The Parable of the Lost Sheep Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
While our Lord was here on earth, He was continually pursuing lost souls. He was seeking lost men and women, and for that reason, He intentionally placed Himself, where He could come into contact with them, and He was so kind to them, that they crowd around Him, to hear Him speak. His audience was an odd assembly and a disreputable crowd. I am not surprised that the Pharisee, when he saw the congregation, sneered and said, “He collects around Him the outsiders of our community, the degraded men who collect taxes for the Romans, the prostitutes of the town and all the riffraff. Instead of giving them the cold-shoulder, He welcomes them and makes friends with them. He even eats with them. I heard that He went to the house of Zaccheus, and to Levi’s house and that He ate there with those low-class people.”
The Pharisees thought as unfavorably of Jesus as they possibly could, because of the crowd that surrounded Him. And so, when He gives this parable, He is defending Himself...not that He cared much about what they thought, but so that they would not have any excuses for speaking so angrily about Him. He tells them that He was seeking the lost, and where else should He be found, except among them. Should a doctor avoid the sick? Should a shepherd avoid the lost sheep? Wasn’t He where He should be, when He welcomed all the publicans and sinners to hear him speak?
Jesus defended Himself by asking a question of the men themselves; for He asked, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he finds it?” No argument makes itself felt more impressively than one which comes close to home, and that is how Jesus put it. They were silenced, even if they were not convinced. It was a particularly strong argument because in their case it was only a sheep that they would go after, but in His case, it was something that was infinitely more precious than all the flocks of sheep in all of Israel; because it was the souls of men that He sought to save.
His argument could be stated like this, “If you men would go after a lost sheep, and track it until you found it, how much more may I go after lost souls, and follow them as they wander here and there until I can rescue them?” The act of going after the sheep was the part of the parable that Jesus wanted them to understand the most: the shepherd takes a route which he would never think of taking if it was only for his own pleasure; his path is not chosen for his own pleasure, but for the sake of the stray sheep.
Jesus would never have come among publicans and sinners because it suited His taste and pleasure: if He was after His own ease and comfort He would have mingled with only the heavenly angels, and with His Heavenly Father, but He was not thinking of Himself, and so He went where the lost sheep were; “for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” This parable is not only an answer, but it is also an instruction for us. Let’s look at those things which Jesus wants to teach us.
The first thing that catches our attention is that the shepherd, who has lost his sheep, has only one thought, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd has just one thought, when He sees a man or woman that is lost, wandering into sin.
The shepherd, who has 100 sheep looks over his flock and counts only 99. He counts them again, and he notices that a certain one has gone: It may be a white sheep with black marks on its feet: he knows all about it, for “the Lord knoweth them that are his.” The shepherd has a photograph of the wanderer in his mind’s eye. He no longer thinks much about the 99 who are feeding in the pastures, but his mind is in turmoil because of the one lost sheep. He is overcome by a single thought, “a sheep is lost!” This disturbs his mind more and more-“a sheep is lost.” He cannot eat; he cannot go home; he cannot rest while one sheep is lost.
Those who have a tender heart will find it disturbing to think about a lost sheep. A sheep is absolutely defenseless, once it has left its shepherd. If a wolf happened to find it, it would be torn to pieces on the spot. The shepherd thinks, “What will become of my sheep. At this very moment, a wolf could be ready to rush upon it, and it is absolutely helpless.” A sheep cannot fight, and it can’t even outrun its enemies. That makes his worried owner even more upset and he thinks again-“My sheep is lost, and may even die a horrible death.” A sheep is probably the most “stupid” animal there is. If we have lost a dog, it may find its way home; a horse may find its way back to the stable, but a sheep will wander on and on until it is even more lost. It will never think to return to a place of safety.
The man can think only of the sheep-“A sheep is lost, and it could be anywhere by now. It may be staggering from exhaustion: it may be far away from green pastures, and be close to dying from hunger.” A sheep is shiftless and doesn’t know how to take care of itself. A camel can scent water from a long way off, and a vulture can spy its food from a great distance; but a sheep, can’t find anything. Of all of God’s creatures, a lost sheep is probably the worst off. You may want to ask the shepherd why he is so concerned about one lost sheep when he has 99 more. I believe that he may answer, “You are not a shepherd, or you could not ask such a question. The 99 are all safe, and I can think of nothing but the one that is lost.”
What is it that makes the Great Shepherd so concerned about the loss of one of his flock?
There are several things, but I think first of all that he is concerned because it is his property. He owns the sheep; he is not a hired hand. It is the shepherd-proprietor who lays down his life for the sheep. It is not just any sheep that this man cares for; it is one of his own that is lost. Jesus has His own sheep and some of them are lost; in fact, at one time they were all lost. At one time they were all in the same condition, for “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to our own way.” The parable refers to the unbelievers, who Jesus has redeemed with His precious blood, and who He has undertaken to seek and to save: these are those other sheep that He must bring in. “For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” The sheep of Christ are His long before they know it. The sheep are Christ’s, first, because, in the foreknowledge of God, He could see into the future and know who would believe and who would not, and those who would believe He chose for His own-“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”
We are His next because the Father gave us to him. He mentions that in his great prayer in John 17: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me;” “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” We are the Lord’s own flock; furthermore, He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” It has been nearly twenty-one centuries since He paid the ransom price, and purchased us for His own. Our Savior can look at His hands and see the marks of His purchase; He can look at His side and see another token of the redemption price paid for His people, by the pouring out of His own heart’s blood before the living God. Now, this thought occurs to me, “Can He lose one of them?” Can He lose one that He loved even before the earth was created? It may wander for a time, but He cannot stand for it to be lost forever. Can He lose one that His Father gave Him to be His own? Can he lose one that He purchased with His own life? He will not endure that thought.
You know the value that He has put on each one of His, by laying down His life to redeem them. You know how dearly he loves every one of His people. He has loved His own and must love them until the end. That love has already endured from eternity and will go on through the ages, for He changes not. Will He lose one that he loves so dearly? Never, never! He can think of nothing else, but one fact-One of My sheep is lost.
The second reason for his abundant concern is his great compassion for his lost sheep. The wandering soul causes Jesus deep sorrow; He cannot bear the thought of its perishing. He can’t rest, as long as a soul that He shed His blood for still lives under the domination of Satan, and under the power of sin; therefore the Great Shepherd can’t forget His sheep.