Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Lost Sheep: Running for His Life

By David Ryser at Catch the Wind

I was hanging out with Cliff, a former student of mine who ministers powerfully in the country of Uganda. He was regaling me with tales of his adventures while preaching and demonstrating the Kingdom of God in a culture quite different from our own. He noted that the culture in Uganda is similar in many ways to the culture in which Jesus ministered during His time on earth. As a result of Cliff’s exposure to this culture, the preaching, teaching, and parables of Jesus have been cast in a fresh light for him. As an example, he cited the Parable of the Lost Sheep recorded in Luke 15:3-6.

As we talked about it, I realized this may be one of the most preached--and least understood--of Jesus’ parables.

Part of our difficulty interpreting this parable comes from our misunderstanding of the context in which Jesus spoke it. Who was Jesus talking to, and what was going on at the time? We must interpret what He said in light of the situation that prompted Him to speak. Luke 15:1, 2 tells us that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and scribes because they were criticizing His ministry over the fact that the spiritual riff-raff (tax collectors and sinners) were being drawn to Him in order to hear Him.

This parable had one important thing in common with the rest of Jesus’ ministry of preaching and teaching: He spoke to the people who were there (Luke 15:3). I have searched the Gospels and have discovered that Jesus never preached to people who were not present. He never preached to, or even about, the Romans or Greeks, for example. If our preaching follows the pattern of Jesus, we will preach to the people in front of us.

This may seem self-evident to us until we realize that a great deal of the preaching in our churches is directed at people who are not there (unless your church is filled with homosexuals, abortionists, politicians, and other assorted miscreants whom we blame for all of the world’s problems).

So what did Jesus have to say to the religious people who were offended that the “bad people” were coming to Him and entering into the Kingdom of God?

First, Jesus established the worth of the people whom the Pharisees and scribes considered to be worthless (Luke 15:4a). He tells of a man who has 100 sheep, and one of the sheep has wandered off. Why is this such a big deal? The man still has 99 sheep left.

So why all the fuss over one sheep?

It may help to know that in Jesus’ day, a man was considered rich and successful if he had 100 sheep. Any less, even 99, placed the man in a lower class of wealth and achievement in the eyes of the community. So the one sheep is of great value relative to the rest of the flock because without him the total value of the flock is significantly diminished. Jesus’ first lesson to the Pharisees and scribes: These people you consider to be worthless have great value both to God and to you.

Second, Jesus notes where the flock is when the lost sheep wanders off. And He does this in a way that gets their attention by saying, “What man of you…does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness…?” (Luke 15:4). In fact, no one would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness. The wilderness--by definition--is a place without food, without water, and full of predators. And what are these sheep doing in the wilderness in the first place?

No shepherd in his right mind would take sheep into the wilderness to feed and water them; rather, he would seek out a lush pasture and an ample water supply for them.

So why were the 100 sheep in the wilderness? For the same reason that the Pharisees and scribes were wasting away in their religion rather than feasting and drinking from the life and presence of God available in Jesus (John 6:48-58, among many others).

But not everyone is content to suffer spiritual hunger and thirst with the rest of the religious crowd.

Third, so now we know why the one sheep had wandered off. He was hungry, he was thirsty, and his situation was not getting any better by hungering and thirsting along with the other 99 sheep. He had gone to search for food and water.

He was running for his life! Continue reading here...

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