THE PARABLES OF JESUS

The Lost Sheep

Scripture: Matthew 18:12-14  (see also Luke 15:3-10)

12 What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search of the one that went astray?  13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14  So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Meditation: Do you know what it's like to lose your bearings and to be hopelessly adrift in a sea of uncertainty? To be alone, lost, and disoriented without a sense of direction is one of the worst fears we can encounter. What we would give to have a guide who would show us the way to safety and security, the way to home and family. Scripture comforts us with the assurance that God will not rest until we find our way home to him. The scriptures use the image of a shepherd who cares for his sheep to describe what God is like. God promised that he would personally shepherd his people and lead them to safety (Isaiah 40:11). That is why God sent his only begotten son as the Messiah King who would not only restore peace and righteousness to the land, but who would also shepherd and care for his people with love and compassion. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11).

What can we learn from the lesson of Jesus' parable about a lost sheep? This parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. Shepherds not only had to watch over their sheep by day and by night; they also had to protect them from wolves and lions who preyed upon them, and from dangerous terrain and storms. Shepherds often had large flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands.  It was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. You can imagine the surprise and grief of the shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing! Does he wait until the next day to go looking for it? Or does he ask a neighboring shepherd if he might has seen the stray sheep? No, he goes immediately in search of this lost sheep. Delay for even one night could mean disaster leading to death. Sheep by nature are very social creatures. An isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic. Easy prey for wolves and lions!

The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The shepherd  searches until what he has lost is found. His persistence pays off. What was new in Jesus' teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out time and time again.  How easy to forget and be distracted with other matters while the lost become prey for devouring wolves of the soul. The Apostle Peter reminds us that the "devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. God is on a rescue mission today to save us from the destructive forces of sin and evil. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take. Do you listen to his voice and heed his wise counsel? Do you follow the path he has set for you - a path that leads to life rather than death?

"Lord Jesus, nothing escapes your watchful gaze and care. May I always walk in the light of your truth and never stray from your loving presence."


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(c) 2001-2007 Don Schwager