What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)What man of you, having an hundred sheep . . .?—The meaning of the parable is so clear that it requires but little in the way of explanation. It gains, however, fresh force and interest if we remember that it followed on the great parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10:1-16, and on the compassion for the lost sheep of which we read in Matthew 9:36. The thought was, if we may use the language which rises to our lips, a dominant idea in the mind of Him who spoke. The primary application of that idea is clearly to be found in the immediate occasion of the parable, in the love which bids the Son of Man to concentrate His thoughts and energy and prayers on some one soul among those publicans and sinners who were thus gathered together; but it is, at least, a legitimate extension of it to think of it as embracing also His whole redemptive work as the Son of God, leaving the “ninety and nine,” the hosts of unfallen angels and archangels, or, it may be, unfallen beings more like ourselves in other worlds than ours, and coming to the rescue of the collective humanity which had fallen and wandered from the fold.
‘THAT WHICH WAS LOST’
PERSISTENCE OF THWARTED LOVE
Matthew 18:13. - Luke 15:4.
Like other teachers, Jesus seems to have had favourite points of view and utterances which came naturally to His lips. There are several instances in the gospels of His repeating the same sayings in entirely different connections and with different applications. One of these habitual points of view seems to have been the thought of men as wandering sheep, and of Himself as the Shepherd. The metaphor has become so familiar that we need a moment’s reflection to grasp the mingled tenderness, sadness, and majesty of it. He thought habitually of all humanity as a flock of lost sheep, and of Himself as high above them, unparticipant of their evil, and having one errand-to bring them back.
And not only does He frequently refer to this symbol, but we have the two editions, from which my texts are respectively taken, of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. I say two editions, because it seems to me a great deal more probable that Jesus should have repeated Himself than that either of the Evangelists should have ventured to take this gem and set it in an alien setting. The two versions differ slightly in some unimportant expressions, and Matthew’s is the more condensed of the two. But the most important variation is the one which is brought to light by the two fragments which I have ventured to isolate as texts. ‘If He find’ implies the possible failure of the Shepherd’s search; ‘till He find’ implies His unwearied persistence in the teeth of all failure. And, taken in conjunction, they suggest some very blessed and solemn considerations, which I pray for strength to lay upon your minds and hearts now.
I. But first let me say a word or two upon the more general thought brought out in both these clauses-of the Shepherd’s search.
Now, beautiful and heart-touching as that picture is, of the Shepherd away amongst the barren mountains searching minutely in every ravine and thicket, it wants a little explanation in order to be brought into correspondence with the fact which it expresses. For His search for His lost property is not in ignorance of where it is, and His finding of it is not His discovery of His sheep, but its discovery of its Shepherd. We have to remember wherein consists the loss before we can understand wherein consists the search.
Now, if we ask ourselves that question first, we get a flood of light on the whole matter. The great hundredth Psalm, according to its true rendering, says, ‘It is He that hath made us, and we are His; . . . we are . . . the sheep of His pasture.’ But God’s true possession of man is not simply the possession inherent in the act of creation. For there is only one way in which spirit can own spirit, or heart can possess heart, and that is through the voluntary yielding and love of the one to the other. So Jesus Christ, who, in all His seeking after us men, is the voice and hand of Almighty Love, does not count that He has found a man until the man has learned to love Him. For He loses us when we are alienated from Him, when we cease to trust Him, when we refuse to obey Him, when we will not yield to Him, but put Him far away from us. Therefore the search which, as being Christ’s is God’s in Christ, is for our love, our trust, our obedience; and in reality it consists of all the energies by which Jesus Christ, as God’s embodiment and representative, seeks to woo and win you and me back to Himself, that He may truly possess us.
If the Shepherd’s seeking is but a tender metaphor for the whole aggregate of the ways by which the love that is divine and human in Jesus Christ moves round about our closed hearts, as water may feel round some hermetically sealed vessel, seeking for an entrance, then surely the first and chiefest of them, which makes its appeal to each of us as directly as to any man that ever lived, is that great mystery that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, left the ninety-and-nine that were safe on the high pastures of the mountains of God, and came down among us, out into the wilderness, ‘to seek and to save that which was lost.’
And, brother, that method of winning-I was going to say, of earning-our love comes straight in its appeal to every single soul on the face of the earth. Do not say that thou wert not in Christ’s heart and mind when He willed to be born and willed to die. Thou, and thou, and thou, and every single unit of humanity were there clear before Him in their individuality; and He died for thee, and for me, and for every man. And, in one aspect, that is more than to say that He died for all men. There was a specific intention in regard to each of us in the mission of Jesus Christ; and when He went to the Cross the Shepherd was not giving His life for a confused flock of which He knew not the units, but for sheep the face of each of whom He knows, and each of whom He loves. There was His first seeking; there is His chief seeking. There is the seeking which ought to appeal to every soul of man, and which, ever since you were children, has been making its appeal to you. Has it done so in vain? Dear friend, let not your heart still be hard.
He seeks us by every record of that mighty love that died for us, even when it is being spoken as poorly, and with as many limitations and imperfections, as I am speaking it now. ‘As though God did beseech you by us, pray you in Christ’s stead.’ It is not arrogance, God forbid! it is simple truth when I say, Never mind about me; but my word, in so far as it is true and tender, is Christ’s word to you. And here, in our midst, that unseen Form is passing along these pews and speaking to these hearts, and the Shepherd is seeking His sheep.
He seeks each of us by the inner voices and emotions in our hearts and minds, by those strange whisperings which sometimes we hear, by the suddenly upstarting convictions of duty and truth which sometimes, without manifest occasion, flash across our hearts. These voices are Christ’s voice, for, in a far deeper sense than most men superficially believe, ‘He is the true Light that lighteth every man coming into the world.’
He is seeking us by our unrest, by our yearnings after we know not what, by our dim dissatisfaction which insists upon making itself felt in the midst of joys and delights, and which the world fails to satisfy as much as it fails to interpret. There is a cry in every heart, little as the bearer of the heart translates it into its true meaning-a cry after God, even the living God. And by all your unrests, your disappointments, your hopes unfulfilled, your hopes fulfilled and blasted in the fulfilment, your desires that perish unfruited; by all the mystic movements of the spirit that yearns for something beyond the material and the visible, Jesus Christ is seeking His sheep.
He seeks us by the discipline of life, for I believe that Christ is the active Providence of God, and that the hands that were pierced on the Cross do move the wheels of the history of the world, and mould the destinies of individual spirits.
The deepest meaning of all life is that we should be won to seek Him who in it all is seeking us, and led to venture our hopes, and fling the anchor of our faith beyond the bounds of the visible, that it may fasten in the Eternal, even in Christ Himself, ‘the same yesterday and to-day and for ever’ when earth and its training are done with. Brethren, it is a blessed thing to live, when we interpret life’s smallnesses aright as the voice of the Master, who, by them all-our sadness and our gladness, the unrest of our hearts and the yearnings and longings of our spirits, by the ministry of His word, by the record of His sufferings-is echoing the invitation of the Cross itself, ‘Come unto Me, all ye . . . and I will give you rest!’ So much for the Shepherd’s search.
II. And now, in the second place, a word as to the possible thwarting of the search.
‘If so be that He find.’ That is an awful if, when we think of what lies below it. The thing seems an absurdity when it is spoken, and yet it is a grim fact in many a life-viz. that Christ’s effort can fail and be thwarted. Not that His search is perfunctory or careless, but that we shroud ourselves in darkness through which that love can find no way. It is we, not He, that are at fault when He fails to find that which He seeks. There is nothing more certain than that God, and Christ the image of God, desire the rescue of every man, woman, and child of the human race. Let no teaching blur that sunlight fact. There is nothing more certain than that Jesus Christ has done, and is doing, all that He can do to secure that purpose. If He could make every man love Him, and so find every man, be sure that He would do it. But He cannot. For here is the central mystery of creation, which if we could solve there would be few knots that would resist our fingers, that a finite will like yours or mine can lift itself up against God, and that, having the capacity, it has the desire. He says, ‘Come!’ We say, ‘I will not.’ That door of the heart opens from within, and He never breaks it open. He stands at the door and knocks. And then the same solemn if comes-’If any man opens, I will come in’; if any man keeps it shut, and holds on to prevent its being opened, I will stop out.
Brethren, I seek to press upon you now the one plain truth, that if you are not saved men and women, there is no person in heaven or earth or hell that has any blame in the matter but yourself alone. God appeals to us, and says, ‘What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done unto it?’ His hands are clean, and the infinite love of Christ is free from all blame, and all the blame lies at our own doors.
I must not dwell upon the various reasons which lead so many men among us-as, alas! the utmost charity cannot but see that there are-to turn away from Christ’s appeals, and to be unwilling to ‘have this Man’ either ‘to reign over’ them or to save them. There are many such, I am sure, in my audience now; and I would fain, if I could, draw them to that Lord in whom alone they have life, and rest, and holiness, and heaven.
One great reason is because you do not believe that you need Him. There is an awful inadequacy in most men’s conceptions-and still more in their feelings-as to their sin. Oh dear friends, if you would only submit your consciences for one meditative half-hour to the light of God’s highest law, I think you would find out something more than many of you know, as to what you are and what your sin is. Many of us do not much believe that we are in any danger. I have seen a sheep comfortably cropping the short grass on a down over the sea, with one foot out in the air, and a precipice of five hundred feet below it, and at the bottom the crawling water. It did not know that there was any danger of going over. That is like some of us. If you believed what is true-that ‘sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death,’ and understood what ‘death’ meant, you would feel the mercy of the Shepherd seeking you. Some of us think we are in the flock when we are not. Some of us do not like submission. Some of us have no inclination for the sweet pastures that He provides, and would rather stay where we are, and have the fare that is going there.
We do not need to do anything to put Him away. I have no doubt that some of us, as soon as my voice ceases, will plunge again into worldly talk and thoughts before they are down the chapel steps, and so blot out, as well as they can, any vagrant and superficial impression that may have been made. Dear brethren, it is a very easy matter to turn away from the Shepherd’s voice. ‘I called, and ye refused. I stretched out My hands, and no man regarded.’ That is all! That is what you do, and that is enough.
III. So, lastly, the thwarted search prolonged.
‘Till He find’-that is a wonderful and a merciful word. It indicates the infinitude of Christ’s patient forgiveness and perseverance. We tire of searching. ‘Can a mother forget’ or abandon her seeking after a lost child? Yes! if it has gone on for so long as to show that further search is hopeless, she will go home and nurse her sorrow in her heart. Or, perhaps, like some poor mothers and wives, it will turn her brain, and one sign of her madness will be that, long years after grief should have been calm because hope was dead, she will still be looking for the little one so long lost. But Jesus Christ stands at the closed door, as a great modern picture shows, though it has been so long undisturbedly closed that the hinges are brown with rust, and weeds grow high against it. He stands there in the night, with the dew on His hair, unheeded or repelled, like some stranger in a hostile village seeking for a night’s shelter. He will not be put away; but, after all refusals, still with gracious finger, knocks upon the door, and speaks into the heart. Some of you have refused Him all your lives, and perhaps you have grey hairs upon you now. And He is speaking to you still. He ‘suffereth long, is not easily provoked, is not soon angry; hopeth all things,’ even of the obstinate rejecters.
For that is another truth that this word ‘till’ preaches to us-viz. the possibility of bringing back those that have gone furthest away and have been longest away. The world has a great deal to say about incurable cases of moral obliquity and deformity. Christ knows nothing about ‘incurable cases.’ If there is a worst man in the world-and perhaps there is-there is nothing but his own disinclination to prevent his being brought back, and made as pure as an angel.
But do not let us deal with generalities; let us bring the truths to ourselves. Dear brethren, I know nothing about the most of you. I should not know you again if I met you five minutes after we part now. I have never spoken to many of you, and probably never shall, except in this public way; but I know that you need Christ, and that Christ wants you. And I know that, however far you have gone, you have not gone so far but that His love feels out through the remoteness to grasp you, and would fain draw you to itself.
I dare say you have seen upon some dreary moor, or at the foot of some ‘scaur’ on the hillside, the bleached bones of a sheep, lying white and grim among the purple heather. It strayed, unthinking of danger, tempted by the sweet herbage; it fell; it vainly bleated; it died. But what if it had heard the shepherd’s call, and had preferred to lie where it fell, and to die where it lay? We talk about ‘silly sheep.’ Are there any of them so foolish as men and women listening to me now, who will not answer the Shepherd’s voice when they hear it, with, ‘Lord, here am I, come and help me out of this miry clay, and bring me back.’ He is saying to each of you, ‘Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?’ May He not have to say at last of any of us, ‘Ye would not come to Me, that ye might have life!’Matthew 18:12-13.
go after … until, &c.—pointing to all the diversified means which God sets in operation for recovering sinners.See Poole on "Luke 15:3" Matthew 18:12,
if he lose one of them, by straying from the flock,
doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, upon the common where they were feeding,
and go after that which is lost until he find it? by which parable Christ vindicates his conduct in conversing with sinners, and neglecting the Scribes and Pharisees; for if it was right for an owner of an hundred sheep, when he had lost one of them, to leave all the rest, and go in search after that one till he had found it; then it was right in Christ to do what he did. The Jewish nation seems to be designed "by the hundred sheep", who are frequently represented as a flock of sheep, Psalm 77:20 which are divided into ninety nine, and one: for by the "ninety nine" left in the wilderness, cannot be meant angels, as some have thought; for angels are never called sheep; and besides, the one lost sheep is of the same kind with the ninety and nine; and, according to this sense, must design an angel, or angels likewise; whereas none of the fallen angels are sought up, recovered, and saved. Moreover, when Christ became incarnate, he did not leave the angels; they accompanied and attended him in his state of humiliation; and much less in a wilderness, and still less can heaven be so called; to which may be added, that the angels in heaven are distinguished from the ninety nine as well as from the one lost sheep in Luke 15:7 nor can elect men be designed by them, who are already called by grace, whether they be in heaven or on earth; for though they in heaven are the spirits of just men made perfect, and are in a state that need no repentance, yet it cannot be said of them, that they went not astray, as in Matthew 18:13 for all God's people have been like sheep going astray, and were as such considered when Christ was here on earth, and bore their sins; and especially those could never be said to be left in a wilderness: nor the saints on earth: for though they are just persons, being justified by the righteousness of Christ, yet they daily need repentance; nor can it be said of them that they went not astray; nor are they left by Christ in the wilderness of this world; nor can there be more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner, than over these; but the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, that murmured at our Lord's receiving sinners, are meant. These were sheep, at least were in sheep's clothing; they were nominal professors, and belonged to the Jewish fold, or national church state; their number was ninety nine, to one; which is not to be taken strictly, as though only one in a hundred of them were saved; but it shows, that the greater part of the Jews were of this sort. The dividing of an hundred after this manner, into ninety nine and one, was usual with the Jews; so in their traditions (p), concerning distributing filberts to the poor,
"R. Simeon says, if "ninety nine" say "divide", and "one" says spoil, or scatter, they hearken to him, because he speaks according to the constitution; but of a vine and date, it is not so: if "ninety and nine" say spoil, and "one" says divide, they hearken to him, for he speaks according to the constitution.''
And elsewhere (q) they say,
""ninety and nine" die by an (evil) eye, and "one" by the hand of heaven; R. Chanina and Samuel, both of them say, "ninety and nine" die by cold, and "one" by the hand of heaven---R. Samuel bar Nachman, in the name of R. Jonathan says, "ninety and nine" die by heat, and "one" by the hand of heaven; and the Rabbans say, "ninety and nine" die by transgression, and "one" by the hand of heaven. Says R. Eleazar, "ninety and nine" die by bitterness, and "one" by the hand of heaven.''
And in another place (r) it is said,
""ninety and nine" die by an evil eye, and "one" by the way of the earth;''
in the common way: once more it is said (s),
"of the "hundred" cries which a woman cries, when she sits upon the stool (in travail), "ninety and nine" are death, and "one" for life.''
And this way of speaking also prevailed in other eastern nations, as in Arabia; in the Alcoran of Mahomet (t) there is such an expression as this;
"this my brother had "ninety nine sheep", and I had only "one" ewe.''
The "one lost sheep" in this parable, though it may include all the elect of God, and be accommodated to a single elect sinner, yet chiefly respects the chosen of God among the Jews; which were very few, a remnant according to the election of grace: and which lay among the profane part of them, the publicans and sinners; Who are particularly pointed out here, as appears from the context: these are called "sheep", even before conversion; not because they had the agreeable properties of sheep, for they were all the reverse; nor could some things be said of them before as after, as, that they heard the voice of Christ, and followed him; nor because they were unprejudiced against, and predisposed to receive the Gospel: but they are so called by anticipation, because they would be so; or rather in virtue of electing grace, by which they were chosen, and separated from others, and made the care and charge of Christ the great shepherd, and were the sheep of his hand: these are represented as going astray from the shepherd, and from the fold, and out of the right way; and who being like sheep, stupid and insensible of their danger, wander about, and never return of themselves till they are returned to, and by the great shepherd and bishop of souls. And in their unregenerate estate they are lost sheep, not irretrievably and eternally lost, as the world's goats; for though they are lost in Adam, yet not in Christ; and though lost in themselves, so as there is no possibility of ever recovering and saving themselves; yet as they were preserved in Christ, they are recovered and saved by him; who is the owner and proprietor of the whole flock, of all the "hundred" sheep, of the whole body of the Jewish nation; who were his by creation, and by being chosen from, and above all other people; and were distinguished by peculiar favours, had the "Shekinah", and presence of God among them, and his worship, word, and ordinances. Christ was peculiarly promised to them, and was born of them; and was a minister of the circumcision, being sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: though the "ninety and nine" were not his sheep in the most peculiar sense, or in such sense as the "one" lost sheep, which were his by his Father's gift, as all the elect are; hence he knows them, calls them, and receives them, and keeps them, and highly values them: he had them, they were put into his hands, he took the care and charge of there, he undertook to bring them in, to feed them, to die for them, and save them; and they are his by purchase, and he asserts his right to them, by calling them by his grace, and will distinguish them as his own, at the last day: and now, because of the different interest Christ has in the ninety and nine, and the one, different regards are had to them; the ninety and nine, the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees,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?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Luke 15:4-7. Comp. on Matthew 18:12-14. But in Luke there is still the primitive freshness in the pictorial representation, nevertheless the reference and the application are different.
ἐπί] after, with the purpose of fetching it. See Bernhardy, p. 252.
Luke 15:5. ἐπὶ τ. ὤμους ἑαυτοῦ] on his own shoulders; ἑαυτοῦ strengthens the description of the joyous solicitude which relieves the beloved creature from further running alone.
φίλους] kinsmen, as at Luke 7:6.
Luke 15:9. ἔσται] The future refers to every circumstance of the kind that occurs.
ἤ ἐπὶ κ.τ.λ.] As to ἤ without a preceding comparative, see on Matthew 18:8, and Buttmann, Neut. Gr. p. 309 [E. T. 360]. By the ninety and nine righteous Jesus means the legally righteous, whom He characterizes by οἵτινες (quippe qui) οὐ χρείαν ἔχ. μεταν. from the legal standpoint, not from that of the inner character. They need not repentance, so far as they have not swerved from the standard prescribed by the law, while in a purely moral relation their condition may be altogether different, and as a rule was altogether different (as in the case of the Pharisees). Hence, moreover, is explained the greater joy over a single sinner that repents. The eldest son in the parable of the prodigal son is distinctively and aptly described as such a righteous man, so that, in accordance with the context, an actually virtuous man (as usually) cannot be conceived of, for in that case the greater joy would have to be regarded as only an anthropopathic detail (“quia insperata aut prope desperata magis nos afficiunt,” Grotius).Luke 15:4. ἐξ ὑμῶν, what man of you. Even the Pharisees and scribes would so act in temporal affairs. Every human being knows the joy of finding things lost. It is only in religion that men lose the scent of simple universal truths.—ἑκατὸν πρ.: a hundred a considerable number, making one by comparison insignificant. The owner, one would say, can afford to lose a single erring sheep. Yet not so judges the owner himself, any owner. Losing only one (ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν) he takes immediate steps to recover it.—ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, in the unfilled, unfenced pasture land; but of course not so as to run the risk of losing the whole flock: it is left under the care of an assistant, the master taking the more arduous task to himself.—ἐπὶ after πορεύεται indicates not only direction but aim: goeth after in order to find. (Schanz; Kypke remarks that ἐπὶ with verbs of going or sending often indicates “scopum itionis” and is usually prefixed to the thing sought. Similarly Pricaeus.)—ἕως εὕρῃ: the search not perfunctory, but thorough; goes on till the lost one be found, if that be possible.4. an hundred sheep] And yet out of this large flock the good shepherd grieves for one which strays. There is an Arab saying that God has divided pity into a hundred parts, and kept ninety-nine for Himself.
in the wilderness] i.e. the Midbar, or pastures; see Luke 2:8. The sheep are left of course under minor shepherds, not uncared for. Some see in the Lost Sheep the whole human race, and in the ninety-nine the Angels: as though mankind were but a hundredth part of God’s flock.
until he find it] Strange that utterances so gracious as this should be utterly passed over, when so many darker details are rigidly pressed!Luke 15:4. Τίς, what man) The lost sheep, the lost drachm (piece of money), and the lost son, express respectively the stupid (senseless) sinner, the sinner altogether ignorant of himself, and the knowing and wilful (voluntary) sinner.—ἐκατὸν, a hundred) From the greatness of the flock, the solicitude of the Shepherd for His one ewe sheep is evidenced—ἐν τῆ ἐρήμῳ in the wilderness) where the flock is pastured.—πορεύεται, goeth away) In the recovery of the soul, it is not man but God, who as it were labours. See Luke 15:8.—εὥς, even until) He does not previously give over the search: see Luke 15:8. It was for this reason that Jesus Christ followed sinners, even as far as to where their daily food was taken, even to their tables, where the greatest sins are committed.
Not a desert place, but uncultivated plains; pasturage. Note that the sheep are being pastured in the wilderness. A traveller, cited anonymously by Trench, says: "There are, indeed, some accursed patches, where scores of miles lie before you like a tawny Atlantic, one yellow wave rising before another. But far from infrequently there are regions of wild fertility where the earth shoots forth a jungle of aromatic shrubs" ("Parables").
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