Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “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.’” Luke 15:1-6 (NIV)
A few weeks ago in church, we worshipped to “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. It’s an incredible song with an incredible message and for a few minutes, it put me in a warm reflective space. “Isn’t that wonderful?” I thought, focused on myself. I love how He loves me so much to do that for me. And then this thought came like a firebolt through my mind:
“Uh, Anne. You aren’t ‘the one’ anymore. You are the ninety-nine now. You have been for a long time.”
I’m sure glad my husband’s eyes were closed in worship next to me because I am certain the look on my face would have made him question what was going on. The realization was literally a shock. Maybe it shouldn’t be but it was. And it was convicting. And it made me wonder what God had to say to the ninety-nine sheep like me who are already sitting in the fold. What are we supposed to be doing? I didn’t know off hand so I figured I better check the Source. I got back home, sat my frazzled self in front of His Word and read, and listened…and frankly? I got my spiritual butt handed to me.
You guys. This story? The one where I felt all warm and fuzzy about Jesus rescuing His people? He told this story in response to Pharisees and teachers of the law who were being elitist jerks! This was not a story designed to comfort them. This was a story meant to point out that they were creating Christian selection criteria that were not theirs to create. He was telling them it was not their job to set the boundaries on who God chases, who He finds, and who He carries joyfully back on his shoulders. And you know what? We don’t get to have an opinion either. God gets to go after whomever He wants. Period.
Okay, I’m thinking. I’m on board. Of course, I want everyone to know God’s saving love. I’m totally here for it. Team Sheep all the way! But then He hit me with the other side of this parable sandwich. The part where He tells us what we are supposed to be doing when He comes back with “the one.”
We are supposed to rejoice.
That’s our job ninety-nine. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” No criteria allowed.
Rejoice whether they join your church or not.
Rejoice whether they are a member of your denomination or not.
Rejoice if they worship with drums and lights and fog or with one massive organ.
Rejoice if they get dressed up or wear jeans to church.
Rejoice if they don’t agree with every theological point you do.
Rejoice if you like them as a person or if they irritate you.
Rejoice if they don’t look like you, vote like you, speak like you, or think like you. Rejoice if they do.
Rejoice, because He rescued them and brought them home.
No one in this whole broken human world is without judgment. Without bias. Without the potential to look at someone and be uncomfortable as we see them approaching even if it is on the shoulders of our Savior. If we are to do the job of the ninety-nine and truly rejoice every time He brings someone home we have to do some hard work. We have to ask ourselves hard questions. We have to consider if we have created criteria around our rejoicing. We have to check our hearts and make sure that we are not standing around like the Pharisees and “muttering” about the qualifications we think should be required of the people He chooses. We have to be ready to cheer for every single one He brings our way.
Ninety-nine, we’ve got a job to do. Let’s do it well.