Why Would God Leave the Ninety-Nine?
Have you ever heard the saying that God will leave the ninety-nine to look for one who is lost? I had a bit of an epiphany about that while singing in the shower the other day. One of my favorite praise songs lately is “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. During the chorus part of the lyrics say:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
“Leaves the ninety-nine” stood out to me. Then I thought of the scriptures that mention the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14 (NLT)
“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 15:3-7 (NLT)
Doesn’t that seem a little unfair?
Can I be transparent with you for a minute? OK don’t judge me here… I’ve always been a little offended by the whole leaving the ninety-nine business. I mean, doesn’t that seem a little unfair to the ones who didn’t get lost? What if the ninety-nine took off or got hurt or lost then because they were left alone? Now, deep down I know that’s a wrong way of thinking. I also know it sounds pretty awful, unloving, cold-hearted and pretty darn selfish to say it out loud or to put it in writing.
I’ve also always kind of related to the older son on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). He got angry when the father celebrated the homecoming of his younger, immoral brother. I can almost picture him saying, “What am I, chopped liver?!” I’m sure he was thinking it wasn’t fair. I get it. Most likely I would have felt the same way. “What about me?” is a question I would be prone to asking. Again, I know it’s a selfish mindset, and I know the outcome of the parable…that the father said that everything he has was already the older son’s.
However, in both scenarios I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it doesn’t seem right to just leave the “good” ones behind.
My legalistic nature
To give you a better idea of where I’m coming from let me tell you a little about myself. I mentioned in my “About” page that I’m a rule-follower to a fault. Maybe it’s a firstborn thing? In the past I have struggled with being legalistic (def. “adhering excessively to law or formula”—keyword: excessively). Sometimes I still do. Ephesians 2:8-9 are verses that I have to remind myself of at times.
Needless to say, because of my sometimes overly-strict, rule-following nature, people that don’t follow the rules get on my nerves. Over the past several years, God has really been changing and softening my heart in this area though. I’ve specifically prayed for this because I know my attitude and heart aren’t where they need to be on this matter. I’ve asked God to help me see people through His eyes (and also to show me that I’m FAR from being “good”). Slowly but surely, I’m progressing in this area.
Still though, there are times when I question “What about me? What about the people who do the right thing? Are you still looking out for us too? Is ‘the one’ more important than ‘the ninety-nine’?” Innately I know the answers, but I still ask. Singing along to “Reckless Love” in the shower the other morning was one of those times.
God, why do you leave the ninety-nine?
During the part of the song where it said “leaves the ninety-nine”, I just stopped singing and prayed, “God, why do you leave the ninety-nine?” Then, I heard a little voice in my head, “Because you have each other.” It was like God was saying, “I’m not leaving you alone. You are surrounded by others like you who love and care about you, and you have a support system. You can handle my temporary absence for a little while because you have each other. I wouldn’t leave you if I didn’t think you were safe or if I didn’t think you could handle it.”
It was also like God was saying, “You’ve also been following me this whole time. You’ve been trained. You know what to do. You aren’t lost. And if for some reason you do start to wander, you still have the others around you to look to and follow because they also know what to do and where to go. They will help to keep you on track. The one who is completely alone has no one.”
Then of course I knew that if I was the one who was lost He’d come after me. In fact, He already did. How easily and quickly I forget that.
Take Some Practical Steps If You Struggle With Why God Would Leave the Ninety-Nine:
First, if you are “the one” and not “the ninety-nine”, realize that there is no place where you can go where God won’t chase you down, fight ‘til you’re found, and leave the ninety-nine.
There’s no shadow He won’t light up and no mountain He won’t climb up coming after you. There’s no wall He won’t kick down or lie He won’t tear down coming after you. He has a reckless love for you!
Secondly, if you are in “the ninety-nine” let’s be clear–know that God NEVER really leaves you.
He is with you always. The parable of the lost sheep was an illustration (not a literal account) to demonstrate God’s great love for us, and His will for ALL of us is to come home and that none should perish or stay lost.
“…For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]” Hebrews 13:5 (AMP)
“…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT)
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10 (NLT)
Also, if you are in the ninety-nine remember that you have each other.
God doesn’t want us to be alone. He wants us to surround ourselves with people who will help us succeed, support us, and make us stronger and better. He has placed us into a body for the purpose of us all working together. Acknowledge, don’t neglect, those that you have around you in the body of Christ. Reach out for their help, and help them as well.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.’” Genesis 2:18 (NLT)
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NLT)
“So it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” Romans 12:5 (NLT)
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
Lastly, if you are in the ninety-nine, understand that you’ve been in training while you’ve been following Jesus (the shepherd).
If the shepherd leaves the flock to go retrieve one of the lost, he only leaves if he knows you are safe and out of danger. He won’t leave you in a place that he knows you won’t be able to handle…or at least be able to handle with the help of those around you. Fall back on your training. He also leaves you in the safekeeping of another—the Holy Spirit.
“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” John 16:7 (NLT)
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” John 14:16-18 (NLT)
If you tend to wonder why God would leave the ninety-nine and maybe even get a little offended like I did, try to remember that if not for the grace of God you would be lost too.
“There, but for the grace of God, (go I).” –John Bradford
What helps you come to terms with the illustration of God leaving the ninety-one to pursue the one? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.
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