home, which is not the case with sheep. These animals, when they are lost, are in fact lost, unless one finds them and takes them back to the fold. Ewes are animals with poor eyesight, their sense of smell is not very keen, and they have no claws or even strength and agility to escape. They are totally dependent on the care of their owner. Maybe that is why Christ told this story in which we are compared to a lost sheep. There is no better illustration for human beings who have gone astray from God. They cannot return on their own. They are in a hopeless condition.
When, still in Eden, Adam and Eve transgressed the commandments of God, they immediately fled from the divine presence and would not have returned were it not for the wonderful grace manifested in God's search for His lost children. The question that God asked Adam in the Garden of the Creator "Where are you?" () reveals the great interest that heaven manifests in favor of every human being lost as a result of sin.
The parable of the lost sheep applies to all sinners on this planet and also refers to the Earth itself, the only planet in the Universe that is separated from God through the transgression of the divine law.
In this parable, the guilt of loss is imputed to the sheep itself. It was not expelled from the fold, had no reason to go astray, found no fault in the shepherd to justify its departure. It was the only one to blame. As much as we have a bad habit of putting blame on others for the mistakes we make, the truth is that the source of our problems is our bad choices.
Blaming others for our misfortunes is a habit we form early in life, during childhood. If the child does something forbidden or breaks something expensive, it is quick to say, "It was my brother (or sister, as the case may be)." When a student acts up in the classroom and the teacher reprimands him, he says, "I didn’t start it, so-and-so did." When God questioned Adam if he had disobeyed the command to not eat the forbidden fruit, he promptly placed blame on God and not himself: "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it," (). We like to play the role of victim, to escape our responsibilities. One of the first signs that we are developing emotional maturity is when we take the blame for what we do wrong. Many live a lifetime and do not learn this lesson. So keep in mind: our problems, guilts, mistakes, and faults are our responsibility and no one else's.
However, the loving and dedicated shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the fold and undertakes a dangerous and risky pursuit of the lost.
This story portrays the great love and sacrifice of Jesus, who, being God, surrounded by glory and the center of the worship of the whole heavenly court, did not hesitate to leave the perfect and pure heavenly environment, to take human nature in its fallen state, and undertake the search for the lost sheep.
The American writer, Ellen G. White, comments on this story: “In the parable the shepherd goes out to search for one sheep—the very least that can be numbered. So if there had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for that one," (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 187).
Though he had no sinful tendency, Christ came to dwell with sinful humanity. For thirty-three years, He lived a life of absolute poverty and self-denial in order to reach human beings where they are. Although He did not partake of any sin, He personally witnessed all the moral miseries that afflict sinners.
Writing about what Christ did to rescue mankind, the writer of Hebrews uses strong words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin,” (). There is no ordeal in which you can say: “Jesus does not know what I am going through.” He knows what it is to starve, for in the desert of temptation the Bible says that He felt hunger. He knows what it is to be thirsty, because while on the cross He said, "I thirst." He knows what it is to be betrayed and abandoned, for in the hour of His greatest trial His disciples forsook Him. He knows what it is to not be understood by family, for the Gospels tell us that His brethren did not accept His claim that He was the Messiah awaited by Israel and tried to make Him abandon His mission. He knows what it is to be rejected, for it is written that He “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” ( ). He is not a distant God who observes the suffering of His children. No, He became as one of us and journeyed the same path we all pass by. That is why Jesus can say to the sufferer: "I know what you are going through."
For love of you and me, Christ risked everything, including eternity. In taking on our nature, He was subjected to the temptations that beset every human being. He could fall as Adam fell. Though He still possessed Divinity—He was completely God even when He became man—He could not use it to overcome temptation as He came to become the Substitute and Example of the human being. His Divinity was used solely for the sake of others and the salvation of sinners.
His life of victory over sin depended entirely on constant communion with the heavenly Father and total submission to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Thank God, Christ finishes the parable with the shepherd’s success in reaching the lost sheep and taking it back to the fold to reunite it with the ninety-nine who never went astray.
The parable does not speak of failure but of success. In finding the sheep, the shepherd does not rebuke it, does not punish it, nor does he guide it back to the fold. In His great joy, He puts the sheep on His shoulders and takes it back home. In the parable, the shepherd's happiness seems much greater than that of the sheep itself. Coming home, he prepares a great feast, invites his friends and neighbors, and declares, "‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep," (Luke 15: 6). And Jesus concludes the parable, stating: "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent," ().
Have you ever thought, dear reader, what great joy you can cause in the heavenly courts by accepting Jesus' offer of full salvation? He presents the solemn appeal: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," (, ). He, in fact, receives sinners and eats with them, with Zacchaeus, Levi Matthew, Simon the leper who was healed by Christ, and many others.
He invites us to open the door of our heart and allow Him to enter and dwell in us. He offers a seat on His throne to all who overcome. However, He also offers us the victory since we cannot overcome one temptation or one sin without His grace.
The apostle Paul declared: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” ().
Ellen G. White wrote:
"Desponding soul, take courage, even though you have done wickedly. Do not think that perhaps God will pardon your transgressions and permit you to come into His presence. God has made the first advance. While you were in rebellion against Him, He went forth to seek you. With the tender heart of the shepherd He left the ninety and nine and went out into the wilderness to find that which was lost. The soul, bruised and wounded and ready to perish, He encircles in His arms of love and joyfully bears it to the fold of safety,” (, 189).
"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Romans 8: 31-39).