Summary: This sermon looks at the parable of the Lost Sheep
The Lost Sheep
There are two questions I want you to wrestle with this season of Lent: What’s the most important thing to you? And what’s the most important thing to God? It is that second question that Jesus seeks to answer with the teaching of three parables in Luke chapter 15 and as a result, he wants us to consider if the most important thing to Jesus is important to us? And if so, how much? When Jesus taught, he didn’t use technical terms or philosophical ideas. Instead, he drew from the world around him, using images and objects to teach people about God and His kingdom. Those images included seeds and weeds, trees and fruit, land and landowners. But one of the most frequently used images was sheep and shepherd. Sheep could be seen everywhere roaming the hills of the country with their shepherds and they could be seen in the streets of Jerusalem ready for sacrifice at the temple. Even today, you can still see sheep in the countryside with their shepherds tending them.
It is to this image that Jesus turns with the first parable he teaches in response to the Pharisees’ charge that He welcomes and eats sinners and tax collectors. The Greek word for "welcomes" literally means to "receive as a friend." This was Jesus’ attitude toward those who were lost in sin, to befriend them and love them back to God, vastly different from the Pharisees’ view of such people, as we will see. The pages of the Bible are littered with images of sheep and the shepherd. They appear at critical times in the story of God’s people, and there is hardly another motif as rich in content. In Gen. 48:24, as Jacob, on his deathbed summarized his life, he declared that God had been his “shepherd all of his life to this day.” Psalm 23 speaks of God as the Good Shepherd. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15). Jesus describes both God and himself as one who knows his flock and whose flock knows him and his voice. Amidst all of the images of shepherds and sheep, there is one constant: you and I are always the sheep.
To whom is Jesus speaking? Two weeks ago, we learned that the Pharisees making those charges were from Jerusalem and were a part of the Sanhedrin, the “Supreme Court” of religious affairs and decision making for Jews. They were threatened by Jesus and his growing following and thus wanted to discredit him and when that didn’t work, get rid of him altogether. The Pharisees were founded 200 years before Jesus and started off with good intentions. In the face of the growing influence of Greek thought and culture, known as Helenism, on their children, they sought to to bring their children back into the faith and live pure and holy lives. Yet by Jesus’ time, they became more critical of others who didn’t live like them or interpret the Scriptures as they did. They began to create an “us vs. them” mentality, calling those who disagreed with them “outsiders,” now including Jesus. The second group present were the tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were some of the most hated people in Israel because they consorted with the Romans and lived lavishly off the back of the average person who struggled to survive. The Pharisees considered them to be unforgiveable because they couldn’t pay retribution for the taxes charged to the caravans of traders moving their goods through Israel. Finally, sinners are those who are living outside the boundaries of the Law of God and included the impurity, the greedy, thieves and prostitutes among others.
As Jesus responds to these Jerusalem Pharisees, He gets their attention by addressing them with “Suppose one of you has a 100 sheep.” While the OT notion of a shepherd was noble, by the 1st century when Pharisees became much more judgmental of those breaking the law and unable to make amends, shepherds became scorned, despised, and shepherding was viewed as being an “unclean” profession. To the Pharisees, shepherds were “sinners” because they roamed on people’s land without permission and the grass and water consumed by the sheep could never be repaid. Thus, they considered shepherds reprehensible people practicing a shameful profession. So the Pharisees would have been offended to be addressed as “one of them” but that is exactly what Jesus does as He starts to unfold His trilogy of “lost and found” parables.
Jesus’ second challenge to the Pharisees comes when this shepherd is saddled with the responsibility of actually losing a sheep. “Suppose one of you has a 100 sheep and loses one of them?” In Middle Eastern cultures, saving face is so important. If you were describing a sheep that had strayed, you would never say, “I lost one of them…” To save face, you’d say, “one of them wandered off or the sheep got lost.” But Jesus intentionally says, “The shepherd loses one of them.” So Jesus implies the Pharisees have responsibility for all the sheep, not just some, and accuses the Pharisees shirking or not fulfilling that responsibility.