Heart of the Shepherd
Heart of the Shepherd
Words of Faith 10-10-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.  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. Does he not 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.
Jesus was drawing a crowd but the people coming around were not the regular synagogue folks. There were tax collectors and "sinners" coming to see Jesus. The religious people muttered about the whole thing. They were disgusted by the company Jesus was keeping. Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish population because they collaborated with the occupying enemy. What is worse, the tax collectors often extorted extra money from the people to enrich themselves.
Who were the "sinners?" We might think that they were terrible criminals or prostitutes, but they actually were regular working folks. They were sometimes called "people of the land" because they were common working people who worked in trades that kept them from being ceremonially clean or kept them from being observant of the some aspect of the Law. Tanners and even shepherds could not keep the ritual of the Law or remain observant because of the particular demands of their jobs.
Pharisees and legal teachers did not consider it proper to eat with those excluded from the religious community. For an observant Jew there was a danger of eating unclean food in the home of unobservant person. But appearances were even more important. Intimate table fellowship connoted acceptance of the lifestyle of a "sinful" person.
Jesus responded by talking about a shepherd and a lost sheep. He made it personal. If one of you loses a sheep, do you not leave the flock to search for the one that is lost and then rejoice when that sheep is found? This was a common understanding in a culture where sheep and flocks were prevalent.
A lost sheep was not just discarded. One was not satisfied to return home with "most" of the flock. And there was rejoicing at having found a lost sheep. The image is a powerful one in revealing the heart of God. The Good Shepherd was willing to leave the flock to search for the lost sheep.
Sheep are an interesting image for us to learn from. Sheep are generally not too rebellious but they also are not the brightest of creatures. Have you seen a sheep in a circus act jumping through flaming rings? Just the thought is a bit frightening. Shepherds tell us that sheep tend to wander off mostly because they forget for a time that they need the protection of the shepherd. A shepherd once said that sheep don't run away-- they just "munch themselves away." They see a spot that looks green, and then another, and then another. Pretty soon the flock is nowhere to be seen.
Most people who get far away from God do not set out for that destination. People tend to munch themselves away from God. They have munched in a green spot and then another. Something looks good so they go for it. Some forego closeness to God for a while and then slowly they get away from the Lord.
The heart of God is the heart of a Great Shepherd. God will leave the ninety-nine sheep to search for the one. The heart of God never gives up. The search will continue all night long if necessary so that the sheep may be returned to the safety of the fold.
As the Church, we can either have the heart of the Pharisee or the heart of the Shepherd. As we encounter people, we can either view them as "people of the land" who are living outside of the guidance of God, or we can see that they are sheep that have munched themselves away from God. The Shepherd is trying to reach them. We can either be part of the problem or part of the rejoicing.
Are there some lost sheep that you know? Folks in your neighborhood or workplace? People you meet at the baseball field or at school? God is trying to reach them. Our choice is either to get involved with Him or mutter about it. And that really is no choice at all.
Father, help me to have the heart of the Great Shepherd. Help me to see with Your eyes those that have wandered away from Your love and care. Help me to gently invite those that are lost to come home. In Jesus' name.