In Luke 9, Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem and arrives 10 chapters later, in chapter 19. What comes between these chapters is known as the “Travel Document”. Luke 9:51 explains why:
“he set his face to go to Jerusalem”
During this time the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders comes to a head with this wonderfully true criticism (found in Luke 15):
“This man receives sinners”
and so he speaks to the two groups of people who are standing there – the Pharisees (we’ll call them “the found”) and the sinners (we’ll call them “the lost”) – by way of three parables. The first is about an animal that gets lost, the second is about a coin that gets lost and the third is about a son who gets lost. Each gets found.
And it’s in the parable of the sheep that gets lost that we hear the response to the “founds” criticism. As the parable goes, a shepherd allows a sheep to wander from the flock and an attentive shepherd sees and goes after it. He brings it back to the fold and all is well. It is in this story that we hear the Shepherd’s happy response to the criticism:
“Rejoice with me!”
Interestingly, it was the “sinner” that was attracted to Jesus the most. One of the big criticisms levied towards Jesus was that:
“the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
To many people the tax collectors were collaborators with the Roman oppressors and yet Jesus receives them. That word “receive” means more in Greek than it does in English. In Greek it means to “welcome as a friend”. And whilst the “found” considered themselves defiled by contact with the “lost”, Jesus ate with the “lost”. He accepted them, not just as friends, but in a very deep way he shared life with them.
And so Jesus tells this story about a little sheep and a big shepherd.
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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.
“What man of you” asked Jesus. The Pharisees were probably taken back a little. They regarded shepherds as part of the ‘lost” tribe. They were unclean and to be avoided at all costs. They were uneducated and wandered in the countryside. There is no way one of the “found” would be found doing that! Instead, they’d have servants who would do the “dirty work” for them. And yet, what a beautiful picture we have here of Jesus, placing Himself in the middle of the story, as the Shepherd of Psalm 23 who
restores my soul.
Right in the middle of the story, the Good Shepherd who cares enough for the sheep that he goes after just one that is wandering. Jesus is claiming to be the Divine presence among the people searching for the lost to bring home. It’s what God promised in Jeremiah 23:1-4:
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.
and in Ezekiel 34:1-31
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
In essence Jesus is saying: “You lost your sheep. I went after it and brought it home. How is it that you have the audacity to question me about the “lost!” Don’t you know that I’m making up for your mistake?”
So perhaps days later
he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
When the animal is found, the task of restoration has only just started, as the Shepherd bears the heavy burden of the animal on his own shoulders and clambers over the rocks to get it back to the fold.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
The word “friends” is a word play on the clubs that the Pharisees formed themselves into. They were called “Khaburim”, or “friends”. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees should rejoice with Him when He finds a lost sheep.
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.
The “found” should have remembered the words of Isaiah:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
We all need the Good Shepherd to come after us and save us. And He does.