The Good Shepherd Searches for Lost Sheep

by Jan Shrader

The Good Shepherd
Luke 15:1-7

Psalms 23 was my father’s favorite Psalm. If you were raised in church like me, you can probably quote 75% of it from memory. As a pastor my father loved to comfort hurting people. Before his death I think he had written over fifty funeral sermons based on Psalm 23. Sometimes when I read Psalm 23 I can hear his commentary in my head and I find it still strengthens me. How well do you remember Psalm 23? Try to compare Psalm 23 with the parable of the good shepherd found in Luke 15:1-7.

1 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What 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? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I 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

How does the parable of the good shepherd in Luke 15:1-7 remind you of Psalm 23?

Do you think it reminded Jesus’ audience of Psalm 23? It probably did, and as students of the Old Testament it also helped them to recall other passages of scripture that portray God as our good shepherd, verses with whom modern readers might not be as familiar. I want us to look at one of those Old Testament passages in Ezekiel 34:17-24. The entire chapter of Ezekiel 34 portrays God as our shepherd.

17 “‘As for you, my flock, the Lord GOD says this: Look, I am going to judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and goats. 18 Isn’t it enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? Or isn’t it enough that you drink the clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Yet my flock has to feed on what your feet have trampled, and drink what your feet have muddied.

20 “‘Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Since you have pushed with flank and shoulder and butted all the weak ones with your horns until you scattered them all over, 22 I will save my flock. They will no longer be prey, and I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will establish over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will shepherd them. He will tend them himself and will be their shepherd. 24 I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among them. I, the LORD, have spoken. CSB

When we compare and contrast the good shepherd parable in Luke 15 with Ezekiel 34 we see even more applications that we need to consider.

First the parable of the Good Shepherd reminds us that God took on flesh.

God is not just a deity that lives far off in heaven, instead he has come to earth to gently shepherd his lambs. This truth that God himself would come in a bodily form was a difficult concept for the first century Jews to understand because of their willful blindness. Remember in Jesus’ day Israel was dreaming of a military messiah that would over throw Rome’s occupation, and restore her might and glory. They were not yearning for a fair shepherd who wanted to save the entire world, even though this was clearly foretold (Ezekiel 34:1-31). Like Jesus’ audience, we are often tempted to let our desires shape our theology instead of the scriptures. In Ezekiel 34 the prophet is proclaiming God’s ambition is to come and save his lean sheep who are still caught in misery.

The Jewish listeners of this parable knew these verses in Ezekiel. So then, by choosing to tell this particular story Jesus is declaring that he is the prophesied incarnation of God. Notice here it
wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples who was asserting Jesus was God, it was Jesus himself who was claiming to be God in the flesh. God has arrived, and his shepherding ministry is put on display.

Second the Good Shepherd parable reminds us of our need to imitate God’s mercy.

Remember in Luke 15 that the pharisees and scribes are jealous of Jesus because they believe he is threatening their influence over the people. So, they accuse him of associating with sinners, and they judge the lambs who need God’s deliverance and mercy the most. To silence their accusations, Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd will return to the words of the prophet Ezekiel. We see in the Good Shepherd picture that the surprising hinderance the shepherd must overcome are not the wolves or the wilderness, but the safe, unmerciful flock already found by God. Ezekiel warns the fat sheep to stop stomping down God’s green pastures and to stop polluting the spiritual waters. Jesus is actively seeking and saving those who are spiritually disconnected and while this is God’s job, his found sheep have a responsibility to remain generous with the mercy of God they have received. Ezekiel makes it very clear God will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

Who do you think were the fat sheep in Jesus’ audience?

Who do you think are the fat sheep in our generation?

For me personally, whenever I see this phrase “the lean sheep”, I am reminded of a Christian man many of my friends and family financially support in Uganda. His name is Bruno Biryomumaisho, and he founded the Kafunjo Community Project, when he began to witness deep devastation among his neighbors. He organized an orphanage, with a school, a garden and medical clinic for the children of Kafunjo. Currently, he is working to build a mill to try and give the Kafunjo Community Project more sustainability. Bruno’s daily ambition is to feed and care for all the children God has brought into his care. When I hear about their food shortages and how sometimes they can only feed the children two meals a day I wonder how this ongoing struggle looks to God?

I also, think of my friend Jennifer Tompkins who heads up the Tucson Refugee Ministry. I watch her faithfully organize and serve the displaced refugees, who because of violence, persecution, famine, and civil war from across the globe have been relocated to Tucson. What must it feel like
for these people who have had to abandon their homes and their way of life just to stay alive? I want to be like Bruno and Jennifer, and I want to help them to fulfill their calling. But, it is hard for me show mercy if I don’t realize I am one of the fat sheep.

Third the Good Shepherd parable reminds us that the salvation of the world is God’s eternal mission.

With our savings we might attempt to make our own long-range plans, like setting aside money for our retirement or buying a home to try to protect our financial future. As the creator of the universe God does not need protecting, so his long-term mission is vastly different than any we could dream up. God’s agenda is driven by his love for those who still do not know him. The triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been working out salvation’s blueprint since the beginning of time. Jesus is the one who volunteered to leave heaven, so he could seek and save those who are lost. We can value the trinity’s eternal endeavor or we can go our own way, but the path of blessing is always to join God’s passion.

While a sheep remains lost it is vulnerable to trauma, injury, or death. They may literally be stuck out on a ledge and unable to climb out of their own slippery and rocky predicament. Or, the little lamb might be frightened in the night listening to owls, and wolves speaking into the darkness. Just like the lost sheep we are helpless to rescue ourselves. As we grow to embrace God’s joy in finding the lost and delighting in the salvation celebrations which reverberate in heaven, we become more Christlike.

When I think of embracing God’s eternal mission to seek and save those who are lost I am so grateful for my home church Casas in Tucson and her evangelistic heart. I love the special baptism celebrations we enjoy where people cheer and 90 new believers are baptized on one day. I promise you that when we get to heaven we will not regret making room for God’s lean sheep.

The Good Shepherd parable reminds us that God took on flesh, reminds us of our need to imitate God’s mercy, and reminds us that the salvation of the world is God’s eternal mission.

How do you think God might judge between the sheep?

What might change if we embraced God’s eternal plans?

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