“The Ninety and Nine”

I’ve often marveled at the depth and profundity of many songs we find in our songbooks. I’ve also sometimes been disappointed that, for whatever reasons, some great songs seem to have faded from the church’s repertoire over the years. One such song is, “The Ninety and Nine” (number 241 in our songbook). Based upon the parable in Luke 15:3-7, this masterful combination of words and music forces Christians to examine the nature of our love for souls contrasted with the way God loves souls — the words are both humbling and thought-provoking.

Let’s examine several thoughts brought out by the author of this song as we consider our love for those who have strayed.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine; Are they not enough for Thee?” — It’s easy to get comfortable with the reality of loss. Retail stores have, “loss prevention” departments, and managers will tell you that their accountants routinely expect to lose up to ten percent of a given store’s merchandise through theft and neglect. Such losses are simply written off the balance sheets at the end of the quarter. Likewise, many churches seem to find it easy to “write off” those who are straying. They seem to be asking the Lord, “Don’t You already have enough?” Jesus clearly taught that God’s love will not allow Him to simply “write off” even one lost soul in this world (Luke 15:4). His message is important: as long as there is even one lost sheep in the world, the church has much work to do. Let’s not be complacent in our love for lost souls — with God, there is no such thing as an acceptable loss.

“But none of the ransomed ever knew how deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed thro’ Ere He found His sheep that was lost.” — Luke 15:3-7 teaches that while God is certainly interested in numbers, He never loses sight of the value of an individual. When souls are lost, the Good Shepherd will go to any length to prove His love and concern for them. Singing this verse, I’m reminded of the anguished words of Jesus from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). We’ll never know the full depth of agony He endured to ransom us from sin, for we simply don’t understand what it is like to be utterly forsaken by God. Jesus endured that kind of sorrow so that all men could be redeemed from sin, but His sacrifice was personal as well. God’s love for individuals is so great that Jesus still would have endured the cross even if only one person was lost. Oh, that more Christians had that kind of love for souls!

“There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven, ‘Rejoice! I have found My sheep!’” — Jesus said there would be greater joy in heaven over just one sinner who repents than over ninety nine who are already saved (Luke 15:7). Christians ought to derive a great deal of joy from the conversion and restoration of sinners. Often it’s tempting to have an “elder brother complex” and be bitter and resentful toward those who have come back to the Lord (Luke 15:28-32). If we have the same view of souls that God does, won’t we be genuinely glad when people turn to Him? Whatever causes heaven to rejoice ought to cause the faithful Christian to rejoice.

Perhaps it is time for all to examine their attitudes toward straying sheep. Whether the sheep are straying Christians or those who have never known God is not the point. Jesus wants all people to be safe, and safety is only found when He is the Shepherd of our lives. —JB