99 Sheep Because I Just Lost One

Matthew 18:12-14

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? “And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. “Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

The sublime string and the context continue. Jesus is holding a very young child, as a visual aid, answering the disciples’ question, “Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” The response of Jesus is not, that one with faith like a child is greatest, but that, even to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must humble himself as a very small child–it’s a simile.

We continue in the context of Matthew 18, remembering that Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, Master of the metaphor, Prince of the parable, Regal of rhetoric and Sultan of the simile. We see a shift from the small child being representative of a disciple, to sheep as the representative, if only for a few short sentences.

Context is king, by it we see the shift to sheep from the child and capture some of the culture. You may no nothing about sheep but in the context Jesus reveals all you need to know–it’s contained in the content because Jesus is using rhetorical reasoning. Notice: “If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?”

Although the Bible is timeless, we can have some difficulty with the cultural content and time gaps. This is why a hermeneutical tool, such as the CAGED method is important. In this particular case we see the Context: “If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?” We learn much from simply reading and considering the context. The time and culture may be unfamiliar to us, but we can usually overcome much of this gap simply by letting the context,  which quite often is very detailed, unfold. The key to unlocking the vitamin C, in the CAGED method, is that one must read much more than a verse or two.

We can also expand our understanding by considering the Aspirations of the Author to his Audience. This vitamin, A, is usually the most difficult to derive, and is usually very reliant upon the context. However, if when reading, one looks for the author’s aspirations to his audience, it helps unlock the context. Again, like vitamin C, vitamin A, requires reading. Sometimes the author states his aspiration, such as John in the book of Revelation; “to show his servants what must soon take place.” The key to unlocking the vitamin A, is to be constantly looking for the reason that the writer writes.

Genre, the vitamin G, should be self explanatory–one doesn’t buy a rock and roll album expecting to hear classical baroque. I have never read a poetry book to learn how to make Baked Alaska, nor does one pick up a newspaper and expect nothing but opinion. Ok, bad example. Perhaps that is why we struggle with the genres in the Bible, because blurred are the lines that separate fact from farce in our culture. What genre is Twitter or Instagram? I’d say it is like many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers’ sermons, regurgitated. Where is the one with the original thought? But I digress. The other difficulty with Biblical genres are that they are unfamiliar to us, Revelation being the greatest example, Ezekiel also, and even Isaiah. Their heavy use of imagery and numbers can be confusing to us because we simply don’t write like that. Psalms and Proverbs are poetry but distinct from each other. Proverbs’ genre is proverbs and Psalms’ is psalms. The problem we have with Proverbs is that we think that they are promises when in fact, they are precepts. It is why I write, Genre is the general, it is the rudder that steers the ship. While historical books in the Bible contain prophecy, the main focus is on the history. Psalms contains much prophecy but it is a book of poems. The key to unlocking the genre is usually contained in the Bible book’s title or within the first few phrase. The difficulty is seeing the sub-genres. However, reading the entire context will unlock most sub-genres, such as, “Jesus spoke to them another parable.”

Expository Exegesis of Examples enlightens the reader and highlights the context by letting the Scripture interpret Scripture. The vitamin E, is used to see what other books of the Bible have to say concerning the context. We have our Old Testament Tutor to consider. Much of the New Testament quotes passages from the Old Testament and it is essential that we consider both the context of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The key to unlocking vitamin E, is research. One reason that I am a die-hard NASB reader is because the Old Testament quotes are in all-caps, making them easier to see. One major difficulty is that it takes time. Even with a study Bible that tells one the reference, one still must flip through, find, read, re-read, consider and read again, seeing how the passages are tied together. Like everything else that’s worthwhile, it takes time. Another even more major difficulty is seeing allusions that are not verbatim quotes, such as. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” This verse from Isaiah is extremely relevant to today’s text, and also helps us deal with the cultural and time gaps by seeing more of  sheep. But neither Matthew nor Jesus make the connection. It doesn’t mean that we cannot make a connection but that we must use Spiritual discernment, discipline and take our final vitamin.

Dividing rightly the Word of truth is essential so that we don’t rip verses out of context and string them together apart from the sublime string that is woven throughout the Bible. Is the Bible a whole book made up of 66 smaller books? Of course it is and the Bible interprets the Bible. Nevertheless there are many verses that cannot stand alone, much less coupled with other verses. We must also remember that the chapters and verses were added much later for ease of reference. The key to unlocking vitamin D, is prayer, pondering, poking, prodding, pulling of one’s hair but most importantly, it is the combination of all the other vitamins and letting one’s mind be changed. If you go looking to prove something, you’ll probably be able to do it. In 66 books worth of content, somewhere you’ll be able to manipulate enough Scripture to state your case. But that is not why the Bible was written. It was written to completely and thoroughly change our minds and grow us in grace. Vitamin D also helps us deal with Old Testament traditions that are no longer applicable today. When one is confronted with whether to circumcise, read what Paul writes, along with Joshua 5, where the sons of Israel, a whole new generation, were all circumcised together at Gibeath-haaraloth. Any Biblical scholars out there who would care to comment? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? If you think that’s bad, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I have no skin in this.

Once again, here is the context, let’s consider it, remembering to take our vitamins and remembering the previous context and the sublime string: “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”

“What do you think?” An interrogative approach–interesting. Jesus rhetorically, in order to get their mind’s moving, asks what they think. Does Jesus want to know what they think? We’ve read previously, in Matthew; “Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” As well as; “And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?'” Jesus most likely knew exactly what the disciples were thinking and what they would think about his metaphor. It’s precisely the reason that he uses this illustration of sheep. They were mostly fishermen but in that culture and in that time, sheep were synonymous with income, food, sacrifice, personal property and of course, money–sort of, but it’s the easiest way for us to understand what they understood. That is, sheep have value. 

“If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?” Numbers are important in the Bible but in some cases they are not as important as others. I believe that Jesus uses the number 100, because it is large compared to one and because it is easy to remember and contemplate. Especially when you remove the one and 99 are left. Still a large number compared with the one. Also, the disciples are like us, if he had said a thousand sheep, they would equate that with being wealthy and miss the point. I searched for spiritual significance in the number 100. It’s found, and I could share a few with you, like 1 Samuel 18:25, but that would only be the tip of the sword of Scripture. Nevertheless, I do see some spiritual significance but that significance is simply, it is a large number compared with one. Also, it is a believable number, which is easy to remember.

Notice; “does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one…” 100-1=99. It’s simple math for simple people. Out of 100 sheep, who metaphorically represent the disciples of Jesus, one has gone astray leaving 99 on the metaphorical mountain. The man, metaphorically speaking is Jesus, he leaves the 99 on the mountain to hunt down the one who has gone astray.

Oh, but that could be big trouble, the 99 might wander off while the man is searching for the one. Admit it, you thought that. I did too. I’m sure the disciples thought that as well but it is not the point Jesus makes–that is our minds wandering away, not sheep. Metaphors are not to be taken literally but are used to illustrate something. Jesus is not illustrating 99 wandering but 99 staying and one wandering. And the man is going to find the one.

“And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.” Jesus rejoices in finding the wandering disciple. And that is why I write!

I don’t know where you are or what you believe. But you have read this far please keep reading. Not only my missives, because that’s all they are. But the Bible, in its context, in the way in which it was written. Examine examples, ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience, jive with the genres and dig deep to divide rightly the word of truth. Turn off the television and reject radio rascals, who want your money but couldn’t care less about your souls. The Bible is an ocean of all encompassing elements of life, true life, abundant life, not the American dream, which is actually a nightmare. We are here to know God and the Bible is his words, which are all to easy to take out of context unless we swim in the ocean.

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I don’t know where you are, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your story. Perhaps you are only reading this because you are an atheist and you like to make fun of Christians. Welcome, I am glad you are here. Let me have it. I make a good target. Leave a comment and we’ll talk. Perhaps you have been hurt by a church and are a wandering disciple. Maybe you think you’re doing fine but realize by reading that you don’t know God like you thought you did. It could be that you’re a Bible professor and picked up on my several circumcision jokes. Or did you ask Jesus into your heart when you were young but walked away? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but if you weren’t changed, you weren’t born again. Yet I rejoice because there is good news, Jesus saves, it is never to late if you are reading this. Change your mind! Jesus goes after the one. But to those who think that the wandering one is not brought back to the flock, think again. Jesus is the savior of one, but they are all brought into the flock…and there is much rejoicing, more for the one returning than for those who stayed

“Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” The sheep metaphor has ceased and the focus swings back to the tiny toddler in the arms of Jesus. Remember that the child and the sheep represent the disciple. Come to Jesus, read the Bible, consider the context and return to the flock.

To those who are in the 99, search for the one. Read the Bible, consider the context and grow grace.

Things are about to get heavy…

 

 

 

 

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