My professor made a passing comment over 25 years ago that I have not been able to shake. It was a class on the book of Matthew, and we reached chapter 10. In this chapter, Jesus is sending out his 12 disciples on a mission to preach about the kingdom of God. As he sends them out, he tells them to go to “the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6).” It is a phrase that Jesus will use to describe his ministry in Matthew 15:24.
The wise and learned professor paused and said something like, “That is a powerful phrase, to imagine the people of God being lost.” At that moment the tone of his voice changed, and the look on his face expressed that this was a painful and real issue in his mind.
After all these years I have continued to think of that one scene in my college class. Through the years I have developed a level of curiosity in this statement by Jesus. The first part is easy to understand. Sheep get lost. That is why the story in Luke 15 of the good shepherd is simple to connect with in a meaningful way. We all make mistakes and get lost on our journey of life if only for a few minutes.
The second part of the statement by Jesus is this unexpected finish. Israel is a title given to the Jewish nation. These people believed and followed the Old Testament as their guide for life and practice. They were a group who supposedly had their life rooted in following God. And yet, Jesus calls them lost.
Is it possible for people who claim to follow God really to be lost and in need of salvation?
The hard answer that Jesus gives us is, “yes.”
One of the primary reasons this phrase by Jesus is so troublesome is because the possibility seems to exist today still. People are living in every community that could be called the “lost sheep of the Church.” These are people who have a general belief in God and yet deny it with their life. Craig Groeschel calls them “practical atheists.”
It is possible to stay close to God physically and yet wander away from him spiritually. Our bodies are in the right places at the right time while our soul is distant. We can praise him with our lips while our hearts are far from him (Matthew 15:8).
A true believer must live in a continual state of self-analysis. Do our actions line up with what we say we believe? Is our heart seeking the things of God above all else?
My professor was right. It is a thought that makes me cringe. To think that people who claim to know God and his son are really lost. It is this thought that pushes my faith to be more than mere words every day. Hopefully, it scares you a little too. I hope this idea puts enough fear into you that you will live a life of total devotion and no one will never call you lost, especially Jesus.