(A) Introduction. Read: Luke15v1to7

The three parables that constitute chapter 15 were prompted by criticism of Jesus' conduct from the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They strongly objected to Jesus fraternising with tax collectors and "sinners" - to the extent that he ate with them. The tax collectors were not respectable because they collaborated with the Romans. The "sinners" were probably people who had a very casual attitude to the Law and as such were despised by the strict Pharisees.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep deals with the responsibility of the shepherd for his lost sheep and is applicable to God, his Son and also to those who serve his Son. It is particularly applicable to Jesus - the Great Shepherd of the sheep - who came to seek and to save the lost.

(B) The shepherd's concern. Then Jesus told them this parable, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep." v3and4.

A shepherd is concerned for a lost sheep - it belongs to him and he wants it back. Sheep are the shepherd's business. Their protection and provision are the shepherd's purpose in life.

God is like the shepherd, a fact wonderfully expressed in the 23rd Psalm. He is our maker and inevitably has an interest in his creation - particularly those he made in his own image.

(1) A good shepherd's motivation.

A shepherd is concerned for the lost sheep's condition because it is:

    (a) Pitiful. The lost sheep is in want - trapped, perhaps, on a rocky ledge unable to go up or down. How it got into such a predicament is by no means clear - but it is certainly the sheep's own fault. Now it is alone and in distress bleating pitiously for food and water.

    (b) Perilous. The wayward sheep is in danger of perishing. It could be taken by a predator - a lion, bear, hyena, jackal or even, as it grows weaker, a vulture. The sheep might die of thirst or starvation. Many that end up on steep slopes fall to their death. As a walker in the Lake District and North Wales I came across the carcasses of many sheep that had come to grief far from the shepherd.

    (c) Pathetic. A lost sheep cannot save itself. It is stuck. The sheep that goes astray is never going to find its way back to the shepherd unaided. It is in a hopeless and helpless condition.

(2) A graphic picture of a lost soul.

Men and women have wandered far from God. Isaiah, the prophet, tells us: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. Is53v6. We are in danger of dying far from the Shepherd - lost forever - lost without trace. All those lost souls, many blithely ignorant of their true condition, are powerless to help themselves.

God the Father is concerned. Jesus his Son is concerned about the state of fallen humanity. That is why when he was here upon earth Jesus was the friend of publicans and "sinners". He said after saving little Zacchaeus, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Lk19v10.

Nothing sums up the mission of Jesus better than the words of the hymn:

            Jesus, the Saviour, this Gospel to tell,
            Joyfully came;
            Came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
            Sharing their sorrow and shame:
            Seeking the lost,
            Saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

(3) How much are we concerned for the lost?

Many years ago I read the following in the old, 'Life of Faith.' It challenged me then and it challenges me now.

My little girl was lost!

It was thirteen years ago, but I can remember it as if it happened yesterday.

An hour and a half before, Debbie Jean had walked home from school, and after a nap had gone out to play with her four year-old brother Sandy. My wife had left me with the children while she went to the store, and for some time I worked in my study upstairs. Then, when I called Debbie Jean to come in, there was no answer. Sandy told me she had gone back to school. This surprised me: although the school was only a few hundred yards away, across some open fields and backyards, she seldom went there to play, and never without permission.

I went to look for her, but she was not there. My wife drove up as I came back, and a little uneasy, we quickly checked the five other houses on our street. She was not at any of them. Should I call the police? I walked up and down the road calling her, fearing the silence.

Half an hour later our little girl came walking around a corner of the school, smiling. The explanation was simple, but hard to take. She had gone to a candy store just byond the school, met a friend and gone to her home.

Later (when the thunder and lightning and tears were over), I reflected on the incident. During the nearly two hours that Debbie Jean was missing, nothing else mattered. In my study were books to be read, letters to be answered, articles to be written, planning to be done: but it was all forgotten. I could think of only one thing: my little girl was lost. I had only one prayer, and I prayed it a thousand times: 'O God help me to find her.'

How often, I ask myself, had I felt that same terrible urgency about people who were lost from God?

The first Christian movement was gripped by a great conviction - that if man has a soul, and if that soul can be saved or lost, the most important thing in the world is to bring men to salvation in Christ.

(C) The shepherd's commitment.

(1) What it takes to be a saviour.

On Dec 24th 1909 there was a report in the New York Times of awards made to some of the cities' firemen. Firemen are brave today but the heroism of those New York Firemen in 1909 was something else. The equipment available in the 21st century undoubtedly makes fighting fires less hazardous than it was at the turn of the 20th century. David H Mullen of Hook and Ladder Company 30 was one of those honoured and I will use him as an example of the unbelievable courage those New York fire fighters showed.

Flames roared up the dumb waiter and airshaft of 122 West 127th Street at 3 o clock on the morning of Dec 24th and Mrs Alice Looker balanced on a window sill of the top floor was about to jump. She was cut off from the one fire escape in the building. The firemen shouted and signalled to her to wait as they unlimbered the extension ladder. It had worked but half way up when David H Mullen leaped upon it and rose up its swaying length. When he got to the top rung he braced himself, holding out his arms for Mrs Looker but the flames burst from the window behind her. She fell back into them. Instantly Mullen jumped headfirst into the flaming room. When those below, waiting, had all but given up he came to the window with the woman in his arms. His own clothing and hers were ablaze. He paused on the window ledge a moment to rip her nightgown from her body and then slowly came down the ladder. Several times on the way he had to stop to beat the flames from his clothing or her hair, until, almost overcome, he reached the ground.

(2) The qualities shared by the fireman and the good shepherd.

The commitment of both was:

(a) Decisive. The firemen decided to mount the swaying ladder and leap into the burning building. The good shepherd took the initiative and set out on the long journey to rescue his sheep.

(b) Demanding. The fireman needed great resourcefulness to achieve his amazing rescue of Mrs Looker. I could never have done it! I would never have had the strength or sense of balance to bring the burning woman down the ladder. The shepherd found the lost sheep because he knew the wilderness like the back of his hand. There was no danger of him getting lost!

(c) Difficult. It goes without saying that fireman Muller experienced great difficulties. He had to overcome dangers, obstacles and setbacks. There must have been moments when he wondered whether he would make it. In order to rescue his sheep the shepherd was at risk from predators, precipitous slopes and bandits. He was never safe!

(d) Dedicated. A rescuer, whether he be a fireman or a shepherd, has one goal - to succeed at all costs in saving the perishing. Mrs Looker would have perished without the efforts of David Mullen and the lost sheep would have perished without the intervention of the good shepherd.

(3) The commitment of Jesus.

The commitment of the Great Shepherd was also:

  • Decisive. Jesus took the initiative to come to earth. He decided to obey his Father and dwell among men in order to offer the ultimate sacrifice for lost sinners.

  • Difficult. It was perilous for Jesus to be born a man. He was the odd man out - the only sinless person among a world full of sinners. He experienced many dangers and numerous disappointments. Jesus was despised and rejected of men. Even his close followers misunderstood his mission. I have to say if Jesus returned to 21st century Britain he would not survive long. He would in all probability be assassinated by the secret service.

  • Demanding. Jesus needed immense resources of character and will to cope with the the hostile opposition he faced, the pressure to heal and the severe temptations to serve his own iterest. There was a concerted effort orchestrated by Satan to get Jesus off the cross. What restraint Jesus showed when he was taunted by priests, soldiers, onlookers and the thieves on his right hand and left. How easy it would have been to summon his angels and confound his critics. But then Satan would have won and sinful humanity would have lost. Jesus had the resources to resist temptation thanks to his intense prayer life and communion with his Father.

  • Dedicated. Jesus was dedicated to just one end - to carry out the will of his Father in heaven - saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

    I love the words of the Sankey hymn:

              But none of the ransomed ever knew
              How deep were the waters crossed
              Nor how dark was the night that the
              Lord passed through
              Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
              Out in the desert He heard its cry -
              Sick and helpless and ready to die.

    (4) How committed are we to the lost?

    What steps have we taken to save the lost? Are we prepared to overcome difficulties? Have we the resources necessary to witness for Jesus? Are we dedicated? Do we care enough about bring lost sheep to the Loving Shepherd. These are not questions that I find easy to answer! See story about the black lady in the bookshop.

    (D) The shepherd's competence.

    The shepherd's competence is cause for:

    (1) Relief.

    Isn't it a relief that once the shepherd finds his sheep he is able to save it. What consideration he shows. Lost sheep that are rounded up in the Welsh mountains tend to be driven home with dogs snapping and snarling at their heels. The good shepherd puts his hand upon the sheep. He asserts his ownership of the sheep. The shepherd is saying, "You are mine - and I am not going to lose you again." Then the sheep is lifted up. It does not experience any rough treatment - it is lifted up not knocked down.

    How capably Jesus saves the sinner. As the writer to the Hebrews so memorably put it: Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Heb8v26. How tenderly Jesus saves the sinner. He reassures the repentant sinner of salvation by his Spirit. He overwhelms the sinner with his love and by the Spirit puts a new heart in him. He lifts us up: When no one but Christ could help - He lifted me. See anecdote about Denis Lemon.

    (2) Respect.

    Isn't the good shepherd manly - striding home with the sheep upon his shoulders. The sheep needed to be carried because it was too traumatised, weak and bewildered to travel home under its own steam.

    The fire fighter who saved Mrs Looker was manly. Members of the rescue services are admired for the work they do and demeanour they show. My friend and I had just finished lunch in the Crown Inn when my friend collapsed. I phoned for an ambulance. My word, you should have seen the reaction of the bar maid and waitresses when the two paramedics walked in. They served my meal politely but I could not detect any admiration in their glances. But they were all over the young paramedics and it wasn't long before they were munching on bacon sandwiches - provided free by the management.

    Jesus is the ultimate rescuer. He alone can rescue us from sin and its appalling consequences. He bore the sins of the whole world at Calvary. He was no abject victim - he was saving the world at measureless cost.

    It is little wonder that Jesus is admired! So he should be - what a manly figure - the Great Shepherd of the sheep - bearing his loved ones home.

    (3) Rejoicing.

    In July 1914 Dick Shepherd accepted the post of Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. One night Dick found a young woman crying in the church. She had been turned out of her home in a northern town, after a quarrel with her parents, but was desperately homesick. Dick sensed the possibility of reconciliation, and there and then took her to the station and travelled home with her, returning to London wearily but happily after seeing the family reunited.

    There is the same sort of fourfold joy when a sinner is saved by Jesus. There is the joy of:

      (a) The sinner who is no longer lost but safe and secure in the bosom of God's family

      (b) The Saviour born of his great love for sinful men.

      (c) The church. The friends and family of the Saviour rejoice at another brand plucked from the burning.

      (d) Heaven. God and his angels are glad whenever another lost soul is saved from futility, despair and destruction - whenever another sinner is redeemed for glory.

    The old song says it all:

            But all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
            And up from the rocky steep,
            There arose a cry from the gate of heaven,
            "Rejoice! I have found my sheep!"
            And the angels echoed around the throne,
            Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!"