Luke 15:1-7: The Divine Shepherd Restores Lost Sheep to His Fold

Furious, unforgiving, and smitten into stone, the Pharisees rail against Jesus. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Such sufferings of unbelief as they moan and mutter over God’s mercy. To them, this teacher from Nazareth deserves their hate for befriending foreigners and prostitutes who pollute their society.

Such graven mutterings often fly from mouth to ear in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 5, these same folks sneer when Jesus dines at the home of a tax collector (vs.30). Two chapters later, a poor woman, rich in love, pours a precious ointment on His feet and washes them with her tears. These Pharisees grumble over this lady of ill-repute touching Him. Strict in ritual cleanliness, they scold Jesus in chapter 11 for not being so fastidious Himself before dining. In each instance, these experts at fault-finding seek reasons to condemn Him.

These austere and self-righteous guardians of Judaism find offense at Jesus embracing rogues and scoundrels and eating with them. Over page and parchment, they sifted through the sacred texts, interpreting them to their profit. To avoid contamination, they often became rude and unkind, eager to save themselves from impure defilement. Though, as God gazed into their sullen hearts, they concerned themselves more with surface appearances than the underlying reality. Should this surprise us?

A pall of dread hangs over these teachers of the Law. Doesn’t Jesus realize the danger He provokes, eating and drinking with such lowlifes? The idea of a rabbi socializing with those delinquents. What an outrage! Why He acknowledges them as people worthy of dignity!

Heated exchanges ignite as much over theology as turf. Enraged, they seethe with resentment for a carpenter’s son from Galilee daring to teach them! These critics in sheep’s clothing sneer from their suspicion, coming in for the kill.

Yet, Jesus focuses on proclaiming His mission while still answering each grumbler. “The healthy don’t need a doctor,” He taught. “The sick do, for I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Unlike His opponents, this Messiah celebrates—but not at the sight of human enemies shattered. No, when a sinner changes course: an enemy, forgiven, transformed into a friend, who becomes forgiving himself. Yes, God desires salvation for everybody (1 Timothy 2:4).

In a parable, Jesus makes this point plain. “What man among you?” He begins, speaking of a lost sheep. “Consider owning 100 sheep. So, you tend them, but one winds up going astray. Shall you go after this sheep until you find him?” What’s the answer? No prudent shepherd, discovering an absent sheep, will abandon the other 99 to predators or thieves.

The story is nonsense. No shepherd forsakes his flock to pursue a missing sheep. How reckless and stupid for anyone to gamble so! Yet God isn’t bound by human logic.

The instructive tale goes deeper than a mere teaching moment since Jesus tells of His kingdom, not business or shepherding practices. No creature is so estranged whom this Shepherd cannot redeem, for He doesn’t stop when finding the lone sheep but brings him home. In a simple parable, Christ blasts a lightning bolt from heaven, captivating our untamed secret places with His mysterious workings.

Those sheep on the mountainside purpose as a lure and trap. Though one colossal grouping, the separated member of the drove, forces us to recognize two distinct groups. A forlorn lamb now unveils this other, undisclosed group, verified when he is no longer with the others.

The 99 never became “lost,” how we fancy ourselves to be. Most divine themselves as doing fine, close enough, not to be a liability—as the Jews supposed in Jesus’ generation. These 99 represent our fallen race in its smugness, reckoning we are righteous enough, wanting no rescue.

In an ironic twist, the solitary sheep embodies our true human tragedy. One unaccounted-for sheep epitomizes everyone. The meandering sheep is our actual condition, exposing us as the disoriented creatures we are.

Only now can we understand our Savior’s merciful heart, which moves Him to seek the distressed and separated. Yes, mercy persuades Jesus, not only to find someone, but to secure him home in His beloved Church. So what happens? Well, heaven glories when somebody repents (the found sheep) though not for 99 “righteous” who imagine they need no repentance. Oh, they only think they needn’t lament their sins. Such is their conceit.

So, Jesus lays bare their self-righteousness. By so doing, He exposes these supposed Law-keepers as sinful—unbelievable, they must lose their brazen glare. Only contrition should become their drumbeat to battle no more in their evil mutterings. To grouse, because God shows mercy, plucks no joy strings in eternity. Yet heaven resounds whenever Jesus tears someone asunder from his barren canyon of sin.

The story only includes two groups. Either you’re lost and discern you need saving, or you are part of the delusional 99, who think they’re fine on their own. No middle ground of the half-saved, struggling and clawing in this parable. No sheep contributes to being found.

So, if you approach to cut a bargain with God, remove every such inkling. Any arrangement you intend to achieve presumes you bring something worthwhile to give. Not so if you’re the truant sheep, for you can only offer your ruined condition—and nothing more.

So, how will you climb your way into God’s kingdom? Apart from His gift of amnesty, no genuine repentance is possible (Acts 11:18). In His vast mercy, He must fetch you and lift you into His fold. Remember, the saving Shepherd finds you, who calls you by name.

Only our Lord’s rescue conveys the authentic nobility we need for our lives. No heavenly song flutters a breath, rewarding the rewardable or correcting the correctable. Only the Shepherd’s valiant, devoted determination creates life in what is dead. In place and presence, He pities the ground the wolf does not. So faithful His care, surpassing our existing corrupted flesh, to lead us beyond earthly bounds.

Consider the times when God’s passionate grace touched you and faith sprouted anew or grew deeper roots. Did heaven not rejoice over you? Are you not the story of this waylaid one, later found by your Shepherd?

Did your Savior not make your shame His own to give you His purity and wholeness in its place? Yes, in His fervent yearning to do what you cannot do for yourself, He cleansed you in the liquid of His forgiving love. Every contagion, He washed away in His baptismal waters—and heaven rejoiced.

In Christ’s kingdom, the gifts we inherit come from God and are God. Here, in this sacred House, we receive a heavenly peace: Holy absolution, the Father’s breath, through His Son’s voice, by the Spirit He sent. To His children, God’s Son never extends less than Himself to rescue you—and heaven rejoices.

Your Redeemer gave more than His body in sacrifice to the executioners and His blood to this rebellious earth. Why, His Banquet supplies His sin-forgiving self into the fallenness of your flesh. Only because He does the doing, He transforms you from a wayward son of Adam to an adopted child of God—and heaven now rejoices.

These are the Lord’s: His baptism, Gospel, absolution, and Supper—not ours. Still, He invites and welcomes us as His guests, in His font, around His pulpit, and at His table. In these noble mysteries is the kiss of forgiveness, where heaven touches earth. Yes, Jesus Christ is the Giver, and in repentance, we receive—and heaven rejoices.

Unearned and unmerited, a pure gift, new every morning, awakening as fresh as the Shepherd finding you in a steep ravine. Such love searches for you, never-failing, unshaken by any circumstance in your life. To you, God’s divine pardon is free—dependent not on your payment for services or any service you might do to pay.

The angels above sing with joy—as do we, rejoicing at every turn away from sin. Though we aren’t worthy, God still bequeaths His mercy. Never should we celebrate the sinner receiving his comeuppance. Neither do we rollick and pleasure in death, but relish and rejoice in life. In the bully and bigot’s fall, we shall not frolic nor applaud the mighty one toppled from his tower. Do not savor the deserved downfall of the wicked, but delight in Christ coming to heal them.

Thus, we lavish God’s kindness upon another by the promise of a glorious dawn into eternity’s endless day. In Jesus, we’re never a foundling or stray, but recovered and reclaimed. Now, as mercy bringers in His name, we share the circle of His love, widening in an unending spiral of His grace.

In our heavenly Father’s plan, we become as Christ to our friends, family, and enemies as He is to us. We reach out, gracious, giving, and grateful, embracing them in His compassion. Not mere do-gooders, we are emissaries with a story to articulate, a hope to proclaim, instruments in lifting others to life. By this, we serve as little Christs to them.

Remember, you are not alone, lost, forgotten, or forsaken. For Christ seeks and comes to claim you. Wherever you are, He brings you back into the fold, into the loving arms of His Church, under His shepherding rule and reign. Every time this happens, you join in the chorus of heaven.

Only He is the divine Shepherd who loses His life for us. So, we are the flock He shepherds, His own, the people of His pasture. In Him, we’re not lost but found. Why, He fashions us anew, transforming us from deviating sheep, gone astray, into His image. Now, we are His Father’s children and partake in His inheritance.

So, revel in being redeemed and restored by the noble Shepherd. Your Lord Jesus will take you up in His arms and carry you home, rejoicing. Amen.