Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 The Parable of the Lost Sheep


While our Lord was here on earth, He was continually pursuing lost souls.  He was seeking lost men and women, and for that reason, He intentionally placed Himself, where He could come into contact with them, and He was so kind to them, that they crowed around Him, to hear Him speak.  His audience was an odd assembly and a disreputable crowd.  I am not surprised that the Pharisee, when he saw the congregation, sneered and said, “He collects around Him the outsiders of our community, the degraded men who collect taxes for the Romans, the prostitutes of the town and all the riffraff.  Instead of giving them the cold-shoulder, He welcomes them and makes friends with them.  He even eats with them.  I heard that He went to the house of Zaccheus, and to Levi’s house, and that He ate there with those low class people.”  The Pharisees thought as unfavorably of Jesus as they possibly could, because of the crowd that surrounded Him.  And so, when He gives this parable, He is defending Himself;-not that He cared much about what they thought, but so that they would not have any excuses for speaking so angrily about Him.  He tells them that He was seeking the lost, and where else should He be found, except among them.  Should a doctor avoid the sick?  Should a shepherd avoid the lost sheep?  Wasn’t He where He should be, when He welcomed all the publicans and sinners to hear him speak?

Jesus defended Himself by asking a question of the men themselves; for He asked, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”  No argument makes itself felt more impressively than one which comes close to home, and that is how Jesus put it.  They were silenced, even if they were not convinced.  It was a particularly strong argument, because in their case it was only a sheep that they would go after, but in His case it was something that was infinitely more precious than all the flocks of sheep in all of Israel; because it was the souls of men that He sought to save.   His argument could be stated like this, “If you men would go after a lost sheep, and track it until you found it, how much more may I go after lost souls, and follow them as they wander here and there, until I can rescue them?”  The act of going after the sheep was the part of the parable that Jesus wanted them to understand the most: the shepherd takes a route which he would never think of taking if it was only for his own pleasure; his path is not chosen for his own pleasure, but for the sake of the stray sheep.  Jesus would never have come among publicans and sinners because it suited His taste and pleasure: if He was after His own ease and comfort He would have mingled with only the heavenly angels, and with His Heavenly Father; but He was not thinking of Himself, and so He went where the lost sheep were; “for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.”  This parable is not only an answer, but it is also an instruction for us.  Let’s look at those things which Jesus wants to teach us.   

The first thing that catches our attention is that the shepherd, who has lost his sheep, has only one thought, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd has just one thought, when He sees a man or woman that is lost, wandering into sin. 

The shepherd, who has 100 sheep looks over his flock and counts only 99.  He counts them again, and he notices that a certain one has gone: It may be a white sheep with black marks on its feet: he knows all about it, for “the Lord knoweth them that are his.”  The shepherd has a photograph of the wanderer in his mind’s eye.  He no longer thinks much about the 99 who are feeding in the pastures, but his mind is in turmoil because of the one lost sheep.  He is overcome by a single thought, “a sheep is lost!”  This disturbs his mind more and more-“a sheep is lost.”  He cannot eat; he cannot go home; he cannot rest while one sheep is lost.

Those who have a tender heart will find it disturbing to think about a lost sheep.  A sheep is absolutely defenseless, once it has left its shepherd.  If a wolf happened to find it, it would be torn to pieces on the spot.  The shepherd thinks, “What will become of my sheep.  At this very moment, a wolf could be ready to rush upon it, and it is absolutely helpless.”  A sheep cannot fight, and it can’t even outrun its enemies.  That makes his worried owner even more upset and he thinks again-“My sheep is lost, and may even die a horrible death.”  A sheep is probably the most “stupid” animal there is.  If we have lost a dog, it may find its way home; a horse may find its way back to the stable; but a sheep will wander on and on, until it is even more lost. It will never think to return to a place of safety.  The man can think only of the sheep-“A sheep is lost, and it could be anywhere by now.   It may be staggering from exhaustion: it may be far away from green pastures, and be close to dieing from hunger.”  A sheep is shiftless, and doesn’t know how to take care of itself.  A camel can scent water from a long way off, and a vulture can spy its food from a great distance; but a sheep, can’t find anything.  Of all of God’s creatures, a lost sheep is probably the worst off.  You may want to ask the shepherd why he is so concerned about one lost sheep, when he has 99 more.  I believe that he may answer, “You are not a shepherd, or you could not ask such a question.  The 99 are all safe, and I can think of nothing but the one that is lost.”

What is it that makes the Great Shepherd so concerned about the loss of one of his flock?

There are several things, but I think first of all that he is concerned because it is his property.  He owns the sheep; he is not a hired hand.  It is the shepherd-proprietor who lays down his life for the sheep.  It is not just any sheep that this man cares for; it is one of his own that is lost.  Jesus has His own sheep and some of them are lost; in fact at one time they were all lost.  At one time they were all in the same condition, for “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to our own way.”  The parable refers to the unbelievers, who Jesus has redeemed with His precious blood, and who He has undertaken to seek and to save: these are those other sheep that He must bring in.  “For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.  As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”   The sheep of Christ are His long before they know it.  The sheep are Christ’s, first, because in the foreknowledge of God, He could see into the future and know who would believe and who would not, and those who would believe He chose for His own-“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”  We are His next, because the Father gave us to him.  He mentions that in his great prayer in John 17: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me;” “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.”  We are the Lord’s own flock; furthermore He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  It has been nearly twenty-one centuries since He paid the ransom price, and purchased us for His own.  Our Savior can look at His hands and see the marks of His purchase; He can look at His side and see another token of the redemption price paid for His people, by the pouring out of His own heart’s blood before the living God.  Now this thought occurs to me, “Can He lose one of them?”  Can He lose one that He loved even before the earth was created?  It may wander for a time, but He cannot stand for it to be lost for ever.  Can He lose one that His Father gave Him to be His own?  Can he lose one that He purchased with His own life?  He will not endure that thought.  You know the value that He has put on each one of His, by laying down His life to redeem them.  You know how dearly he loves every one of His people.  He has loved His own and must love them until the end.  That love has already endured from eternity and will go on through the ages, for He changes not.  Will He lose one that he loves so dearly?  Never, never!  He can think of nothing else, but one fact-One of My sheep is lost. 

The second reason for his abundant concern is his great compassion for his lost sheep.  The wandering soul causes Jesus deep sorrow; He cannot bear the thought of its perishing.  He can’t rest, as long as a soul that He shed His blood for still lives under the domination of Satan, and under the power of sin; therefore the Great Shepherd can’t forget His sheep.

He has a deep sympathy for each stray heart.  He knows the sorrow that sin brings, and the broken spirit that will come after a while; so Jesus grieves over each lost sheep, for He knows the misery that goes along with being lost.  I can relate to this only in part, because I have experienced having a child lost, and I will never forget the anxiety that my wife and I felt.  I recall that we called the police and her friends, because we had to find her or our hearts would break.  I can still see my wife’s torment.  She was completely overcome with worry, until she got word of her child.  So I can understand just a little bit of how Jesus feels for one whom He loves, who is carved on the palms of His hands, which He looked upon through His foreknowledge from the cross as His blood flowed from His hands and side; He has no rest in His spirit until His beloved is found.  He has the compassion of God, and that is greater than the compassion of parents.  This one thought has the focus of the Lords pity-“I cannot lose one of them.”

The man in the parable, had a third relation with the sheep, which caused him to be obsessed by the thought that it may be lost,-he was a shepherd to it.  It was his own sheep, and so he says to himself, “If I lose one of them, then I am not a very good shepherd.”  It is a dishonor to any shepherd to lose one of his sheep.  Either he doesn’t have the power to keep it, or he doesn’t have the desire to keep it; but neither of these can be associated with the Good Shepherd.   Our Lord Jesus will never have it said of Him that He has lost one of his people, for He glories in having preserved them all.  “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost ...”  The devil will never be able to say that Jesus allowed one of those whom the Father gave Him to perish.  He will achieve the purpose that He meant to achieve by his death, for He is Eternal, Infinite and Sovereign God, and who will stop Him or spoil His plans.  He will not have it!  Just imagine the consequences if He was to lose just one of them.  What ridicule would come from Satan.  If He lost just the weakest, they would say, “He can only keep the strongest, but they are able to keep themselves.”  Suppose He lost the strongest; then they would say, “He is not even able to keep the mightiest ones, and He just lets them perish.”  It is not the will of God that one of these little ones shall perish, and it is not the will of Christ that one of His own sheep should be eternally lost. 

Our first point was that the shepherd had only one thought.  And now we come to our second point, which is that there is one object of search.

Now, make a note that it is a specific search.  He is looking for one particular sheep and nothing else; and he has that one individual sheep in his mind’s eye.  It is his own sheep that he is seeking and he goes specifically after that one.  Jesus knows all about His redeemed, and He goes definitely after each individual soul; His search doesn’t take Him all over the place, and He doesn’t grab just any soul that passes by.  By His power, He subdues the will and conquerors the hearts of those He identifies.  I believe the man in the parable sought after a distinct individual, and that he did not rest until he found him; so does Our Lord, for He does not move with any uncertainty; he does not grope about to catch just anyone, as if He played Blind man’s-bluff with salvation, but He seeks and saves the one of His own sheep which He has His eye upon as it wanders through the wilderness.  Jesus knows what He means to do, and He will get the job done. 

Now, notice that this is an all-absorbing search.  He is thinking of nothing but His own lost sheep.  The 90 and 9 are left in safety, but they are left, just the same.  When we read that he leaves them in the wilderness, we are apt to think of some barren place; but that is not what is intended: it simply means the open pasture land, or prairie: he leaves them well provided for, and where they are safe.   His mind is focused upon finding the lost sheep and nothing else, so he is not concerned about the rough path he must walk up and down the mountain sides, and he doesn’t fear the deep chasms.  His only fear is that his sheep might parish.  It is wonderful to think of the Lord Jesus Christ with His heart so set upon the rescue of a soul, which at this moment is lost to Him.

It is also an active search, because he goes after the one that is lost until he finds it, and he searches personally for it.  And if there is ever a sinner who is lead to receive God’s grace it is not through a minister or child of God working alone, but it is by the Master Himself, who goes after His own sheep.  It is wonderful to think of Him still personally tracking sinners, who though they run from him, nevertheless they are still pursued by him-pursued by the Son of God-pursued by Him until He finds them.

Now notice the perseverance of the search: “until he find it.”  He does not stop until he has done the deed.  So how long should you and I seek after a soul?  Why, until we find it, since that is the example set by Our Lord.

Now we have come to the third point, which is that there is only one burden of love.  When the seeking is over, then comes the saving-“When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”  It is an uplifting action, raising the fallen one from where he has strayed.  He takes the sheep, just as he finds him, without a word of reprimand, without any hesitation, and lifts it out of danger into a place of safety.  Do you remember when the Lord lifted you up from the horrible pit?  When He came from above, and saved you, and became your strength?  I think about that day often.  What a wonderful moment it was when the Great Shepherd lifted me into newness of life.  The Lord said to Israel, “I bear you on eagles’ wings;” but it is even better to be supported on the shoulders of God’s Son.

When he lays you on His shoulders it is a fitting act.  He may say to His sheep, “I am laying you on my shoulders, because you are my sheep.”  He makes this claim, not by words, but by His actions, since a man does not carry away a sheep that does not belong to him; He is not a sheep stealer, but a shepherd-owner.  He holds the sheep tightly, by its four legs, and then He lays it on His own shoulders, because it is his own now.  He seems to say, “I am a long way from home, and this is a desert where you have wandered, but I have found my sheep and these hands will hold it.”  Hear are our Lord’s own words, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”  I can’t imagine that hands as strong as Jesus’ hands would not be able to hold on to the sheep.  Shoulders with such power as Jesus’ shoulders will carry the rescued soul safely home.  That soul is in good hands, just as it had always been, because it had belonged to Him by the eternal purposes of God.  Do you remember when Jesus said to you, “Thou art mine”? 

It was an act that gave rest, because the sheep could go no farther, because it was exhausted and weak.  What a rest it is to us to know that we are carried along by the eternal power of Christ.  “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.”  Jesus carries us today: we don’t need to be strong and our weakness is no hindrance, because he carries us.  Didn’t Jesus say, “I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you.”  We cannot stumble or fall, because He carries us.  We don’t need to be afraid, because he will carry us all the way to His home above.  This thought is expressed very sweetly in Deuteronomy: “The Lord thy God bear thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that he went, until he came into this place.”  What a blessing it is to give yourself into those hands and shoulders to carry you to the end.  Our Savior never fails, because He devotes Himself to our salvation, and concentrates upon that with all He is, and all He has.

There is only one more point to be made, which is-That there is one source of joy.  The man who had lost his sheep is filled with joy, but the sheep is the source of it.  The sheep had taken up all his thoughts and was the focus of all his concern, so when he found it he focuses all his care on it, and now he finds that all his joy flows from it.

Notice the mention of the joy we get: “When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”  You might say, “That’s a great load for you, shepherd.”  But he answers joyfully, “I am glad to have it on my shoulders.”  The mother does not say, when she has found her lost child, “This is a heavy load.”  No; she holds it close, and she doesn’t mind that it is heavy; she is glad to carry it again.  Do you remember this verse, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”  When our load was laid on Him, Christ felt a great sadness; but a great joyfulness came to Him when He thought how we had been saved from our lost condition.  He said to Himself, “I have taken them up upon my shoulders, and no one can hurt them now, and they can’t wander off again so long as I have them.  I am bearing their sin and they shall never come into condemnation.  The penalty for their guilt has been laid on me so that it will never be laid on them.  I am bearing their sin, so that they will never have to bear my Fathers righteous anger.”  Because He loved them it was joy every time the lash was laid to His back; His love for them made it a delight when the nails pierced His hands and feet.  For their sake, He could even bear the absence of his Father.  There may be an analogy that will help us to understand in a very small measure what Jesus felt.  Imagine that a son is sick in a place that is very far away from home.  A text message is sent home with word that he has a severe fever, and he may die.  His mother says that she must go to take care of him, and she is miserable until she is able to go.  She finds her boy in a very depressing place, but for the moment it is a cherished place to her.  She is happy to leave the comforts of her home and to care for her boy, and to work hard for long hours, because she loves him.  She feels loving joy caring for her boy, and refuses to leave his bedside, and only falls asleep from exhaustion after long hours of watching and worrying over him.  You could not have kept her at home; she would have been too miserable.  It was a great pleasure for her to be able to minister to her son.  Remember, you have given Jesus great joy in saving you.  He was forever with the Father, eternally happy, always glorious, He was God and over all; however He needed to come here out of boundless love, take upon Himself our nature, and suffer in our place to bring us back to fellowship with God.  “He layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing.”   That day, the shepherd knew just one joy.  He had found his sheep, and the pressure of it on his shoulders made his heart light, because he knew that the object of his care was safe beyond any doubt.

Now when he takes the sheep home with him, he invites his friends and neighbors to join him in a celebration: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.”  One sinner had repented and all heaven must rejoice about it.  Friends, I believe that there is enough joy in the heart of Christ over his saved ones to overflow heaven with gladness.  He calls us today to come and bring our hearts like empty bottles, so that He can fill them with joy.  Those of us who are saved must enter into the joy of our Lord.  Can you see in your mind’s eye the Lord bringing in each one of his sheep, and the joy that they give Him?  Jesus would have no joy if He were to lose even one; it would spoil it all. 

The thing I want to impress upon you is how our Lord gives Himself up to His redeemed.  How completely He gives every thought, every action to the needy, guilty, lost soul.  He gives all He has to bring them to Him.  Those who believe in Him, have all His strength engaged on their behalf.  Blessed be His name!  Let’s love Him with all our heart, because He gave all He had to work out our salvation.  Let’s love Him, even though we can’t love Him as much as He loves us.  Let’s love Him with all our heart and soul.  Let us love nothing, see nothing, know nothing except Jesus crucified.  He should fill our hearts, because we filled His heart.

If you are here today, but don’t know Christ, will you give your heart to the Good Shepherd?  Will you accept His grace?  You know that He is the only one who can rescue you from sin and death.  Whisper a prayer to Him-“Come Lord and save me, for I trust in you.”  If you will pray that prayer, then you will receive the mark of Christ’s sheep, for He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  Come to Him, because He comes to you.  Look to Him, because He is looking at you.

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