One of the joys of being a teacher is the opportunity to take students on field trips. We get to go into the world and learn from actual experience instead of sitting in a classroom hearing about things. While I was never perfect as a teacher, there was one thing I was expected to be perfect on: bringing kids back from a field trip. Bringing back 99% of the kids was NOT acceptable. Oh sure, most of the parents would be happy that their kids came back, but there would always be that one parent who would complain if their’s didn’t come back. No matter how much I argued that I had gotten 99% of the kids back, I would be in big trouble if I left one at the site.
Sometimes, even 99% isn’t good enough. And, all kidding aside, 99% would not be acceptable in the situation I described. How could I face any parent knowing that I had left a child behind? Worse, how could I face myself if I left a child behind? Even if I found them later, what would that do to the child knowing that I had left them behind? Jesus used a similar example, talking about sheep, to remind us how important each person is in the Kingdom of God. “Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’” (Luke 15:3-4)
The parable ends with the shepherd rejoicing with others about finding the sheep that was lost, and imagines friends and neighbors rejoicing. Think about the joy we see when a child who is missing is found and returns home. It is in this context that Jesus says that the joy in heaven is even greater when a sinner repents and enters a relationship with God. There is a special joy in heaven and on earth when a person who has resisted the grace of God finally seeks God and gains forgiveness. We celebrate it in church as we tear up watching someone make that commitment. In my church heritage we talk about people making decisions, although perhaps we should talk about eternal commitments instead. We joke about a lack of response by saying that “124 people decided to keep on living like they always have been.” If someone is living in a relationship with God and they stay true to their calling, there is satisfaction in Heaven – but true joy, true party time, happens when a person who has been opposed to God accepts His grace and mercy.
I think the point of Jesus’ parable was to remind us that just as the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost, we also have that privilege. Some think about evangelism as a burdensome responsibility, when in truth, we have the opportunity to show others about God’s grace and bring about rejoicing in Heaven! Some are leery about evangelism because they think they won’t know the right words. They don’t know how to follow “the formula.” Let me share a secret about that: most of the people who need to experience the grace of God are leery of Christians who know the right “formula.” What people want to see and hear about is your own experience with the grace of Christ. Do you want someone to share the same joy you have experienced? Share your story. Let them know how the grace of God has made a difference in your life. People are not won to Christ by great theological arguments; people come to Christ because they experience His grace – first from your life and then in their own. So share your story with people who need to hear it and help start a party in heaven!
Father God, I have so often been afraid to talk about You with others because I was afraid I didn’t know the “right” words. Remind me that people don’t want to hear the “right” words as much as they want to see Your grace in my life. Help me to share the joy of the life I have in You with others.