As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:18, 19).
In the parable of the lost sheep, Christ teaches that salvation does not come through our seeking after God but through God’s seeking after us. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way” (Romans 3:11, 12). We do not repent in order that God may love us, but He reveals to us His love in order that we may repent.
The rabbis had a saying that there is rejoicing in heaven when one who has sinned against God is destroyed; but Jesus taught that to God the work of destruction is a strange work. That in which all heaven delights is the restoration of God’s own image in the souls whom He has made.
When some who have wandered far in sin seek to return to God, they will encounter criticism and distrust. There are those who will doubt whether their repentance is genuine, or will whisper, “They have no stability; I do not believe that they will hold out.”
These persons are doing not the work of God but the work of Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren. Through their criticisms the wicked one hopes to discourage those souls, and to drive them still farther from hope and from God. Let the repenting sinners contemplate the rejoicing in heaven over the return of the one that was lost. Let them rest in the love of God and in no case be disheartened by the scorn and suspicion of the Pharisees.
The rabbis understood Christ’s parable as applying to the publicans and sinners; but it has also a wider meaning. By the lost sheep Christ represents not only the individual sinner but the one world that has apostatized and has been ruined by sin. This world is but an atom in the vast dominions over which God presides, yet this little fallen world —the one lost sheep— is more precious in His sight than are the ninety and nine that went not astray from the fold.
Christ, the loved Commander in the heavenly courts, stooped from His high estate, laid aside the glory that He had with the Father, in order to save the one lost world. For this He left the sinless worlds on high, the ninety and nine that loved Him, and came to this earth, to be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). God gave Himself in His Son that He might have the joy of receiving back the sheep that was lost.
Every soul whom Christ has rescued is called to work in His name for the saving of the lost. This work had been neglected in Israel. Is it not neglected today by those who profess to be Christ’s followers?