The Ninety and Nine

Posted on August 7, 2013

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Our Wednesday service has been reading through Luke’s gospel consecutively each week. We have just concluded Luke 15, a favorite chapter of many. Jesus tells there the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons. Those of you who have read Luke 15 with frequency as I have done and have grown to love it as I have done may well have been struck by something and that is that although great mention has been made of the celebration over one sinner who repents in the parables, there is however no mention made of any cost whatsover to our heavenly Father in rescuing the lost.

Liberal scholarship looks at this and says this is because the message of Jesus was different from the message of the apostles and that Jesus’ message of salvation was a different message of salvation than the one that was invented by the Apostle Paul. And that he is the one who inserted all this atonement imagery, all this death, propitiation and bloody sacrifice.

This may strike you as a surprise because you’ve never consider such a thing. But to the extent that the day may come that someone says that to you, I want you to know that it needs to be addressed by taking everything that we have in the Bible and setting within all the unfolding truth of Scripture so that not everything is mentioned and recorded for us in every passage. This is the principle for bridling our understanding within the bounds of Scripture itself.

To suggest that what Jesus is doing here is setting aside everything that is involved in his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross is frankly ludicrous. However, it does not prevent people from doing so. We need then to understand these parables in light of Romans 8, for example where we read that God did not spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. And when we learn elsewhere in the Gospels that the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep or that the Father has made Jesus to be sin for us so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him, and so on.

We must keep these facts in mind when we read these parables of Luke 15:

  • That God delights to forgive sins on the basis of the death and resurrection of his Son.
  • That God is intent that sinners should upon their conversion become his sons and daughters.
  • That God has in every instance provided the means for this to take place at the cross.

I have also been greatly helped in being reminded of these facts by grabbing an old hymnal and reading through one of the classic hymns of Protestant hymnody on the relevant topic. One them, “The Ninety and Nine” gather all that I have written of Luke 15 into simple poetic lines concerning the first parable:

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless and ready to die;
Sick and helpless and ready to die.

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn;
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”