Dishonest tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus’ sermons; but this caused complaints from the Jewish religious leaders and the experts on Jewish law because he was associating with such despicable people—even eating with them!
So Jesus used this illustration: “If you had a hundred sheep and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found.
“Well, in the same way heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who haven’t strayed away!”
It may seem foolish for the shepherd to leave ninety-nine sheep to go search for just one. But the shepherd knew that the ninety-nine would be safe in the sheepfold, whereas the lost sheep was in danger. God’s love for each individual is so great that he seeks each one out and rejoices when he or she is “found.”
Guilt by Association
Why were the Pharisees and scribes bothered that Jesus associated with these people? The religious leaders were always careful to stay “clean” according to Old Testament Law. In fact, they went well beyond the Law in their avoidance of certain people and situations and in their ritual washings. By contrast, Jesus took their concept of “cleanness” lightly. He risked defilement by touching those who had leprosy and by neglecting to wash in the Pharisees’ prescribed manner, and he showed complete disregard for their sanctions against associating with certain classes of people. He came to offer salvation to sinners, to show that God loves them. Jesus didn’t worry about the accusations. Instead, he continued going to those who needed him, regardless of the effect on his reputation. What keeps you from people who need Christ? Jesus associated with sinners because he wanted to bring the lost sheep—people considered beyond hope—the gospel of God’s Kingdom. Before you were a believer, God sought you; and his love is still seeking those who are yet lost.
One Year with Jesus: 365 Daily Devotions based on the chronological life of Christ.