The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin & the Lost Son (2) – The Lost Sheep
Luke / Chapter 15 / V1-7
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. ~Lk 15:1-7
The three parables were the response to the Pharisees and scribes [also known as the teachers of the law] who muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Before we study the parables, let us first understand the background of this incident.
The Pharisees and scribes were a special group of experts and devotees of the Old Testament Law, whose attitude and obedience to the Law were impeccable in the strictest sense. They were unlike the tax collectors and prostitutes who extorted money and committed sexual sins, instead, they fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of what they had to the temple. If anyone were to use the moral standards of the Old Testament Law to judge between the two groups, the former would prove flawless while the tax collectors and prostitutes would be completely found wanting. Therefore, the Pharisees and scribes were revered and honoured among the Israelites, while the tax collectors and prostitutes were detested and scorned. Thus, the Pharisees and scribes would never allow themselves to be found in the assembly of these sinners, but stayed far away from them as if they were stricken with leprosy. They abhorred these sinners and regarded them like filth and dirt in comparison with their highly exalted and dignified selves. They believed that they would in due course enter into the glory of Heaven while the tax collectors and prostitutes would be thrown into the fury of Hell. Their point of contention was this: Jesus who claimed to have come from God should have distanced Himself from these sinners just as they did, however, He welcomed them and even ate with them.
In the parable of the lost sheep, it was told that a shepherd had one hundred sheep. One of the sheep was lost and he left the other ninety-nine sheep behind in the wilderness and went in search of the lost sheep. The shepherd braved the dangers of the night and exposed himself to possible attacks from wild beasts. Finally, from crossing the undulating terrains of the wilderness, completely exhausted, he was rewarded with the recovery of the lost sheep. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus was that good shepherd who had laid down His life to save sinners. He was the Son of the Most High God, but He left the glory of Heaven and incarnated as a man of humble status. For our sakes, to save and redeem us from our sins, He suffered humiliation, scourging, and was nailed to the cross as a criminal enduring the most cruel death on earth. For by His scourging we were healed and by His death we inherited eternal life. The Lord in the attempt to save us — the lost sheep, paid the greatest price in the world!
The contrast between the ninety-nine sheep and the one lost sheep in the parable was not meant to be an illustration of numbers to emphasize the insignificance of the lost sheep and how the Lord was willing to save that sheep in spite of having ninety-nine remaining. What the Lord wanted to reveal was a truth that would shock all the Pharisees and scribes that were present. The lost sheep that was found represented the tax collectors and sinners; while the ninety-nine “un-lost” sheep and the ninety-nine righteous persons who did not need repentance represented the Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees and scribes were sheep that did not require the shepherd to look for them; they were also the righteous persons that needed no repentance. The Pharisees and scribes were a people who were righteous in their own sight and considered themselves more honourable than the tax collectors and prostitutes. They believed that if God were to choose the better between them, even with all the tax collectors and prostitutes added together, they would not rival even one of them. The Lord, however, was about to reveal a bitter truth that would completely shatter their belief. Between the ninety-nine sheep that were not lost and the one lost in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus chose the one that was lost and left the ninety-nine in the wilderness! When the shepherd found the lost sheep, he rejoiced over it and invited his friends and neighbours together and celebrated, signifying that whenever a sinner is saved by the Lord, there would be great rejoicing even by angels in Heaven over that repented sinner. What about the ninety-nine sheep that remained in the open country? They had all been forgotten! The Son of God and the heavenly hosts had completely ignored the ninety-nine righteous persons who needed no repentance! The Lord wanted the Pharisees and scribes to understand that both He and the heavenly hosts regarded each and every tax collector or prostitute more precious than any one of them. Let alone ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes, even with all of them added together, they would still not compare to one single repentant tax collector or prostitute! The sinners that the Pharisees and scribes despised were the very ones that God deemed valuable and worthy to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Those words spoken by the Lord was a great news to the tax collectors and prostitutes, rekindling their hope that God had not forsaken them. On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes must be burning with rage and dying to lay their hands on Jesus to tear Him apart. They, who viewed themselves more superior than the common people of Israel, were now not even considered worthy of a single tax collector or prostitute, how could they swallow it and not bear an intense hatred towards Jesus?
Ninety-nine sheep were worth almost a hundred times more than one sheep, why did the shepherd choose the one lost sheep over the ninety-nine that were not lost? The good deeds of ninety-nine righteous persons were a hundred or even a thousand times more than that of one sinner, why then did the Lord choose the insignificant sinner over the ninety-nine righteous persons? What principles did the Lord use in making His choice?
The gravest mistake made by the Pharisees and scribes was that they thought that God measured a person’s value similar to how they measured people. What was so different with the one lost sheep as compared to the other ninety-nine sheep that made its worth far excelling the rest? The reason was simple, for the salvation of the lost sheep was the result of the shepherd’s immense hardships from enduring the dangers in the wilderness. Now the value of the lost sheep no longer laid in itself, but depended upon the great efforts and sacrifices that the shepherd had put into saving it. For the higher the price paid, the more we would treasure; and the greater the sacrifice made, all the more we would love. To save sinners, the Lord paid the highest and greatest price by sacrificing His life on the cross. Each and every sinner has been purchased with the life of our Lord, and therefore each and every sinner is as precious as His own life. Not to mention ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes, even if there were thousands and millions of them, they would still not compare to a single saved sinner purchased with the life of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Pharisees and scribes measured the value of a person by the number of his good deeds, however, God did not look at how many good deeds a person had done but rather by how much He had sacrificed to save that person. When the Son redeemed a sinner with His own life, that sinner had become as valuable as the Son of God Himself. God no longer viewed that person as a sinner but rather regarded him as precious as His Son Jesus Christ. It was not that the Pharisees and scribes were worse off when compared to the tax collectors and prostitutes, but the one that they could never truly be compared to was Jesus Christ their Redeemer, the Almighty God and Lord of the universe!
In the drawing darkness of the evening, the lost sheep trod the shadows of the valley, alone, fearful and trembling. Not too far off, the howlings of wild beasts could be heard suggesting impending death for the sheep. As daylight faded away into total darkness, all hope was lost, but to wait to be torn apart and devoured by the lurking predators of the night. His heart began to be filled with remorse for having wandered off from the herd and failing to heed the calls of the shepherd, leading to such a pitiful state. If he could go back in time, he would never repeat the same mistake. Now only destruction lay ahead, and who was to blame but himself. No one would sympathise with him, what more any expectation of the shepherd returning for him. The shepherd still had ninety-nine obedient sheep in his fold, why would the shepherd concern himself with this wilful one? Suddenly, the sound of someone trudging along the hills was heard and under the glistening moonlight, he saw a familiar silhouette. As the figure drew near, who would have known, it was his master! The sheep was overwhelmed with joy as he raced towards his master. The shepherd hugged the sheep tightly in his bosom. When the sheep saw the cuts and bruises on his master, sustained from the journey through the wilderness, tears rolled down from his eyes. The shepherd went in search of the sheep because it was weak and helpless, never did it cross his mind the monetary value of that sheep. Though the shepherd suffered injuries, he found it all worthwhile upon finding the sheep that was lost. He then put the sheep over his shoulders as he returned home joyfully. And because the shepherd had risked his life in finding the sheep, all the more he loved and cherished him. The sheep belonged to the shepherd, and the shepherd belonged to the sheep, between them laid a bond of love as sure as death that could never be severed or destroyed.
Pitiful were the ninety-nine sheep which had not been lost, for they could never understand the love of the shepherd for them and could never experience the joy of salvation.
(Note: “righteous persons who do not need to repent” do not exist in the real world, but only “sinners who are self-righteous and refuse to repent”)