A sermon delivered August 1, 2021 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Part of our continuing series on the Parables of Jesus.
Stories About the One
In our time in the Parables of Jesus, we turn now to a series of three parables Jesus told about lost sheep, a lost coin, and two lost people. Luke 15 is an incredible chapter, and each of the parables here build upon one another. J.C. Ryle said that, “There is probably no chapter of the Bible that has done greater good to the souls of men.” Today, in the time we have, we’re going to focus on the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
Stories about a quest to find a singular lost person are incredibly moving and meaningful to us. This is true in cinema. Can you think of some successful movies about a singular lost person? I can. Matt Damon starred in two of them, actually. First, he played Private James Ryan in Saving Private Ryan. You probably know the story – all of his brothers have died in combat, and a group of soldiers is tasked with the dangerous job of finding him on the European Front and bringing him home.
Then, as if ante couldn’t be raised any higher, he starred in the purely fictional role of Mark Watney in The Martian as an astronaut stuck on Mars. The tagline of the movie: “Bring him home.”
And it’s the same in kids’ movies. Ever heard of Finding Nemo?
Now, I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: I believe the reason why these stories are so captivating is because they are a distant echo of the Grand Story: the story of the Scriptures.
Today, Jesus presents us with a parable that encapsulates the story of Scripture. Perhaps that’s the first bit of application today. How it would change your approach to the Bible if you saw it as the story of the God who comes looking for us. Even more poignant – the God who comes looking for you.
Let’s pray and then begin to unpack this parable.
Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
The Audience (vs. 1-2)
The first way we can unpack this parable is by looking at the audience. Look at verses 1-2. It was a parable told to Bible teachers and scholars! It was meant to explain the offense caused by Jesus’ ministry to sinners, or, as the Pharisees would have called them, “The People of the Land.” These would have been the people who did not observe or care for all the ins and outs of the Pharisees brand of keeping God’s Law.
But he’s not only ministering to them, he’s eating with them. In Jesus’ day, a meal was never insignificant – it was never just “fast food.” It always had a sacramental quality – it implied fellowship. So Jesus is giving close table fellowship to sinners. Dr. Ken Bailey has, I think, rightly seen that, within Judaism, Jesus was most closely aligned with the Pharisees. More likely than not, he probably grew up in their fellowship – learning and studying God’s Word with them. But here, a breaking point is reached, because as Jesus’ ministry grows, it is clear that he is not just another Rabbi, as we’ll see in a moment.
So as we think about the audience, this parable is already going to work on us, isn’t it? Who do we identify with? Do we identify with the lost or do we identify with those who are judging Jesus for his ministry to sinners? That will play into the rest of the parable.
The Shepherd & the Sheep (v. 4)
So in verse 4, Jesus begins the parable talking about a shepherd who has lost his sheep. Think carefully about this: who is the shepherd? First, he’s talking about the religious leaders who have lost the sheep of God – the sinners. He’s pointing this parable at them! They are the shepherds of Israel! As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Are you [not] the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10)
Second, the Good Shepherd is Jesus.
Jesus is showing bad shepherds what it means to become a good shepherd. How does a bad shepherd become a good shepherd? By going after the lost sheep! That’s what Jesus is doing! “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Jesus is confronting their grumbling by saying, as we heard in Ezekiel 34, that in his ministry God the Good Shepherd has come to gather and win back his sheep! And, he’s saying to them, if you understood who I am, you’d join me.
Now watch this: by the end of the parable, sheep have become people. Who is at home with the shepherd? The lost sheep (sinners). Who is not at home with the shepherd? The ninety-nine (those who think they need no repentance). So, the Pharisees and Scribes are at one and the same time identified as shepherds but also the ninety-nine.
By the way, this one place where we need to not press too hard on the details of this parable. As we’re going to see, the point is not that God’s love is somehow “reckless” for leaving the ninety-nine. Shepherds would have naturally worked together to see that the other sheep were cared for. More on that in moment.
Lastly, as we think about Jesus’ powerful claim to be the Good Shepherd, we don’t want to miss that this is one of his most explicit claims to divinity. Here, Jesus takes up a theme that is repeated again and again in Holy Scripture, from Psalm 23 to Ezekiel 34 to Jeremiah 23. In the Bible God is always the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd is always God. Do you know how Jesus was most often depicted in the art of the Early Church? That’s right, as the Good Shepherd. This picture summarizes all that he is to us!
You know, Theodore and Crosby love to dress up as superheroes. And the reason why it’s so funny and ironic to watch them play them dress up is because we know what a Superman or Iron Man or Captain America is supposed to be like. This is a familiar identity. Well, just so with the Good Shepherd. But, Jesus is no pretender – he’s the real deal.
The Cost of Being Found (vs. 5, 7)
So what does the Good Shepherd do? “And when he has found [the sheep], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Here, the Cross of Jesus Christ is pre-figured. Who pays the cost for the bringing the sheep home? Jesus does. How does he do it? With joy and for the benefit of this sheep. He “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Now, let’s talk about repentance in this parable. The shepherds are at fault, but the sheep is not presumed innocent here. In this parable, Jesus affirms the teaching of Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The point in drawing the line between the ninety-nine and the one is so that we would realize that we are all the one. Jesus says here that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who [think they] need no repentance.” In the rabbinical thought of the day, repentance was seen as a work that was done to please God. No doubt, the Pharisees and Scribes present that day thought they were doing quite well in their repentance. But Jesus clarifies what repentance mean. What does it mean here? Simply this: accepting to be found. Accepting to come home with the Good Shepherd who has paid the cost and done the work.
The Reunion & the Rejoicing (vs. 6-7)
Now, let’s look at verses 6 and 7. The parable ends in reunion and rejoicing.
First, reunion. By the end of the parable, the lost and the found have switched places. Do you see that? The lost sheep is at a party in honor of the Good Shepherd who found his sheep! But the ninety-nine are nowhere to be found. They parallel the elder brother in the The Parable of the Prodigal Son. They are not found rejoicing. This reality brings out the twin-truths of the Gospel. None of us are worthy, but we all have great worth to the Son of God. Moreover, all of heaven rejoices when a sinner comes home. We often sing this truth in a familiar song, “My Worth Is Not in What I Own”:
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed my ransom paid at the cross
The irony and the invitation here is that to be found in the reunion, you must first know yourself to be lost.
Second, there is the rejoicing. No one is rejoicing more than the Good Shepherd! This is first of all because his integrity and his character have been upheld. He is faithful – he didn’t lose his sheep! Remember, the Lord is the one who said in Ezekiel 34:11-12, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” In Jesus, he did it. Lewis once said that, “Joy is the serious work of heaven.” All heaven rejoices to see the Good Shepherd proven faithful. How many of us think upon our God in this way: that he rejoices to be found faithful to us?
Listen to these words from James Boice, “Taken together, it is an amazing picture of God. He is seen grieving, seeking, finding, and rejoicing. That has been true of God’s thoughts and actions toward anyone who has ever been found by Jesus. It is true of you if you are a Christian. It will be true of others. A minister named William Jay once called on John Newton, the former slave trader who was strikingly converted while in a storm at sea on his way to England. They were talking about a mutual acquaintance who had recently been converted. Jay observed that the man had once attended on his preaching but that he was an awful character. He said, ‘He may be converted, though I am not certain of it; but if he is, I shall never despair of the conversion of anyone again.’ Newton replied, ‘I never did since God saved me.’” (The Parables of Jesus, emphasis added)
So, as we end, I trust this parable has done the work Jesus intends it to do. That has drawn you in, drawn a line, and drawn you closer to the Good Shepherd himself. Most of all, this parable is invitation addressed to you, to each one of us, to be brought home. May we submit to the mercy of God and deign to find ourselves as sheep resting on the shoulders of Christ himself. Amen.