Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep

Among the many metaphors used throughout the Bible to describe God’s relationship with people, one of the most common is a Shepherd and his sheep.  David first wrote “The Lord is my Shepherd” in Psalm 23 and Jesus often used this imagery, identifying himself as the Good Shepherd. Now, I don’t really know if that’s a compliment. If you ask a classroom of Kindergarteners, “If you could be any animal you want, which animal would you be?” I don’t think any of them would say a sheep. You’ll never see a college sports team with a sheep as their mascot. Can you imagine the Southern Illinois Sheep, Louisiana Lambs or the El Paso Ewes? People will even use the word sheep as an insult, implying that a person is just a follower that doesn’t think for themselves.

Yet, these are the creatures to which Christians are most often compared in the Bible. Perhaps it’s because they naturally flock together; sheep are very social creatures and enjoy living in groups. Or maybe it’s because of how worrisome they can be. A sheet of paper blown by the wind will frighten them. A thunderstorm may throw them into a panic. Or possibly it’s their relationship with their shepherd. Sheep are able to identify human faces and voices, remembering them for years. They won’t follow just anyone, but they will hear and obey the voice of their Shepherd. Or it could be their tendency to wonder that makes them worthy of comparison. This seems to be the primary parallel of the parable of the lost sheep.

One day, Jesus was sitting (probably in a synagogue) preaching God’s word. As usual, a crowd started forming around him. But Jesus not only drew decent folks and respectable citizens; even tax collectors, street walkers, and other notorious sinners were drawn to Jesus like a magnet. As if on cue, the Pharisees start grumbling. How dare he socialize with such sinners, they whined! In response, Jesus told this short story about a little lost lamb:


“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:4-7 NLT)


As with all of his parables, Jesus invents this story to illustrate some spiritual truth. Jesus understood the power of a simple story. Stories are capable of building a bridge from one heart to another that truth can then walk across. As we ponder this pint-sized parable, I’d like to point out three parallels that we all share with this little lost lamb. First, the sheep was lost.




Sheep have an instinctive tendency to wander. The sheep nibbles on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass then nibbles on that one. Then another and another. The next thing you know the sheep has nibbled itself far away from the flock. The Bible says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Something happens the longer a sheep is away from its shepherd. Something Shrek learned firsthand. And, no. I’m not talking about the big green ogre.

This is Shrek the sheep. He became famous several years ago when he was finally found after hiding out in caves for six years. Of course, during this time his fleece grew without anyone there to shorn it. When he was finally found and shaved, his fleece weighed an amazing sixty pounds. Most sheep have a fleece weighing just under ten pounds. For six years, Shrek carried six times the regular weight of his fleece (that’s enough wool to make 20 men’s suits), simply because he was away from his shepherd.

We’re not all that different from Shrek. The longer we are away from our Shepherd and the farther we get from God’s paths, the more weight we’re going to accumulate in life—a weight we don’t have to bear. We aren’t weighed down by wool, but we are burdened with baggage. Haven’t you been known to pick up a few bags?

A suitcase of guilt. A sack of discouragement. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a satchel of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk full of fear. Then there’s the heaviest baggage of all—sin. You carry a Samsonite suitcase full of hatred, pride, jealousy, anger, selfishness, lust. Pretty soon you’re lugging more luggage than a baggage-claim carrousel. No wonder we’re so tired by the end of the day. Bearing those all those burdens is exhausting.

That’s why we marvel at the words of Christ: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When Shrek was found, a professional sheep shearer took care of Shrek’s fleece in twenty-eight minutes. Shrek’s sixty pound burden was finally removed. As our Shepherd, Jesus offers to do the same for us—to bear the burdens, we were never meant to carry. He does so because he loves you. That’s the second similarity between us the lost lamb in Jesus story. Yes, the lamb was lost; but, also the lamb was loved.




Because the shepherd loved that one lost lamb, he left the ninety-nine other sheep and set out in search of the one that was lost. That’s what love does.

It reminds me of this CEO for a large company that needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem. He dialed the employee’s home telephone number and was greeted with a child’s whispered, “Hello?” Irritated at the inconvenience of having to talk to a child, the boss asked, “Is your Daddy home?” “Yes,” whispered the small voice. “May I talk with him?” he asked. The small voice whispered, “No.” So, the boss asked, “Is your Mommy there?”

“Yes,” came the answer.

“May I talk with her?” Again, the small voice whispered, “No.”

Knowing that it was not likely that a young child would be left home alone, he asked, “Is there anyone there besides you?” “Yes,” whispered the child, “a policeman.” Curious, the boss asked, “May I speak with the policeman?”

“No, he is busy,” whispered the child. “Busy doing what?” asked the boss.

“Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the Fireman,” came the whispered answer.

Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter in the background, the boss asked, “What is going on there?” The child answered, “The search team just landed the hello-copper!”

Finally, he demanded. “What are all these people doing at your house?” Still whispering, the little voice replied, “They are looking for me!”

That little boy was loved. And because he was loved, he was looked for. The lost sheep was loved. And because she was loved, she was looked for. You are loved. And because you are loved, Jesus is looking for you.

Jesus once described his purpose for coming into the world like this: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Even though it sounds cliché, Jesus loves you. You’re the apple of his eye. You’re the bubble in his Pepsi. If he had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. Jesus entered out world in search of your soul. He chose the nails and the cross to win your heart. Love compelled him to look for what was lost.

Logic says, stay with the ninety-nine. It’s only one sheep. As Mr. Spock put it in Star Trek II, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” That’s what logic says. But love says otherwise. He could have had a thousand sheep or million sheep and Jesus still would have gone after the one. Because that’s what love does!

Jesus doesn’t love planets or populations; He loves people. He doesn’t love multitudes; he loves men. As Saint Augustine put it, “He loves each one of us, as if there were only one of us.” So like us, the sheep in Jesus story was lost, loved, and finally lauded.




Notice what happened when the shepherd found the lost lamb. He didn’t scold the sheep or take a whip and drive it back to the flock. Rather, he lauded his lost sheep. He celebrated and rejoiced over its homecoming. Take another peak at this the climax of this short story: “And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15:6 NLT).

In case the point of the parable wasn’t apparent, Jesus states plainly, “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:7 NLT).

Jesus doesn’t just make this point and move on. He wanted his listeners’ to underline it, highlight it and mark it bold. He told two more tales immediately following this one, each with a similar plot. Next was a parable about a woman who had ten silver coins and lost one. She sweeps the whole house and searches every corner until she finds it. In the end she invites her neighbors over to celebrate. Then there’s the parable of the lost son; the prodigal boy who wastes his inheritance on wild living. But once he comes to his senses and returns home, his father throws a party celebrating his return.

You can relate, can’t you? Maybe you’ve never lost a sheep, silver or a son, but how many times have you lost your keys, the television remote, or your cell-phone? You retrace your steps. You search every nook and cranny. You tear out the couch cushions, rummage through your coat pockets, peer under the sofa and that table. When you finally find the stinking thing, you’re excited, aren’t you? You don’t do it, but you feel like throwing a party. Jesus say, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (vs. 10).

Have you ever wondered what makes heaven happy? There’s a gospel song entitled, “That’s When the Angels Rejoice” written by Larry Bryant:


When the Model T first hit the street,

It didn’t bring all heaven to its feet.

And when the first computer was born,

They didn’t blow Old Gabriel’s horn.

There’s only one thing that we’re sure about

That can make those angels jump and shout:

It’s when a sinner makes the Lord his choice;

That’s when the angels rejoice.


In the book Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado writes, “Why do Jesus and his angels rejoice over one repenting sinner? Can they see something we can’t? Do they know something we don’t? Absolutely. They know what heaven holds. They’ve seen the table, and they’ve heard the music, and they can’t wait to see your face when you arrive. Better still, they can’t wait to see you. When you arrive and enter the party, something wonderful will happen. A final transformation will occur. You will be just like Jesus. Drink deeply from 1 John 3:2; ‘We have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him.’ Of all the blessings of heaven, one of the greatest will be you! You will be God’s magnum opus, his work of art. The angels will gasp. God’s work will be completed. At last, you have a heart like his. You will love with a perfect love. You will worship with a radiant face. You’ll hear each word God speaks. Your heart will be pure, your words will be jewels, your thoughts will be treasures. You will be just like Jesus.”




Maybe being compared to sheep isn’t so bad, after all. Being lost is no fun, but being loved, looked for, and lauded makes it all worth it. Even Jesus was known as the Lamb of God. And who wouldn’t want to be like Jesus?




If you’re feeling spiritually lost today, you can be found. Jesus loves you and came to earth looking for you. Unlike the lost sheep, though, you know the way home. Trust in Jesus as the Lamb of God who died for your sins, then accept him as the Shepherd of your soul. Follow him and he’ll lead you safely home.

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