This morning the "Tuesday Group" lead the 9.30 service in Kirkcudbright Parish Church, and I had the privilege of giving the teaching. The text following is the draft of what I said
Luke 15 1-7 The parable of the Lost Sheep
A few years ago I was given an old mini car for my 21st birthday. The first thing I did was go out and buy the Haynes Manual for a mini. I then read it largely cover to cover – something that Pauline will know is quite strange as I normally don't read instructions. Then much to my family’s amazement proceeded to take the engine out and put it back together again. They found it hard to understand why I would do that to a perfectly good car that was working fine, but it helped me understood how it worked. So I could look after it and service it in the future.
God has given us a manual to life the Bible, drawing together thousands of years of experience for us here and now. Our story that we are looking at this morning is another parable – an earthly story with heavenly meaning. Rather than considering the deep theological meaning behind this story we are going to look at some of the practical implications. Especially what it is saying to us as we live our lives here today. We will not just look at the specific passage but at others that hopefully help us to understand it.
Upon reflecting on the passage four things struck me:-
We shall look at each one briefly in turn:-
Firstly why did the shepherd go after the sheep?
We need to know who is the lost sheep Jesus is talking about? Our initial thoughts are probably that the sheep represents the poor and marginalized - what the bible calls the widows & orphans – There are lots of passages about this. One is in Deuteronomy 10 18-19 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
There are numerous caring charities doing this work, But surely the idea of the lost sheep here goes further than this:
As I said at the start this story is a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, and it would be good to remind ourselves as to why Jesus was telling this story. In V 1 of Luke 15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. Luke specifically mentions tax collectors. And in v2 Luke goes on to say But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The tax collectors were notoriously corrupt, but they were not poor, in fact they were probably very wealthy. They are mentioned along with the description of sinners. So maybe a modern day equivalent could be corrupt bankers and drug barons.
In Middle Eastern Hospitality in biblical times the sharing of food together was seen as a token of friendship. This really grated against the Pharisees self righteous hard heartedness, prompting the parable.
The lost Sheep now has an additional meaning. - not just talking about the here and now, but in response to the comments on sinners was talking about all of eternity.
I know Mark had a quote form Revelation last week I will have another one now. In Revelation John records his Vision on Patmos. In ch 1 v17-18 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
and it also says in the Gospel of John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
Jesus is emphasising that He controls who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. So the sheep is not just physically lost it is also spiritually lost. This now gives us a fresh understanding of why the shepherd went after it. The shepherd loves his sheep and does not want to loose any of them
We read in John 3 from v 16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
God loves us (You & me) so much that he sent his Son Jesus to the earth so we did not have to go to Hell, but could spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1 v15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. In the old testament it is recorded in Isaiah 53 v6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
So why did the shepherd go after the lost sheep – to offer it the opportunity of eternal life.
Moving on to my second point – How does the shepherd use his resources.
In several past jobs I have been a budget holder – this means that I looked after a pot of money and decided how it was spent. In relative terms looking back on it, it was quite a big pot.
I usually had some sort of guidelines to work to often approved in a public forum. Once the guidelines were set we would know where we were going that year and people would come to me saying that it would be a good idea to spend some of the money on this or that. To help assess if an idea was a good one or not we would look at the cost effectiveness and return on investment.
If I had been responsible for the Shepherding team and they came to me saying that they would like to mount an expedition to go and rescue the lost sheep. I would ask them how cost effective this was going to be. In v4 the parable tells us that the shepherd had 100 sheep and just one was lost. That’s 1%. I would have had to decline the request on the grounds of cost effectiveness and just suffer the loss. In fact in a lot of areas a 1% loss would be seen as very low.
So often we fall into the mistake of thinking about spiritual things in an earthly context. We bring them down to what we can do rather than lift them up in prayer to what God can do. We put our human limits on God. The Bible is full of examples where God has worked miraculously. I like the story of God along with Gideon defeating the Midianites Gideon starts off with 32,000 men and God whittles it down to just 300 – You can read the full story in Judges 7. Battle of Jericho Joshua 6. Feeding of 5000 Mark 6. All of these are examples where God seemingly does the impossible and I am sure we can think of lots more but we don't have time to go into them. It could be called the upside down kingdom. Things happen that show that God is in control not man.
Ok so moving back to our parable in v4 Have we noticed that the shepherd is leaving the 99 remaining in the wilderness/ open country. It doesn't say he first builds a shelter for them to protect them. No he leaves them behind. It doesn't say he employees someone to look after the 99 while he goes off looking for the lost sheep. No he leaves them all alone.
The shepherd puts all his resources and energy in going out and finding the lost sheep. I will say that again - he puts all his resources and energy in going out from where he is, leaving the rest of the flock behind to find the lost sheep. So as this is a story with a meaning let us just think about how it applies to us today.
How do we use our resources in finding lost sheep lets not call them lost sheep any more lets call them what they really are – people like you and me who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
So often the church's primary use of resources, time & money is spent on looking after what we have – (the 99 sheep left behind in the story) The secondary use of resources, is spent on trying to attract the lost back to the rest of the herd. Trying to attract people to church. Then what is left is used to support missionaries who actually go out to find the lost.
It's all to easy to want to build a kingdom to us – be it structures, buildings, organisations, committees, sales of work, rather than build a kingdom to God. This is not what Jesus is saying –He says Go out and find the lost. In Matthew 28 19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Ok so moving back to our story, our the next thing we have to look at is the outcome
Luke 15 from v5 When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, 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.
We all like a party and Jesus is telling us that we should celebrate when someone comes to know Him for themselves. They rejoice in heaven so we should rejoice here on earth. We should celebrate and encourage new Christians. Yes they may question why we do things, but what we need to do is to nurture help them grow not squash and stifle them. I used to go to a church that had adult baptism and often after the ceremony there was a celebratory meal for everyone, which was almost part of the service. It recognised the celebration. I have met other Christians who celebrate a second birthday – remembering the day when they gave their lives to Jesus. It is certainly something worth celebrating.
So moving to my final point. What is this story saying to us today?
I don't particularly enjoy shopping, especially queuing at the checkout. I have been known to move from one queue to another if that is moving faster. But eventually I cannot proceed any further and have to make a choice.
The same happens to us in life. The Bible tells us that there is more to this life than just the here and now. There is another life and our souls will go either to heaven or hell.
Every person sins as it says in Romans 3:10 There is no one righteous, not even one; and Romans 3:23 adds that all have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory or perfect standard.
No one is good enough to achieve entrance into God's perfect presence in heaven by works or human goodness.
The only way to heaven is through Jesus. Romans 10:9-10 says, "if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved."
Our salvation comes specifically from Jesus. Acts 4:12 says "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
After this life, there will not be another opportunity to choose to believe in Jesus or to change one's eternal destiny. Further, there will be death and then a judgement regarding our eternity Hebrews 9:27 “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement.”
So all of us here fall into two categories, either saved and going to heaven or not. If we do know and love the Lord Jesus, then surely we want to share this with those who do not. Ahh but hang on Tim I can here you thinking I can't go around sharing my beliefs like this.
If we had time and a flip chart I am sure we could fill it with reasons why we should not do this and someone else should. Don't worry I'm with you there – I can think of loads of reasons why I should not be doing this besides being just scared stiff.
A few weeks ago Pauline and I were giving out shortbread medals and Penny Gospels at the Kirkcudbright fair. Now I am sure Pauline won't mind me telling you this but she was so frightened that she felt physically sick. But that did not matter as fortunately it was not Pauline or I doing the talking but the Holy Spirit guiding us telling us what to say.
Having the opportunity to invite someone along to something does help to break the ice. A number of years ago when I was a teenager I was invited to something similar to Alpha. I went along not really because I wanted to know more about God, but rather because I thought there was going to be a girl there who I was rather keen on at the time. The girl was not there but I did find God instead.
I knew a lady who was a chief and she used to run Alpha courses in her house around a lovely meal that she cooked for her guests. People used to come come along for the food and did not hide the fact. By the end of the course a large number of them had given their lives to Jesus.
There are a couple of events coming up that have been organised to help share our faith. On Friday 29th August there is a Christians in Sports Quiz in the Church Hall. - You can invite your non Christian friends along. It should be a good fun evening and there will be a short talk on John 10v10 It is called “I have come to give you life to the full”. There is a charge for a ticket. The second is an Alpha course is starting on September 17th in the Town Hall. This will run for 10 weeks and consist of a meal followed by a DVD and then a discussion. This is a free meal and should be an enjoyable evening.
For those of you who don't know about Alpha these are a series of talks covering all aspects of Christian belief, and the discussion that follows encourages questions. Nothing is off limits. Also it is not just for people who don't go to church. If you do come to church but are not sure about anything then do come along. It is open to anyone.
So I have a challenge for us all to invite someone who may not know Jesus as their Lord and saviour along to either Alpha or the quiz. If you are very brave you could of course next time you are shopping at the supermarket chat about your belief rather than the weather or sport or whatever. Just a thought?
So in conclusion who do you identify yourself with?
_ I always like it when driving around and seeing all the Christmas lights in peoples gardens and on their houses. We always try and put up several sets of lights around suitable parts of the house and on a tree that is handy. Maybe something for the next few days as have not had time to do this yet.
When we consider the original story of Christmas, the lights present we not of the electrical kind but those generated by angels. The details of the study can be found here and the main passages can be found in Luke
One of the amazing things we noted as a group was that the angels basic premise when talking to Mary is that Nothing is impossible with God. This is something that is a real challenge for us now, as much as it was a challenge for Zechariah.
When he was told that his wife was going to have a son, (who later became John the Baptist) even though they were past normal child bearing ages he became mute for around 10 months until the child was named. As he doubted what the angel said to him.
But when Zechariah spoke again at the naming of John he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to say these wonderful words (Luke 1 67-79)
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as he promised long ago
through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he'd do,
What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.
And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
So next time you see Christmas lights glinting in the sky just remember - “Nothing is impossible with God”
Dyslexic doodles on photography, food (growing, cooking & of course eating), faith and other fascinating things. This is a personal blog expressing my views.