I think the allegory at Luke chapter 15 is a really good metaphor that we don't meditate on enough.
Here’s the parable. There are 100 sheep in an open field along with their shepherd. With all the things that are occurring within the boundaries of this field, one sheep is separated from the group. Initially, unknowingly to the shepherd. Some time passes, and the shepherd noticed one of the sheep is missing. Now, what do you think is the shepherd’s reaction?
Even if you are not familiar with your Bible, most are aware of the answer to this story. But let’s take a closer look at this parable so that we don’t miss what is really being pointed out to us here.
Sheep needs a good shepherd
Now, watch this.
At Luke chapter 15 in verses one and two, all the tax collectors gathered to hear Jesus, who is the true shepherd, speak. Alongside, the tax collectors, both the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious elite leaders, begin to gather as well. These two groups of men begin to complain among themselves about Jesus, the true shepherd. Overhearing their complaint, Jesus begins to tell a story, a parable that directly reflects the true heart condition of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Now, it is important to note that these men are the religious leaders of that time. These are the men that the people should be able to look to for pure and accurate Godly counsel and direction, for encouragement and correction, for Scriptural education and moral direction and examples. (Compare to 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 1 Timothy 3:1-13). These are the men that should always point the people to Christ and not to men.
As Jesus listens to the Pharisees and scribes complain, Jesus begins with this parable.
What was Jesus' point here? Now, remember who is in the crowd listening. All the tax collectors came and gathered to hear Jesus speak. In the eyes of many, the tax collectors were the scum of the earth. For many in this profession were known for their unjust deeds – charging extremely high taxes, taking bribes, stealing from the people, and just downright greedy individuals. And yet, in this illustration, Jesus received these ones while teaching them Biblical truths. In response to this, the Pharisees and the scribes scoffed by saying, “This man (meaning Jesus) receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
In the eyes of the religious elite, they believe that these men, the tax collectors, were unworthy. Unworthy of what?
Hence, why Jesus introduces this parable before the crowd as he speaks about and directly to the Pharisees and the scribes. Let’s walk through that parable together. Jesus says in verse 4.
We have to understand the true value of sheep in Jesus’ day to fully benefit from what Jesus is saying here. During Jesus’ day, sheep, especially a herd of sheep were very valuable. Sheep provided his owner meat, milk, and fabrics as well as an increase in his herd through producing other offspring. Hence, why shepherds went through great extremes to protect their flock as well as to retrieve any one of them if they got lost. Sheep, especially a herd of sheep were priceless to their owner. In fact, if a man owns a large herd of sheep, it was a status symbol that he was a wealthy man. So, during Jesus’ day, sheep were extremely important to the Hebrew economy and a sign of wealth.
a good shepherd must retrieve the one that is lost
This is why a shepherd did not hesitate to leave behind a flock of sheep, in this case, based on Luke chapter 15, 99 sheep, to go after one that has left the fold. Why? Because that one sheep was priceless, extremely valuable to its owner.
Now, picture for a moment, that in this illustration that Jesus is the good Shepherd and God is the owner of this large pasture. The sheep, of course, is us. Those who have CHOSEN to be under the guiding hands of Christ our Good Shepherd and chosen to follow Christ. As the Shepherd over this field, Christ is not only watching over and caring for all of us, it is his job to make sure none of us wander off from the pasture – from among the group of the other sheep. It does not matter how or why we wander off. Whether we are belligerent or not. IT IS THE SHEPHERD (pastor and elders) JOB TO GO AFTER AND RETURN THE ONE WHO HAS WANDER OFF. There is no exception to this rule as Jesus has clearly illustrated in this parable at Luke chapter 15. A sheep, even a sheep who has wandered off on his or her own accord is valuable to the owner and therefore, is of the concern of the shepherd. And therefore, the one lost sheep should be the shepherd's greatest concern than the 99 that remains within the boundaries of the owner’s pasture. Or is it? Well, let’s explore that.
If a shepherd in Jesus’ day had to leave behind his remaining sheep to seek out the one who had gotten lost, how did the shepherd manage through this problem? Did he leave the 99 uncared for and unprotected? Not exactly. Before going off to search for the lost missing sheep, the shepherd put some provisions in place to ensure the remaining sheep will stay put until he returns with the one that was lost.
Around his pasture’s boundaries, the shepherd builds a pile of sticks and rocks around the herd to make them feel as if there is a sense of borders around them. And then he goes off to find the one who has strayed.
This is the point that Jesus is making to the Pharisees and scribes who are murmuring about Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them. That is, Jesus was doing exactly what a good shepherd is supposed to do. And he pointing this out clearly to the Pharisees and scribes who were not attending to the needs of the people. In verse 5, Jesus says to the crowd concerning the lost sheep that was found.
This beautiful illustration depicts what the actions of the Pharisees and scribes should have been toward the crowd, which included countless tax collectors – or “sinners” as the Pharisees and scribes alluded to them as. And this should be the same mentality and attitude of pastors, Bible teachers, and elders today. So, let’s break down why and how shepherds in Jesus’ day cared for their sheep.
caring for what belongs to god
It’s important to recognize the nature of a sheep is closely similar to the characteristics of God’s people. We can’t cover all the different characteristics, but let’s look at two.
1. Sheep have the tendency to follow whoever is leading them. Often time, no questions are asked. It does not matter to a herd of sheep, whether the one leading them, leads them off a cliff. They will follow! Sounds familiar?
Now, back in 2013, Tim Challies, a popular Christian blogger, and author shared this famous story. In Eastern Turkey, a shepherd left his herd of 1,500 sheep unattended. One of the sheep begins to stray away from the pasture where the shepherd had left them unattended and the 1,499 other sheep begins to follow the sheep that was leading the herd. The sheep that was leading the herd fell over a cliff to its death. Instead of the remaining sheep stopping, after observing what had happened to the lead sheep, they too fell over the cliff to their death. Of the 1,500 sheep, 400 immediately died from the injury of their fall. But the remaining 1,100 were saved ONLY because the 400 that fell over the cliff before them provided a fluffy cushion that broke their fall from the cliff.
Sheep needs a good leader that attends to them at all times. Unfortunately, we the people, are no different. We are in need of good leaders, good shepherds to guard us because we all are hardwired to follow. Hence, why many of us will even continue to follow bad leaders or bad shepherds to our destruction. We are like the Eastern Turkey sheep that will follow any leader if left unattended.
2. Have you ever seen a sheep when it gets knocked over? Whenever a sheep falls over on its side and ends up on its back, it cannot get up without help. If they are left on their back too long, gas begins to build up in their stomachs, which causes it to harden. Resulting in cutting off their air supply, and then the sheep eventually suffocates. This is called a “cast down” position.
When a shepherd comes along to rescue the sheep, he massages the sheep's legs to restore circulation. Then he gently turns over the sheep, lifts it, and then holds the sheep until it regains its equilibrium. This is one of many tasks a shepherd must do, time and time again to care for and protect his sheep.
The word I want you to get out of that description is “restore”. When a sheep experiences a medical emergency, such as a “cast down,” the shepherd is right there to immediately pick them up or restore them to an upright position.
This is the point Jesus is making to the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus’ willingness to care for the needs of the crown of tax collectors. In Jesus’ illustration, the shepherd in verse 5 finds his wandering sheep, places the sheep on his shoulders, and carries it safely back home. And the shepherd does not just stop there, according to Jesus. In verse 6, when the shepherd arrives home with the sheep that have been found, he calls everyone to gather to celebrate. For the one sheep that was lost, is now found.
This is the job of pastors, Bible teachers, and elders who should all work together, to retrieve these wandering sheep. Upon retrieving anyone that was once lost, they all should come together to celebrate the one who has been found. In fact, Jesus closes out this particular parable this way.
Let’s not miss that. Did Jesus say 100? 1,000? A group of people who stands up and says a salvation prayer? No, he said “one.” Jesus is concerned about the “one” whom his shepherd goes through hell and back to retrieve and bring back home to the owner of the pasture. The one that the shepherd sweats for; cries out for; constantly prayers for; pursues with all he has in order to bring that one back home to his Master.
For the ninety-nine who are healthy do not need a physician. They are safe in the pasture of the Master. It is the one who wanders off that needs a doctor. The Pharisees and the scribes that Jesus was addressing in the crowd of the tax collectors needed to go and learn what the parable of Luke chapter 15 meant. For what Jesus did desire was compassion from the religious leaders toward the tax collectors and other sinners like them. For it was the sinners, the sick that Jesus was after. Let me say that one again. For it was the sinners, the sick that Jesus was after. The one that wandered away from the safety of the Master’s pasture and not the ninety-nine who remained. (Compare to Matthew 9:11-13).
Go and learn what this means and do. (Also compare to Matthew 28:18-20).
The word of the lord
When the LORD God gives a word, it is for the sole purpose to teach, reproof, correct, or train His servants - His Body, so that every member within the Body of Christ may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For the LORD has given the Body of Christ apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the Saints for the work of service, to encourage one another, and to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).