Picture a group of outcasts gathered to hear this exciting new Teacher. Jesus had fed 5,000 men and their families, with only a few baskets of fish and bread. Everyone they knew was buzzing about Jesus, and the things He had done.
Maybe a few of them were in the crowd that had been fed, or their friends and family had been there. Today, they were thrilled to be sharing a meal with Jesus.
Some may have been tough, but most were hurt. For whatever reason, they were unable to keep up with the rules and traditions of their religious leaders. They believed in God, but probably felt they had blown any chance to be connected to Him.
Lonely, hurt, forgotten hearts longing to be loved in the presence of a man rumored to be The Messiah. He had healed the lame, sick, demon-possessed and blind. The more He spoke, the more everything in them came alive.
And then, the proud, self-righteous and increasingly hostile religious leaders barged into their dinner. As the Pharisees filled the room with their long, flowing robes, most of the outcasts must have dropped their heads in shame or looked away.
They challenged Jesus. How could He be any measure of holy and be eating with these sinners?
His response was shocking. He didn’t defend Himself. Instead, Jesus calmly, almost quietly began to tell them stories. He began by asking them some questions about a shepherd.
Almost everyone in the room knew a shepherd. Maybe they grew up in the house of a shepherd, or they had a grandpa who was a shepherd. Shepherds spent nights away from home, looking after their sheep.
However, Jesus told this story to explain why He was spending time with outcasts, with tax collectors and sinners.
He asked them to imagine they had lost a sheep.
Each sheep has value to his shepherd. They produce wool each year that could be sold at market, and they produce more sheep that can be kept or sold for more profits.
Jesus asked them to imagine they had another 99 sheep. “Wouldn’t you leave the others to go after the lost one?” He asked them.
The best part of Jesus’ story was His description of how He thought they’d respond when they found their sheep. They wouldn’t be angry, or beat the sheep or yell at it for being lost.
Instead, He assumed they’d pick up the lost sheep into their arms, carrying it home on their shoulders. And then Jesus asked the crowd, “wouldn’t you do this if you lost one of your little lambs…even if it was 1 of 100?”
He told them, “you’d even call your friends and neighbors together to celebrate finding your lost sheep!”
Jesus looked around the room, into the eyes of the leaders, and said, “This is how it is in Heaven.” You could have heard a pin drop, as Jesus explained the joy and thrill in Heaven, when one sinner returns to God.
Can you imagine how the outcasts felt on that day? From a place of feeling broken, hurt and less than to beginning to understand The Messiah cared about each one of them.
And He considered them valuable. Just like a shepherd would chase after one lost sheep, so The King of kings was chasing after them.
This. is. Jesus. Filled with love, and the pursuer of your heart. He is The Shepherd, who rejoices when He finds each and every one of us.