Something is said to be ‘lost’ if it is missing and the plain inference is that it needs to be found and put back in its rightful place. Yet, in our selfish, materialistic world, we don’t see the obvious, nor consider the serious consequence of losing something valuable. Jesus was accused by the religious leaders of his day for associating with and working for those who morally were considered the last, least and lost of society! Jesus silences his critics by telling them a story of the lost sheep (Lk.15:1-7). He wanted them to catch a vision – God’s vision – of helpless people without hope who are desperate. This parable can then promote Christian mission as we examine what was lost, why and how was it recovered?
1. The Wandering Sheep: Why care? Notice at least three facts about the one, lost sheep. First, by its own will, it had wandered away from the shepherd into mountainous wilderness (v.4). Next, the sheep was helpless and desperately needed to be sought after by a shepherd. Finally, this sheep may or may not have been found by the shepherd, and if not, perished (cf. Matt.18:13). For Jesus, this highlighted the condition of all humans, who like sheep, have gone stray from God, each turning to their own way (Isa.53:6). Sheep are known to be dumb, defenseless creatures that need to be directed daily. Importantly, the story reveals how each of us like this sheep cannot rescue ourselves and need to be sought and found. This certainly reveals the need for God’s unmerited favor – grace! While we were yet sinner, God commended his love toward us, in sending Jesus to seek and save us ‘lost sheep’ (Rom.5:8; Mk.10:45).
2. The Winsome Shepherd: What care! ‘Can any good shepherd avoid the cry of a lost sheep?’ was Jesus’ argument to his accusers. The shepherd’s love, concern and efforts are evident as he leaves the other ninety nine to ‘go after’ this one lost ‘until’ he finds and recovers it. Notice how he not only finds and fetches but gently lays it on his shoulders and brings it back to the fold. Yet he does more – he finds enough cause to celebrate the lost, now found. He greatly rejoices and he must share with others. Jesus no doubt wanted his listeners and critics to understand that God, the Father was a searching, who cared for lost souls. Did they, at that point, grasp the fact that the Story-teller was the good shepherd who came to seek and to save all ‘lost’ people? (Mark 10:45). He not only the Good Shepherd as he laid down his lay down (John 10:11), but the Great shepherd since he arose from the dead to protect and provide for his life (Heb.13:20-21). Besides Jesus is the soon-coming, Chief Shepherd who will reward all those who pastorally care for his sheep (1Pet.5:4).
3. The Work of Shepherding: Who cares?! How did Jesus perceive the multitudes of people? As lost sheep, without a shepherd, helpless and harassed. Nobody cares how much we know until they know how much we care. The verb to ‘pastor’ (Gk: poimen) comes from the task being a shepherd. It becomes clear that God, the Shepherd of our soul, is a missionary God (Latin missio = to send) who sent Jesus to find, fetch and folk us in his fold (the church). The church ought to be the most ‘caring place’. Notice this God of compassion (com = with, passio = to suffer) who himself, ‘in Christ’ suffered for the lost is not willing a single one of his sheep be lost (Mat.18:14; 2Pet.3:9). Just as he sent his Son, he sends us, his servants, out of love to seek and save the lost (Jn.20:21; 21:15). Jesus now commissions us, his sheep to go in the midst of wolves; wise as serpents and harmless as doves, to win the Lost at any cost’. But, first we must see what Jesus saw and know there is no mission without compassion.