Don't Give Up On #100
Read Luke 15:1-7 in your favorite Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020,
Here’s a backwards take on the parable we’ve just read:
“A devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, ‘It's a miracle!’"
"’Not really,’ said the sheep. "Your name is written inside the cover." (Source: http://www.jokes4us.com/animaljokes/sheepjokes.html)
How do you react when you discover something’s lost? On the one extreme there’s the person who won’t give up the search for the lost thing until it’s either found or they’ve exhausted the places they can look. On the other extreme is the person who’s ready to give it up right away. “It’ll turn up,” they say, and continue on, unconcerned.
I tend to the first type, but my general lack of patience kicks in and I say, “Whatever.” My grandmother used to say, “Whatever the house takes the house will give back.” I have a few orphan socks that argue against her theory, but why quibble?
As we will see in this parable, our attitude toward lost people ought to be something like the first extreme: we never give up.
Genuine godly love never gives up.
1. The point of this parable.
The shepherd’s work to find his sheep and his joy afterward are indicative of his love. God does not give up on people; He continues to seek and save the lost.
God’s love is universal, but not all persons will be saved; only those who receive it by faith. 2 Peter 3:9 explains this apparent contradiction. THE LORD IS NOT SLOW IN KEEPING HIS PROMISE, AS SOME UNDERSTAND SLOWNESS. HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.
2. The parable in its context.
At the center of this passage are the folks whom the religious leaders dismissed as TAX COLLECTORS AND “SINNERS.” The religious leaders’ discrimination was the launching point for these three parables, all of which make the same point about the extravagant love God has for sinners.
THE PHARISEES AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW had written off such people as “deplorables;” people whom they believed God had already given up on. In fact, they had a name for such people; they called them “People of the Land.” Here’s what their own rules advised: “When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do no appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey.” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Luke, p. 199.)
Sin draws boundaries to shut people out. These religious leaders were legalists and hypocrites, two things that often go together. Their lack of love stands in stark contrast to the deep love demonstrated by the shepherd in this parable and the father in the Parable of the Lost Son.
These “religious” men grumbled publicly about Jesus’ choice of students: “THIS MAN WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM.” EATS WITH THEM was a more involved level of association, an action unthinkable to these hypocrites. They intended this to be a slur on Jesus’ character (“A man is judged by the company he keeps.”) and a reason pious Jews should not listen to Him. They were also warning faithful Jews that association with this crowd would make the ceremonially unclean, a status that would bar them from entering the temple.
Sheep and shepherds were common Bible images for God and His people. Jesus’ parables most often used common events. For example, Ezekiel 34:12: [The LORD said] “AS A SHEPHERD LOOKS AFTER HIS SCATTERED FLOCK WHEN HE IS WITH THEM, SO WILL I LOOK AFTER MY SHEEP. I WILL RESCUE THEM FROM ALL THE PLACES WHERE THEY WERE SCATTERED ON A DAY OF CLOUDS AND DARKNESS.”
The size of the flock (100 sheep) was average; it was customary to count them as they entered the sheep pen for the night. The shepherd was responsible for the sheep, even to the point of risking his own life for them. When a sheep died, he was required to bring home at least the fleece to show how it had died.
For shepherds, each animal was a significant financial and personal investment; the relief and joy expressed by the shepherd in v. 6 would be typical. The FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS invited to share in his joy might include the shepherd’s partners or the owners of the flock. Even the detail of carrying the sheep on his shoulders is accurate; it was the typical way to carry a sheep that was injured or too frightened to be herded.
One detail was exaggerated and atypical in order to draw attention to it: this shepherd went “overboard” in his search for the missing sheep. The 99 sheep were left in the OPEN FIELD, not in the pen. This indicates the shepherd’s overwhelming concern for the lost. He does not give up the search UNTIL HE FINDS IT (4).
When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lovingly carries it back to the fold and calls for a joyous celebration. This image fits perfectly with Jesus’ mission as He identified it in Luke 19:10, “THE SON OF MAN CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE WHAT WAS LOST.”
God searches, finds, and all heaven rejoices. In the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep in the OPEN FIELD, Jesus showed God had nothing to do with the self-righteous attitudes of the hypocrites. As long as life remains, God will continue to seek and save people who are, at the moment, lost.
In verse seven Jesus sharpened the point of the parable and stuck it to the complaining hypocrites, “I TELL YOU THAT IN THE SAME WAY THERE WILL BE MORE REJOICING IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS THAN OVER NINETY-NINE RIGHTEOUS PERSONS WHO DO NOT NEED TO REPENT.” He used their own word SINNER against them; this is dripping with irony. Jesus turned their point of view inside out.
HEAVEN is the throne room of God. The REJOICING that takes place there defined God’s love as being directed at the ones who need it most, not the ones who mistakenly justify themselves.
It sounds like Jesus is contrasting a new believer with existing believers, but in fact, He is contrasting a sincere believer (anyone of any background who repents) with a hypocrite (someone who sees no need to REPENT).
3. The parable in our context.
Godly love will not allow us to give up on people, even those who “disagreeably disagreeable.” When I started in ministry, church growth experts advised churches to reach out to people just like the people already attending there. Though I understood the practicalities of that strategy, I didn’t like it then and like it less now. This strategy is akin to the attitude of the hypocrites that preface this parable.
On the other hand, our culture holds up diversity as the highest possible goal. The truth is in the middle: diversity is not an end in itself, but means to an end: we are more godly people when we invite everyone to our table. The ideal is unity in theology, charity and diversity in just about everything else. We are stronger when our differences multiply our understanding and patience. We are to witness as God provides us with opportunities. Even the difficult ones.
Godly love requires us to leave the FOLD to find the lost sheep. The shepherd didn’t say “Oh well” and stay in the comfort of the sheep pen. He left and searched until the lost was found. So much of church life is focused on the members. Look at where we spend our money and our time. Like members of a country club, we emphasize our benefits and buy off our obligations.
SO; let’s don’t be the disapproving hypocrites in vs. 1+2 or the grumpy older brother in vs. 28-29. Instead, let us follow the example of the shepherd in this parable, the woman in the next, and the father in the third parable. They eagerly sought to find what was lost.
Genuine godly love never gives up.
I am the first to confess this passage troubles me. I’m more comfortable around churched folk and my job puts me in contact with churched folk who are, in the majority, friendly and easy to get along with. At the same time, I know that every week God gives me opportunity to practice what I preach, often in the days before I preach it. This message is no exception.
This week an unchurched person God put in my path was not the kind of person I would seek out for friendship. This person required patience as their political, religious, and personal views were almost all contradictory to mine. Without breaking any confidentiality or being unkind, I can say they needed a listening ear and I had two to offer.
I prayed with the person and offered all the practical help I could. What effect our conversation will have on their life is yet to be revealed, but God gave me a blessing of leaving the safety of the fold to be His spokesman to someone who may not have heard the truth from anyone else. He will take it from there.
I offer myself as just one small example of the truth taught in this passage. Loving as God loves will require patience and persistence. It will require the sacrifice of our comfort in order to be instantly obedient to His call to love someone different from ourselves - even someone disagreeable to us - so they can hear the life-changing truth that God loved them first and loves them best. We simply can’t do that from a comfortable place of apathy or lazy indifference to the eternal destination of the people God sets in our day. The frequency and degree of effort we put into witnessing for Jesus is an indicator of our spiritual maturity.
Messages #262 & #1093