"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

17th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 15:1-10 Sermon
September 25, 2004

HYMNS:
SBH 172 "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"
TLH 342 "Chief Of Sinners, Though I Be"
SBH 377 "Sinners Jesus Will Receive"
SBH 481 "Jesus the Very Thought of Thee"

TENDING THE SHEEP

TEXT (vs. 4-7): “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”


It wasn’t until I started preparing for this sermon that I realized how much contact I’ve had with sheep and sheep operations during my life.  Through all of this, I think I’ve learned a thing or two as well.

When I was a young boy in Emerson, I knew farmers who raised sheep, as well as other livestock.  When I lived in Princeton, Minnesota there were members of our congregation who raised large numbers of sheep as well as those who just kept a few.  And I’ve also known several individuals who have kept a sheep or two as pets.

Australia is the place where I found out a lot about sheep.  One of my members there had a station, which is like a large ranch.  It was located in the arid center of the country, 75 miles from the nearest town.  It was 768 square miles in size, and on it he had 10,000 head of cattle, and 30,000 head of sheep.  That’s a lot of livestock to keep track of.

Sheep take a lot of care.  For starters, they’re not particularly bright or intelligent creatures.  They move together in flocks, and they are easily led.  Dogs like border collies and blue heelers do a very good job at herding sheep.  Sheep need to be tended.

Twice a year, sheep need some special attention, and so they are rounded up.  Once during the year, they need to be sheared.  Then 6 months after that, they need to be “crutched,” which is where they shear the area from below the tail down between the legs.  This keeps this area clean, and helps keep the sheep from becoming fly-struck.

Keeping track of a large number of sheep on a huge sheep station isn’t easy.  Every effort is made to gather them up twice a year.  People on motorcycles go and round them up.  Helicopters and small aircraft are used to spot them from the air, and they are in radio contact with the ground.

Even with all this effort, there are the occasional sheep that wander off and get lost.  Some of course fall prey to their natural predators, while others may not discovered for several years.  When this happens, their coat gets very mangy and dirty.  And something happens to them mentally as well.  They become wild and skittish.  They run away and try to hide.  It’s difficult to take care of a sheep when this has happened.  Sometimes they can be sheared and put back into the flock; other times their mental capacity is so far gone, they have to be put down.  They just can’t live with the other sheep anymore.

Yes, it takes a lot of work to tend sheep.  I could go on with even more sheep trivia, but I think you get the idea.

The reason I’ve taken so much time explaining this, is because the Bible uses sheep and shepherds as illustrations in a lot of places.  The reason the sheep/shepherd illustrations work so well in the Bible, is because Israel and the surrounding countries raised a lot of sheep.  So everything I’ve just explained to you about sheep was pretty much common knowledge amongst the people of that time.  When God chose to use an illustration using sheep, the people knew what he was talking about.

Think about it for a minute.  In the Old Testament, David was a shepherd.  In the 23rd Psalm, David writes “The Lord is my shepherd.”  The prophet Amos was also a shepherd.  Isaiah says that we are “all like sheep who have gone astray.”  Isaiah also talks about the promised Messiah who would be one “like a lamb being led to slaughter.”

If we move now to the New Testament, who were the first people to hear about the Saviour’s birth?  It was the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night in the hills surrounding Bethlehem.  John the Baptist, when he describes Jesus, says: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.”

We are the sheep, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  This is the recurring theme that Scripture gives us.  And it’s a great illustration for us too.

As we look at our text for today, we have another one of these “sheep texts” before us.  This story portrays Jesus as the Shepherd, who has a flock of a hundred sheep that he is tending.  But one of the sheep wanders off, and strays from the fold.  So the shepherd goes off, leaving the 99 remaining sheep to graze on their own while he searches for the one that has been lost.

And so the shepherd searches for the one that is lost, in order to bring it back into the flock once again.  The shepherd knows what can happen to a sheep that strays and gets lost.  The lone sheep, who is away from the shepherd and the rest of the flock is an easy prey.  There wouldn’t be much of a fight.  It would be a nice easy meal for a wolf.  Or the sheep could become wild and unkempt.  Either way, it’s not a very good outlook for the sheep who has strayed.

I think it becomes easy for us to be lured into a sense of complacency when we read this text.  Here we are, nice and cozy in the middle of God’s flock, with Jesus as our shepherd.  We’re in a congregation, we’re sitting in church with other believers, God is in his heaven, and all is well with the world.  In our minds, we can probably think of those whom we know have strayed from the flock in one way or another.  We know of those who have wandered further and further away from God’s family, and are becoming easy prey for Satan.  We know of those who have been away so long that they hardly resemble Christians anymore.  And the longer they stay away, the more resistance they show toward anything connected with God and the church.

It becomes rather easy for us to recognize this type of an individual in our lives.  We pray for them, we encourage them, and yes, we even love them.  We try our best to bring them back into God’s fold once again.

This is indeed work God wants us to do.  He wants us to seek the one that has been lost.  And when he or she comes back into the fold once again, there is much rejoicing.  The lost has been found, and another repentant sinner is back where he or she belongs.

But there is another twist to this too, and it’s one we don’t think about too often.  Have we ever seen ourselves as that one sheep who has gone astray?  Do we ever equate ourselves with the one who needs to be sought after and returned?  Do we ever feel that Jesus is speaking to us in this manner in this text?

It’s so easy to go astray.  It’s so easy to listen to a voice that is not the voice of our shepherd.  Every time we sin, it is us; that is, you and me who are straying from the fold.  Every time we chase after the lure and charm of the world, we are the lone sheep.  We can become that easy mark for Satan.

As I look back, I can definitely see those times in my own life.  I have indeed wandered off the so-called “straight and narrow” many times.  I won’t go into any detail here, but you can take my word for it that I have.  I know we all have.

Thankfully we have Jesus our Good Shepherd.  He comes after us and brings us back.  Through faith in him, our sins are forgiven and we are back in God’s family.  Jesus loves us dearly and he does everything possible to bring us back to where we belong.

Listen to the comforting words Jesus tells us in John 10:14-16: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

How thankful we can be that Jesus takes people the likes of you and me, and loves us so much that he gave his very life for us.  He takes us, who have wandered in the paths of sin, and brings us back.  He forgives us and restores us.  And he continues to tend to us as part of his flock.  Through faith in Jesus our good shepherd, we have all of this, and there is much rejoicing in heaven that we are indeed part of God’s family.

In our text for today, Jesus was speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes—those who felt themselves so righteous that they didn’t believe they needed to repent.  They also didn’t believe they needed a Saviour from sin.  And so they criticized Jesus, and mumbled: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  They didn’t really have a clue at all as to what Jesus was doing.  So he tells them this parable about the lost sheep.

The point Jesus makes can be seen in verse 7: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

It’s not that the Pharisees didn’t need repentance.  They most certainly did; however they FELT they didn’t need it.  They thought that they were righteous enough to have earned God’s favor.  And so to make the point clear to them, this is the way Jesus put it.  He could have said “God rejoices over a repentant sinner, and not your air of self-righteousness.”  It was indeed Christ’s purpose to seek and to save those who were lost; repentant sinners desiring forgiveness and life.

During my college and seminary years, I became acquainted with a man by the name of Paul M.  He was an alcoholic, and homeless.  His brothers and nephews were very devout Christian pastors, whom I knew.  He would come to the campus to see them, and I think to embarrass them a bit.  He would be drunk and try to create a bit of a stir.  And of course he would show up at the most inopportune times.

I know for a fact that he was raised in a good Christian home.  His whole family tried to help him.  They would clean him up, give him money, get him a job, and help him out.  He was part of their family, and they loved him.  But he would always go back to his wayward life.

When I think about the wayward sheep, I think of him.  He was like that mangy old sheep that had run away from the flock.  He just refused to be assimilated back into the flock again.  He had his own way, and that’s the way he went.

I think if we see ourselves as that lost, mangy, and dirty sheep who has been restored by Jesus, it gives us a great motivation to seek others who have been lost.  Out of a thankful heart, a heart that fully appreciates what Jesus has done for us, we can now share this same blessing with others.  We can share this blessing, knowing that all of heaven will be rejoicing over one forgiven sinner.

So let us be thankful that Jesus has come after us and brought us back into his fold.  As we have been blessed, may we be a blessing to others.  Let us then always remember the words of the hymnwriter:

Shepherds seek their wandering sheep

O’er the mountains bleak and cold;
Jesus such a watch doth keep
O’er the lost ones of his fold,
Seeking them o’er moor and fen,
Christ receiveth sinful men.
(SBH 377:2) 

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