Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 21, 2018
“The Recovery of the Lost Sheep”
How wonderful it is to discover something excellent, of which we formerly knew nothing. We saw such a thing in two brief parables last week—the parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44) and the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). How wonderful also it is to recover something beloved or needful, when one was lost or missing. God willing, we shall see such today in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) and in the next Sundays in the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:8-10) and the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). Let us, then, focus today upon the parable of the lost sheep—uttered by Jesus Himself and recorded by Luke’s Spirit-led pen.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
There is a prelude to this parable (15:1-2), which serves as prelude to the other two parables in Luke 15. In this prelude we learn that all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus—and that to the great consternation of the Pharisees and scribes. Let’s look first at the ones thronging to Jesus. Tax collectors, hated and despised by everyone under the Roman yoke, especially in Palestine, came to Jesus in droves. They were hated and despised thus because they were traitorous, in a sense—for they, generally Jews themselves, served Rome by levying their brother Jews and transferring the levy to Roman coffers. Moreover, these tax collectors often were greedy unto dishonesty. The Roman tax system was rife with corruption; a tax collector could receive Rome’s levy against a taxpayer, bill the taxpayer the full levy plus an additional amount, send Rome its levy, and pocket the difference. These came to Jesus wholesale—and He changed their lives and destinies forever.
Sinners also came to Jesus in droves. Of course this is true generally, but the word sinner in New Testament times had a technical use. Perhaps ninety percent of the populace in Palestine during Jesus’ ministry were people of the land (Hebrew ’am ha’arets), or people not of the leading Jewish sects (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, et al.). This ruling and religious elite looked down witheringly upon this crowd knowing nothing of the Law (cf. John 7:49). Yet they, like the tax collectors, found themselves to Jesus’ Person and Gospel offer by the secret work of the Spirit.
The Jewish religious elite, for its part, grumbles against Jesus. Luke mentions specifically the Pharisees, who adhered scrupulously to their interpretations of Scripture—no matter if the interpretation be correct or incorrect. Luke also mentions the scribes, or experts in the Law. These, though fallible, interpreted Scripture as they saw best—and the Pharisees adhered rigorously to these occasionally erroneous interpretations. No self-respecting Jewish religious elite would stoop to table fellowship with a sinner; they would shun the sinner at all cost. Because Jesus welcomes sinners into his midst, and does not merely tolerate them, He offends the Pharisees and scribes. Because Jesus eats with sinners, and thus displays relational closeness unto fellowship with them, He disgusts the Pharisees and scribes. Hence, Jesus explains Himself with this extended similitude and the two that follow.
In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7, esp. 15:4-7), a man—a shepherd—has a hundred sheep, yet loses one. This shepherd of one hundred sheep is fairly prosperous for the day—though certain shepherds cared for more sheep, many cared for less. This shepherd, moreover, stands to lose 1% of his herd. Many an investor, in a risky venture, will gladly bear a one-percent loss in view of potential staggering gain. This shepherd is not like many an investor. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep in safety, perhaps entrusting them to under-shepherds, and seeks the lost one. Why would he go to such trouble? The shepherd goes to such trouble over the lost sheep, first, because he owns the sheep. He is not a hireling, and, hence, he will bear the ownership loss if he does not recover the sheep. Second, the shepherd troubles himself over the lost sheep because he loves it—and he cannot bear easily the thought of the lost sheep’s injury or death. Hence, he spares not effort to recover the lost sheep.
In due course, happily, the shepherd finds the lost sheep. We know not how or where he finds the sheep, but he finds it. The shepherd rejoices on finding the sheep. He rejoices at the potential financial loss averted, to be sure, but fundamentally he rejoices at the safety of his beloved sheep. The shepherd places the sheep on his shoulders and carries it home—perhaps from necessity due to injury or weakness of the sheep—but more likely from affection that he feels toward the sheep. Once the shepherd is home, he calls his friends and neighbors. He cries, “Rejoice with me,” for he simply must share his joy with others; he will not contain his joy within himself. He cries further, in effect, “I found my lost sheep,” and those in the shepherding trade will know all that his cry entails.
Jesus concludes His parable by noting that, in the same way, joy will be in Heaven on the basis of one repenting sinner. Joy will be felt and expressed—and those to profound degree, I am sure—at the penitent sinner turned by the Spirit’s sovereign leading from self and sin unto Christ, His ways, His things, and His covenant people. This joy will surpass in depth and expression the joy at ninety-nine souls that need no repentance. Of course, there is no salvation without repentance unto life, but the parable illustrates well the exceeding joy in Heaven at a penitent sinner crossed from death unto life.
Jesus seeks and saves the lost (Luke 19:10, par.). Then rejoicing ensues—both in the Savior Himself and in those redeemed folk who receive the tidings of rescue. Hence, let us not be as the Jewish ruling elite, who grumbled at Jesus’ associations. We may feel today as if this be no problem for us, but let us be careful in the future not to feel as the Pharisees and scribes did at Jesus’ admission of certain folks into His Kingdom with us. Rather, let us be as the throng of Heaven, which rejoices in the rescue of lost souls. Let us rejoice in Jesus’ rescue of our own souls. We owe our very lives to Him; let us glorify Him with Spirit-empowered rejoicing over the rescue of formerly lost souls. Let us rejoice in the salvation of our fellow Christians. We are glad that we are fellow rescued ones—and, on that basis, we are glad to be family in Christ one with another. Let us also rejoice when those yet to be saved are saved indeed in time and space—and, thus, ingrafted into Jesus, the true Vine. Rejoice, then, with the triune God and the Heavenly host both in the God Who saves and over the ones He so gloriously rescues.