May 4, 2023 devotion on Luke 15:1-7

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. ~ Luke 15:1-7

It is a beautiful story. A shepherd has 100 sheep. One afternoon he starts taking them from one location to another. It is a little bit of a trip. But they need some new pastureland to feed on. He is watching the flock not wanting to lose any little lambs along the way. Lambs are like that – they easily get lost. They don’t pay attention. The older sheep get quite annoyed with the little lambs. The older ones will ignore the lambs. Speak about them behind their backs. Little lambs get lost so easily and they can be annoying.

Anyway, back to our story. The shepherd gets the flock to the new grazing land. To get there they had to pass through the valley of the shadows. A frightening place. But they were glad they were through it. The shepherd sets up a temporary pen.  The sheep start going in 97…98…99. 99. The shepherd pauses. He looks around. He is missing one. A couple of the ewes are pregnant. They would have any number of replacement sheep in a few weeks. One little disobedient lamb would not be missed… except to the shepherd. Lost sheep will always matter to the shepherd. He secures the pen. He starts the journey back the way they came – looking for – calling out for the lost lamb.

The lamb never saw it coming. He was in the flock following the shepherd when he saw some greener grass just a little ways away. He knew the shepherd had said to stick together, but he figured he could run over munch some down and get back before anyone missed him. He was wrong. The grass was so good he ate more than he should. He took longer than he should. When he looked up the flock was gone. He panicked. He ran to where he thought they would be. That’s when it happened. He slipped and fell into a pit. He got all tangled up in some thorn bushes. He couldn’t get out. He cried out until his voice was almost gone, but no one heard him.

The pit. The lamb found himself in the pit. No way to get out. That’s when the voices flooded his soul. “You can’t do anything right.” “Why can’t you be like the other sheep?” “You’re the problem in this flock.” “You need to straighten up your act.”

The lamb was in the pit. He was overwhelmed with the guilt of his choices and the shame of it all. It was more than a little lamb can bear… That’s when he heard it. He heard the voice of the shepherd. Calling his name. Calling for him.

It was now really late at night, but the lamb was sure that the shepherd was calling his name. The little lamb gathered all his strength and called out to the shepherd. He could hear the footsteps of the shepherd coming his way. Then he felt his gentle warm arms wrap around him. Pick him up. Pulling him out of the pit. And place him on his shoulders. The lamb fell asleep on those shoulders on his way back to the flock. When they got back to the flock the lamb was surprised. Surprised because the shepherd had a party for him. He thought for sure he was in trouble. But the shepherd celebrated, and the other sheep celebrated as well. That night changed everything. From that day on the little lamb never strayed away again. He was always within a few feet of the shepherd. He would look up at the shepherd and be thankful that he came looking for him. Lost sheep matter to the shepherd and the lamb was thankful.

The Scriptures tell us that we are all like sheep who have gone astray. There are times in all of our lives when we get distracted, detoured and lose our way. And then it happens we can stumble, or fall, or trip and find ourselves in the pit. The pit of despair. The pit of loneliness. The metaphorical pit of life. None of us are immune to it. When we slip into the pit, it’s not very long until guilt and shame arrive. Guilt reminds us of all of our mistakes. Of all the bad choices we have ever made. Guilt gives us a history lesson of all our bad choices. Then shame speaks up and says that’s nothing. Shame tells us that we are a mistake! That our lives don’t matter. The voice of guilt is convicting. The voice of shame is humiliating. It is overwhelming until we hear the voice of the shepherd. The voice of the shepherd is the message of the gospel.

It is important to never forget that guilt is silenced by repentance. Repentance in and through the person of Jesus Christ. His power to forgive. Forgiveness is the wiping of the slate clean. Clean of the past, present, and future sins. The voice of shame lurks in the dark place of the soul to spread despair when we miss it. Blow it. When we sin. The voice of shame is silenced in the consequence of the gospel. Having confessed my sin. Having asked for forgiveness. I am now an heir and joint heir with Jesus Christ. I don’t see myself as a mistake. My identity is now viewed as a child of God unconditionally loved by the Father. My goodness or lack there of is exchanged with his mercy and grace. My righteousness is no longer mine but his. His righteousness is lived in me and through me. Christ lives in me and through me and for me. Guilt and shame have had their voices silenced. I am free from the oppression of their voices. I now live for him in freedom.