A parable is nothing more than a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. This was one of Jesus’ primary teaching methods. Below is the first of three parables that Jesus shared in response to the Pharisees grumbling about Him spending so much time with “sinners.”
The Lost Sheep
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 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 which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
– Luke 15:1-7 (NASB)
The Pharisees And Scribes Are Unhappy With Jesus
Jesus had gained influence among the every day populace of His day and this did not sit well with many of the religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus time, are often found to be condescending to those that were not in their ranks. We see these men in their positions of power, grumbling, because Jesus is choosing to associate with and relate to “sinners.” You can feel the posture of superiority that these religious leaders have. Through their spiritual blindness, they do not consider themselves to counted among these people that they labeled as sinners.
To address the real issue at hand, Jesus launches into a series of stories to confront this attitude in the scribes and Pharisees.
What Does It Mean To Be Lost
In this first parable, Jesus tells the story of a sheep that has gotten separated from its shepherd and the rest of his group, and is unable to find its way home. Jesus is drawing a correlation between the condition of the sheep and our spiritual reality. The lost sheep in this story is one of those “sinners” that the Pharisees were looking down on. A sinner is someone that is lost. They have been separated from God and do not know how to find their way back home.
This is the very reason Jesus came. To help all of us find our way back home.
The Reason For Jesus Response
Jesus begins telling this series of stories in response to the condescending attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. He begins by emphasizing the desperate predicament of the lost. In the physical world and in our spiritual condition, being lost is far worse than being safe. The Pharisees were either unwilling or unable to see their own condition as being lost. They would never consider themselves to be counted among the “sinners.”
This is an improper attitude for the Pharisees to have, or anyone else. As He brings this story to a close, He states, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” For every sinner that Jesus spent time with, there was hope; hope that they would recognize their need for the redemption that He offered. If just one of them recognized their sinful state and repented, their would be much joy and celebration in Heaven. But, for the religious leaders, that were unable to see their sinfulness and need of redemption through Jesus, there would be no joyous celebration. In their eyes, they did not need it, and therefore, unable to receive it.
Not A Message Of Evangelism
We mostly hear this parable shared as a call to evangelism. However, Jesus was not calling on people to go out and save or even search for the lost in this parable. Jesus was sharing this story to emphasize the peril of being lost and to serve as a warning to those people that refuse to see their own need for a savior.
Jesus was hammering home this point to the Pharisees: You do not understand why I am spending so much time with, and expending so much energy on these sinners, because you do not see that you are lost. You are not in a better position than they are, you are just like them. Some of them have hope because they see their sinfulness. You, have no hope, because you do not see your own sinfulness. Heaven will rejoice every time one of them finds their way home; being reconciled to their Heavenly Father. While the only joy you can hope to see, is in the fleeting pursuits, of your selfish desires, until that moment when you step into the rest of eternity, and all joy is lost.
When We Understand The Peril Of Being Lost
When any responsible person or a group of people understand the implications of being lost, they are motivated to do something about it, just as the person in Jesus story went to find and retrieve the lost sheep. This is most likely the reason so many preachers and teachers use this message as a call to evangelism.
As Jesus was making his point, He asked His audience to insert themselves into the story. It was implied and understood, that the sheep that was lost was in grave danger. So much so, that Jesus said everyone listening would leave the rest of the sheep to go find the sheep that was all alone.
When the Church understands what is at stake, they will begin to have a heart for the same people that Jesus had a heart for. Those that are lost. And like Jesus, we will begin to go where they spend their time and not where religious people spend most of their time. And unlike the Pharisees, we will not complain when the work of the church is not designed around us and our preferences.
People that are from God are near to His heart. Jesus came so that we could find our way home and be reconciled to God. When Jesus was here on the Earth, He spent His time and energy investing in those that were willing to see their own sinfulness, not those that denied their need for a savior.
When we see the implications of sin, we will do what Jesus did. We will spend our time and energy investing in those that are willing to see their own sinfulness. But, we will not be moved to act, until we fully understand the peril of being lost.
If you have never considered yourself a sinner and in need of a savior, we would ask you to consider the possibility. Maybe you would consider visiting a church near your home, talking with a Christian friend, or possibly reading through some of the bible. If you are open to reading your bible, we would recommend starting with the books of Matthew and John.
God wants us to have His heart for people. As individuals, families, and churches. The first step is recognizing our need to be reconciled and choosing to come back home.
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