The Parable Of The Lost Sheep


The 15th chapter of Luke is probably one of the best-loved chapters in the Bible. Some people describe it as ‘The Gospel within the Gospel’ and certainly, in many ways we do have the Gospel in miniature here in Luke 15.

And as someone once said, ‘It contained the very distilled essence of the good news which Jesus had come to tell.”

Now here we find three parables of Jesus but in this study, we’re going to look at ‘The Parable Of the Lost Sheep.’ In this parable, we find Jesus sharing His truths with our dear friends, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who are shocked that Jesus welcomes and sits with sinners, Luke 15:1-2.

In Luke 7 when Jesus is invited into a Pharisee’s house, a woman comes in off the street and it’s clear that she’s not welcome. And so Jesus says to Simon in Luke 7:33, “Simon, do you see this woman?” I mean how could he not see the woman?

She’s standing there in front of him. The problem was Simon saw a tramp, Simon saw a sinner, an unclean woman, someone who wasn’t good enough to be saved.

But the point is that just like Simon many people are offended when we say that the Gospel is for those kinds of people too. Well, that’s the kind of thing that’s going on here in Luke 15.

It was an offence to the Jewish leaders that Jesus should be seen in association with the tax collectors and sinners.

By their own regulations, a Pharisee was forbidden to be the guest of any such man. They were even forbidden to have these people as their guests.

They weren’t allowed to have any dealings with tax collectors and sinners as far as it was possible. They couldn’t even buy anything from them or even sell anything to them. They were to try and avoid any contact with them all together.

So now that we understand the Pharisees’ thinking we can see why they were shocked by Jesus’ actions. But they weren’t just shocked, they were shocked to the core because this man, who claimed to be their Messiah, wanted so much to spend time in the company with those outsiders.

In their minds, if you had anything to do t with sinners you were guaranteed to be corrupted. Their attitude wasn’t so much, “there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” but rather it was “there is joy in heaven when one sinner is obliterated before God.”

They looked sadistically forward, not to the saving of the sinner but the destruction of the sinner.

And it’s because these religious leaders considered themselves already in the fold, that Jesus tells them they should be glad that He was seeking those who were outside the fold.

“Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” Luke 15:3-6

This is certainly one of the simplest of parables that Jesus ever taught. And in Judea at this time it was all so easy for a sheep to go astray. The pastureland was on the hill country, which would run like a backbone down the middle of the land.

This ridge-like plateau was very narrow, it was only a few miles across and at its best this pastureland was bare and so the sheep were very liable to wander.

And in their search for more grass, they would wander off into little gullies and ravines and very often they would end up on some ledge where they couldn’t get back up or down. And all too often many would just stay there until they died.

Here in this parable, we have one of Jesus’ favourite pictures of God. A picture of a loving, caring shepherd who brought home the wanderer.

And so what I want to do is share with you 5 small points from this parable about the love of God.

1. The love of God is an individual love.

You see the 99 sheep weren’t enough for Jesus, He wanted the whole lot, Luke 15:4. And when one went wandering, He wasn’t going to rest until He brought it back home again.

Jesus is telling us that He has a love to offer that’s not just for everyone, but a priceless love especially for you.

The Palestine shepherds were experts at tracking down their sheep and they could follow the tracks of their sheep for miles. And they would go to any lengths to bring that sheep back, Matthew 18:12.

And we would do the same with our family members, wouldn’t we? No matter how big your family is, if one of them goes astray, you would go to all lengths to find them and bring them back to safety.

Every time you listen to the news on TV and someone has lost a family member, they send out pleas for help to find them again, some even offer a reward to anyone who can help find them. But my point is, even though some people have got 10 children, if one goes missing, that’s one that they cannot do without.

And that’s because there’s no one who doesn’t matter. And our God is like that, He’s not happy until the last one is gathered in. Paul says when he recognised that he was a sinner, he also understood that God’s love was an individual love, 1 Timothy 1:15.

And if you’re not a Christian, then God wants to offer that same individual love to you today.

2. The love of God is a patient love.

We all know how stupid sheep are, they are such foolish creatures. And so to a degree the sheep had no one but itself to blame for the dangers it had got itself into.

And we do that with people all the time, especially with those who are foolish sometimes. What do we say when people get into some kind of trouble?

I’ll tell you what we say, we say, “Well, it’s their own fault, they brought it on themselves, don’t waste any sympathy on them.”

Well let me tell you something loved ones, thank God, God isn’t like that. The sheep might be foolish but thank God the Good Shepherd would still risk His life to save it.

Thank God for John 10:11 where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Thank God for 2 Peter 3:9 where Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Thank God that even though mankind can be foolish, God in His love loves even the foolish man who has got no one to blame for his sin and sorrow but himself. Thank God that He is a loving, patient God.

3. The love of God is a seeking love.

The flocks of sheep in Palestine were very often communal. In other words, they didn’t belong to an individual, they usually belonged to the whole village.

And so because of that, there were usually two or three shepherds with them, that’s one of the reasons the shepherd could leave the other 99. Because if they couldn’t leave the sheep with other shepherds when they returned they would find that other sheep would have gone astray.

When Jesus came to earth, He came on a search and rescue mission, He came to search for the lost and rescue them from their sins. But the point is that He came for us. The shepherd wasn’t willing to wait for the sheep to come back, He went out to search for it.

And that’s what the Jews even today, cannot understand about the Christian idea of God. The Jew would gladly agree with us, if we said that if the sinner comes crawling wretchedly home to God, then God would forgive them. But we know our God is far more wonderful than that.

For in Christ Jesus, God came to seek and to search for those who wander. He’s not content to wait until men come home, Oh, no! He goes and searches for them, no matter what it costs Him. The shepherds of Palestine would always make the most strenuous and the most sacrificial efforts to find a lost sheep.

Jesus came to find us before we thought about finding Him, Luke 19:10 / John 10:7-10 / 1 John 4:9-10. Jesus says He didn’t come to seek and destroy. He came to seek and to give life, but not just life but life to the full. The love of God is a seeking love.

4. The love of God is a rejoicing love.

This parable is all about joy, you see when the shepherd went to find the lost sheep, they had a rule. And the rule was that if the sheep couldn’t be brought back alive, then where possible, the sheep’s fleece or bones must be brought back to prove that the sheep was indeed dead.

But we can imagine how the other shepherds would return with their flocks to the village in the evening time and how they would tell how one shepherd was still out in the mountains seeking the wanderer.

And imagine the eyes of those villagers, watching over the mountains waiting and looking for the shepherd who hadn’t come home yet. And then off in the distance, they would see a little figure of someone getting closer to the village.

And as that figure gets closer, they realise that this is the shepherd and the joy on their faces would be great to see. But as he gets closer they notice that he’s carrying this wanderer of a sheep across his shoulders and it’s still alive. And the whole village would come out and joyfully surround him and welcome him home.

Now if that were the church, I wonder how we would react?

With Jesus there are no accusations, there’s no receiving back with grudges, there’s no superior contempt, it’s all about joy. And instead of the church accepting a person who is repentant with a moral lecture, Galatians 6:1, and making it clear that they must see themselves as a disgraceful person.

And instead of making it clear that we’re never going to trust them again, maybe we can be like God, who forgets our past sins and doesn’t hold our sins against us.

God has thrown our sins into the depths of the sea loved ones and there are warning signs all around the shore, Micah 7:19. And do you know what those signs say? No fishing.

We shouldn’t be in the business of dragging up the past sins in our own lives, never mind the sins of other people’s lives if God has thrown them away, Psalm 103:8-12.

And so when one of the flock goes astray and returns home, instead of reminding them of their sin, maybe we can put their sin behind God’s back like He does with ours when we get lost and come back to Him, Matthew 18:13-14.

Do you realise that you can give heaven an excuse to party? I know that many people after they have been in prison for a few years often get together with their families to celebrate their newfound freedom.

But let me tell you that’s nothing like the celebration that breaks out in heaven when someone returns to God after going off back to the world, Luke 15:7.

And if you’re involved in a sin, which is dragging you away from God, then you can be sure that if you repent and turn back to God there will be rejoicing in heaven.

The day you became a Christian was a day of rejoicing and if you’re not a Christian today and one day you decide to become a faithful follower of the Lord, then heaven will rejoice with you too. The love of God is a rejoicing love.

5. The love of God is a protecting love.

It’s not just a love that seeks, it’s also a love that saves. There can be a love which ruins, there can be a love that softens but the love of God is the protecting love which saves a person for the service of their fellow men, Psalm 34:18-20 / Psalm 55:16-17.

That’s why Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In other words, it’s God’s protecting love that makes the wanderer wise. It’s God’s protecting love that makes the weak strong. It’s God’s protecting love that makes the sinner pure.

Its God’s protecting love that makes the captive of sin a freeman of holiness. Its God’s protecting love that makes the overpowered by temptation the conqueror of sin. God’s love is a protecting love and God’s love will not only protect us in this life but also in the life to come.

Because as long as we’re faithful to Him, then you can be sure that nothing can separate us from His love. Paul says there is nothing in heaven or hell or on this earth that can stop God from loving you, Romans 8:34-39. Jesus says, no-one will snatch us from God’s mighty hands and that’s because He’s a protecting God, John 10:27-30.

Now that’s the Gospel, that’s the Gospel according to Christ.

If you ever want to share the good news with anyone interested in God, then take them to Luke 15.

Share with them the Gospel within the Gospel and let them know that Jesus’ Gospel is a Gospel of love.