The Good Shepherd: Lost and Found
Have you ever lost an expensive or important item? I once lost my wallet on a hayride…and then I lost it again at a store—well, at the store it was stolen. Panic ensued each time. I immediately retraced my steps in hopes I would find it quickly. For the hayride, my efforts were rewarded in short order. I found my wallet where I had been sitting. Unfortunately, the time my wallet was stolen, I did not get it back until my credit cards had been used, family pictures had been ripped up, and my cash was taken.
Losing things we care about is never fun, but there are also some items I own that wouldn’t really bother me if they went missing. I’ll give a dad-confession here…I don’t think I have ever personally bought my kids a single toy—not because I won’t, simply because, thanks to grandparents spoiling my kids, I haven’t needed to. So even though I haven’t bought my kids any toys, my house is filled with toys. Because of this, it seems like dozens of times a day, one of my children will come to me or my wife and complain that they can’t find a toy. While I want to empathize with them, part of me can’t help but secretly hope that the toy has found its way into a trash can.
Why is it that we desperately look for some things, and yet don’t really care about other things? Monetary value is one reason we care about things, but that’s not the only reason. Some things might be monetarily worthless—like my son’s stuffed lion which he has affectionately dubbed “Mr. Roar”—and yet we care greatly about them (as my son does Mr. Roar). When we lose something that is special to us for reasons of monetary value, personal attachment, or other types of importance, we desperately search.
In Scripture there are verses like John 3:16 and 15:13:
- John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
- John 15:13 – “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
We know both verses are referring to Jesus’s death on the cross for the sins of the world. But sometimes we hear these verses and can’t help but think…but let’s be real…I’m one of billions alive and one of presumably billions upon billions who have lived on planet earth. And so we ask, Does God really care about me? – Me specifically. How special am I to God?
Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us to wonder about the answer to that question. In Luke 15, when the Pharisees question why Jesus is spending so much time with sinners, He gives three parables that each teach a similar point.
The first, the parable of the lost sheep, comes in verses 4-7, “4What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance” (CSB).
The second, the parable of the lost coin, comes in verses 8-9, “8Or what woman who has ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ 10I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (CSB).
We won’t cover the third parable—the story of the prodigal son—for the sake of time, but let’s look at these other two parables. If you would, I have an assignment for you…take a moment to review and compare these two stories and write out some details they have in common.
Here are some things I noticed:
- Each story describes ONE thing lost out of many.
- Even though there are many items, the individual who lost the ONE thing goes searching frantically for that one lost item.
- Then, the story ends with celebration upon finding the lost item.
- And after each story, Jesus tells us His purpose in bringing these parables: There is joy in heaven when ONE sinner comes to repentance.
God cares about ONE lost person. He, and ALL of heaven rejoice when ONE lost person repents of their sins and returns to Him. Numbers only matter to God insofar as they represent individual souls. If sometimes you feel alone, forgotten, or uncared for, you have a God who is always with you. In a sea of people, God sees YOU! God cares for YOU!
Even better, God is not simply waiting for us to find Him. These stories illustrate that God is looking for us! Not only is there a world of Christians who God has charged with spreading the Gospel to lost souls, God has also sent the Holy Spirit into the world, to convict every person of sin and to turn them to Him (cf. John 16:7-11). Revelation 3:20 says, “See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (CSB). If you have never accepted Christ, then God is knocking on the door of your heart, and, as each parable pointed out, God is waiting for you to repent of your sins and turn to Him.
In fact, inciting repentance in the hearts of mankind is a primary reason Jesus came. He said in Matthew 9:13b, “…I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (KJV). The good news is that 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s what God wants from us. He loves you, and He wants you to repent of your sins, and surrender your life to Him. And once you are saved, then He doesn’t want you to be a sheep that wanders off.
Now, here’s something pretty interesting in Scripture. Looking back at that first parable in Luke 15:5, Jesus says that when the man found the sheep, he put it on his shoulders. Why would the man need to carry the sheep back? Surely the shepherd is an expert at getting sheep to follow him? Perhaps he’s in a hurry to get back to the rest of his sheep? Or, maybe the one that wandered off was particularly stubborn and wouldn’t follow him? I don’t think these are wrong answers, but Psalm 51 gives us an even clearer reason.
1Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. 2Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. 3For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. 4Against you—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge. 5Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. 6Surely you desire integrity in the inner self, and you teach me wisdom deep within. 7Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9Turn your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt. 10God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. – Psalm 51:1-10 (CSB)
You might not know the context of this Psalm, but even reading it with no prior knowledge, you can see that it is a prayer. Actually, for any Christian who has fallen into sin, I recommend using this as a prayer—pray it to God as you read it. However, the context makes it even more powerful. This Psalm was comprised by King David after he had been confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan. You can read the entire story of David’s sin in 2nd Samuel 11-12, but the gist of it is this: David saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing and wanted to have her. However, she was married, so David devised a plan to send her husband, Uriah, to the battlefront, to a place he would likely die; and die he did. After being confronted about this sin by the prophet Nathan, Psalm 51 records David’s confession and repentance.
In the passage above, David pleads with God for grace (v. 1), he asks for forgiveness (v. 2), he admits the knowledge of his sin, and what I find extremely relatable, David describes his sin as “always before” him. Isn’t that how sin is? Have you ever knowingly sinned and just had it linger on your mind? It’s like we can’t escape the guilt weighing in on us. That’s how David felt—guilty! Guilt is no fun, but one of my favorite things to remind Christians, is that Godly guilt is not like the guilt of the world. The guilt of the world weighs us down, makes us feel worthless, etc. Godly guilt, on the other hand, is intended to produce change…or in this case, repentance; and that’s exactly what David does in Psalm 51 – he repents.
David recognizes that his sin (and all sin) is ultimately an offense to God, and therefore, God is right when He pronounces David’s guilt (v. 4). He sees the sinful nature of his existence (v. 5) – as they say, you don’t have to teach a child to take things from others, or to be selfish. With all of the guilt plaguing him, though, David also recognizes what God truly wants from him; to know the right things (wisdom) and to do the right things (integrity; v. 6). Then, for a second time, David asks to be cleansed (v. 7), he decries his unworthiness before God (v. 9), and most noticeable of all, the man who was once called a man after God’s own heart (1st Sam. 13:14), now asks God to recreate his heart and to renew his spirit (v. 10).
It is a beautiful Psalm of contrition, but perhaps you noticed that I skipped an explanation for verse 8. Verse 8 is the verse that relates to Luke 15:5, with the shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders. I had a professor once teach that when shepherds of old had to go track down a sheep that had wandered off (as depicted in Luke 15), when they found the lost sheep, they would break its legs. This sounds cruel and terrible, but they did it for a reason. You see, the shepherd knew the danger that the ignorant sheep had placed itself in by wandering away. They knew of the wolves and cliffs, the extreme weather and temperature the sheep might face. They knew the sheep needed food and water that it was unable find on its own. As such, the shepherd knew that the sheep needed to stay with the flock, under the shepherd’s guidance and protection. And so, when there was a sheep that tended to wander off, the shepherd would break its legs, forcing it to be carried by the shepherd until its legs healed. By doing this, the sheep would learn to depend on the shepherd. It would grow deeper in relationship and trust of the shepherd.
When David says “let the bones you have crushed rejoice”, there is both pain, and rejoicing. David knows about the pain that came from his sin. After his sin, his house would be filled with tragedies; the death of children, betrayal, rape, and even murder (2nd Samuel 13-18). Sometimes pain will come as a direct and natural result of our sin (i.e. consequences), but sometimes God will directly discipline us, just as a shepherd disciplines his sheep for wandering off. However, David also says that those broken bones rejoice. Why would we ever rejoice in going through pain? Because, after the discipline, the sheep was brought back into the safety and guidance of the shepherd, where there was healing and provision.
We might think it is safe to wander away from God, to go off on our own and choose to disobey Him. We might even think we don’t need God, that we are safe in this world on our own. But if we think like that, we are behaving as ignorant sheep, wandering away from our Good Shepherd, and distancing ourselves from the safety, guidance, provision, and healing that He provides. Jesus warns us,
A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:10-11
The wonderful message of Luke 15 and Psalm 51 remind us that God is searching for us, and desiring for us to return to Him. If you are reading this and have never given your life to Jesus Christ, then I want you to know that God loves you. He wants you to come to know Him. Right now, you are the one lost sheep He’s searching for. If you run from Him, then you are wandering around, in danger of the wolves, helpless to save yourself. He cares for you and would rejoice if you would surrender to Him. I ask you to confess your sins to Him now, place your faith in Jesus’s death on the cross, and ask Him to forgive and save you.
But if you are a Christian, and you’ve wandered away from the Good Shepherd, or you feel lost, alone, or abandoned, then I want to remind you that God loves you. You are treasured by Him, to the point that He sent His Son to die for you. Though the number of souls be as the sands of the sea or the stars of the sky, the Creator of it ALL knows YOU, desires fellowship with YOU, and wants YOU to live for Him.
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