The Lost Sheep (Matt 18:1-14)

When was the last time you lost something precious? I guess at one time or another we have all mislaid a set of keys, our glasses, our wallet – or an item of jewellery.

Whatever it was, when you did lose something valuable or precious – how did you feel? Anxious, frustrated, even angry or frightened? Losing something precious can have expensive consequences.

And so what do you do in those situations? I assume you stopped everything and looked high and low – in every room, under every cushion, no stone unturned. You’d retraced your steps, rack your brains and even recruit family members to help you find whatever you lost.

And when you do find something that’s been lost, how do you feel? Relief, I bet, plus joy – plus perhaps a bit of regret or resentment at the time you’ve spent searching for what was lost – but that’s life I suppose!

Verse 12 to 13 of our Gospel reading describe God’s response when he’s confronted with something that’s lost. Not an inanimate object, like a pair of glass, but something far more precious. A person – a real human being.

As we shall see, God’s first response is not anger or frustration, but searching and saving. And when he finds what he’s lost he doesn’t feel resentment, but true happiness!

Jesus seeks and saves the lost (v.12-14)

Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is short and sweet, so let me re-read it: “If a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”

Its worth taking a moment to think about sheep. Sheep are pretty stupid. They easily wander off, get themselves into trouble, and their physical appearance doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart. I expect few of us would like to be thought of as a sheep – we’d much rather be thought of as wise old owls, strong lions or a soaring eagle.

But the truth is that the Bible consistently and clearly compares human beings to sheep. Human beings are prone to wander from God and do (frankly) stupid, sinful things. We are prone to get lost – to lose contact with our Creator and harm ourselves and other people by not living his way. That, says the Bible is our condition before we become Christians. Fallen human beings are sheep in need of a Saviour.

In contrast, what a wonderful shepherd is described in our parable! Think about how well he responds when his sheep wanders off:

• For a start, he takes the initiative – the shepherd goes out to seek the lost sheep, leaving the 99 behind. He doesn’t sit back and wait for it to find its own way home. He knows the sheep desperately needs a Saviour.

• And secondly, the Shepherd saves his sheep at some personal cost. He sacrifices his time and energy to find it and carry it home.

We should be in no doubt who this wonderful shepherd is meant to be. This Good Shepherd is the Lord Jesus.

When Jesus began his ministry, he began to fulfil a wonderful promise God had made many centuries earlier. Words found in chapter 34 of the book of Ezekiel, our first reading this morning. Let me read verse 11 again of that chapter: ‘“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”

And that’s exactly what Jesus has done – and is doing – to this day. Like the good shepherd in our parable, Jesus has taken the initiative to seek and save the lost. He came from heaven to earth to bring sinners back into a relationship with God.

When he walked the earth Jesus met and ate with sinners – with men like Matthew the tax collector – and called them to repentance and faith in him. He gave them God’s forgiveness and turned their lives around. (So much so that Matthew wrote this Gospel that bears his name.) And whenever the Gospel is preached by his people today, the risen Jesus is still seeking and saving the lost.

We must also never forget that Jesus’ mission to seek and to save came at great personal cost, culminating at the Cross. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his flock. As the prophet Isaiah famously phrased it “We all like sheep have gone astray”, and God laid on Christ “the iniquity of us all”. He was willing to be pierced for our transgressions.

Be happy when Jesus saves sinners!

And why does Jesus seek and save the lost? For the same reason we search fervently for our wallets, keys and wedding certificates! Because human beings are enormously precious to him. Today’s passage focusses especially on the young, but whatever our age, we are loved by God.

It follows that God’s reaction when a sinner repents is one of joy. Heaven is happy whenever a human is saved. God is glad whenever sinners put their faith in his Son.

As Christians, we must cultivate the same joy at seeing people converted to Christ. It should be the aim and ambition of every Church family to see our family grow. To see more and more people join our congregation – especially from younger generations – and become brothers and sisters in Christ.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, I should confess that today’s parable is especially poignant and meaningful to me. Because back in the Spring of 1996, over 24 years ago, it was after reading this passage that I consciously and deliberately put my faith in Jesus for the first time. It was university holidays, I was sitting up in bed reading this passage, and I remember it hit me like dynamite.

God’s spoke to through this passage as powerfully as he ever has. Jesus called me as clearly as he ever has. It was through was through this passage that God’s Spirit convicted me of my sin, showed me that I was a lost sheep, and pointed me to the Good Shepherd. A Shepherd who had gone to great lengths – even to the cross – to find me and carry me home. I remember being moved to tears by what I read, as I realised the love of God for a lost sheep like me.

If you are a Christian this morning, I hope that you have a similar testimony to tell. I hope you are grateful for the love and forgiveness God has shown you in the Gospel. I hope you have a passion to introduce family and friends to the Good Shepherd who is your Lord and Saviour. Because if you do, the whole of heaven will be happy!

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