Updated: Aug 29, 2022
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INTRODUCTION. The parable of the lost sheep is about a shepherd who cares for a
hundred sheep, and when one becomes lost, he seeks it until he finds it. The shepherd in the parable represents Jesus who is the good shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Although this parable is recorded in both Matthew and Luke, it is likely Jesus spoke the
parable on two different occasions. In Matthew, Jesus was discussing humility with his
disciples and called a little child to him as a model of true humility. Jesus told his disciples in order to enter the kingdom, one must humble himself and be- come as a little child. Just as the Son of man is come to save that which is lost, the parable tells of the shepherd who cares for his sheep and seeks the one that wanders away. God cares for his people and is not willing for any of these "little ones" to perish (Matt. 18:1-14).
In Luke's account of the parable, publicans and sinners surrounded Jesus in order to hear him. This caused the Pharisees and scribes to be offended and murmur that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. Although the publicans (tax collectors) were themselves Jews, they were considered as traitors because of their dealings with the Romans. They were social outcasts as were the "sinners," those who failed to observe the traditions of the elders, particularly the regulations regarding washing and purification. As Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He associated with all classes of the Jewish social order. He spoke the parable of the lost sheep to this crowd and compared the publicans and sinners to the lost sheep. The shepherd in the story searched for his one sheep that had strayed. Finding the lost sheep, he carried it home on his shoulders rejoicing. In the same manner Jesus searches for those who are lost, and there is joy and rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.
The shepherd was a familiar figure in Palestine. His equipment consisted of a rod, staff,
water-skin, scrip, and sling. The rod was like a shepherd's crook, used for walking and catching wandering sheep. At night the shepherd held his rod across the entrance to the sheepfold, and each sheep had to pass under it. The shepherd could then quickly inspect each sheep as it passed under the rod into the fold. The staff was a sturdy stick about three or four feet long with a knob of wood on the top. This was the shepherd's weapon with which he could beat off wild
animals or thieves.
The water-skin contained water for the shepherd, and the scrip held his food. The sling
was extremely important, and shepherds were experts in the use of a sling– consider
David's encounter with Goliath (I Sam. 17). The shepherd did not have a dog to help with
the herding. Instead he used the sling to drop a stone in front of a straying sheep to turn it back to the herd.
In New Testament times sheep were used for their wool and seldom for eating. As a result the shepherd knew his sheep and called them by name. Likewise, the sheep knew their master's voice and responded to the call of no other. The shepherd walked in front of the sheep, leading them, and risking his life for them. He was the first to encounter the dangers–wild animals, robbers, dangerous rocky areas. At night the shepherd laid across the entrance to the fold, for there was no gate; thus he was the door to the sheepfold. The shepherd had to produce the fleece of any sheep that was missing. Therefore, when a sheep strayed from the flock, the shepherd tracked and searched until he found it, dead or alive. When the sheep was found alive, there was great rejoicing.