The Parable Of The One Hundred Sheep

June 24, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 15:1-7

1. "As the tax collectors and the sinners all wanted to hear him talk, they drew nearer to Jesus. Whereupon, the Pharisees and the scribes of the law complained that 'This man welcomes sinners and even has meals with them.'," (verses one and two).

2. Tax collectors and sinners used to be looked upon as those who lived in rebellion against God. They had been living with the mentality that "me and God got nothing in common." And what about the kingdom of God? The salvation from God? "Those things got nothing to do with me." But, just as a metal is marvelously drawn by a magnet, these persons living such as they did were drawn to Jesus. The text says, "As the tax collectors and the sinners all wanted to hear him talk, they drew nearer to Jesus." They wanted to hear God's message. They wanted to hear messages on the kingdom of God. They wanted to find out about God's salvation. Jesus was happy to meet with them such as they were. Happily he gave them the gospel of the kingdom of God. Happily he addressed them with the salvation of God. Then, happily he had a meal with them. He laughed with them, he prayed with them, and then he praised God with them.

3. But, nearby, there were some who were not happy with this situation. The ones who had looked at this spectacle and were frowning were the Pharisees and the scribes of the law. They were the ones who had strictly kept the commandments of God. These people felt that since they lived in obedience to God that the kingdom of God belonged to them. They looked at the figure of Jesus and murmured, "This man welcomes sinners and even has meals with them."

4. Then Jesus told them three parables. The first one is today's gospel reading. Today in this parable I want us to remember in our hearts three points in particular.

The Sheep Separated From The Shepherd

5. First is the fact that the figure of humanity separated from God is described as "the lost sheep." Jesus began to speak as follows. "Suppose that among you there was a man who had one hundred sheep and he lost sight of one." Since a sheep was a very very familiar animal to an Israelite, the situation of which Jesus was speaking must have been easy for them to be able to imagine.

6. Sheep live by forming flocks because they are weak. Sheep have no weapons to defend themselves with. They cannot protect themselves on their own. Also, they say that sheep are near sighted. My family often went to see the sheep at the Rokko Ranch, and it was fun to actually look at how the sheep are. When they eat grass, they don't pay attention to any other places at all, but totally absorbed, nibble away at the grass that's right in front of them. Then, even when they do change [places], they move so that the sheep that is behind runs after the one in front of it. It seems like they only see what's right in front of their eyes. When I look at these sheep, I think some how or other they sure do resemble people.

7. Well now, this thing when a shepherd ends up losing one of these sheep is one of the experiences that you'll have when you're a caretaker of sheep. Whenever a shepherd loses a sheep, it doesn't mean that the shepherd was goofing off. That's not the problem, it's that the sheep has to follow the shepherd's voice. In The Gospel According To John as well, Jesus also told a story with sheep in it, and there the text says the following. "The shepherd brings the sheep along by calling their own names. When he takes along every sheep of his, he leads by standing at the head of them. Since the sheep know his voice, they follow," (John 10:3-4). It appears that Palestinian shepherds actually used to take care of their sheep like that. As the shepherd lifted his voice, he lead the sheep out of the pen, and took them to the place where there was pasture. Then, as he lifted his voice again, he would lead the sheep into the pen. But though at times, they would hear the shepherd's voice but not follow, and there would be a sheep that ended up going somewhere else. Therefore, it would end up becoming a stray. That's this lost sheep.

8. So since the sheep was like that and didn't follow the shepherd but went the direction it wanted to go and it became a stray, what would become of it? When you hear the story, "Suppose that among you there was a man who had one hundred sheep and he lost sight of one," naturally what people will think first from that is probably, "Ooh, that sheep probably won't survive." The taking care of sheep is basically "moving from one pasture to another" on a constant quest for grass. When they would wander out to places with grass, the places were the wilderness of Judea. It was a world full of rocky crags and reddish brown earth. In all that a sheep couldn't be expected to survive without a shepherd. It would get scratched up badly, exhausted and succumb, or the best it could do was to become the prey of [some] wild animal.

9. What Jesus was actually looking at was the figures of these pitiful human beings. [He saw] the figure of humanity as separated far from its true shepherd. As a matter of fact, they were doing their every day society things. They looked like they were among the majority of folks. But, ultimately, wandering alone, they are bumping into this and bumping into that, getting scratched up badly, feeling pain and more pain, but helpless to stop it, and not knowing where they are heading and that they should seek for help, but then really, they become prey for Satan, [that's] the figure of humanity. Sheep cannot survive without a shepherd.

The Shepherd Searches For [His] Sheep

10. The second thing is that the figure of God as pursuing after human beings is being described in this text. "Suppose that among you there was a man who had one hundred sheep and he lost sight of one." And then Jesus continues on with the following words. "Leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the field, won't he go around searching until he finds the lost one?"

11. After you've been in the church a while, you will have read this passage of scripture over and over. [We all know so well this story] since the famous story is impressive and we come to take it for granted, but, then it does happen that we still think, "Ooh, again," and the fresh surprise of it is lost. It has been a few years back, but at a certain family get-together we read this passage of scripture. A retired man of many years came to it, and he had been reading this passage since he was [practically] first born. Immediately after we read it he said, "That's so dumb!" But, I thought this was a response one would naturally expect.

12. Among Jesus' stories are often found off-the-wall and extreme stories where you think, "Huh!?" This story also truly sounds like that. Even though a Palestinian shepherd did treasure his sheep so much, a story where he neglects ninety-nine of them and goes to search for one, what's worse a story where he goes around searching until he finds [the one], is still extreme any way you look at it. If it were a normal person, unless it was found after searching to some extent, he would give up and go home because he has the other ninety-nine sheep. However, the shepherd that Jesus depicted does not give up. He goes around searching, seeking and seeking and seeking harder still. No matter how much time it takes, [he will seek] until he finds it. "That's so dumb!"

13. But, Jesus says this is God the Father. Make no mistake about it. What is being said in this narrative is not a story where a lost sheep sought for its shepherd. Human beings are not seeking for God, but rather God is seeking for us human beings. As a matter of course, humans don't seek for God or do anything close to that. We're all like that. People do seek requests for different things to come from God, to receive from God, but they do not seek for God himself. However, God has sought for us, though we are like that.

14. The reason we should repent and turn to God is not just because we need God. People will always have that viewpoint about it, "Do I need God? Do people need God?" However, that's not really it. Though we don't understand how God loves us and we might even think "How dumb it is!," the reason we ought to repent is because God does love us, yes us, the way we are, and he doesn't give up, but pursues after us.

15. Where are this love of God and searching of God, this ultimate figure found? It is in Jesus Christ himself who had told this story. It is in that figure of the shepherd who goes out into the wilderness, gets scratched up badly, and searches all around for the lost sheep. That is the figure of none other than God [himself], it is the figure of Jesus Christ himself as the manifestation of God's love. God has gone searching even into the wilderness where we have groveled about and gotten ourselves full of scratches and cuts.

The Joy Of The Shepherd

16. And then third, the amazing joy of God is described here in this text. Jesus' extreme story continues on some more. The Lord says, "Then when he found it, he joyfully carries the sheep in his arms, goes back home, and calls his friends and neighbors together, and says, 'Since I have found the lost sheep, please rejoice with me.'," (verses five and six).

17. We see how he is happy. But, it is strange no matter how hard I think about how he calls his friends and neighbors together and he makes a great commotion about it saying, "Please rejoice with me." Yes, it is [strange]; Jesus is describing an abnormal figure, one which is clearly not considered typical. But, the fact is this joy to the point of being abnormal is but God's joy.

18. This narrative is quite well known, and I am sure it is often given even in Sunday School. This narrative is also given in the traditional Japanese art of storytelling with pictures, Kamishibai. But, when we ask how do things generally turn out in traditional storytelling, this sheep cries baa baa. Then comes the shepherd. It is a story where the sheep has great joy. But, look at the narrative carefully. Does the text have that the sheep was happy? Nothing of the sort is written. The one who is happy is the shepherd. The one who his happy is God.

19. To begin with, this narrative began from when the Pharisees and the scribes of the law were complaining about the tax collectors being told of the gospel of the kingdom of God. They were certainly very religious. They were serious persons who had strictly observed the law. There was no need to treat them as hypocrites. Many of them truly wanted to live obediently unto God. They were respected by others, they were exemplary Jews, they were devout. But there was clearly something that they were missing. Should you ask what that might be, it is joy. They did not have any joy within. Why? -- It is because they did not know God's joy.

20. There are often times when we too lose [our] joy of the every-day-ness of the faith. Why is that? Because we don't understand God's joy. Because we don't have our eyes on God's joy. "Since I have found the lost sheep, please rejoice with me." Thus, when one person returns to God, God greatly rejoices. Do you know that when you came to God, God has rejoiced since then? Have you ever considered that? Do you know that when your neighbors have come to God, he has rejoiced ever since? The reason God sent Christ on this earth was God himself sought for us. The joy of the faith life does not simply mean a joy where we're happy because we got something. Not hardly, rather it is being happy with [God] over that joy that God is happy about. We are to rejoice with and have a share in that joy where God and the angels are greatly rejoicing in the heavens. Those tax collectors and sinners were touched by God's joy in heaven. They know the joy of God. Jesus wanted to rejoice with the Pharisees as well.

21. God is rejoicing that we are here in this place. Both you and I are great joys for God. Heaven has great joy in it [because we're here]. The worship service on the Lord's Day is a celebration of joy, in which we share in God's joy.