The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Last week, Clay led a fantastic study over the parables of the lost sheep (found in both Matt. 18:12-14 and Luke 15:4-7). To set the context for this parable in context, Jesus’ disciples have just approached him asking who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (vs. 1). Jesus responds, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus tells a story. Please read Matthew 18:12-14… It’s interesting that verse 14 ends with, “Even so it is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Is this lesson specific to children? Or does this refer to anyone who “humbles himself as this little child,” as Jesus says in verse 4? As Clay summarized, Matthew 18 is about humility, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

Now, in Luke 15 we have the same story but with an audience change. Verse 2 opens with the Pharisees and scribes murmuring that Jesus hangs out with sinners. What kind of attitude do we have going on? (Is this a childlike behavior?) From verses 4-7, we have some vital take-aways from Jesus’ lesson. First of all, notice that shepherd must take the initiative if the lost sheep is to be restored. The effectiveness of our salvation, then, does not consist in our seeking of God, but in His search for us! Verse 5 tells that “when he has found the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” No scolding, no beatings, no leading. He just carries it back bearing the entire weight on His own shoulders.

Then, we have a party! Verse 7 then says that there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than 99 just persons who need no repentance. Now, what did Jesus mean here? You see, rabbis taught that sinners must repent before God is willing to love him. But Jesus completely nuked that idea and revealed that God’s love is ours “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). The scribes and Pharisees, of course, automatically placed themselves with 99 “unlost” sheep. They prided themselves on their righteousness and favor with God. (See Luke 18:11-12.) But, in an ironic twist, what ends up happening here is that the lost sinner who repents is saved while the “unlost righteous” who need no repentance are not. Jesus gives a similar prognosis in Luke 5:31-32: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

In the end, both parables show us that God’s kingdom is all about undeserved, divine Grace. God has already left everything behind and taken the initiative to search for us and save us while we are hopelessly lost! But both parables also reveal that our attitudes play the key role of whether the Shepherd “finds” us or not. Just like the Pharisees, we so often think of ourselves as the “99,” but Jesus’ point was that our only hope is to humble ourselves and recognize that we, in fact, are that lost sheep.

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