Lions and Water Buffalos
When Jesus told parables, he did so to help his listeners understand the deep mystery of God and the Kingdom of Heaven in simple terms that they would understand. Luke 15 comprises three parables of similar nature—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son—which Jesus told to hammer home the point about how every single lost person is important to God. We’ll focus today on the lost sheep.
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:1-7, NLT)
Someone sent me an amazing YouTube video the other day of a baby water buffalo being attacked by lions in Africa. The lions ambush the herd and separate the baby water buffalo from the adults. A lion leaps onto the back of the baby, and the two roll into a pond. While the lions try to pull the water buffalo out, an alligator springs out of the water, attacking the water buffalo and trying to pull it back into the water. The lions prevail in the tug-of-war, but then the camera zooms out. In the distance dozens of water buffalos slowly move toward the tangle of lions, inching closer and closer until they surround the lions, who run off when the adult water buffalos charge at them. The video ends with the baby water buffalo rejoining the herd.
That herd could have moved away to safer territory and protected themselves, but they went back to save the little one. I think that video might have resonated with Jesus’s audience in Luke 15.
The church is losing young people at an alarming rate. Two studies conducted by both the Barna Group and USA Today found that over half of Christian young people leave the church after high school. This is astounding. What is the rest of the herd doing to rescue these young people from the jaws of the world? Church leaders lament the loss of kids, but so many churches refuse to change their way of thinking or even their worship styles.
I spoke recently with an elderly gentleman about this. He told a story of how the praise leader in his church stood up and announced that he was going to teach the congregation a new song that would require some clapping and maybe even some hand-raising. The elderly gentleman said he immediately rolled his eyes and sighed. Why couldn’t they sing the songs everyone knew and had been singing for generations? But halfway through the song, he looked to his left and saw two teenage boys singing at the tops of their lungs, pumping their fists in the air. I knew then, he said, that I needed to change my way of thinking.
When we read the parable of the lost sheep, we tend to think of unbelieving sinners who are “out there.” But what about the folks in our own community who are struggling and becoming estranged? Who is looking for them? Who is chasing away whatever is separating them from the church and God? Who is working to engage them and draw them back into the fold?
You and me. That’s who.
What are you doing to find the lost?
Ron DeBoer lives near Toronto.