Matthew 18:12: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the one that wandered off?”
The parable of one lost sheep is recorded in two places in the Bible, Luke 15 and Matthew 18. In Luke 15, the sheep is an unbeliever. In Matthew 18, the sheep is a believer.
Have you ever wondered how a Christian gets into a place of lostness? Why do they wander away and end up in a terrible, dangerous place? I’ve wondered that, as well.
As I reflected on the sheep in Matthew 18, I began to see some scenarios that may bring some insight.
The sheep was in the fold. he was part of the flock. He was fed, nurtured, protected and had relationship. So, what happened? What steps led to his lostness? We can speculate and apply it to ourselves.
1. Unresponsiveness – “My sheep know my voice.” But if the voice is ignored repeatedly, we can become immune to it. Just like when our children say, “Mom” over and over. We can tune it out and we don’t respond. We’re not paying attention. Not being attuned to and responding to God’s voice is a dangerous first step to lostness. The sheep may have tuned out the Shepherd’s voice.
2. Distractions – These are usually very subtle. The sheep just glanced at a new path. Then a longer glance – ooooh. Something different. Then a sniff – a lingering in that new place and having to hurry back to the flock.
3. Experiment – So the sheep made it back! Whew! Next time he actually nibbled on the new grass. Different! Yum! He began thinking about the new grass and the new path all the time. He thought about it when he was grazing in familiar pastures with the flock. He thought about it when the flock was far down the path from the new, exciting grass. The old grazing places just didn’t taste the same – they weren’t satisfying him. His thoughts were fixed on that side path and the new, exciting grass.
4. Rationalize – The sheep was sure he could always get back to the flock – he had fast hooves. So he spent more and more time nibbling on the new grass. Each day as the flock grew near the secret path he’d discovered, he changed his place in the flock, moving toward the back so he would have easier access. He rationalized that this new grass was so good that it was fine for him to eat it. The Shepherd never took them there and he felt he could take care of himself!
5. Reckless – Oh! Look at that! The next distraction for the little sheep is further up the path. It is away from the Shepherd and the flock completely. He can’t even see them anymore. The grass that first satisfied him was no longer sufficient. His eyes were already searching for a new place. He became oblivious to his present situation, as he walked further away from safety.
6. Lost – As the sheep sniffed and wandered, explored and ate, he did not realize how far he’d gone. Too late, he looked around and saw nothing familiar. The flock and the shepherd were nowhere in sight. There were only dark clouds gathering at the top of a mountain where he’d never been. Fear, confusion and isolation gripped him as he shivered in the inky night.
There are many, many hoof prints to being lost. There are many, many “yes” answers between opportunity and sin. So the wonderful protection for us is to always respond to the voice of our Shepherd and always keep him in the center of our vision.
But, is this the end of the little believer sheep? Is there no remedy for all the foolish decisions he made? Stay tuned….
Christ Fellowship member