Translations: Chinese GB Big5

The Parable of 
The Lost Sheep

Matt 18:12-14; Lk 15:3-7
Luke 15:3-7   He told them this parable.
"Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it?  When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance." (web)

Discussion Questions

Who are the lost sheep?
Why did he seek for the lost sheep?
How did the sheep get back?
Did Jesus simply lead them back?
How much effort did the sheep have to make to return to the flock?


Who are the Lost Sheep?

Luke chapter 15 contains three parables with a common theme: The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. But who do these lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son refer to? He may be referring to the lost sheep of Isael. Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Mt 15:24 And notice also 1Pet 2:25 "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." And 1st Peter was written to Jewish Christians, as his introduction indicates.

The people of Israel are divided into two groups, as Paul also writes in Galatians - those who were sons of the promise and those who were sons of the flesh. These two groups have been exemplified by Isaac and Ishmael and also by Jacob and Esau. The Christian community is also divided this way between the nominal and true believers.

Although all of Israel may be spoken of as sheep - just as both Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham, yet those in the pen who listened and obeyed may be likened to the sons of the promise, while of the others Jesus says: "but you do not believe because you are not my sheep." John 10:26 So here we see, being his sheep in the pen precedes having faith in Christ. For such sheep have already believed in the Lord as the Old Testament had revealed him - as Abraham had. Such people are already in the flock before they even hear the gospel, having been justified as Abraham was. But upon hearing their Messiah speak, naturally they recognize his voice and put their faith in him. This is not to say that these other sheep could not be saved in the future. For I have little doubt that the apostle Paul before his conversion was one of these type of Pharisees that Jesus referred to as not being his sheep at the time. But he was a lost sheep redeemed later on.

I think also that the sheep in the pen may even incorporate Gentile believers, like perhaps Cornelius of Acts 10. For Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." John 10:16 "This sheep pen" may refer to Israel, whereas the other sheep pen may refer to the Gentiles who while being ignorant of Christ himself, believe in the God of Israel and are thus righteous as Abraham was - even when he was a Gentile. (See Rom 4:9-11)

Theme 1: Eternal Security

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."John 10:25-29
Those who belong to Christ are eternally secure. What if they wander away? Generally speaking, when they hear his voice they follow him. This is characteristic of his sheep, though at times they may wander to some extent, of course always returning. "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again." Pr 24:16 But I don't think they can wander so far as to get lost. I don't think that the lost sheep represents the redeemed of Israel who got lost, but the unredeemed of Israel who characteristically hadn't listened and was prone to wandering far away, not identifying with the redeemed flock.

These are likened today to nominal Christians who have a behavior inconsistent with that of a child of God. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." 2Peter 2:22 But of those born of God, speaking in a lifestyle sense, John writes: "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother."1John 3:9,10

I infer that it is not inevitable that the shepherd would have found the sheep. But having found him, the lost sheep was then eternally secure. For what effort did it take for the lost sheep to return to the flock? None at all on the part of the sheep. For when he was found, the shepherd carried him home. He doesn't simply lead them back. He doesn't give them instructs or directions on how to return, as if leaving a map with them and saying "good luck at finding your way back." He doesn't even leave it up to their own will or decision to return. Instead what he does is force them to come back by picking them up and carrying them on his shoulders. In returning to the flock, these lost ones hadn't taken a single step of themselves. It seems they made no effort at all in repenting. But they did repent. Rather, the shepherd did all the work in them to bring them back.

We need not work for our salvation. That is given to us freely. Rather we work out applications of our salvation, such as works of repentance. But really God is doing the work. We are essentially passively cooperating with God. But it appears as if we are actively doing so. For those who have been found, God's work of repentance with us inevitably leads us into living a lifestyle consistent with that of a child of God. Though from the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, it may be difficult early on to distinguish who the redeemed are. But as they mature it will become apparent by their fruits, which are also inevitable.

Theme 2: The Value of the Individual

Institutional philosophy with its obsession over size has led to the devaluation of individuals. Pastors may rejoice in the size of their congregation, but take little thought of the those who stray from the faith. In fact few of such "spiritual leaders" are even aware of the condition of their flock, subjecting them to a purely lecture format with no feedback being allowed. People go to church, they listen to a lecture and go home, having little interaction with the pastor and with one another.

But a good shephard knows his sheep. He takes time to and effort to lead them, even individually. The model that Jesus' had presented for ministry was one of personal discipleship. Yes, he taught the multitudes, but in particular he discipled 12 men. And he managed to do this without building a building. These days who disciples the way Jesus did? Institutional churches were meant to facilitate the ministry, but have become ends in themselves. They have become entities like large corporations and those who don't quite fit into its programs are often neglected. There is often little effort in such corporations to seek lost sheep.

But notice how Jesus ministers in the gospels. Even in the midst of crowds, he patiently takes time for individuals. One is reminded of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus in the crowd and Jesus was aware of it, but his disciples said:

You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Mark 5:31,32
Or of Zacchaeus, a man reckoned as a sinner. It was written of him:
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." Luke 19:3-5
In fact those who are the most despised and neglected seem to be the ones that Jesus pays most attention to.

Theme 3: The Priority of Saving the Lost

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17
It is inherent in our sinful nature to presume whether consciously or unconsciously that God cares only about us who have been redeemed and no one else. For centuries, mission work has been hindered by such a selfish philosophy. Indeed historically there have been theological ideas developed seemingly for the sole purpose of excusing the "elect" from caring for or in any way being involved in the salvation of the lost.

The Christian community is dominated by people who seek not to serve but to be served. This was even Paul's experience, as he wrote of Timothy, "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ." Php 2:20,21 And pastors tend to be willing accomplices, developing mere pew-sitters.

Indeed the visible church has become a field of lost sheep itself. One hardly has to go outside the church to do evangelism. For it seems there are plenty to be saved right inside the visible church, being simply nominal Christians. Yet if you try to saved these lost sheep, it has been my experience that you often run into hostility by others in the church, especially institutional leaders who seemingly play the role of wolves, who think that you're trying to steal their food away.


Suppose you owned a hundred sheep
And one wandered away when you fell asleep
Wouldn't you leave the rest to find
The one that left. Aren't you inclined
To seek the one that you own
Though you must leave the rest alone
And when you find the sheep off track
What would you do to get him back?
Would you simply hand him a map?
Or perhaps you might try and give him a slap.
No, you would lift him right off his feet
And carry him home all the way down the street.
Rejoicing all the way you go.
Just as God's angels do, you know.
For there is more rejoicing over one who repents
Than over those who simply stayed in the fence

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jul 29,2015