Jesus loved to tell parables in order to open up the eyes of the people. Some parables confounded his hearers and some were figured out pretty quickly. The three parables that we are looking at for the next three days were, I think, those that were figured out pretty quickly. Today’s is the parable of the Lost Sheep.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance, (Luke 15:1-7, ESV).
It was well-known that God’s people, in this case the Jewish people, were often called sheep. Often the prophets of old would refer to the people in such a way. At the same time, their leaders were considered to be shepherds. They watched over the common-folk. When the shepherds (the Pharisees and scribes) reacted badly to Jesus’s eating with “sinners,” Jesus asked the question as to which of them, having lost a sheep, would not go find it.
If we were to stop and think about it, we might think for a moment that it would be ludicrous to risk losing all the other sheep and go search for the one. Ninety-nine are more valuable than one measly little sheep. That may be true if we were simply to see them as a group, but if we were to stop and think of these 99 as individuals, we may realize that each has value on its own. How many sheep must be lost before the profit-to-loss ratio turns on its head? Two? Four? Thirty? To the shepherd, at least a good shepherd, that number is one. That sheep has value all by itself.
Think for a moment. If it were you or I, we may not have even notice a sheep was missing. There are 100 sheep out there to count. We might wonder if we miscounted. We may not even count them at all; they look like they’re all there. But to a good shepherd, who knows his sheep by name, and whose sheep hear his voice and follow him, he notices when one of his sheep are missing. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote, “A poverty comes to their owner when they are missing. There is a wanting in the owner’s heart. The owner feels their absence. That’s why he can’t remain with the ninety-nine but must go after that solitary sheep.”* That’s true even though it may have been a “problem-sheep.” After all, we are talking about Jesus eating with “sinners.” Maybe this sheep wanders away often. Maybe it doesn’t stay with the flock. Maybe it gets caught in the brambles and has to be released and then have all the pickers and pokers and thorns pulled from its wool. Why bother?
The Pharisees and scribes were probably more like us than we care to think. These were not the right kind of people to hang around, let alone go after. Let them go. We’ve got enough. We’ve got plenty. No need to bring back the “problem-sheep,” those “sinners.” But a good shepherd doesn’t think that way. That’s why he not only goes after the sheep but places it on his shoulders. He keeps it close so it can hear his voice clearly, be comfortable, hopefully stay out of as much trouble. Caring for the sheep–the sinner–is no chore for the shepherd, but a delight. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
As co-heirs with Christ and as ambassadors of the Father, we are to care as much about the lost sheep as the Good Shepherd does. We are to seek and save those who are lost just as he would. We are to rejoice at their being found and brought back to the flock. After all, if we are followers of the Good Shepherd, it is only because he found us and brought us back.
*Thabiti Anyabwile, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Luke, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2018), 233.