Christianity 201

November 22, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep


For three recent blog posts, Kevin Rogers at the blog The Orphan Age has been studying the parable that is part of a trilogy of stories that we call “The Lost Sheep.” Below are excerpts from the series and a link to each.

Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

One hundred sheep represent a healthy community. Together they have shared resources and maintain a strong defense. The predators are warded off by the efforts of good shepherding.

Jesus told this story to religious leaders who were entrusted to take care of God’s flock in Israel. They noted with contempt that Jesus always surrounded himself with the people who were not righteous. This story responds to the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ self-righteous, smug posturing.

People who were immoral or who followed occupations that the scribes held to be incompatible with keeping God’s law. A rabbinic rule stated that “one must not associate with an ungodly man,” and the rabbis would not even teach such a person… The rabbis taught that God would welcome a penitent sinner, but these parables teach that God seeks out the sinner.[i]

The Jewish leaders excluded those who wandered away from their demanding righteousness. These people who got into trouble were the lost sheep and expected to find their own way home. Shepherding was conditional upon compliance with flock standards of behaviour.

The fact that tax collectors and sinners listen to Jesus while the leadership does not is a cultural reversal of expectation. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places.[ii]

Religious elitism and arrogance always leaves people on their own without community. Hard-hearted religion leaves behind its homeless sheep.

[i] Reformation Study Bible
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series


Through Jesus’ continuing use of the sheep/shepherd metaphor we learn some important things about God’s involvement in peoples’ lives. Jesus echoed what the ancient Scriptures spoke of. What is a good shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:

For this is what the sovereign Lord says, “I will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

God says that this is what is in his heart towards people. Ezekiel described 4 characteristics that are consistent with Jesus’ leadership. As Jesus’ followers, have these values started to grow in us?

1.     God searches for the lost
2.     God brings back the strays
3.     God binds up the injured
4.     God strengthens the weak

Continue reading THE VALUE OF 1%

The parable of the lost sheep speaks to the challenge of living right. Personal righteousness was a central theme to Scribes and Pharisees. Lost sheep were those who did not follow the leader and stay with the flock. They disobeyed the rules of good sheep:

1.     Sheep need to listen to shepherd’s voice and follow
2.     Sheep have a communal flock instinct. Sheep that are ill might wander away

When someone distances him/herself from the faith community, it is usually for similar reasons. They have had poor leadership in their life or lacked respect for shepherds in general. Wanderers let the sickness of soul lead them away instead of letting a good shepherd restore them to health, bind their wounds or accommodate for their weakness.

So we may easily blame sheep for wandering away. But that is not the moral of the story. The heart of God searches for the wanderers and brings them home, fully aware that the sheep is sick, wounded or foolish. The Shepherd values every lamb and knows each weakness.

Read the conclusion of HOW TO GET LOST

December 17, 2011

Why Jesus Came

At this time of year we remember the coming of Christ, but it would be thirty years before the reason — or perhaps reasons —  he came slowly evidenced itself.  Ula Gillion in South Africa writes at the blog Jesus Carries Me and her blog has been featured here before and is one of the few sites listed in the blogroll here.  This piece appeared under the title, Jesus Came for People, Not Religious Institutions. This isn’t the final answer to the question, “Why Did Jesus Come?” but is one of many topics where he did not meet expectations; where His agenda wasn’t the same as their agenda… and we could even sometimes add, our agenda.

NIV – Matt 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

 9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

One of the things the church leaders couldn’t stand about Jesus was how He ignored their church rules. These rules were man-made and not from God. Jesus knew what mattered most. It was more important to keep the rules of God than keeping the man-made rules of religious institutions.

In this portion of Scripture we see two incidents that show us what is truly important to God. Yes, the Sabbath rest was instituted by God, but all these other rules that the church leaders added were not. In the first incident we see  Jesus point out that a human need such as hunger is more important than church rules. The second incident, the healing of a man with a shrivelled hand, He shows that helping another human being is more important than keeping church rules.

The Need for Food:

Jesus and His disciples were walking through grain fields. It was a Sabbath day and the disciples were hungry. Being surrounded by food, they started to pick some heads of grain and ate. As could be expected by now, the church police were not far behind. Wherever Jesus was, there were they. They were always on the look-out for a reason to accuse Him of law-breaking giving them a reason to arrest Him.

Aha! They thought they found a reason when they saw His disciples breaking one of their Sabbath rules which apparently forbid a person to pick some grain on the Sabbath. They quickly pointed this out to Jesus. “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath!” But Jesus quickly corrected their misguided accusation by pointing them to an historical event in Scripture. It was as if He was saying that this is nothing compared to what David did! He went right into the temple and ate the communion bread reserved only for priests when he and his men were hungry. And even priests desecrate the Sabbath by eating that bread, if one goes according to the rules of these church leaders. But these people were innocent in the sight of God, for human need is more important than man-made rules.

One greater than the temple is here. They were looking at how people must obey the rules of their temple, but it is for people that Jesus came to give His life –not for a building. People are more important in God’s sight than a building, even if that building is a “house of worship.” Moreover, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. In other words, what He declares lawful on the Sabbath will be lawful. Jesus came for people, not religious institutions.

It is important to keep in mind what matters to God. We often get so caught up in denominations and religious institutions and what they require of us that we forget how we treat people matters to God more than keeping a bunch of rules.  The basic needs of a human being come before the “temple.” Jesus accuses them of condemning the innocent because they don’t understand what God truly desires. He says to them that they must go and learn what these words mean, I desire mercy; not sacrifice, quoting from Hosea 6:6. He desires that we treat people right not make endless sacrifices. God is not interested in how often we attend church and participate in church activities and keep the church rules. God desires that we are merciful to the needs of others. People have been created in God’s image, not buildings and institutions. The problem is that sometimes in our attempts to obey church rules we may be breaking God’s rules. Especially where church rules place the needs of a human being second to the rules of an institution.

The Need for Healing:

To drive the nail deeper into their religious coffins, Jesus moves on from there and meets the church leaders on their own turf: The church building. He goes to their synagogue. A man with a shrivelled hand is there. They see yet another opportunity to catch Jesus breaking some or the other Sabbath rule and they ask Him “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He has already pointed out their erroneous understanding of what God desires when it came to human needs, but they obviously didn’t get the message.

Here before them is a man with another need. He needs healing and they see this man’s need as an opportunity to attack Jesus from a different angle. Once again, there are no surprises. Jesus silences them in a most amazing way. In the previous incident He pointed them to the Scriptures to expose their error, but now He points them to their own actions. He reveals their hypocrisy by saying that they would rescue one of their animals on the Sabbath day if necessary, but they have a problem if a human being is healed on the Sabbath. If one of their sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, they would certainly reach out and rescue it. Is a human being not more valuable than a sheep?

This infuriated them. The truth hurts to the degree that it is true for the one hearing it. Besides they didn’t like it that He damaged their egos because once again they lost a round to Jesus (they are the church leaders after all!). They didn’t like being humiliated by someone with no standing in their religious institution.

To add insult to the injury, while looking them straight in the eye, Jesus went ahead and healed the man’s hand  –right there in their church on the Sabbath Day!  They didn’t care that the man had his health restored. They felt no joy on his behalf. Instead, they left there and started plotting how they might kill Jesus. People’s welfare was really of very little importance to them. Their rule-keeping became more important and a human life had to take a backseat to their church rules. This only confirmed that they didn’t know God at all –even though they claimed to be the ones through whom God spoke and taught the people.

It is okay to respect the rules of religious institutions as long as we don’t lose sight of what is most important to God. I think a fair question would be how willing would we be to stop and help someone along the road while we are on our way to church. Would we then consider that person’s need more important, or would we be concerned that we may break one or the other church rule when we arrive late? There are obviously many other scenarios where we may be tempted to disregard a human need or even look down on people who don’t keep the church rules as well as we do.