The Parable of the Lost Sheep
“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:10-14)
This passage begins with our Lord Jesus telling us that we must never look down upon one of God’s elect. To despise the redeemed is to despise the Redeemer. To despise the saved is to despise the Savior. The Lord Jesus considers anything we do to his people, for them or against them, as being done to him. In addition to that, the angels of God are their companions, friends, and protectors (v. 10). John Calvin wrote, “It’s no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends.”
God uses his angels to take care of and protect his elect (Heb. 1:14). These angels guard and watch over God’s saints with deep interest and love, carrying them in their very hearts (Luke 15:10; 16:22). I am certain that none of us are sufficiently aware of the work which God has appointed to his angels for us. Therefore, we are not as thankful as we ought to be for them. The Scriptures clearly teach us seven things about the angels of God.
1. They are constant attendants of Christ (Isa. 6:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7).
2. They were the first to bring good tidings of Christ’s incarnation (Luke 2:14).
3. They are heavenly choristers (Rev. 5:11, 12).
4. They are protectors of chosen sinners (Heb. 1:14).
5. They are defenders of God’s saints (Ps. 34:8, 9; Acts 5:19).
6. They exemplify obedience (Matt. 6:10; 1 Cor. 11:10).
7. They are executioners of divine justice (1 Pet. 1:12; Rev. 20:1-3).
We must not worship angels. We must never pray to angels. But let us never ignore them. They are our unfailing companions, unseen protectors, and constant helpers.
In verse 11 our Lord Jesus Christ declares the purpose for which he came into the world. “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” The mission, the work for which he was sent into this world, that work which he has undertaken and for which he is responsible as our Surety is the salvation of God’s elect who were lost through the sin and fall of our father Adam (John 10:16; Matt. 1:21; Isa. 42:4). The Scriptures universally declare all God’s lost ones, all whom the Lord Jesus Christ came to save, shall be saved because that is the will of God (v. 14); and God almighty always does his will (Isa. 46:10).
In order to illustrate this fact our Lord Jesus gives us the parable of the lost sheep in verses 12 and 13. This is an abbreviated account of the parable. It is given more fully in Luke 15:4-7. In order to understand the parable we must read both Matthew’s account of it and Luke’s (Luke 15:4-7). This parable of the lost sheep shows us the deep, self-sacrificing love of the Lord Jesus Christ for perishing sinners. It opens the very heart of the eternal God to us, and shows us how pleasurable it is to him to save sinners, because “He delighteth in mercy!”
There are obvious differences in the account given by Matthew and that given by Luke. But nowhere do they contradict one another. Matthew simply was not inspired to write out the entire parable, and for obvious reasons: (1.) As Luke records it, the parable was originally spoken by our Lord to condemn self-righteous Pharisees, the “ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:1-3). (2.) Matthew’s record shows our Lord using the same parable to comfort his saints and to teach us to tenderly regard his elect, even as he does. (3.) In both places, the object is to assure us that Christ has come to save sinners, to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 5:31-32).
In this parable the Lord Jesus portrays himself as a Shepherd. He is not a hireling-shepherd, who cares not for the sheep. He is our owner-shepherd. He is one who both owns and cares for his sheep. One of the most beautiful and most frequently used descriptions of Christ is that of a Shepherd. How we rejoice to say with David, “The Lord is my Shepherd!”
A shepherd is a man who tends and serves sheep. He knows his own sheep. He knows how to lead them, where to feed them, how to protect them, and how to nurse them. He leads them out in the morning, tends them all through the day, and folds them when the day is done. Throughout the Scriptures our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of as The Shepherd of his sheep.
He is Jehovah’s Shepherd, smitten by the sword of divine justice so that his sheep might go free and be saved (Zech. 13:7-9; John 18:7-9). — Christ is the Good Shepherd who willingly, voluntarily laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). — He is the Great Shepherd who rose in triumph and victory from the dead (Heb. 13:20). — He is the Chief Shepherd who shall soon appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation (1 Pet. 5:4). — Christ is The Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls who saves us and preserves us unto life everlasting (1 Pet. 2:25). — The Lord Jesus is our Covenant Shepherd, under whose care we have peace (Ezek. 34:22-25). — And he is the Shepherd of the sheep who gathers his little lambs in his arms and carries them in his bosom (Isa. 40:11).
Christ is the Shepherd; and all the sheep belong to him. We are his sheep by covenant agreement (John 6:39) and lawful purchase (1 Pet. 1:18). And the Lord Jesus Christ knows his sheep (John 10:14). He knows his sheep with a peculiar knowledge of love and grace. He knows all about us. But there is more. He knows us! He shall say to the wicked, “I never knew you.” But he says, “I know my sheep.” He knows who they are, where they are, what they have been, all they have done, what he will make of them, what they need, how to protect them, and how to bring them home.
Now, consider the Lord’s sheep. I am sure Benjamin Keach is correct in the analysis he gives of this parable. Mr. Keach suggests that the one hundred represent all mankind in Adam. All the human race belongs to Christ who created it. All are his property. The ninety and nine represent the self-righteous. The Pharisees of this world, who are just and righteous in their own eyes, having no need of repentance, and are left to perish in the wilderness of their ignorance. And the one lost sheep represents all of God’s elect in this world who are brought by divine grace to see their lost and ruined condition. Our Savior said, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
God’s people in this world are set forth as silly, lost, helpless, ignorant sheep. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). We were all lost by the sin and fall of our father Adam (Rom. 5:12). We went astray as soon as we were born speaking lies (Ps. 58:3). And, if left to themselves, the sheep would surely perish. Silly sheep have no sense of direction. They roam and wander, straying further and further from home, until the Shepherd finds them.
The Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness and goes out to search for his one lost sheep. His search will continue until he finds that one lost sheep. He knows the sheep that is missing. He has a picture of it in his mind. He thinks nothing of the ninety and nine who need no Shepherd. His heart is all wrapped up in that one lost sheep. This one thought seems to possess his entire Being: “One of my sheep is lost.” Immediately the search begins.
It is an all-absorbing search. That one lost sheep consumes the Shepherd’s tender heart. He can neither eat nor sleep until he finds his lost sheep. The poor, wandering sheep has no thought for the Shepherd. But the Shepherd seems to think of nothing else but that one lost sheep. He loves his sheep, and he cannot bear the thought of it being lost. He knows all the pits into which the sheep has fallen, and all the wolves that are thirsty for it’s blood. And he knows that the poor sheep is both defenseless and senseless.
That one lost sheep belongs to the Shepherd. God the Father gave it to him in eternity. And He purchased it with his own precious blood; and he will not lose it. The Shepherd is responsible for the sheep. His honor as a Shepherd is bound up in the welfare of that sheep. He assumed all responsibility for it when the Father trusted him to save it (Eph. 1:12).
It is a definite search. The Shepherd goes after his sheep, that one, definite, particular sheep. It is an active search. No hill is too difficult to climb. No mountain is too high. No valley is too low. No precipice is too rocky. No distance is too far. The Shepherd must have his sheep. It is a persevering search. He will search for that lost sheep “until he find it.” It is a personal search. It is Christ himself who goes after the sheep. Though they ever flee from him, the sheep are pursued by Christ, pursued by the Son of God, by the eternal Lover of their souls, and pursued by him until he finds them.
And it is a successful search. All men will not be saved. Not everyone who hears the gospel will believe. It may be that many whom I love and for whom I labor with a heavy heart will perish at last. But of this one thing I am certain: Not one of Christ’s sheep shall ever perish. Not one of those lost ones for whom he suffered and died will be lost in the end (John 10:16).
Luke 15:5 speaks of the salvation of the sheep. “When he hath found it.” What sweet words those are! One of the old writers said, “In his incarnation Christ came after his lost sheep. In his life he continued to seek it. In his death he laid it upon his shoulders. In his resurrection he bore it on its way. And in ascension he brought it home rejoicing.”
Picture that lost sheep. He has fallen over the edge of a high cliff on a dark stormy night. Overhead, he sees the terrifying storm of God’s wrath. The lightening seems to strike out at him saying, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Below, he sees the gaping jaws of hell opened wide to engulf him. He is losing his footing, slipping into hell! But the Shepherd has found his sheep. What does he do? He reaches down the long arm of his almighty grace, and lays hold of the sheep (Eph. 2:1-4, 8-9). He lays his sheep upon his shoulders. This is a place of rest for the sheep. This is a place of security for the sheep – (John 10:28-29; Deut. 1:30-31).
“Once my soul was astray from the heavenly way,
And was wretched and vile as could be;
But my Saviour above, gave me peace from above,
When He reached down His hand for me.
I was near to despair when He came to me there,
And He showed me that I could be free;
Then He lifted my feet, gave me gladness complete,
When He reached down His hand for me.
How my heart doth rejoice when I hear His sweet voice
In the tempest to Him now I flee;
There to lean on His arm, where I'm safe from all harm.
Since He reached down His hand for me.”
I can almost picture it. There is the Good Shepherd. The sheep is on his omnipotent shoulders, wrapped around his neck, held firmly in the hands of omnipotent grace. And there the Shepherd carries his sheep all the way home!
Read Luke 15:5-7, and see the satisfaction of both the Shepherd and his sheep.
"And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."
This man who had lost his sheep is filled with joy in finding it. And the sheep is the sole source of his joy! His soul, his heart, his mind, his body had all been absorbed in finding the sheep that was lost. Now he finds great joy and satisfaction in that sheep which he has found. The Shepherd is satisfied (Isa. 53:11). This was the joy set before him, for which he endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). There is a holiday in heaven over one sinner who repents. God our Savior is he of whom the prophet wrote, “He delighteth in mercy.” And the sheep is satisfied (Ps. 65:4). He has Christ, and having Christ he has all. Child of God, as Christ gave himself to save you, now give yourself to him. As we have filled his heart, may he fill our hearts, now and forever.