New Testament · Parables · Simple Truths

Parable Surprises – Lost Sheep

This is a tremendously popular parable, especially for use as an evangelistic motivator. I want to warn you though, that when I read it, I find there are other challenges that the Lord may have intended that should cause us and the original audience some pause.

Don’t get me wrong. It is obvious that the intent of the parable is the joy that is experienced in heaven over the restoration/repentance of the sheep/sinner. And yet I personally find other challenges in the parable that I feel we need to consider.

First off though – lets read the passage.

Luke 15:4-7

4 “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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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.’ 7 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.

Questions to Consider

Who were the audience?

It is important to understand the original audience to understand a bit better the intent of the message. This parable is no exception. Lets read the first three verses to ensure we know who is hearing this story for the very first time!

Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:3 So he told them this parable:

Ok – so we have tax collectors and sinners drawing near to Him! But look – them Pharisees and Scribes are lurking about, checking out this preacher, protecting the nation from heresy and false prophets. You see, these Pharisees and Scribes are the guardians of the people, the ones who protect the nation of (from?) unwashed sinners, tax collectors, thieves and generally all round bad people – you know anyone that isn’t in their club!!!

When did the Lord give this parable?

This parable was given within three months of the passion week. For a helpful document, providing a list of all the events in Jesus Life, check out the following download.

Where did the Lord teach the parable?

During the last three months of the Lord’s time in Israel, much of it was spent in Perea, on the eastern side of the Jordan, and finally in Jerusalem.

Why did the Lord give this message?

Why did the Lord give this message? It seems obvious, given that tax collectors and sinners are the audience. The Lord describes the reckless love of the shepherd, in abandoning the safe, “obedient” sheep, in order to seek out and find the rebellious sheep, the sinner that had wandered off from the sheep fold, from a safe area.

By the way – why do sheep leave safe areas? Sheep have a very strong flocking instinct and feel safe when gathered together. For a sheep to leave the flock is generally against its nature.

Notice that the Lord opens the parable describing a man, not as a shepherd, and questioning his apparent care for the sheep. It is only a normal shepherd’s care for all His sheep that He recovers the one that is wandering, that He recovers the sinner that is not in the flock. The normal shepherd would seek the sinner!

Sheep also will follow a leader they trust and know.

The normal shepherd would then receive the sinner! And the reaction in heaven is joy, but alas, the reaction on earth by the earthly shepherds seems to be a wee bit different!

What was the message for the original audience?

A normal shepherd loves the lost sheep. A normal shepherd seeks out the abnormal, rebellious sheep. A normal shepherd rejoices in finding the lost sheep.

This “normal” shepherd in the parable is used to describe God the Father in His method of care and love for His sheep in sending the True Shepherd, the One who receives the rebellious, lost sheep of Israel.

Remember the context here – the lost sheep were of the house of Israel. The tax collectors and sinners that were being drawn to the Lord Jesus were those who had rejected the religious leadership of the nation, a leadership who had become oppressive overlords, using the people, instead of caring for them. (Consider a study in Ezekiel for some thoughts on the shepherds of Israel – Ezekiel 34)

Having the lost sheep returned was a matter of great joy for a normal shepherd, in that he would advertise his great joy to his neighbors and friends, speaking of his happiness and not of the lost sheep’s original rebellion. (This might be a topic to consider in another post, but not now!)

Although this parable is often rightfully used to speak of the Lords great love in seeking out the lost sheep, I see also a back handed slap to the Pharisees and Scribes in this parable. They murmured and complained, finding ways to hinder the return of Israel to the living God. They sought to cause resistance to the move of God amongst them, the obvious appeal of the Lord Jesus in accepting, even receiving losers!

What is the message for us today?

Where are you at in “receiving sinners”? It seems to be a priority for the normal shepherd! At work or at home, in the grocery store or at the hardware store, how do you live in front of others? Are you an accepting person, one who is open to those about, or are you suspicious, fearful and self protective? I know I tend that way, and fight against being “offended” by those that are not like me. This is wrong. Of course, accepting the person is not the same as accepting the sin that they may being trapped in. Yet I need to see the person as the one who needs to be received.

The 99

One item that I haven’t discussed in the parable is the normal shepherds abandonment of the 99. As believers, I would consider each of us as a part of the 99. Are you alright in this scenario? With the Lord leaving us behind in seeking out others?

I want to be careful in speaking this way and not extending the parable beyond it’s intended purpose, and yet the message seems to be appropriate. The Lord is always with us, protecting, guiding, providing, and comforting us. And yet the normal shepherd left the 99 behind, making an assumption that they could care for each other, and themselves.

Is that fair? Can we care for ourselves in a manner that would allow a normal shepherd to have confidence in leaving us for a period of time?

In your church, if the shepherd is gone for a period of time, do you pick up the slack, visit those who may be weak, supply for those who have needs, comfort those who are suffering? Or do you take the attitude of simply hanging on until the preacher gets back?

If you are dependent on your local preacher for security, guidance, comfort and protection you may be dangerously close to become one of the sheep that would wander off.

The sheep left behind were not a concern to the normal shepherd in the parable.

What type of sheep are you?



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Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.

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