Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep & The Lost Coin

“Dr. Andrew Bonar told me how, in the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn't get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can't jump back again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then they will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. "Why don't they go down there when the sheep first gets there?" I asked. "Ah!" He said, "they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!" And that is the way with men; they won't go back to God till they have no friends and have lost everything. If you are a wanderer I tell you that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.” -D.L. Moody, Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 70-71.

Time and again in the New Testament we see Jesus sharing parables and stories related to shepherds and sheep. It’s very very common. From psalm 23, talking about the rod and staff of the shepherd, to Jesus calling himself “the gate for the sheep” it’s throughout the scriptures.

And why is that? Because being a shepherd was a very common profession in biblical times, in Israel. In 2022 in modern times it’s not as common as it used to be. There are still many farms in our area, in Shiawassee county, but mainly the farms here produce corn, there are some beef farms, but not a lot of sheep farms in the area.

So I wondered to myself, what would Jesus say to us today, what profession might he make reference to? So I did a little research, and found a list of the top 10 most common professions in the United States, as of 2020, which includes:

1 Retail Salespersons 3,835,000
2 Home Health and Personal Care Aides 3,470,700
3 Fast Food and Counter Workers 3,455,500
4 Cashiers 3,379,100
5 Registered Nurses 3,080,100
6 Office Clerks, General 2,933,900
7 Customer Service Representatives 2,923,400
8 Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand 2,821,700
9 General and Operations Managers 2,411,900
10 Stockers and Order Fillers 2,223,000

Very interesting, don’t you think? Not a lot of that really surprised me aside from home health and personal care aides, I figured that would be in the top ten, but it’s second place. A lot of people are retiring and growing old right now. It’s an important demographic to target.

Then I looked at Michigan in particular, and the top three were retail salesperson, food preparation & fast food, and third was assemblers and fabricators, so factory workers.

But despite all this research that I did, I realized most of us here can still relate to the simple depiction of a sheep farmer and the shepherd watching over the sheep. It’s right there, why not use it? It says in Luke’s gospel…

Recorded in Luke 15:1-10 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Jesus is targeting the Pharisees with this parable but he also definitely speaking to the common people just as much as to the Pharisees.

Most of us think we understand this concept, but do we really understand this concept? That is the question I want you to keep in your mind today, do I really get this? Am I really living this out?

Jesus is sitting there teaching a group of what Luke calls “tax collectors” and “sinners.” Very interesting. Tax collectors were hated in ancient Israel, because during this time they were collecting taxes for the Roman government which had conquered Israel. And many people would lose everything because they couldn’t pay the taxes to these invaders. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the romans. Now if that wasn’t bad enough, many if not most of the tax collectors would use their position to extort extra money from the tax payers to enrich themselves.

The Pharisees were thought of the holy ones during these times. People like tax collectors, prostitutes, alcoholics, sexually immoral, and of course dirty filthy shepherds were thought of sort of second class citizens.

But Jesus the son of God on Earth spent his time ministering to these lost people. And his message to the Pharisees was that the kingdom of God, was for people who had been brought low by life, by themselves, and by evil people.

He tells them that he, Jesus, the shepherd will leave the safety of the flock of 99, to go searching for the one lost sheep, the black sheep, who is kind of weird, and awkward, and smells kind of funny, and has made some mistakes, and has sinned, and done evil things, and people talk poorly about that person because of what they’ve done, that sheep, who gets lost, he goes and finds it, and puts it over his neck and carries it victoriously home.

Here we find a secret of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God program, how it works, is that people who have been caught in sin, people who have been oppressed by others, people who have endured horrible sickness, indeed in general, people who are knee deep in suffering are the target of the kingdom of God program.

That’s why I think we see in life today, such a massive surge of average ordinary people, middle class people, wealthy people, just surging into hell, completely uninterested in God, when society has plenty, people turn away from God, they become self-reliant, they see themselves as the provider. And so they have no need of God.

But something within the kingdom of God program specifically targets people who have lost a lot and been broken to the point of being totally humbled and destroyed, and finally at last, willing to obey God, on God’s own terms. They’ve lost everything, and at last, they are able to receive humbly what God so beautifully provides, forgiveness, salvation through the blood of Jesus. It’s so simple we can’t quite face it until we’ve lost everything.

Like the sermon illustration that Dwight L Moody shared, the shepherd finds the lost sheep stuck on a ledge, and he waits for that sheep to be exhausted, and unable to stand, only then does he climb down and rescue the sheep.

It was the same for me, when I was lost in sin. Jesus did not come down and rescue me at the beginning, no, because I would’ve just run from him further into addiction and died. Jesus waited until I was at the bottom, no longer able to even move, then he came in and rescued me.

So then we see in the parable a 2nd clue about the kingdom of God program, we see the shepherd carries the lamb around his neck. Isn’t that interesting? Why would the shepherd carry the lamb around his neck? One possibility like in Moody’s illustration is because the lamb is so tired it can’t walk, after struggling on a ledge. The other and just as often true reality is that with an unruly sheep, the shepherd would break the lamb’s leg intentionally, to discipline it. They would then bind up the wound, and carry that lamb around his or her neck until the wound healed.

Many sheep like us today, became Christians at a young age, gave their lives to Christ, and now follow the shepherd obediently. That is the way it should be. But some of us, destined to become sheep, were rebellious, and ran from the shepherd. So the truth of the kingdom of God system is this: God’s way of breaking your leg was to allow you to run off into addiction and suffering, or pride and ego, or whatever it was, sexual immorality, or selfishness, and he allowed you to break your leg, and then brought you back after you’d given up all hope and were left doomed on a ledge somewhere. Then again, maybe you were rebellious, so he broke your leg himself, then bound up the wound and carried you on his shoulders until you calmed down and repented.

Here I think we see a picture of Christians like ourselves today. Even after we come to know Christ. Because we know as Christians that we face a difficult journey of many days and nights in the refiner’s furnace.

Like it says in 1st Peter 1:3b-7 “…He (The Father) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It looks like this, we, in this church, along with Christians around the world, are like sheep following Jesus the shepherd as he leads us closer and closer to the sunset of bright eternity in paradise.

But sometimes as Christians we get off course. We start to stray from the shepherd. We may not even realize we’re doing it. But we start to develop an ego. We persist in selfish pursuits. We resist his leading. We over-work. We live a lazy life. We don’t serve others like we should. And then Jesus comes along over to us, with his shepherd hook and baton, and pushes us toward the right direction. And we obey. But sometimes we don’t obey. We stray further. Then, sometimes, I think God will take us, break our leg, bind up the wound, and begin carrying us around his neck.

I’ll use myself as an example. I have a tendency to get prideful and self-reliant when things are going well. I think God allows me to have these fatigue and sleep issues to keep me humble. So I don’t stray from him. He carries me around his neck through these fatigue issues though. He gives me all I need. What issue in your life, that you despise might be a broken leg from God to keep you from straying from the shepherd?

Thirdly, we see the shepherd is rejoicing as he brings back the sheep. And Jesus actually explains this part of the parable straight up, he says this is what it’s like when one sinner on the Earth repents, the angels in heaven cry out with joyous celebration when that one sinner repents. That’s a secret of the kingdom of God.

The soldiers and armies of heaven celebrate over the redeemed. They celebrate as God leads them home. Indeed, they gather around and protect us, angels do, as Jesus leads us home to paradise.

So finally, how might Jesus explain the kingdom of God to us today. Well, I think he might explain it a lot like he explains the parable of the lost coin. As Jesus shares this parable of the lost shepherd, immediately after he says, or, it’s also like this, the parable of the lost coin. So this parable explains the same concept, which is why we include it today, it says this:

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

One silver coin was generally worth about a days wages, so toward, would probably equal about $100.00 maybe a little less.

But have you ever lost something around the house? Maybe something important like your wallet or your cell phone, or a large amount of money?

We drop everything and we start looking for it right. We move things around, we think long and hard, we’re all over the place trying to make sure we find it.

We get frantic. We get upset. And if it’s a large amount of money, we’re going to call somebody or tell our friends or coworkers, wow, I was so scared, but I found it. And Jesus is saying that is similar to the feeling of what it’s like, a sense of severe relief, and supreme joy when one sinner repents and turn to Jesus, and finds forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Amen.