Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, hidden treasure, and pearl reveal Christ’s heart to seek and to save the lost.
Table of Contents
- Jesus Seeks and Saves the Lost Because They’re Valuable to Him
- Jesus Seeks and Saves the Lost, Versus the Lost Seeking and Finding Him
- Seeking and Saving the Lost Causes Jesus to Rejoice
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day divided people into two groups:
- the clean and the unclean
- the righteous and the unrighteous
They wanted to be clean and righteous so they tried to live separately from people they thought were unclean and unrighteous:
Some rabbis in Jesus’ day took this idea so seriously that they refused to even teach people they thought were unclean and unrighteous.Morris, Leon L. “Luke: An Introduction and Commentary” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him the law.Strack-Billerbeck, II, 208
This led to the religious leaders’ criticism that “[Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Jesus responded by preaching the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15:3-32). Later Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The three parables, better than anything else in the Gospels, reveal Christ’s heart to seek and to save the lost.
Luke 15:3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
Jesus was willing to leave ninety-nine to pursue one, which doesn’t make sense. You don’t sacrifice ninety-nine for one. There are two possibilities: one logical and one illogical.
The logical possibility is understood by imagining a family is camping. They go on a hike, come back to the campsite, but notice one of the kids is missing. The father leaves his wife and the other kids to look for the child that’s missing.
The other possibility is illogical. Jesus often spoke with hyperbole, or exaggeration: “Cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, a camel goes through the eye of a needle, hate your parents and children.” This is another example, because a good shepherd would never do this. The parable could describe a shepherd diligently looking for a lost sheep, but it talks about a shepherd leaving the other ninety-nine sheep to search for one lost sheep. Only a foolish shepherd would endanger 99% of the flock for 1% of the flock. One author, familiar with shepherding in the Middle East, wrote:
I have never seen in Syria, Palestine or Mesopotamia a flock attended by a single person. Two, and even three, shepherds are commonly employed. When one sheep is lost and the shepherd goes to seek it, the other shepherd takes the flock home.Bailey, K. E. (1983). Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined Edition, Vol. 1, p. 149). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Jesus described an absurd situation or the same reason He always used hyperbole or absurd situations: to make a point. He wanted to show the value of that one lost sheep to the shepherd.
Jesus Seeks and Saves the Lost Because They’re Valuable to Him
The Lord seeking and saving lost sinners was first pictured back in the Garden when God sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned: “The Lord God called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9).
I don’t know if you wake up some days doubting your value. I don’t know how valuable you feel in your workplace, school, marriage, or family. But I can tell you this: even if you aren’t valuable to anyone else, you are incredibly valuable to Christ. If you were that one lost sheep, Jesus would be willing to leave the other ninety-nine sheep to find you.
The Lost Should Be Valuable to Us
If lost sheep are valuable to Jesus, and we love Jesus, lost sheep should be valuable to us. For a moment think about that people who might have the least value to you:
- People begging for money: I will be the first to say that I am not defending his actions. I know that for every needy person there are several frauds who could be working beg instead. But whether they are truly needy or not, they are still valuable to Christ.
- Drug addicts: Sometimes you can see the toll the years of addiction have taken just by looking at them. Because they have been so physically affected, they almost look like they’ve lost value, but they still have the same value to the Shepherd.
- Prostitutes: Again, I am not defending the actions. We recognize this is an evil way to live. Our minds can even go to Proverbs 7 and the way the harlot is condemned. But prostitutes are still lost sheep who are valuable to the Shepherd.
Some of these people might seem like they are beyond hope, but then Christ seeks them, finds them, and the gospel changes them:
1 Corinthians 6:11 Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
We should remember this is what happened with us when we became believers. We were lost, Christ sought us, found us, and changed our lives. And look how Christ responds when He finds a lost sheep:
Luke 15:5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
In John 10:11 Jesus called himself the good shepherd and he looks like that good, loving shepherd as he lays the lost sheep on his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. This verse alludes to Isaiah’s day when the Israelites were carried similarly when they returned from exile:
Isaiah 49:22 Thus says the Lord God: “…They shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.”
God carried the Israelites back from their physical captivity in Babylon, like Jesus carries us back from our spiritual captivity to sin and death.
Sometimes when a sheep is lost it will lie down helplessly on the ground and refuse to move. If the shepherd is going to save the sheep, he must pick it up and carry it on his shoulders. A shepherd would also have to carry a sheep when it was too physically weak to return to the flock. This was the case for all of us, because of our spiritual weakness:
Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Christ didn’t wait for us to become strong enough to be saved. He died for us when we were too weak and unable to save ourselves.
As we think about Luke 19:10 and Jesus’ willingness to seek and save the lost, we should think about what we are willing to do for the lost. We should be willing to:
- Stretch ourselves and talk to people, even if we are afraid to do so
- Pass out tracts, even if we don’t feel like it.
- Look for opportunities to share the gospel in conversations, even if it terrifies us
- Be willing to talk about Christ, even if we think people won’t listen and might even ridicule us.
Jesus Seeks and Saves the Lost, Versus the Lost Seeking and Finding Him
Notice Luke 15:5 says, “when He has [the sheep],” versus “when the sheep found Him.” The prevailing view of forgiveness in Jesus’s day was God would forgive sinners who diligently sought Him:
- John MacArthur wrote, “The [religious leaders of the day] taught that God would receive sinners who sought his forgiveness earnestly enough.”
- David Guzik wrote, “Many rabbis believed that God received the sinner who came to Him the right way.”
But Jesus preached the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and showed He is the One diligently seeking sinners, versus the other way around. The lost being found – versus finding – is such a strong theme it shows up in almost every verse:
- Luke 15:4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until He finds it?
- Luke 15:5 And when He has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
- Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
- Luke 15:8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?
- Luke 15:9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
A great Jewish scholar has admitted that this is the one absolutely new thing which Jesus taught men about God – that he actually searched for men.Barclay, William “The Gospel of Luke” (The New Daily Study Bible) (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975)
One of the main reasons sheep make such perfect pictures of the lost, is because they are unable to save themselves, or move from being lost to found, or make their way back to the shepherd. If the shepherd did not take action to find the sheep, the sheep stays lost.
No creature strays more easily than a sheep; none is more heedless; and none so incapable of finding its way back to the flock, when once gone astray: it will bleat for the flock, and still run on in an opposite direction to the place where the flock is: this I have often noticed.Clarke, Adam “Clarke’s Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes” Volume 5 (Matthew-Acts) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1832)
If you sit here today as a believer, there was a time you were lost. You didn’t suddenly realize you were lost and then make sure you were found. Instead, the Lord took the initiative and pursued you. If he hadn’t, you would still be lost.
Mephibosheth is a dramatic picture of the gospel. David sought Mephibosheth, found him, and brought Mephibosheth to him: “Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar” (2 Samuel 9:5). These first two parables are like that.
Be thankful for what this reveals about God’s love and mercy. We could appreciate a God who forgives sinners who diligently seek him for forgiveness. They would almost seem deserving of the mercy they receive. But what about a God who tenderly searches for sinners and then mercifully forgives them? That is extraordinary love!
This is what prompted God the Father to send His Son, and this is what prompted the Son to obey His Father and come from heaven to earth:
1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
Build Theology with Indicatives Supported by Narratives
An important biblical principle is that we must build our theology with indicatives, or statements, supported by narratives. We don’t do build our theology with narratives and then look to indicatives for support. Here are some indicatives or statements:
- We are justified by grace through faith
- It is appointed for man to die once and then be judged
- Jesus was born of a virgin
We have these indicatives, or statements, and we build our theology with them. Then we allow narratives to support them.
Parables are like narratives. They make points, but they shouldn’t be given as much weight as indicatives. One of the mistakes we can make with parables is drilling down too deeply into them and pulling out theology that might not be true.
So how do we know if the theology we are considering from a parable is true? We look for supporting indicatives. We look for the truths a parable communicates and see if indicatives support those truths to prevent us from coming to any wrong conclusions.
Many indicatives teach that Christ seeks and saves the lost, versus the other way around:
Romans 3:11 There is none who seeks after God.
This is a quote of Psalm 14:2 and Isaiah 53:2. If nobody seeks God, how do people get saved? God took the initiative and sought us first.
1 John 4:19 We love Him because He first loved us.
If we love Christ, it is only because he first loved us. He was the initiator.
John 6:39 This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Instead of thinking we found Christ, we should think of being given to Christ by the Father.
John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.
When we came to the father, it was only because He first drew us.
John 6:65 No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.
We were only able to come to Christ because the Father granted it first. This is important to remember because of our pride. We like to think we are the initiators. We like to think we did something, such as seek God and find him. But unregenerate man seeks God as much as Mephibosheth sought David, or as much as lost sheep seek the shepherd.
Seeking and Saving the Lost Causes Jesus to Rejoice
Think of a shepherd finding a lost sheep. When I picture a shepherd having to leave the flock to look for a lost sheep, when he finds it, he’s frustrated that it wandered off. He’s more frustrated when he has to pick it up, put it on his shoulders, and carry it all the way back to the flock. But Luke 15:5-6 says:
When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
“Rejoicing” and “rejoice with me,” describe how the shepherd feels. You are so valuable to Christ that not only does he rejoice when he finds you, he calls together everyone around him, his friends and neighbors, and tells them to rejoice with him!
The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl
Matthew 13:44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
These two short parables are about Christ seeking and saving the lost, and the joy He feels when He does. Both parables are about a Man who thought something was so valuable He was willing to give up everything He had to obtain it. The symbolism is:
- In verse 44 the treasure and in verse 46 the pearl represent lost sinners
- In verse 44 the man and in verse 45 the merchant represent Jesus
- In verse 44 “sells all that he has” and in verse 46 “sold all that he had” represent the words of Philippians 2:7-8 which says, “[Jesus] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
- In verse 44 “buys that field” and in verse 46 “bought it” represents Christ redeeming, or buying back, lost sinners.
Jesus at the utmost cost to Himself, bought the world to gain His church, which was the treasure which He desired.Spurgeon, Charles Haddon “Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom” (London: Passmore and Alabaster, Paternoster Buildings, 1893)
According to another view of these parables, we are the man who found the treasure and sold everything for it, and we are the merchant who found the treasure and sold everything to buy it. I disagree with this view for two reasons.
Let Christ Be the Hero
First, this view makes us the heroes of the story. It’s all about what we have done for Christ. We become the initiators who sought God and found him, sold everything, and bought the field and pearl. It’s almost like we purchased our salvation, or redeemed Christ, instead of the other way around.
Prefigured in the Book of Ruth
The second reason I reject this view is it conflicts with the Old Testament, which foreshadows New Testament realities. In the parable of the hidden treasure in verse 44, Jesus didn’t care about the field He bought. He bought the field, because He wanted the treasure (lost sinners) that came with the field (or the world). He purchased the field, or redeemed the world, not because of the field, but because of the bride He wanted to obtain.
The Book of Ruth prefigures this. Boaz was willing to buy a field he didn’t care to have so he could have the treasure, or bride, that came with the field. In the account Boaz is a picture of Jesus, not us. He’s our Kinsman Redeemer. Boaz purchased, or redeemed Ruth, and made her His Bride, like Christ does with us.
Seeking and Saving the Lost Brought Jesus Joy
Verse 44 says, “for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has.” Lost sinners are the treasure Jesus found, and finding them brought Him joy. This resembles:
- The shepherd who found his lost sheep: “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost'” (Luke 15:5).
- The woman who found her lost coin: “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost’” (Luke 15:9).
For Christ to seek and save the lost as Luke 19:10 describes, He had to do much more than find us, put us on his shoulders, and carry us back to the flock. He had to die for us. It is hard to imagine Him doing this joyfully, but He did. Hebrews 12:2 says, “[Jesus] endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.” That’s how much Jesus loves the lost. That’s how valuable we are to Him. He was willing to go to the cross joyfully to redeem you back from sin and death.