But before I get to that, I want to think with you about some of the popular opinions about the number one. Most of them, it seems to me, have negative connotations. The one exception would be when we think of number one as “the best.” Fans of sports teams that win championships chant the phrase, “We’re No. 1!”
Another way that one is used is seeing one’s self as “No. 1” — or the most important, as in “I’m just looking out for No. 1!”
But, in general, the number is thought of as low or small. The Three Dog Night had a song back in the day that gained a great deal of popularity. It was called “One is the Loneliest Number.” Of course, it had to do with a romantic breakup. Instead of enjoying life as a couple, the former guy is left to wallow in the sorrow of his loneliness. “It’s just no good anymore since she went away; Number one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”
Most of us have been there at some point, so we understand the meaning of the song. No one likes to be alone and all by themselves.
I guess that is why we are drawn to big numbers. They are more impressive. After all, what would you rather have — a hundred dollars or one dollar? That’s a no brainer, for sure!
We also like big numbers when it comes to attendance at public events such as concerts, football or baseball games, or even church services. Movies and television shows are evaluated on the number of viewers. If the numbers are low, the show gets canceled.
No doubt about it — we like big numbers and big crowds. One of the lasting impressions of my boyhood was attending a Billy Graham Crusade meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago. That was in the day before mega-television screens. I remember that I could hardly see Billy Graham the crowd was so big.
When we turn to the Bible, certainly there are references to great throngs of people. Moses led thousands of people out of Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. Multitudes of people came out to hear Jesus speak and see him perform miracles and wonders.
But what is also observable in the ministry of Jesus is his concern for the one. Despite his other responsibilities, he goes out of his way to go to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter. And in the midst of his journey to Jairus’ house, he stops to help a woman who had a bleeding hemorrhage. (Mark 5) When he chooses his followers, he calls them one by one. Jesus’ concern for the individual, the one, is unmistakable.
Probably the best example of God’s concern for the one is the well-known parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18. It is about a man who owns a hundred sheep, and when one of them wanders away, he goes out and looks for it. He doesn’t want any of his sheep be lost. Each one is precious. So when he finds it, Jesus says, the man is happier about that one sheep than the 99 that did not wander off. In conclusion, Jesus compares this loving shepherd to God: “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (verse 14)
Big numbers may be impressive to people, but the number one is extremely important to God. And that means you. He cares for you so much that He was willing to sacrifice His life on your behalf.
Indeed, God does not want anyone to perish, but that everyone should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) That is good news for every one!
— By the Rev. John Koedyker, Tribune community columnist and pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church, Grand Haven