Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Parable of the Lost Sheep, better than any place else in the Gospels, reveals Christ’s heart to seek and to save the lost.
Table of Contents
Family Worship Guide
Directions: Read the verses and then answer the questions:
- Day 1: Luke 15:3-4, 19:10—Why did the religious leaders in Jesus’s day avoid tax collectors and sinners? Why was Jesus willing to leave the 99 to seek and save the one? Considering how valuable the lost are to Christ, what application does this have for us?
- Day 2: Luke 15:5, 1 Timothy 1:15, Romans 3:11, 1 John 4:19, John 6:39, 44, 65—What was the prevailing view of how people were forgiven in Jesus’s day? Why do sheep make such good pictures of the lost? What does it mean that we build our theology with indicatives supported by narratives? Can you think of any other indicatives teaching that Jesus seeks us?
- Day 3: Luke 15:6, Matthew 13:44-46, Hebrews 12:2—In the parables, what do the treasure and pearl of great price represent? Who is the man and the merchant? In what ways did Jesus sell all that he has for the treasure and pearl? In what ways did Jesus buy the field? What Old Testament account prefigures this parable?
The title of this morning’s sermon is, “To Seek and to Save the Lost.”
On Sunday mornings we’re working our way through Luke’s gospel verse by verse and we find ourselves at Luke 15:3. Please stand with me for the reading of God’s Word. We will back up to verse 1 for context.
Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
You may be seated. Let’s pray.
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, as much as possible, separate from people they thought were unclean and unrighteous.
Leon Morris wrote, “Some rabbis in Jesus’ day took this idea so seriously that they refused to even teach people they thought were unclean and unrighteous.”
Paul Billerbeck wrote, “Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him the law.”
This led to their criticism in verse 2 that “[Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded by preaching these three parables that are all found only in Luke’s Gospel.
Jesus said of himself…
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
These parables, better than any place else in the Gospels, reveal Christ’s heart to seek and to save the lost. They will help us prepare for The Exchange.
Look with me at verse 3…
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?
Notice Jesus was willing to leave ninety-nine to pursue one.
It doesn’t make sense, does it?
You don’t sacrifice ninety-nine for one.
There are two possibilities: one logical and one illogical.
The logical possibility is understood by imagining the situation this way…
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 all the other kids to look for the child that’s missing.
That could be a logical way of viewing what is happening here.
The other possibility is this…
We are not supposed to view this logically.
Jesus often spoke illogically 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
And this is another illogical example of illogical exaggeration, because the more commentaries I read, the more convinced I became that a shepherd would never leave ninety-nine sheep for one…at least not a good shepherd. 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.”
In other words, it’s absurd that a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep alone to find one sheep.
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 one lost sheep.
Why describe such an absurd situation?
For the same reason Jesus always used hyperbole or absurd situations: to make a point.
And what would be the point?
To show the value of that one lost sheep to the shepherd.
And this brings us to lesson one…
Lesson One: Jesus seeks and saves the lost, because they’re valuable to Him.
One reason I stress this is I don’t know how valuable you think you are:
- I don’t know if you wake up some days doubting your value
- I don’t know how valuable you feel in your workplace or your school
- I don’t know how valuable you feel in your marriage or your family
But I can tell you this: even if you weren’t valuable to anyone else in the entire world, you are still 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.
As I told you a couple weeks ago, I think it is providential that we reached these verses right before beginning The Exchange as a church.
In other words, right before learning how better to reach the lost with the gospel, we reach the premier place in Scripture revealing the Lord’s heart for the lost.
So, I want to make sure we don’t miss something…
If lost sheep were valuable to Jesus, do you see the application this has for us?
If the lost are valuable to Christ, and we love Christ, the lost must be valuable to us.
For a moment think about that people who might have the least value to you:
- A homeless man standing on the corner asking for money. I will be the first to say that I am not defending is actions. I know that for every needy person there are several frauds who could be working but choose to do this 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 on them 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.
- What if you saw a prostitute? Again, I am not defending her 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. Think of the language of 1 Corinthians 6:11…
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 that 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.”
The idea is God carried the Israelites back from their physical captivity in Babylon, like Jesus carries us back from our spiritual captivity to sin and death.
I read that 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 do this when a sheep was too physically weak to return to the flock. There’s a sense in which 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.
Again, to help prepare us for The Exchange, as we think about what Jesus is willing to do for 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.
In verse 5 notice the words when he has found it… and this brings us to lesson two…
Lesson Two: Jesus seeks and finds the lost, versus the lost seeking and finding Him.
Let me tell you the prevailing view of forgiveness in Jesus’s day…
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 these first two parables 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:
- 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?
- 5 And when HE HAS FOUND IT, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
- 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.’
- 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?
- 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.’
William Barclay wrote, “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.”
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
The lost sheep would never save itself or find the shepherd. If the shepherd did not take action to find the sheep, the sheep stays lost.
Adam Clarke said, “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.”
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.
If you remember a few months ago when we looked at Mephibosheth, I told you he is a dramatic picture of the gospel. David sought Mephibosheth, found him, and brought him to him…and these first two parables are like that.
Let’s 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.
You might remember a couple years ago I told you an important biblical principle that we build our theology with indicatives – or statements – supported by narratives. We don’t do it the other way around and build our theology with narratives and then look for 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.
I mention this because 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 then see if indicatives support those truths to prevent us from coming to any wrong conclusions.
Now in this case do indicatives in Scripture teach, or indicate, that Christ seeks us?
Listen to these verses…
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 about as much as Mephibosheth sought David…or as much as lost sheep seek the shepherd.
Now briefly take your minds back to the image of a shepherd finding a lost sheep…
For some reason when I picture a shepherd having to leave the flock to look for a lost sheep, I picture him finding it and being frustrated that it wandered off…especially if he had to pick it up, put it on his shoulders, and carry it all the way back to the flock.
But in verse 5 look at the word that describes how the shepherd does all this: rejoicing.
And look at verse 6, because it gets even better…
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.’
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!
And this brings us to lesson three…
Lesson Three: Finding and saving the lost causes Jesus to rejoice.
If you write in your Bible, circle the words rejoicing and rejoice, draw a line from them and write, “Matthew 13:44” and then turn there.
We are going to look at two other short parables about Christ seeking and finding us, and the way He feels when He does.
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.
Both parables are about a Man who thought something was so valuable He was willing to give up everything He had to obtain it.
Spurgeon said of these two parables, “Jesus at the utmost cost to Himself, bought the world to gain His church, which was the treasure which He desired.”
If you write in your bible, I want to give you four things to circle:
- First, in verse 44 circle the word treasure and in verse 46 circle the words pearl of great price and write, “Me.”
- Second, in verse 44 circle the words a man and in verse 45 circle the word merchant and write, “Jesus.”
- Third, in verse 44 circle the words sells all that he has and in verse 46 circle the words sold all that he had and write, “Phil 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.”
- Finally, in verse 44 circle the words buys that field and in verse 46 circle the words bought it and write “Redeemed.”
I know there’s another way to view these parables that’s the opposite of what I just said. According to this view:
- WE are the man who found the treasure and sold everything for it
- WE are the merchant who found the treasure and sold everything to buy it.
I disagree with this view for two reasons…
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.
- We sold everything.
- We bought the field and the pearl.
It’s almost like we purchased our salvation, or redeemed Christ, instead of him redeeming us.
The second reason I reject this interpretation is it conflicts with the Old Testament…
The Old Testament prefigures or foreshadows New Testament realities and there’s a great picture of this parable in the Old Testament…
In verse 44 notice Jesus didn’t really care about the field He bought. He wanted the treasure that came with the field – or the world – and that’s you and me. He purchased the field – or redeemed the world – not because of the field, but because of what came with the field…and that’s us, so we could become His bride.
Can you think of an example in this in the Old Testament? A man who was willing to buy a field he didn’t really care to have so he could have the treasure – or bride – that came with the field?
Boaz and Ruth, and in that account is Boaz a picture of us or Jesus? Jesus. He’s our Kinsman Redeemer.
Boaz purchased – or redeemed Ruth – and then made her His Bride…just like Christ does with us.
In verse 44, notice the word joy. You’re the treasure Jesus found, and finding you brought Him joy…just like:
- The shepherd who found his lost sheep: Luke 15:5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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.’
- The woman who found her lost coin: 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.’
For Christ to save us, 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 you…
- That’s how valuable you are to Him
- He was willing to go to the cross joyfully to redeem you back from sin and death.
I will be up front after service, and if you have any questions about anything I’ve shared, or I can pray for you in any way I would consider it a privilege to speak with you.