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About this series
One at a Time
The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World
Have you ever considered the remarkable impact Jesus has had on history? Think about it… He lived over 2000 years ago and only had a small group of followers. Yet fast forward to today, Christianity is the leading world religion. So what was Jesus’ secret? In this 8-part series, guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the unexpectedly simple practices Jesus used to change our world. Don’t miss how you and I can continue the work He started… one interaction, one conversation, one life.. at a time.More from this series
Jesus had a way of zooming in on the very people the religious community cropped out.
Verse 2 says, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law,” so these are the religious leaders, “muttered,” complained, whispered in critical tones amongst themselves, “This man, Jesus…He welcomes sinners and He eats with them.” Yeah, He does. Like, they meant this as a criticism, but this is why Jesus came: to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor; it’s the sick.”
How did Jesus have that kind of vision for people? I think it’s because He zoomed in and He saw them as a son and daughter, right? Like, He doesn’t just see a tax collector; He sees a son. And He knows the story of His son. And He knows that when he was a younger man, he just…he got off track. And he didn’t have much, and he thought his life would be so much easier if he just had a little bit more money, if he just had some more stuff. And so in this moment that he wishes he could take back, he walked away, turned his back on his family and his friends, and he went to work for the Romans as a tax collector.
Now that’s who he is. He wishes he could do things differently, but he can’t. Like, there’s no path back to the man that he knows God wants him to be…until he sees Jesus. Jesus sees him. He doesn’t just see a tax collector. He zooms in and He sees a son. He doesn’t just see a prostitute; He sees a daughter, and He knows…He knows that this isn’t really what she chose. He knows about the abuse. He knows about the objectification. He knows the way that she’s been treated. And He looks and He sees something in her that nobody else…He sees a daughter. Some of my favorite moments in the Gospels are when Jesus unexpectedly refers to someone as a son or a daughter.
And this is how God sees you. That there are billions of people in the world, but He sees you as His son, as His daughter. St. Augustine says, “He loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” That’s how He loves you. And the religious leaders didn’t understand it. Like, this isn’t how they saw people. So Jesus wants them to better understand His perspective and how He sees people.
On our Unleashed Magazine, is one of our longtime ministry partners. His name is Loyal Thurman, and Loyal started a ministry, I think, a couple of decades ago, where he reaches people who are a part of the underground subculture—so atheists, agnostics, neo-pagans, witches, satanists. And in the article, I love what he said. He said, “We go to groups who don’t like Christians.”
Specifically, like that’s who they target. “God opens doors for us to be good friends with these people. We live life with them. They are far from church and far from God, but He put a love in our hearts for them. They are our friends. And some people think they are unreachable. That is not true. Nothing is lost if God says it’s not lost. He always goes after the one.”
And that’s the point of this parable that Jesus is going to tell. He wants these religious leaders…He wants religious people to have His eyes for “one at a time.” Verse 3: “So Jesus told them this story: ‘If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do?’” (NLT). They probably knew the answer to this question. I don’t really know. Like, I’m not sure. If you have a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what do you do? Part of me, without knowing the rest of the story, says, “Mmm…don’t worry about it,” right? I mean, you have a hundred. If you lose one, another one will come along. Like, one is easy to replace. And honestly, if you’ve got a hundred and one goes missing, would you even notice it?
In those days, a large herd…or flock, I guess…not really sure…let’s go with flock. Is it flock? Herd. Flock. A large group of sheep… Let’s just imagine. In those days, a large group of sheep was like twenty to thirty sheep. To me, a large group of sheep…anything over one would…I’m like, “That’s a lot.” If you’ve got two sheep, you’ve got a lot of sheep, from my perspective. But in those days, it was twenty to thirty sheep…would be a lot of sheep. Jesus, specifically, picks a number here that would be, you know, whatever…three, four times the amount of sheep that would be considered large.
And I think one of the points that He is making is…you’ve got a hundred. If one goes, you’ve still got three times as…four times as much as a person with a large flock. Do you…? Do you really care about that one? Jesus says, “Of course you do.” “Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Of course you do. And Jesus is helping these religious people understand that He sees each sheep as His own.
So for a long time, I would have taught…or perhaps interpreted this parable…lost meaning “someone who wasn’t a Christian, someone who was outside of the church.” But really, what you have here is someone who was a part of the flock, a part of the community, but wanders off. And Jesus says, “That one is mine. I’m going to go after that one.” And for some of you that is what’s happening right now. You have wandered off, and maybe this isn’t the first time. And He brought you back, and He brought you back, and now He’s bringing you back again.
And He comes after…He comes after the one, because you are His. He’s not giving up on you. He keeps coming after you. He’ll keep coming after you. That’s what He does. He is the Good Shepherd. You’re His. You belong to Him. He sees you as His own.
If you’re driving down the freeway…this is true for all of us…you pass, on the side of the road, cars that have been left there for different reasons. Maybe somebody ran out of gas. Maybe there was an accident. Maybe their car broke down on the side of the road. But…but it happens a lot. Or they ran off the road because it was a little snowy and icy out and they don’t know how to drive on that. And so we all pass cars like that, so much so that we don’t really notice. Like, if I said to you, “Hey, on your way into church, did you see the car off of the 265?” You’d be like, “I don’t remember seeing that.” Well, no, I mean, you don’t. It doesn’t jump out to you because there are always cars off the side of the road.
But this week, I noticed this white SUV. I noticed it on my way to work. I noticed it on my way home from work. Like, each day, I’m like, “Oh, there’s that car. There’s the car.” Paid attention. I slowed down each time to look at it a little bit more closely. And do you know why? Because it’s mine. That’s my car. That’s my car on the side of the road. I’m going to get it towed. It’s been a busy few days, but…and they’ve been busy pulling other people out. Anyway…I see it because it belongs to me. For the last, I don’t know, little while, I’ve been driving this car that’s pushing a couple hundred thousand miles. My wife would be like, “How long are you going to drive that?” I’m like, “Until the wheels come off,” and then…that happened! The wheel came off! I didn’t know that was a thing. That’s a thing. It just came off. And now I see it. I see it on the way home. Why? Because it belongs to me.
When it belongs to you, you notice it because it’s yours. You have some responsibility for it. You’re supposed to take care of it. And the Bible would teach us that this is how Jesus sees each one of the flock. “He belongs to me. She belongs to me. This is My son. This is My daughter.” He zooms in. That’s how He sees us. And so our prayer is, “Jesus, give me Your eyes. Help me to see people the way that You see people. Help me to have eyes for the one.”
Verse 5 says… the shepherd goes off. He searches for the one. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” He doesn’t curse it out, beat it with His staff until it gets back to the flock. He picks it up, rescues it, and goes back home. “And he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” “I found this one.” “We already got ninety-nine! Are we going to really celebrate because you went out and found the one?” “Yep. Yep, we are. That’s what we’re going to celebrate.” “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.” This is the heart of Jesus. And this is the heart of His church.
And as a church, we will always emphasize reaching those who are lost, reaching those the people who were a part of the flock and we’re not sure what happened to them. And when they come back, they don’t come back to shame and guilt; they come back to a celebration. They come back to love and acceptance and an open-armed embrace. So Jesus loves people with a zoom lens. He sees them.
There is someone in your life right now who needs to be seen by you. I don’t know who it is. I don’t know if you know who it is. Maybe you know right away, or maybe this is a prayer. “God, who is the one person who You want me to see? Who’s the one person who You want to make sure doesn’t go unseen?” There’s a lot of power when someone knows they’ve been seen.
But who you are, who He’s made you to be, the the path that you’re on, the circle of influences that you have—He wants you to see the one. He wants them to be seen by you because you…you represent Him if you’re a follower of Christ.
I have a friend who’s a pastor, and he was telling me that there were four people in his church that quit coming during, like, the social-distancing time of the pandemic. Like, they just…they got out of the habit. They never came back. And he kept looking for them, kept waiting for them to come back. They didn’t come back. And so he just decided he was going to text them every week until they came back. Just shoot ‘em a text. Just say, “Hey, I didn’t see you at church this weekend. Miss you. How can I pray for you? Everything going okay?” Within in a few weeks, all four of them were back. Why? Because there’s something really powerful about being seen, about being cared for.
It’s especially true if the person is going through some kind of a difficult time, a challenging time. Just being noticed. Don’t underestimate this. Don’t underestimate how God will use you if you just…if you send a text and check up on someone, if you take somebody a cup of coffee, give them a word of encouragement.
I have a buddy in the church who’s a pharmacist, but he’ll send me a prayer, a recorded prayer, text prayer. Records it. Voice texts it to me. And maybe once a month…but they come at strategic times, and I listen to it while I’m driving. I feel seen by him, but I feel seen by God when I feel seen by him. Do you know what I mean?
And God wants to do this through you for some “one at a time people” in your life. And I don’t know what that would look like, and I don’t know who that is. But I want you to think about that. “God, who…? Who do You want me to see? Who needs to be seen by You?”
Again and again in the Gospels, we read that Jesus saw. Like, that’s the common language. And when He saw people, He would see, oftentimes, a need that they have. So in John 5, He…the Bible says Jesus saw a crippled man. And in John 6, Jesus saw people who were hungry. In Matthew 9:36, “Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus saw. And He saw them, and He saw a need that they had.
Verse 3 says that there was a search involved. It doesn’t always happen immediately. Like, sometimes you only see because you keep looking. And it speaks of the sheep who has wandered off.
I was reading this week that sheep wander off for a few reasons. One, they blindly graze. I thought this was interesting. Like, they don’t intentionally wander off. It’s not some act of rebellion, where they say, “I’ve had enough of this flock. I’m out.” Like, they just have a little bit and a little bit of grass, and they look over here and there’s some grass. And before long, their appetite has caused them to wander away. And they have followed their appetite, and they look up and realize, “I’m alone and I am in trouble.”
This is where some of you are. You didn’t mean to. It wasn’t your plan. It just happened. You chased a certain appetite, and you’ve wandered and wandered and wandered. And now you look up, and you’re by yourself and you’re not sure how to get back, and you’re in trouble.
The other kind of sheep…the way that sheep…a sheep will wander is by following, blindly following. Like, one sheep wanders off while grazing, but then another sheep blindly follows. And another sheep and another sheep.
I was reading about this story in Turkey in 2005 where some shepherds took a break, went over and had breakfast, and they had this flock of 1500 sheep. And one of them wandered off and grazed and went right off the edge of a cliff. And then another one, and then another one, and another one. All 1500 of them went off the edge of this cliff! The good news is…this is true…sounds like a joke…the good news is only, like, 500 of them died, because eventually it provided a nice pillow effect. But…I know, right? But…google it. It’s a thing. They just…one after another, after another.
And this is how some of us have found ourselves lost at different times. We just followed one, and then before we knew it, we were in trouble. Maybe you have wandered away because of an appetite. Maybe you were just following someone else. But it happened. And Jesus sees you. He’s come for you. He wants to put you on His shoulders and bring you back. You’re welcome here. You’re wanted here. We will celebrate when you come home.
I know that whenever you teach a parable…this is true with really any story…there’s this natural tendency, perhaps subconscious, to say, “Who am I in the story?” A lot of us tend to think of ourselves as the shepherd. I’m the rescuer.” No, you’re not. You’re the sheep. You’re the lost sheep. You’re either the lost sheep who has been found, or you are the lost sheep that He is searching for.
I talked to a young lady, maybe mid-twenties, and she said, “I haven’t been to church for a long time.” I said, “I’m really glad you’re here.” She said, “But I have been searching for God a long time. I’m going to keep searching.” “Okay.” I said, “Can I tell you something? I understand what you mean when you say you’re searching for God. But you need to understand that God is not lost. God’s not lost. Maybe what you need to do instead of searching is just stop hiding. Because He’s searching for you.”
This is Genesis chapter 3. Sin enters the world. Adam and Eve’s first response is to hide from God. God searches for them. God is searching for you. Some of you think you’ve been searching for God, but really what you’ve been doing is looking in certain places for a certain kind of god. What you need to do is just come out from hiding so that you can be found by Him. If you’re ready to do that, He is ready to put you on His shoulders. And if you need a flock, He’ll bring you here. We’ll surround you. We’ll be in this together, loved and cared for by the Shepherd.