308 The One that got away!


In today’s Gospel, Jesus told a story about a man with a Hundred Sheep.   In the story, one of the sheep had gotten away from the rest and was lost, and the loving shepherd left the rest to go in search of that one.   Jesus said:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” Luke 15:4 Prompted by the Holy Spirit to this Scripture and this subject

my Sermon today is entitled,

“The One that got away!”


Have you ever left your glasses down, or your pen down when the phone rang and spent the greater part of the rest of the day looking or searching for them?   I did this a while ago and found my glasses in the “”Hot Press” of all places!   Why on earth I had left them down there, I will never know?

When something is LOST usually the result is a bit of a heart-ache and head-ache until it is found.   Losing “Car-Keys” can often create a real dilemma?   Imagine then what it must be like to lose a loved one – that has its own heartache.   I am not speaking now of bereavement, but rather of those awful stories of “missing people”.   Your Husband goes out on a Saturday Morning for a Newspaper, just 100 yards to the corner shop, but that’s the last you ever see of him, he just disappeared. Or your Child goes off to School as usual, school-bag in hand, smile on the face, maybe even kisses you good-bye, and never turns up for school, and that’s the last time anyone anywhere saw them? What a head-ache, and what a heart-ache it must be.   Indeed I recon that it must be even worse than death, there can be no closure, no answers, no end to the awful agony.     There could be many different reasons why these folk “disappear” and I could not begin to image any of them, suffice to say that it is a heart-ache one would not want.


Imagine how God feels when even one of His Children is lost?

Returning to the Story of the 100 sheep and the one that got away, there could be many lessons drawn from it, and many of them wonderful and inspiring no doubt. To me these observations have already been made by Elizabeth Clephane who penned the beautiful Hymn, “The Ninety and Nine”. This is one of my most favourite Hymns and I could do no better today than to take that Hymn and exegete it, open it up, look at it and ponder its great themes, in an effort to grasp the significance of the Parable of the 100, and the one that got away.


{The Ninety & Nine} The Hymn Begins…

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.
This verse speaks of the security and safety of the flock of God, abiding in the shelter of the Loving Shepherds care.   It is a picture of those who have trusted in Jesus, made him their Saviour and their Friend and gladly accepted his watchful eye over them. Here they are safe from the Wolf or the enemy, here they have nothing to fear, here they have provision, protection and peace.   But there was one that got away. One was out on the hills away, far off … far away. You might ask, why would one of Gods Children stray away, and stay away from such a family fold?  But then ask yourself, why would Adam and Eve have risked losing everything in their beautiful Garden World they called Eden, to take one bite from the “forbidden fruit”?   They too lived in the wonderful protection, provision and peace of God, but they too ended up away, far away from the tender Shepherds care.


The Hymn writer depicts wild and bare Mountains, this conjures up pictures of stormy and cold nights, a howling and biting wind, a fearful and fierce storm. Thus it can be when one gets away from God, far away from him.   Away from his care anything can happen, we can manufacture for ourselves all kinds of problems and pains.   Sadly there have been many fine Christians who have left the safety and shelter of the flock of God and his sheep-fold, for those wild and bare mountains. Perhaps something in their past, had not been surrendered and still held its power to pull them away and pull them down?   True repentance means a turning away from the past, letting everything go, and surrendering all to Jesus.   Notice I have not referred to this sheep as the LOST sheep, rather as “the one that got away”. I don’t hold that Gods children can be saved today and lost tomorrow, but I do believe that they can be saved and get away from God.   Have you gotten away from God today?


The second verse of the Hymn reads:

“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.”


Initially this verse shows us that God will never abandon any of his children.   “Lord thou hast here thy ninety and nine” –

99 sheep is a good flock, a reasonable farm, a good days work in tending, feeding, caring, lambing, sheering, and all the other things that sheep need, … why would a Shepherd miss one, why would he not just settle for 99?   My parents had five Children, and there were many nights when four of us were tucked up safely in our beds, but one was still out. I don’t believe that my Mother ever slept a wink until the door opened and her last remaining child climbed the stairs to bed.


You see LOVE cannot abandon the object of that love.   Even when that person is missing, love is not missing. When that person is lost, love is not lost. Even when that person has died, love has not died. So 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.”


Even as I write this I see a tear in the eye of the Shepherd as He sets out on a dark and deserted road in search of his loved one.   Jesus weeps when his children stray.   Our waywardness our lack of commitment, our unbelief and infidelity break his heart.   But even then, he will not abandon us, he will come looking for us, he will come down to the depths where we are to lift us up to the heights where he is.


Remember the words of the prophet Hosea “How can I give you up Oh Ephraim”(Hos 11:8 ) God cannot lose even one. If you are like that one that got away, then I have news for you, he is coming looking for you right now.   The Hymn writer uses the words “rough and steep” to describe the road journeyed by the Shepherd in search of the straying one. This is very significant, in that roughness speaks of hardship and steepness speaks of struggle. Its a hard road, its a road of struggle but Jesus has already travelled it in search of many a lost wayward child.

To the wayward, giving up the “things of the world” for the “things of the Kingdom of God” is never easy, letting go of the familiar for the unfamiliar and the new, is a struggle.   Today you may be that lost one, you may be sitting right now in a place of darkness or desertion, – you once knew the peace and protection of a loving Heavenly Father and a Caring Heavenly Shepherd, but you got away. You wandered off and now in a deserted dark and desperate place you feel alone frightened and cold. But Jesus has set out to meet you, to save you, to pardon you, to restore you, to refresh and remake you. He is on his way for you right now, and I firmly believe that today you can hear his voice calling you.   I beg you to come home, to come back to him now.


This brings us to the third verse of the hymn, which reads;
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;


The writing of today’s sermon has been a moving experience for me, in that its message brings back memories of my own waywardness, my own disobediences, and my own failings. You see we all have been that “one that got away” at some time or other in our lives and experience. We may not all admit it publicly, but God knows and Heaven will reveal just how often the Lord has had to come in search of our wayward souls. Maybe the Lord went through deep waters to find you, you were well sinking in the depths of despair and hopelessness. Maybe He came through dark nights and into dark places where no one else would have expected to find you, in a desert, deserted place, where you were sick and helpless and ready to die.   Your wife did not know you were there, your children did not expect their Daddy to be there, your colleagues would be horrified to think you were there,- but there you were … and Jesus knew it.


He came down to the depths of your desperation to lift you out and lift you up. I know it, for he did it for me!   Did you notice that line that says “He heard its cry” for God hears you cry. He sees your tears when no one else can, he hears you cry and feels your pain.


A while ago I was sitting in my car at the Loughbrickland Lake reading.   I had the window of the car down and was enjoying the warm sunshine. I heard a sheep bleating, and paid no attention to it, the fields around me were full of sheep.   Yet the sheep’s cry continued and I reckoned that it might be in difficulty. So leaving and locking my car I jumped over the gate and headed up the field to find a sheep caught fast in the wire fencing. Without wire cutters I was unable to help, but I quickly located the Farmer who freed the sheep. Had I not heard that cry, the sheep might well have perished. God hears the cry of those in pain, and those who have gotten away from him, that is why He comes in search of those who are lost.   That is why he sent Jesus for a Lost world.   If you are crying right now,

God knows it!


The fourth verse of the Hymn reads:


“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.”


The Shepherd will often bear the scars on his hands of the many

efforts to release the sheep from thorns and thickets. Sheep have a habit of getting themselves into the most dangerous and difficult places and freeing them is never easy.   When God heard the cries of this Lost and Sinful world, He sent his only begotten Son, the Good Shepherd, to lay down his life for the sheep. His hands were wounded, as were his feet, his head, and his side. His body was torn and tortured for your sake and mine, and as Isaiah the Prophet reminds us, “… he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him on Jesus – the iniquity of us all”. (Isaiah 53: 5-6)


If only we could glimpse a little of what it cost our blessed Lord Jesus to redeem us, the pain, the agony, the suffering, the hurts he carried for us, we would gladly surrender our all to him and come home, home to his heart of love.   Are you still straying or are you sick, helpless and ready to die?   Jesus Loves you, the good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, the Lord Jesus died so that you might live. Come home today. One thing you will never hear God say is “I don’t love you any more”.

It’s not possible. Gods love is unending.


The final verse of the Hymn reads:


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!”


Luke 15 tells us that the Shepherd, when he has found the one that got away, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance”.

Did you know that? Did you know that in Heaven they have a party, a celebration to mark the return of every wayward child, the lost sheep? All Heaven will applaud and the angels will sing around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”


But not only Heaven will be impacted by your return and by the end of your back-sliding, the world could yet know the benefit of such a return. Who knows the ambition in the heart of God for any of his children? Who knows just what God can do with you, were you back in the fold, back in his care and back under his control.   It seems almost foolish that the Shepherd would leave 99 and go in search of One, but it may be that ONE soul that is vital, a vital link in the chain, a vital piece of the

jig-saw, a vital cog in the wheel of Gods plan and Gods purpose.


Many of you will remember that the great Concorde was downed because a small piece got away, and the Space Shuttle disintegrated on re-entry into our earths atmosphere, because a few small tiles were missing. Many a grand scheme or plan has fallen by the wayside, because the designer overlooked the tiniest detail.


Who knows what great plan of God may depend on you, what great Harvest might be gathered if you are there in the field, what great storehouse might be opened if you are there at the door, what great victory might be won, if you are there in the battle. Goliath was silenced by a small pebble, and Heaven might be filled by your small sacrifice.   The Lord has not abandoned you even though you have abandoned him, he has followed you to this very moment, not willing to let you go, not willing to see you die, not willing to leave you to Self or Satan.   He is ready now to lift you and carry you back in his loving arms, back to his care and back to his comfort, back to his heart and back to his home.


Now this final word


Many years ago there lived at Northfield Massachusetts a man who could best be described as a rebellious rogue; and one day, while all the neighbours had gone to the meeting at the nearby church, he sat at home alone feeling dissatisfied with himself and all the world in general. But from the Church he overheard the great Mr. Sankey singing this Hymn “The Ninety and Nine”; and there was something in the hymn that he could not escape. The melody rang in his ears, and the thought of that lost sheep troubled him that night, and the next, and the following day until the evening, when he could stand it no longer. He went to the Church meeting and returned a changed and converted man.

A few years later he was taken ill. One day he said to his wife, “Raise the window; I hear them singing ‘The Ninety and Nine.’” Then he listened attentively until the last notes of the hymn had died out; and turning from the window he said, “I am dying; but it is all right, for I am ready. I shall never hear ‘The Ninety and Nine’ again on earth, but I am glad that I have heard it once more today.”


In a moment we will end our Service with this lovely Hymn, which was written by Elizabeth Clephane and the music by Ira D. Sankey, and it could be that you too will never hear it again? Wouldn’t it be tragic if this lovely Hymn failed to impact your life, if this lovely Biblical Parable failed to reach your heart as it has mine.   If you are that “one that got away” then I can tell you that all Heaven will rejoice today if you come back, so come home to Jesus, and do it now.   God says, “Return … and I will heal your backslidings” Jeremiah 3:22.


May God Bless this word, this precious word to all our Hearts

– Amen.