“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” Matthew 18:12
Maybe you’re like me and when you first read this verse you thought, “This is such a comforting promise, that Jesus would come in search of me if ever I go astray. Even to the point of leaving those who have never gone astray.” And while that is a very comforting thought, and certainly true, I believe this verse conveys a larger and more magnificent message than we might initially understand.
During His time on earth, Jesus made it clear that we do not choose Him – but He chooses us. We could never make the choice to come to God on our own. Maybe you came to know Christ because someone shared the gospel with you personally. Or maybe you heard of Him while surfing the radio and stumbling onto a Christian radio station. And just maybe it was something more supernatural such as a visitation in a dream or a vision. Maybe you don’t yet know Him as your Lord and Savior. Whatever the situation, you can be assured that meeting Him is never by happenstance.
A random encounter
In the following story, Jesus seemingly happens to visit a random shoreline where he runs into a random man who has been possessed by demons for so long that his body is all but destroyed, and he is no longer in control of his own mind.
“They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
“Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
“Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to implore Him to leave their region.“
It’s even more awesome when you back up and read what Jesus was doing just before and after this random encounter. Chapter 4 of the book of Mark tells us that,
“He [Jesus] began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. On that day, when evening came, He [Jesus] said to them [his disciples], ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.” Mark 4:1, 35
Jesus started His day by the seashore with a very large crowd gathered around Him, to hear Him teach. We don’t know how long He was there teaching before He decidedly leaves the crowd for the other side, but it’s clear that they were all still there and had borne the heat of the day to be with Him. So devoted were they that some even decided to follow Him in their own boats. It’s at this point, where the story above picks up.
Fast forward, and Jesus is getting back into His boat to leave after his encounter with the man in the tombs:
“As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. Mark 5:18-21
Wait, what was that?
Notice anything.. interesting? Let’s change the font and read it again. “When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore.” What, what was that? So, Jesus was on the shore teaching a big crowd of people then decides to leave them and go to the other side; He just happens to run into a demoniac; casts out his demons and heals him; then goes back to the other side and picks up where He left off?
YES! He left the 99!
The thousands who had come to hear Him teach..
The crowd that was so dedicated to stay with Him all day long.
To seek out ONE man..
In a region mostly inhabited by pagans.
Living in the tombs and possessed by a legion of demons.
He healed him. He saved him. And He sent him.
Then He returned to the crowd that was waiting for Him.
He was that one lost sheep!
Think about this: Before this man was born, his appointment with the Savior was set. How do I know that? Because the Bible tells me so: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16
In a world of 7.6 billion people and growing, it’s easy to feel invisible and insignificant. But to Jesus, each of us is that ONE precious sheep, set apart from everyone else. And each one of us has an appointment with Him that has been set from the foundation of the world. Just you and Him. Just me and Him. Our special day, where He leaves the 99 to bring us into His fold.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” ~Isaiah 53:6
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” ~Luke 19:10