15 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
This parable is often used as the basis of many evangelistic outreach programs within the local church. It has also been the reasoning behind the common phrase “it’s not about you” (believers) it’s about “the lost” (unbelievers) in churches that are more, as they say, “seeker friendly.” The thing is, it’s about the 1 AND the 99 because without the 99 there would be no church and without the 1 there would be no one to GO make disciples of.
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
After much study, reading “expert” opinions and discussing this parable at length with my husband, I believe that Jesus was referring to 2 types of “lost” sheep:
#1 The lost-lost
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away….
This lost-lost sheep is a sinner that has never been found. He/she has not been exposed to the gospel. Perhaps they’ve heard of the Christian religion and have known hypocritical followers of Jesus, but they haven’t had the opportunity to see one of the 99 who has been radically changed after an encounter with the Great Shepherd. This lost sheep needs to feel love- not judgment (as the Pharisees did) from the 99. The responsibility of the 99 is to lead this 1 to the Shepherd, and once he/she has repented, teach them how to obey Him.
#2 The lost-found-lost
I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands.
This lost-found-lost sheep is a sinner who was once a member of the 100. But, unfortunately has followed the voice of the enemy and strayed away from the flock. These are the “back sliders” or the religious (those that do all the right things/obey the law, but have no relationship with the Great Shepherd). The responsibility of the 99 is to lead this 1 back to the Shepherd (by encouraging or rebuking, depending on the circumstance and how the Holy Spirit leads), and once they’ve repented, teach them how to obey Him, again.
The truth is, we are all the 1. All of us need the Great Shepherd to search for us and joyfully carry us home on His shoulders…..and whether we are part of the flock that are designed to disciple the lost-lost or the lost-found-lost we all should rejoice when He brings another 1 home!