Let us turn to Matthew for our first reading today. In chapter 18 of Matthew, let's read together two verses and then we want to go on and read a few verses in Luke chapter 15. But first in Matthew chapter 18:12-13: "How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray."
Now let's turn to Luke 15 and read the same parable in a little more detail. Luke 15, beginning with verse 1. I have added two verses before the parable's beginning to our main passage here in Luke because of the fact that we want to understand the context of the telling of this parable of the lost sheep. So let's read there beginning with verse 1 and 2 and then we go directly into the parable of the lost sheep again as recorded by Luke. "Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
Reading now the parable which begins in verse 3.
"And he spake this parable unto them, saying, ‘What man of you,'"(this is Jesus, of course, Himself giving this parable). "And he spake this parable unto them, saying, ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."
Let us pray. Our Father, we thank You for the reading of Your Word and pray that it may be expounded to the blessing of each of our hearts here today. For we ask it in Christ's name. Amen.
Now as we begin to look at this, we could call this, "The Ninety and Nine," or we could call it, "The One Lost Sheep," or other titles one could give to this message today. But let's look at it thinking particularly about this one sheep that's lost in the parable. This parable or illustrative story, as you can see if you look at both these passages we read to you, comes in a sermon by Jesus Himself. It is not the whole sermon. It appears to be just a portion of a sermon by Jesus. And the basic overall theme of the whole sermon was a message by Jesus against despising one of these little ones that believe in Him. That's the overall theme of the message here in which we find this as a part of the message.
The Lord in His message on this general theme of despising little ones that believe in Him, He foretells a terrible doom for those who cause one of the little ones to stumble. So then this little portion that we want to speak from today is just a portion of this message that Jesus was giving as recorded in Matthew 18 and Luke 15.
But the tendency today among among most people everywhere that I've seen is to think very little of individual, to think very little of the individual soul. They think only of the crowds, only the mobs of people, but little is thought about a personal relationship with the Lord. Little thought is given to the new birth and this is the key to the whole thing, isn't it? This individual, personal relationship with the Lord is the most important consideration of all, and is now often neglected or ignored! The desire today is always to speak of the grand numbers, the huge influence of some group or some so-called church. And the tendency is also to try to think of some kind of manmade theory of a semi-political influence of the Lord over the masses of the people, with individuals not even counting anymore in the thinking of most so-called religious people today.
And when you begin to think of these grand theories of a semi-political influence of the Lord over great masses of people, what it ends up in is not good, nor is it true! It ends up as a sort of (so-called) Christian socialism without any real biblical basis, without any real salvation involved, but rather just a sort of moral or social uplifting of the masses of the people. This, of course, is not our task! Our task is to preach the gospel and lead men to salvation in Christ. And when this occurs there will be a moral uplifting of the people. There will be a social uplifting of the people as a side effect of this, but our purpose is not to engineer the social uplift or to engineer the moral uplift of people, our purpose is to lead men to Christ. Our commission is to find the lost sheep and bring them to Christ. We need to emphasize this in our thinking today!
The modernist wants to save the world wholesale. You do use that word wholesale rather commonly here in thinking of the large volumes of almost any kind of commercial operation, I'm sure. And that's the way the modernist religionists want to operate today --- they want to save the world wholesale by the works of their own hands and their own brainless ideas. But this just is not possible to save the world wholesale nor is it possible to save men or for man to save himself by his own ideas. It cannot be done. Just remember that nothing really gets the job done except the way of individual conversion. The way of individual sheep seeking and sheep finding and bringing them to the fold, that's the only way that really works.
Nothing else really works. Oh, you can build a crowd the other way. You can put on a good entertainment program at the church. You can put on a lot of movies at the church, you can put on a lot of youth activities at the church, you can get disco music under a religious guise going in the church and it'll attract people because of the entertainment value or the psychological uplift that they get from that kind of entertainment. But yet, that doesn't get the real job done, does it? The real job is to find the lost sheep, bring it to the fold.
We need to remember --- we should never despise the one lost sheep! That one lost sheep is the one for whom Jesus died. That one lost sheep is the one for whom He came. That's the one for whom He seeks and we should never despise that one lost sheep. So many today want to trade the pure gold of true salvation for the rusty scrap metal of Christian socialism, so-called. That is basically what so much religion is today. It's "Christian" socialism, so-called.
Our text shows that we are never to despise one person, even on account of evil character. This is something that is hard even for real Christians to make a part of themselves. And yet, we must if we are to lead men truly to Christ!
There are three different kinds of temptations to despise the lost sheep. One temptation to despise the lost sheep is to despise it because it's only one. "Well, after all that's just one person. We can't be bothered with one person." I think I gave you an illustration one timebefore that fits here. A very famous American politician back in the time of the American Civil War was spoken to by a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe. She went to speak to him about a certain particular friend of hers who needed some help from someone with influence in the government.
This government man was the secretary of state, which is the second most powerful position in the American government, this man to whom Harriet Beecher Stowe went to speak about this problem of her friend. As she began to speak to him about this one person who had this particular problem who needed some help from one of influence in the government, he stopped her and said: "Now wait a minute, Harriet." He said, "I've gone beyond that stage." He said, "I've gotten to the point where I don't have time to bother with individuals." She said, "Well, that's funny." --- "Even God hasn't reached that stage yet!" Aren't you glad God has not reached that stage where He doesn't have time to be bothered with individuals? But the tendency today is to despise one because it's only one, a little insignificant number!
Another temptation to despise one arises because that one is so little. Just a little, insignificant person! But again, even God hasn't reached that stage yet!
And the third temptation to despise (and perhaps this is the worst one of all) is to despise one because that one has gone astray! Oh, sometimes that's hard --- even for a real Christian who loves souls to not despise that one because he has gone astray. They're below our class. They're beneath our dignity, we think. And such a temptation it is to just feel superior to the fallen one. And when we feel that way, though we may attempt to prevent it from showing on the surface, it still does, doesn't it? If we really feel that way inside, it always shows that we despise that one because that one has gone astray.
Remember what verse 11 says there in Matthew 18, which we did not read. It says, "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost." Or if you look at Luke 19:10, there's a similar statement there at the end of the story of Zacchaeus. At the conversion of Zacchaeus, it says, "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
This word "lost" here in all these quotations we've given you from Scripture, including our two text Scriptures plus the two that I quoted to you which were not read in our main text, the word lost here means that which is lost as to usefulness to the shepherd, as to happiness to itself, and as to working out the intent for which it was created. Now that's what it means, that which is lost as to usefulness to the shepherd, as to happiness to itself and as to working out the intent for which it was created. And yet, we must not despise even such an one. We must not! We must not! The Good Shepherd values each one and so must we. Each sheep no matter how lost, no matter how far astray, is precious to the Good Shepherd and should be to us as His followers and servants.
As we continue to study this text in more detail, there are four things that we will notice. Two of them in particular detail this morning we will notice. But let me give you the four things that are found in the text.
First, the Lord Jesus shows particular interest in one lost soul. He shows particular interest in one lost soul, or the one lost sheep.
Second, we see in these texts we've read that He puts forth special effort for the rescue of the lost one.
Third, we see He displays great joy and rejoicing when the lost one is restored.
And fourthly, in these two passages we read to you, we see that He set us a striking example, teaching us to care for each soul destroyed by sin. These are the four main lessons from these two passages that we read today. And we want to particularly look in some detail at two of these --- The first two.
First then, let's look in some detail at the fact that the Savior shows peculiar and particular interest in one lost soul. For the sake of lost ones our Lord assumes a special character. Remember how He became the Son of man yet He was also eternally and originally the Son of God. He assumed a special character for this peculiar interest in one lost soul! But what caused Him to assume this special character? Before the world was, remember He dwelt in the bosom of the Father. And as Philippians 2:6 tells us, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God," because He was(and is) equal with God. And yet, in spite of that He became the Son of man to redeem mankind. That is, Immanuel, the greatest marvel of all the ages in all the universe --- Immanuel, God with us!
It is just as we were studying the other day in one of the Bible college classes in Hebrews. We needed a mediator. Why did we need a mediator? We needed a mediator because of the vast difference between the nature of God and the nature of sinful man. Without a mediator there could be no coming together of God with His holiness, His perfection, and man with his sinfulness and his evil.
There had to be a mediator between God and Man! And this mediator had to be --- in order to be a perfect mediator --- he had to be one who possessed the nature of both. There could be no proper and perfect mediator between God and man unless He possessed the nature of God and the nature of man at the same time. This is why we see the necessity of Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, the Son of God became the Son of man. In this way only could He become a proper mediator between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. The greatest marvel, of all the ages, as we have said and will often repeat, past, present, or future, is the incarnation of Christ!
To show how Jesus valued one lost soul He makes this wonderful descent that we speak about. The Son of man is come! The Son of man is come! He left the glory of heaven and came down! He made this terrific descent from the glory of heaven to the wickedness of the earth. From the glorious power and omnipotence of God, seated at the right hand of the Father. He came down and took upon Himself the form of a man and became a man --- the Son of man has come!
He was always known all the way through as the coming one! But, and in another sense, He's still known that way, isn't He? To the saved He's still known as the coming one. He's coming back for us someday. But He was always known as the coming one!
For the lost He has already come! He has already come for judgment, and He is still the one who is coming yet in future. For judgment He is coming still. But for salvation He has already come as the friend of sinners, as the thing we were reading about in the first two verses of Luke 15. Where the Pharisees, the hypocritical religious people of His day were condemning Jesus so constantly and so violently because of the fact that He came as the friend of sinners. That was His purpose in coming was to be the friend of sinners, to find the lost sheep and bring it safely into the fold.
From the Lord of angels He stooped to become a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief as Isaiah tells us. Oh, the glorious message. What a message and what joy to preach this glorious news. He came, He died, He lives again for our salvation! He came, He completed the atoning sacrifice by which, and only by which lost men are saved or ever will be saved. The Good Shepherd has performed all that is necessary for the salvation of the flock which His Father has given into His hands.
John 10:11 says this: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." The Good Shepherd has performed all that is necessary to bring the lost back to the fold. Oh, how greatly we ought to value these souls of lost men and women as individuals not in the mass but as individuals. We must realize that the price Jesus paid for each individual soul was EVERYTHING, WASN'T IT? The price He paid for EACH INDIVIDUAL SOUL was everything!
Notice here that He does this even for those who are still straying! He does this for those that are still astray. Look at Matthew 18:12 again: "How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray," notice those "words gone astray." He does this, He did all of this as shown in the parable for that one gone astray. Not only for that one gone astray but what it amounts to when you really study the passage, you see that not only is he gone astray but in our modern language we would say that he is still straying. He's gone astray and he's not back yet. That means he's still straying, doesn't it? He is still wandering. And yet, Jesus paid, Jesus suffered, Jesus did all of this which is included, of course, in a very brief fashion in the seeking Savior or seeking shepherd story we read to you today. He does all of this for those who are still astray.
The shepherd seeks while the sheep strays. That is the very nature of things! You may not know, but sheep are rather stupid creatures as you see in areas where sheep run free. I've been in Africa as most of you know for twenty-one years now and there are lots of goats and sheep in Africa. And as you're going down the road if you see some goats starting to cross the road, you don't need to worry about it, no problem. Don't worry about slamming on the brakes and screeching to a halt to keep from hitting one of them because they have some intelligence about getting out of the way of traffic. You very seldom see a goat that's been run over or hit by traffic. Oh, if you were driving like a lunatic, ninety miles an hour or something, or at night with lights blinding them, you might be able to hit one of them. But generally you'd have to really drive like a lunatic to hit a goat, because he will get out of the way!
But these sheep, when you see one of them over there even anywhere near the road, you'd better get on your brakes and watch out, because that fellow just doesn't have much sense when it comes to looking after himself. He's liable to just wander across the road looking right at you when you're coming on him at sixty miles an hour. And he sees you coming and pays no attention. And that's a pretty good description of most of the lost too, isn't it? They pay little or no attention to the eternal danger around them. And sometimes we who are already saved, we sheep who are already in the fold, sometimes when we wander astray we have this lapse of knowledge or lapse of intelligence too, don't we? We don't watch out for the danger that's around us.
The shepherd seeks. But why does the shepherd seek? The shepherd seeks because the sheep strays and needs to be sought. That's the only reason --- the shepherd doesn't just go out here in the wild mountain country to look for a sheep just because he wants to do so! He goes and seeks because the sheep is lost, because the sheep has strayed. As we said earlier, the sheep strays and the shepherd seeks. And the reason this is always true of the two of them is that it is their nature! It's the nature of the shepherd to seek. It's the nature of the sheep to stray. But the shepherd seeks because the sheep strays and needs seeking. The shepherd seeks those who are even now sinning and straying.
As we think of this it should really touch us. That He should love the repentant one is understandable. But to love and to seek after and to lay down His life for that one which is still straying and yet unrepentant, that's not understandable in human terms, is it? That is absolutely not understandable in human terms --- that He should care for those willfully continuing in going astray. That just shows the mercy and grace of God, doesn't it? It is far beyond anything that men can think or understand. Jesus seeks, in other words, for those whose backs are turned to Him, who are going away from Him and from the fold. Although you reject Him, and though you harden yourself against Him, yet His eye of love follows and He seeks you out to bring you to the fold. So the question or the idea today is this; to every sinner or to every straying saved person, yield to Him now and see that He saves, or that He restores you to your fellowship with Him.
The shepherd takes an interest not only in the lost and now straying but he also seeks and takes a special interest in those who have already gone far away! Those who are in the gutters of life, He still seeks for them as well. Notice the words here in our passage that we read earlier. "If so be that he find it," that sheep that He's talking about in the parable here was so terribly lost that it wasn't likely to be found again because He said, "If so be that he find it." It was almost beyond hope that it would ever be found and brought back. The missing sheep was lost in a dense thicket, or far away in the wild mountains in a dangerous region. "If so be that he find it."
The "if" here does not show weakness on the part of the shepherd but rather it shows the desperate danger of the sheep! I remember a true story. One time when we were in Rhodesia, there was a time when we heard on the radio news about a hundred and twenty-nine sheep that were killed in one night by one lion. And this wasn't too far from where we lived. One hundred and twenty-nine sheep killed by one lion in one night. It really happened. And it's a pretty good illustration of the danger that the lost sheep runs. The wandering sheep is always in terrible danger!
Jesus, the good shepherd says, "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost." These sheep were out in the open, unprotected when this incident occurred. And, of course, the lion couldn't possibly eat more than one of the hundred and twenty-nine. And yet, it killed or destroyed a hundred and twenty-nine in one night.
Those whom the shepherd seeks and loves have often sinned so as to have brought themselves into the deadliest danger. We always like to rfepeat that old silly saying: "The devil made me do it," and all that kind of foolishness. But it is really we ourselves who go astray! It's really all on us!
Saving the one gone astray implies the fact that they were in ruin or in peril or in deadly jeopardy. Otherwise they wouldn't need saving, would they? If they were not in great peril, there would be no need for them to be saved. When we think of someone being saved, even in the physical sense rather than the spiritual, what are we thinking about? We're thinking about the little child that was standing on the ledge of the window on the fifth floor of a building or somesuch, and someone saved him. Or some other occasion such as a little child in the swimming pool and can't swim and about to drown, and someone jumps in and saves him. That's the way we use the word even today, isn't it? "To rescue from deadly peril" would be the common meaning of "to save one," even in the physical sense. And this is the true meaning of saving in the spiritual sense as well.
Millions today are trifling with sin, and sin leads to hell. Men trifle on the brink of eternal woe oftentimes without really thinking about it. And the problem is that in due time their foot will slide. Their foot will slide and then they'll be gone. You know, playing with razor blades is safe compared to sporting with sin. But people don't realize that today. In fact, the word sin has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, hasn't it? But it's still there.
Think with me, and in your mind's eye, see those sheep out there feeding near the den of the wolf. Think about that! See those sheep out there feeding near the den of the wolf. They're in deadly danger and don't realize it. The problem is that soon, unless something is done, the monster will devour them. They're far from home, from food, from rest and safety. And the BIG problem, the worst problem of all, is that they have no desire to return. But rather they desire to roam farther away.
This is a near perfect picture of the lost today. But Jesus comes after such desperately deluded ones. He seeks them. We could illustrate it this way, we could say that our glorious David, while the lamb still lives is able to rescue it from the jaw of the lion and the paw of the bear, as it tells us in I Samuel chapter 17, verses 34 through 36. It tells the story there of David who did that very thing for lambs from his father's flock when he was watching the sheep. Our own glorious David, as long as there's life in the lamb, He can rescue it from the mouth of the lion or the paw of the bear as young David did!
Hebrews 7:25 is a good reference at this point. Here we see that our glorious and almighty Savior is able to save to the uttermost. None are so vile as to be beyond His power to save to the uttermost. It says in that reference, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."
Now quickly as we proceed, let's notice secondly, and this will be the last portion of our message today, secondly, notice with me that in the parable our Lord put forth special effort to save one, solitary individual. Yes, a special effort to save one solitary individual.
In the parable we see the shepherd leaving happier cares. Why could He not wait with the ninety and nine that were safely in the fold as the song says? Oh, but His shepherd's heart of love would not allow Him to do so. It would have been much happier and more pleasant to just wait there with the ninety and nine that were safely in the fold and forget about that one that was lost. It would have been more pleasant and much easier to do. And yet, He leaves these happier cares of the ninety and nine, He leaves this attached and faithful flock that He has, these ninety and nine who went not astray, He leaves them and goes out to seek the one that had gone astray. These ninety and nine, they had not gone astray, they gathered about Him and he counted, patted them on the head, He fed them, He led them into places of good food and water. They didn't go astray, yet He left them to go seek the one that was lost. Yes, He did take pleasure in the faithful ninety-nine. But in spite of the fact that He took pleasure in the faithful ninety-nine, yet He goes out to seek the one that gave Him pain.
Remember, as we have already mentioned, He left the glory of heaven to seek the lost. The shepherd's heart is full of love for the ninety and nine. There is no question about that --- He loved the faithful ones. And yet, His heart always goes forth seeking the lost, that one that's gone astray.
As we saw in our two recordings of the parable, the shepherd seeks diligently for the lost sheep. He goes out and seeks everywhere, through the night, through the storm, through the danger, through the mountains, through the desert, He seeks diligently for the lost sheep.
And at the last He finds and saves that lost sheep! We need to remember that the Good Shepherd has not come to put men in the way of saving themselves. That is what many religious groups today teach. They say the shepherd has come to put men in the way of saving themselves. That is not what He came for at all! He came to save them --- That is what He came for. He came to save! He didn't come to half save them, He didn't come to go out there and seek that lost sheep and put it on His shoulders and get halfway back to the fold, then get tired, drop the sheep and go on back to the fold without it. He did not come to half save them but to save them altogether! That is what He came for, and that is what He will accomplish! The wolf may grind his teeth in rage but the shepherd is the wolf's master.
The sheep at first, though tired and worn, even hungry perhaps and thirsty, may flee from the shepherd. And yet, when it is once surrendered to the shepherd's arms the sheep rejoices in being borne away in the shepherd's arms, safe, secure at last.
When we think of the energy which the Lord puts forth to save a single, lost soul it should stir our hearts. It should cause us to put forth all our best efforts, all our strength to go and find the lost and bring them to Christ. Let us, as the ninety and nine safely in the fold, cooperate with Him in this great labor of seeking the lost, and rejoice because He allows us to do so!
If we read Isaiah 40:11, our closing Scripture, it says this: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." That is the description of our Shepherd, isn't it?
This song that I have mentioned already, "The Ninety and Nine," a wonderful old song that we sing sometimes, was written by Elizabeth Clephane. And it was written on the death of her wandering brother. He had left Scotland under a cloud. He had been a ne'er-do-well and a drunkard. Her brother's name was George. As we have said, he left Scotland under a cloud and went to Canada to try to start a new life. While he was in Canada on one of those cold, freezing, stormy Canadian nights, he was out wandering in the cold, presumably drunken, and fell down and nearly died there in the cold. He was found just before he died and taken to the hospital but died shortly thereafter. And this Elizabeth, his sister, wrote this song, "The Ninety and Nine." "There were ninety and nine that safely lay In the shelter of the fold."
And then the song goes on and describes this parable almost perfectly in the song, how the shepherd went out seeking! And her thought in writing this poem was that she just wouldn't give up on her brother George, nor believe that he had not found the Savior, or that the Savior had not found him before he died!
She wrote the song just as a little poem, and put it in her own little private notebook. About thirty or forty years later it was found in this notebook. It had never been published. Then it was published at that time, after thirty or forty years, long after she was already in heaven. It was published in one of the London papers.
About that time, the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, his song leader, were there in evangelistic services. Moody told Sankey that he'd like for him to have a song that night to fit with this theme of the ninety and nine. Sankey remembered that the day before he had read this poem in the paper. So he took the poem which he had clipped out and saved in case he ever needed it. He got his copy of the poem from his own notebook and made up music to go with it and sang it for the first time. I believe that was about 1870 something in London when the song was first sung by this American musician, Ira Sankey, who just made up the music and sang it with this poem written by Elizabeth Clephane.
Now let each of us remember as we leave this place how the Shepherd seeks for the lost. And Oh, how we should rejoice that He did seek for the lost, and He found us! And how we should also rejoice in the great privilege that He has given to us to help in the seeking of the lost and bringing them to the Good Shepherd!
The Ninety And Nine Lyrics
By Elizabeth Clephane
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold;
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare;
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me.
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry;
’Twas sick and helpless and ready to die.
“Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way,
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn.”
And all through the mountains, thunder-riv’n,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heav’n,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”