ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS)—No one person can reach everyone for Christ. We can’t touch and change every person in the world. But we can pray for, be patient with, love on, witness to, and reach just one. When we talk about our vision to reach the world with the gospel, perhaps we should think smaller. We ought to think about one person we can pursue for the glory of Jesus Christ. In this article, Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church in Albuquerque considers one of Jesus’ most famous parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep.
To get the most from the article, read Luke 15 and answer the questions below.
In Proverbs 29:18, Solomon states, “Where there is no vision the people perish” (kjv). The question is, what is vision? In this context, it is not eyesight or insight, but foresight, what God has called us to be.
With vision, we look back to see what God has done, and now we look forward, asking, “Now what, Lord?” Sadly, as churches age, many get more concerned with comfort over calling. But the church’s mission remains the same: upreach, inreach and outreach.
Put another way, we must always consider the heart behind the hand, the individual person among the many involved at church.
In a church’s vision, we don’t just count hands, we care for hearts.
Think about this: before a person reaches up to God, Christians may need to reach out to the person, extending care, compassion, and inviting them to community.
To get the point across of God’s unfailing pursuit of people, Jesus told stories—parables—to underscore God’s love for people. In Luke 15, there are three, all centered on something lost: lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.
All the parables are perfect illustrations of a person struggling to follow God and finding hope in Him.
In Luke 15: 4, notice that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go after one that was lost. Sheep are not known for mental acumen; they are prone to wander. Therefore, sheep need leading; they require oversight.
This parable tells us that God cares for every single person; we all matter to God. Ezekiel painted a similar picture, stating, “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away” (Ezekiel 34:16).
In both cases, God is pictured as the tireless Shepard, not resting until the lost are found. To God, the loss of one outweighs the laxness of many.
Many scholars point out that the idea of God seeking sinners was revolutionary, something unique to the Bible. Almighty God is personal, seeking people.
Ask yourself: Who is one person I know that is searching for God? Then pray for that person, showing patience, persistence, and personal care—love—toward them.
All three parables discussed in Luke 15 are about finding what is lost.The rescue mission is about salvation, the moment God locates what was lost.As Jesus stated, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Many of us are familiar with paintings of Jesus carrying a lamb on His shoulders. Images like this bring comfort in knowing that Jesus is carrying us—the lost, least, and lonely.
In the paintings, Jesus wasn’t yelling or kicking the sheep because it had been stupid; He searched for the sheep and found it, gently lifted it up and carried it to safety. It’s a picture of God swooping down to us, transferring the burden to Himself, saving us and bringing us to His home.
Think of this: Jesus carried your sins on a cross and even now, carries you on Himself.
There are a couple of things to notice in the lost sheep parable.
- One, God rejoices. God is not some stoic being, but a rejoicing Creator, who laughs and congratulates. He’s a loving, welcoming God.
- Two, The Lord is rejoicing with His creation; in this case, angels. It’s as Bernard of Clairvaux stated, “The tears of the repentant form the wine of angels.”
When someone comes to God, we must remember: God is rescuing the one, and heaven is rejoicing over the one. Likewise, Christians must rejoice with God and the angels. As Augustine of Hippo reminds us, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
Jesus is searching for a surrendered heart. Once found, He will lift you high on His shoulders, for He has borne your sins. The Shepherd became a sheep to bear our sins as a sacrificial lamb.
What do the parables of Jesus tell you about the person and work of God? In theology, one aspect of this purpose is called divine economy, the mission and vision of God within the Trinity. Here are a few characteristics to consider:
- God is one in purpose. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all want people saved.
- God is personal. He cares, loves, and demonstrates many personal attributes. What other personal attributes can you think of?
- God is perennial; He keeps focused and on target in His plans and purposes. His will will be accomplished.
What ministries within the local church help underscore the truth of a “heart behind a hand”? Take a moment to discuss how your church’s ministries are related to reaching out to people, then pray for each ministry by name and function.
Some people ask if the Bible calls us to pray for the unsaved. As All About Prayer states, the answer is yes: “In Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus tells His disciples that there are many unsaved people throughout the world. He encouraged them to pray that God would provide people to share the gospel with them. God desires that all people learn the truth of salvation. First Timothy 2:3-4 says, ‘This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’” Take a moment to pray for the one person that came to mind, asking God for you to reach out to their heart, grasping his or her hand for the kingdom.