When a 99 Isn't Good Enough
How many of you can remember your school days? How many of you would be satisfied with a 99 on your exam? For some of us, we would rejoice at the seventy and one, no less with ninety and nine. But how does God see 99 percent? This parable shows what God thinks about the manner.
Exposition of the Text
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is one of three used to challenge the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees who were murmuring that Jesus was teaching the tax collectors and immoral persons whom they considered to be the riff-raff of society. In this was also a tinge of jealousy. Why wasn’t Jesus teaching them? After all, they were diligently trying to keep the Law of Moses. If anyone deserved Jesus’ attention, it was them. But not only was Jesus not paying attention to them, he was paying attention the very worst in society.
Jesus uses these three parables to address the situation. It is interesting to watch the progression of numbers. There were 100 sheep, ten coins, and two sons. In each of the parables, one of the group was lost. In each of these parables, that which was lost represents the very tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was teaching. In each parable, that which was not lost remained. This represents the scribes and Pharisees who complained to Jesus that they were being overlooked. The emphasis of these parables is on the lost and the need to seek them out with the intention of reuniting them. This is what Jesus did in coming from Heaven. Jesus is the shepherd of the first parable, the woman in the second, and the father in the third parable. The rejoicing shows the proper reaction to finding the lost, and attitude that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has when the lost returns.
In today’s parable, we are introduced to a shepherd. The Pharisees and Scribes would understand this well as representing God. They could quote the 23rd Psalm which begins with “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Old Testament is full of comparison of God to the care of a shepherd. What they did not realize or accept is that this shepherd was directly in front of them.
So this probably caught and held the attention of the Scribes and Pharisees. As sheep herding was common in Israel as well as in many other places, the tax collectors and sinner people, so labeled by their detractors, would also understand. They were also interested to see how Jesus would react to the charges.
Jesus tells them the story of the shepherd. He was missing one of his sheep. Domestic sheep are incredibly dependent animals who could not survive in the wild. The fact that this sheep was alone in the desert meant that it was certain to perish before long. There were wild animals to contend with, sparse grazing, and intense heat in day and cold by night, and unsafe or rushing waters from flash floods to contend with. Domestic sheep are very nearsighted with short legs. They cannot see danger, no less run from it.
Some would tell the shepherd to chill. After all, did he not still have 99 sheep? And sheep breed quickly enough, so it wouldn’t take long to replace it. This would be the view of a hireling, not of a true shepherd. For a shepherd, a 99 is not good enough. The true shepherd puts himself at risk for the sheep. He must go out and find it, and would have not rest until it was found.
So the shepherd went out and searched until the lost sheep was found. He was so glad that he simply did not lead it home. He carried it home on his shoulders. Then he calls his friends together to rejoice with him. The lost sheep was found, and this was cause for celebration. The same was true in the other parables where the lost coin and prodigal son were found. The third parable culminates with the throwing of a great feast which shows the attitude of God towards the return of the lost. In Luke’s Gospel, there seems to be a feast every time a sinner comes to the Lord. This is the attitude the Scribes and Pharisees should have had towards Jesus’ outreach to the tax collectors and sinners. Instead, they took the attitude of the older son in the third parable. They would not rejoice with God. This implies that even though they were formally at home in body that they were lost souls themselves.
This might seem like a strange sermon to preach on Mother’s Day. However, Jesus later on in Luke weeps for Jerusalem and compares Himself to a mother hen calling to her chicks to find safety under her wings. Even here, He was seeking the lost in Jerusalem and was coming to lay down His life for His lost sheep.
We here in the United Methodist Church are familiar of John Wesley who is in considered a father figure in Methodism. This father had a very extraordinary mother named Susanna. She had a lot of children, nineteen of them. Some of them died young, but many lived as well. One night, there was a terribly fire at the parsonage at Epworth where John’s father was serving as pastor. Everyone was accounted for, except John. Could you imagine anyone having the gall to tell Susanna that it was all right? After all, she still had many children left. John was lost, get over with it. A mother’s love never accepts this loss without a fight. She prayed against all hope that her lost son might be saved from the fire.
The prayers of this amazing mother were answered. At the very last minute, John was seen at an upstairs window. Ho he had not succumbed to the fire and smoke inhalation was nothing short of a miracle. The house was completely engulfed in flames and about to fall. With no time to be lost, a ladder was put up, and John snatched from the burning house alive. The house collapsed almost immediately after the rescue. What do you think was Susannah’s reaction was? Did she not rejoice and give thanks to God that her son who was counted for lost was found?
John Wesley was much touched by the incident and called himself in biblical fashion the “brand that was plucked out of the fire.” The fire without had not consumed him, but the fire of God in him to preach the gospel to the sinners of his day was just being kindled. His endurance under hardships to preach the gospel of Christ should serve as an example to us all. By doing this, we show the proper response to Jesus who has plucked us all who believe on Him from the eternal fire. We should burn within like Jeremiah to speak the Lord’s word.
We are called to follow Jesus. In John 10, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. In a sense, where He says this, He is identifying Himself with the Good shepherd of Psalm 23. The fact that HE uses the “I AM” there makes this identity sure. Jesus is the one who lays at the door of the sheep cote to protect the sheep from the wild animals. He was willing and would lay down His life for the sheep. For Jesus, a 99 is not good enough.
There is another 99 that isn’t good enough either. A score of 99 will not get you into heaven. God is perfect. A 99 just won’t do. The fact is that none of us would receive a passing grade of seventy and one on the human scale either. We must understand that in ourselves, we are sinners who need to be learning at the feet of Jesus rather than standing in judgment of others whom we feel to be inferior. You will not get into heaven by being better in comparison to someone else. It is either a perfect 100 or it might as well be a zero.
This would at first seem to be terrible news. We would cry out with the disciples “Who then can be saved?” But there is good news. Jesus got a 100 on the test and is willing to share His perfect score with us. He who made a 100 on the exam substituted His life for ours. He took our miserably failing grade beyond remedy on the cross with Him and in a sense put our name on His exam. This is the true life of the shepherd who has rescued us from danger and certain death. And he carries us home on His shoulders. He who saves us is the one who keeps us as well. And how should we respond? Should we not give thanks to God for our rescue? After all God does.
Perhaps you have not yet come to follow Christ as your Savior and put your trust in Him. When we realize that this is not a call for those who have strayed from church but rather all of humanity who left the fold with Adam in the Garden of Eden, then we can see this is a call to all nations and peoples. It is God’s will that none perish. Most of us can quote John 3:16 which says “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It continues with “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved though Him. Jesus summons you to come to Him and be rescued from danger,
We can think on this Mother’s Day of our mothers. Many had good and godly mothers who sacrificed to provide for her children. She worked hard to see her children were kept from danger, fed and clothed, went to a good school and learned. The good mother wants the best for her children. For the Christian woman, there is one thing beyond the proper care for children in this life. She wishes to rescue them from eternal danger. We think of nostalgic songs like “When I hear my mother pray again.” I wonder on how many lips of a dying Christian mother was a prayer for her children, that they might come one day to the place she was about to depart for.
The Scripture says that today is the proper day to respond to the call of God. So today, do not harden your heart to the message. Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure. Be sure that God awaits you with open arms and will rejoice when you come home.