Jesus once told the story of the good shepherd who discovers the loss of one sheep and leaves the remaining 99 in the safety of the fold to seek the one who is lost (Luke 15:4-7). He searches intently high and low until the lost sheep is found. He tenderly carries it home on his shoulders and then calls his friends and neighbors to join him in celebrating that which is found.
Have you ever wondered about the relationship of this man to his sheep? I l have lost pet birds, which made me feel sad and wish they would come back, but I certainly never went to any great lengths to find them again. I believed it was hopeless, and I hoped they would fend for themselves okay in the wild. In juxtaposition, the shepherd loved each of his sheep. He spent each day with them, weathered the storms with them, and fought wild animals off to protect them. He endured great risk and hardship to return them home.
Jesus is the good shepherd. He voluntarily left his throne in heaven and took human form to seek and save the lost. Paul writes of this experience in Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV):
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
The oft-quoted John 3:16 reminds us that Jesus' motivator for this self-sacrificial act was love. He loves each and every lost soul so much that he sacrificed it all.
We, too, need a heart for the lost. We, too, need to love others so much that no sacrifice is too great to see sinners saved. Just as the shepherd left the sheepfold, and Jesus left heaven, so must we leave—leave our comfort zones, perhaps even our homes, our countries, and families. We must be prepared to lay it all on the line for the call of Jesus. Jesus himself commissioned us in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
The whole world hasn't yet been given the gospel: the opportunity to either accept or reject the call of Jesus. So what will you and I do about it? Whatever it is, it won't be easy.
I remember when Brad and I decided to go to Papua New Guinea for four years (which became five), and we started to hear all kinds of horror stories of others' experiences there. Our families were totally against the idea and seemed to think we were crazy. Once we got there it didn't get any easier. The language was hard to learn. The culture was uncomfortable. We caught malaria. We were faced with guns. The devil pulled out all the stops to try to send us home. But we persevered, doing what we felt called by God to do. And he has blessed us abundantly in it.
Jesus gives us a promise, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Will you answer Jesus' call today? Will you take up your cross for the sake of lost sheep?
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