The lost sheep

Luke 15:1-7

Hello everyone…


Back in November when your Pastor Yosia asked me to come and speak – I started to consider what I should share. Originally I was going in a different direction, but I ended up being pulled back into this parable from Luke 15. The Parable of the Lost Sheep.

It’s arguably one of the most famous parables told by Jesus. Which is great because you’ll be familiar with it. But it also means you’ve probably heard a lot of really great sermons already.

So no pressure. – let’s start with prayer and see where the Holy Spirit will take us. PRAY.

When you think about sheep in the context of the bible there are some fundamentals that I want to get out there, right off the bat. This is not groundbreaking stuff so if you’re taking notes… you don’t need to write these down.

  1. Sheep are one of the most common images used in the bible to represent the people of God. If Christianity was a sports team then our mascot would be a sheep.

  2. Just like sheep, the Christian is prone to two things: weakness & wandering.

  3. So… we’re in desperate need of a shepherd. Someone to protect us. Someone to save us. We all need Christ.


This parable was actually the first bible story I ever tried to teach as a Sunday School leader… and it did not go well!

If you want to be a bible teacher, start by trying to teach children. You could ask to volunteer in your children’s ministry or explore options to teach scripture in a local school. Not because it’s easy, no… because it is harder. There is nothing as humbling as trying to teach a parable to kids and having it completely derailed.

Little kids force you to make the main point the main point. If you don’t, they will ask you questions that have nothing to do with what you are trying to talk about.

That was my experience with a group of primary school kids. Trying to teach them the story of the lost sheep and being asked.

● ● ● ● ● ●

Where did the lost sheep go? Umm.. perhaps he got lost in the country. Which country? No, not that sort of country.
New Zealand is a country! Yes it is.
How did the sheep get to New Zealand? He didn’t go there.

Don’t they have sheep in New Zealand? Well they do but…
My mum says there are lots of sheep in New Zealand. Ok I think we’re missing the point of the story.

It did questions or if you do at least they will be relevant.

not go well. So you can imagine that I’m thankful it’s unlikely you’ll start shouting


So let’s look at the passage. We’re going to step through each of the seven verses one at a time.

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.

In Chapter 14 we have this large group gathering around Jesus as he travels. It’s a pretty diverse crowd. We see the Pharisees have been following Him, and here we have tax collectors and sinners pushing up closer. And in this great crowd, there would have been people that were somewhere in between those two groups. Not exactly a Pharisee, not exactly a tax collector. Somewhere in between.


But all of them had come to hear Jesus. And through hearing the Kingdom of God is being established.

That’s what happened to us when we became a Christian right? We heard Christ!

Maybe you have a distinct moment when you heard Him for the first time. Perhaps someone invited you to church, or a small group. My wife became a Christian that way – she walked into a church not a Christian – and she walked out later knowing she had heard Him.

Or maybe you were more like me and went to church every Sunday. Sometimes twice –

actually in my case, most times twice. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t consider myself a Christian. But even still, I have these distinct moments that I can point to and say – I heard Jesus then.

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.


2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Have you ever caught yourself grumbling (or some other translations say muttering)? Sometimes you feel so strongly about something, it’s like what’s on the inside has to squeeze its way through your mouth and get outside.

That’s the Pharisees. They don’t like Jesus being friendly with sinners. And it’s coming out.

When we read the word sinners in this text, it means something different to what we would normally say as modern Christians. We would confess that we’re all sinners, and it would be true. We know Romans 3. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But when we read sinners in this context it doesn’t mean – everyone who wasn’t a Pharisee.

Like we have the Pharisees over here, and then we have all the other sinners. No, sinners here means something much more specific. It’s referring to people who actively participated in their sin in a very public way.

Vocational sinners if you like. They were known by their sin. We’re talking about: thieves, prostitutes, extortioners, tax collectors.


Let’s think about tax collectors for a second. Most of us are aware they would collect more than they were entitled to. That’s kind of a Sunday School version. We know the story later in the book of Luke of short Zacchaeus climbing a tree because he wants to see Jesus. It’s kind of cute.

Zaccheus was a wee, little man, And a wee, little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see.

But imagine for a moment that Australia had been invaded by a brutal empire. We’ve had friends and family executed for trying to resist. Maybe they’ve put in place some lockdown type restrictions not to keep people safe, but to keep us under control. And then here comes your neighbour knocking on your door and demanding up to 90% of your income for their own profit and to fund our occupiers. Lets not pretend – we would hate tax collectors too.


So there is this spectrum of people gathering around Jesus. On one end you have the Pharisees who are known for their active participation in keeping the law, plus extra rules that they had made up. And on the other end, sinners and tax collectors who are known for their public and active sin.

The Pharisees are bothered because Jesus is hanging out at the wrong end! You’re going to eat with those guys, we hate those guys, everybody hates those guys!


3 So he told them this parable:

Ok, so we get to the parable. This parable is actually 1 of 3 that are all set in this same context. The muttering Pharisees and the gathering sinners. The first parable is about a lost sheep. The second is about a lost coin. And the third is about a lost son. It’s like a trilogy of parables.

If parables are anything like movies then the second one is going to be the best. Back to the Future 2. Terminator 2. Toy Story 2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The second in the trilogy is always the best!

Perhaps I made a mistake preaching on the first in the series. Is it too late to switch to The Lost Coin?


4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

We can all identify with that tension we feel when we’ve misplaced or lost something. But your worry depends on how valuable the lost thing is.

A little while back Tahnee did that thing where you leave your wallet on top of your car and drive off. And I went searching for it. I retraced her steps, walked through the car park, etc. But I haven’t found it. I’d like to point out that I stopped searching for it. It’s lost and I’m ok with that.

But let’s use a hypothetical.

Let’s imagine. I invited my extended family to a picnic in a national park – my sisters are there with their kids. And during the course of the picnic we realise that one of our kids has gone missing. How would we react?

Nobody hears that their child is missing and thinks “well we’ve still got the other ones”. No! There would be yelling. There would be running. There would be searching. There would be leaving the other kids to find the one that was missing. And I’m certain that we would search until we found that missing child.

Thankfully I’ve not experienced anything like that. I don’t have any “lost the kids in the shopping centre” stories – even thinking about it frightens me.

The closest I’ve come is… my son, Otis likes to hide in our wardrobes. And he’s pretty good at it. You can yell out for him and he won’t respond because he thinks it hilarious that you don’t know where he is.

He decided to play this game one day when I had accidentally left the front door open. There’s that moment when your heart ramps up to twice its normal speed. I’m frantically yelling and searching the house for him. I’m just about to start running down the street when I remember the wardrobe!

That sense of relief hearing his little giggle. Quickly followed by – Otis don’t do that anymore!


Let’s read verse 4 again. 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

Remember again the reason Jesus is telling this parable. The Pharisees are grumbling – He’s making friends with sinners.

Jesus has an issue too. The Pharisees don’t share the tension that something is lost. They have no compassion for sinners to return to the people of God.

The Pharisees believed that God’s desire for His people was separation and ritual purity. In fact their name Pharisee literally means “one who is separated”. Your value as a Pharisee is wrapped up in the notion that you follow the law more closely and adhere to higher standards than anyone else.

The attitude that the Pharisees had – and if I’m honest it’s the attitude that I can so easily have – was the lost sheep should get what’s coming to it. It’s a bad sheep. Not us! We stayed with the herd.

But Jesus knowing their hearts. Hearing their muttering. Declares His goal is NOT to increase the separation between God and man, but to pursue and recover those that are lost.

That all of God’s sheep are valuable, all God’s sheep belong to Him.


5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

Going back to my hypothetical story of losing a child at my picnic. Can you imagine the panic that would be setting in as an hour goes past, and you still haven’t found them. 2 hours have passed. Half a day passes, it’s getting dark.

Otis is a pretty clever little man but he’s not made for surviving in the bush on his own. If I don’t find him, it’s going to be bad.

Now imagine the overwhelming joy of spotting him. The cheer that would go up, my boy I’ve got you! It doesn’t matter the reason he wandered away. What matters is the value of what was lost and the importance that it is found.


We read this parable and think about sheep. We know it’s not really about sheep, we know it’s about people – but I don’t always connect with it personally. That Jesus is talking about people that I know. People that you know.

We’re surrounded by people who are wandering around trying to find value and meaning in places where it doesn’t exist.

The good news this morning is that Jesus pursues those who are lost. Those that are isolated. Those that are alone. Those who feel trapped by their sin. Jesus rescues lost people.


Verse 5 again And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Do you think if I found Otis after searching for him in bushland I’d let him dawdle along

behind me – hey buddy keep up I’m taking you back to mum. No way. I’m picking him up. Same in this parable – he joyfully puts it on his shoulders. He protects the sheep from harm

on their journey back. The sheep is safe and will continue to be safe.
I’ve bounced between sheep and my boy a little bit here – maybe because episode 3 is about sons

Otis is at an age where he likes to run. We go for walks to the shops together and there are a number of busy main roads that we need to cross on our way. So as we approach the crossing I tell Otis to hold me hand. Because I love him, I explain about cars and that roads can be dangerous. And I have an expectation for him to obey and trust me.

Here’s the point. Although I’ve told Otis to hold my hand, it’s far more important that I’m holding onto him than it is that he is holding onto me. It’s my hand that is keeping him safe. His tiny little hand could lose its grip, but I won’t lose my grip on him.

When God rescues you, He won’t turn around and say, “we’ll I’ve done my part you have to find your own way back from here”. No, our God does all the heavy lifting.

You can’t have any pride – he found you while you were lost. You don’t need to panic – he’s carrying and protecting you.

The gospel destroys any pride or panic associated with our salvation. We are found, we are carried, and we are rejoiced over.


6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

Some of us will naturally identify with the lost sheep in this parable. You know first hand that Jesus pursues those who are lost, and could point at the moment in time that he found you.

But not all of us.

If you were the Pharisees hearing this parable, you’re getting a little agitated. There were 99 sheep who did not wander. Who stayed in the correct place. Who ate the correct food. Who said the correct things. Who worked the correct way. Those sheep aren’t celebrated!

In the spectrum of people gathering around Jesus that day, I’ve spent a lot of it standing with the Pharisees.

If you have as well, Here’s the hard part. Jesus really didn’t have many good things to say to the Pharisees. He calls them:

  • ●  Whitewashed tombs

  • ●  A brood of vipers

  • ●  The blind leading the blind

    And in verse 7, Christ says something that is going to outrage them. Knowing Jewish culture, you can imagine some of these men tearing their clothes in anger. Spitting on the ground. Thinking in their minds, “we need to put a stop to this man”.

    Let’s read it


    7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

    If you want to understand why the Pharisees hated Jesus. This is why. Jesus just said that God will rejoice more if one of these sinners repents,

  • ●  then in all their ritual purity,

  • ●  all their righteous acts,

  • ●  all their work,

  • ●  all their ability to follow the law,

  • ●  all their financial giving,

  • ●  all their self control,

  • ● all their effort – all of it.

God rejoices more in 1 sinner that repents, than in the righteousness of all the Pharisees. I have to ask myself, and I’ll ask you as well. How do we feel about verse 7?

If we reflect on this parable and are really honest with ourselves. Who do we identify most with? Do you see yourself in the lost sheep who God is joyfully rescuing, or do I identify with the 99 who feel a little short changed?


I grew up in church. My dad was the pastor. Still is a pastor. Some of you know him.

I’m sure there are some people here that can relate to the challenges that come with being a church kid. It can create a real pull towards self righteousness. To have your value wrapped up in what you do or more accurately, what you don’t do. Your separate-ness.

It’s really easy for me to identify with the first group in these 3 parables. With the 99 sheep who did not wander. With the 9 coins who were not lost. With the older brother who didn’t leave.

Because listen 1 sheep wandered. 1 coin fell. The younger brother spent his inheritance. There should be consequences! Shouldn’t I benefit from good decisions that I’ve made in my life? Decisions that cost me something? Why so much attention for the lost sheep and not for me!

I always related to the older brother in The Prodigal Son. Especially when he says to his Father (verse 29) these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. I’ve so often felt in my heart, that’s a legitimate complaint!

Same with the Parable in Matthew 20. You know the one about the master who hires labourers. He hires some in the morning, some in the middle of the day, and some at the end, but then he pays them all the same? That doesn’t seem right!


It’s a very transactional approach to God. I stayed with the herd. They didn’t. I should benefit. They shouldn’t.

The danger is our relationship becomes totally disoriented and dysfunctional. We no longer value what God values. We don’t rejoice when he rejoices.

Remember verse 2 the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”


If you’re here and you easily identify with the lost sheep, you feel like you’ve been wandering – then there is good news for you. Jesus rejoices in finding those who are lost. He rejoices. Christ has come to bring you close.

But this parable is also for those of us who identify with the 99. This is Christ looking over the heads of the sinners and tax collectors to the Pharisees. And He is calling to them! I wonder how many of them heard it?

How many of them realised that they had spent their entire lives living out the law, but had no desire for the things God valued. No rejoicing in a God who pursues the lost.

That was me. I placed a higher value on measuring up, than I did on grace. But that moment the Holy Spirit made me aware of my own sin. When I heard Jesus in this parable. I saw for the first time that I’m that lost sheep. That I needed to be found and rescued from my sin. And praise God he has.

Isaiah 53:6 (made famous by Colin) we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


A lot of the parables Jesus told have a command attached to them at the end. There’s a “go and do likewise” part. But not this one. It isn’t focusing on how we should live. It’s focusing on what God is like. What God values. What He celebrates.

That’s what I hear in this parable. This isn’t about the actions of 1 sheep or 99 sheep. Who did, who didn’t. No, it’s all about grace. It’s about our God who rejoices in one sinner who repents.

7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

I wonder how many of the Pharisees heard him that day. Come and rejoice with me Pharisees, I’m finding those that are lost!


What do you hear in this parable?
Do you hear the man who leaves the 99 to go and find the 1?
Do you hear Him searching for the lost?
Do you hear Him rejoicing in finding you, bringing you into the people of God? Do you hear Him rejoicing in 1 sinner who repents?

My hope and prayer for us today is that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the hearts of all of us who have gathered here. That we would value grace the way God values it.

A grace that changes the way we see church, changes the way we see our neighbours, changes the way we feel about our sin. That we would rejoice in what God rejoices in – over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance

Amen? Let’s pray.

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