I don’t own sheep, but I’ve heard what they’re like. They can easily get lost. They can easily get killed by a predator. A normal shepherd would never leave 99 totally alone to go after another. He would leave somebody with them, at least a sheep dog. He might never leave them, but just figure the other sheep was dead and not worry about it anymore.
The great Anglican hymn-writer, Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, uses the imagery of today’s Gospel in one of his hymns. In TLH there is this wonderful hymn about the holy ministry: “Thou Who the Night in Prayer Didst Spend.” But that’s actually the second verse. The hymn’s original first stanza is this (TLH Handbook, p. 344):
O Lord, Who in Thy love divine Didst leave in heaven the Ninety-nine, In pity for a World undone, And gav’st Thy life to save the one, And didst it on Thy shoulders bear In joy to heaven, receive our prayer.
What is Bishop Wordsworth telling us? He believes the 99 of the parable are the holy angels, probably because Jesus quickly mentions that they rejoice when we repent. They have no need for repentance because they have no sin. They are confirmed in their holiness and are not able to sin. But we are able to sin, and we sin much. Our Lord came down from heaven and took on our flesh in the womb of The Virgin Mary because (EH 95:2)
God in pity saw man fallen, Shamed and sunk in misery, When he fell on death by tasting Fruit of the forbidden tree; Then another tree was chosen Which the world from death should free.
You are the one. He humbled Himself unto the death of the cross to find you. You need to be found. Adam’s sin infects us all and over all the curse impends (TLH 369:1). We all like sheep have gone astray from the way of righteousness. And since that way is narrow, falling off it means certain death. It is narrow because no sins are allowed. If you sin just once, you fall off. And since you have received sin from your parents, you can’t even get on the way. Adam fell off it when he sinned. When you fall off a cliff you need somebody to pull you up. The sinner needs Christ to pull him up to the way and keep him on the way.
How does He do that? He died for you. He took all your sins up onto His shoulders on The Cross and was punished for them all. He left not a one unpaid for. Now you can sing (TLH 58:7):
Sin’s debt, that fearful burden, Let not your souls distress; Your guilt the Lord will pardon And cover by his grace. He comes, for men procuring The peace of sin forgiven. For all God’s sons securing Their heritage in heaven.
But there is another way to look at the parable. Jesus told these things not to His disciples, but to the scribes and Pharisees. They were grumbling because Jesus was spending time with tax collectors and sinners; and the scribes and Pharisees definitely thought they were much better company. They looked down on these other people who weren’t as good as they were. They couldn’t believe Jesus would spend time with people who didn’t deserve Him. Wasn’t He too good for them too? Why would He spend time with them willingly? Why didn’t He just hang out with the “in” crowd?
Because the scribes and Pharisees had no need for repentance. Oh, in reality they did, they just thought they didn’t. That actually was their chief sin: they refused to confess their sins, or to be more precise, they didn’t believe they needed God to forgive their sins. They thought they had done more than enough good by keeping the commandments they had devised. They were sure they were on the way of salvation. They didn’t need Jesus to get them on it and keep them on it.
If you think that way, Jesus is not for you. He comes for sinners. He does not come for those who think they have no sin – whether because they think they’re too good for sin or because they couldn’t care less how they live. He comes for those who know they need Him because they cannot live up to God’s commands. He comes for them. He lifts them up with His Word from the depths of hell to the heights of heaven. He forgives them their sins, gives them eternal life, and even helps them keep His commands, something those “holier than thou” scribes and Pharisees never did since they broke The First Commandment by thinking they didn’t need Him. Jesus comes for you when you realize you need Him.
That’s why we have Sunday School and Bible Class. We want to teach the children at an early age, and then all the days of their lives, about Jesus. We are never done learning about Him. There’s always more for us to learn from His Word. And He loves to have you sit at His feet learning from Him. He wants us to teach and learn and believe everything He teaches us in His Word. That’s why He tells The Apostles in Matthew 28 to teach us everything He commanded them, or better yet, instructed them about.
That’s why we have these classes, why we send our kids to Sunday School. It’s not to take up a precious hour of your day. It’s to continue to instruct you in God’s saving Word. Why? So that the devil will not find opportunity to rob you of your faith. Every contact you have with God’s Word is beneficial for you. For in His Word Jesus tells you to repent of your sins and believe The Gospel. He tells you that you are His own dear child and that He loves it when you desire to please Him by keeping His commands. His Word shows you all this. And where His Word is kept, well, we’ll let Wordsworth tell you the result (TLH Handbook, p. 344):
So may we, when our work is done, Together stand before the Throne; And joyful hearts and voices raise, In one united song of praise, With all the bright celestial Host, To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.