I was reading the 15th chapter of Luke the other day and I noticed something that was truly scandalous. I saw God's grace demonstrated through three simple stories.
I want to take the next three blog posts to look at each story and then tie them together in a truly unique way. I have always heard the first example of God's concern and desire for the lost presented in a way that seemed to make it more about me than about Him and that was a mistake. Anytime we take the attention from God and place in on ourselves there will be a problem. The fact is, God's grace is scandalous and what we are going to look at over the next few posts will direct our attention there.
The Sheep: Lost through carelessness.
I have heard this story for as long as I can remember, and it was always told the same way.
There was a shepherd and one of his sheep decided to run away. I guess the clover he saw off in the distance was more captivating than his shepherd so he runs off happy to find such good and delicious grazing. Night soon comes and he is lost and begins to cry and the shepherd goes off in search of the lost lamb and carries it back to the fold where the lamb promises never to run away again. In this version I have always been taught associates with this passage, the lamb is always at fault. He ran off from a loving and tender shepherd. God is the shepherd and we are the lambs because the Bible says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." ~ Is 53:6
While I certainly agree with the words of the prophet that the nation of Israel had gone astray, this is NOT what the parable in Luke 15 is referring to. Let's read it again and see.
"Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 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? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost." ~Luke 15:1-6
The passage makes mention of the word "LOSE". This is an action that comes as a result of the shepherd.
God loses people???? That is not what i said. The shepherd in this passage lost a sheep. While the CHIEF SHEPHERD (God) does not lose sheep, shepherds (Men) do.
In fact, 1 Peter gives instruction to the earthly shepherds as they care for the sheep.
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." ~ 1 Peter 5:4 God is the chief shepherd, and He uses men as His under shepherds and while the chief shepherd never loses His sheep, those that claim the title of under shepherd sometimes do.
This is where the dinner conversation gets awkward.
It is possible and it is a reality that many of His sheep are lost because of careless under shepherds. Hirelings.
"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father." ~John 10:10-18
Not everyone that carries the title of shepherd is a shepherd. Some are just a hireling and it shows glaringly in the way that they handle Father's sheep. It is possible to hold the office, business card, and college degree or doctorate even of a shepherd and in fact be nothing more than a hireling.
Slick printable presentations and flashy graphic designs may camouflage a careless Hireling for a time, but it never fixes the issue. The longer a careless hireling stays within a fold the easier it becomes to see that piles of corpses that float in the wake of the poorly captained flagship. When you ask the careless hireling, "What ever happened to so-and-so?" and you keep getting the same answers. "Oh they just felt led to move on", what is really being said is, "They knew something that would threaten my position so i just let them go" or "they fell overboard but we did not care enough to throw out a lifeline."
The congregation changes repeatedly and the sheep that came to the fold looking for help now wander while the hireling shepherd placates his conscious and lazy mindset with a standard, "They were not happy here in this fold, if they really wanted to be a part of things then they would be here."
They can tell the ninety nine about fictitious attempts made to restore wounded sheep and that they reached out to try to repair things left damaged, but the sheep know the truth. Eventually each one of the ninety nine will have an experience where the hireling shepherd carelessly left them to fend off wild beasts and in treacherous places in the vain aspirations of building a bigger and more impressive looking sheep fold.
Going out and looking for lost sheep is messy. It can be uncomfortable because when you find a lost sheep, there are going to be wounds that need cared for and that requires being able to be personal in your dealings with the sheep. The title of shepherd is not just something you get because you responded to an invitation to surrender to be a shepherd. It is a life's passion and its success has nothing to do with the size of the fold, but rather in the health of the sheep. If you have to chase your sheep down to be at the fold each week and guilt them into acting like a sheep, then you have failed.
Well what about the lost sheep? Will every sheep that gets lost want to return to the fold?
A half devoured sheep wants to do nothing but lay there and bleed out. They would rather lay there and die because they have been torn up and wounded and the last thing that they want to do is get up and walk. This is where the life's passion part comes in. The shepherd cares for the sheep regardless if he or she gets up at the first beckon. Sometimes you have to care for someone until they are strong enough to care for themselves. That can take years and may not contribute to the fold.
Instead, the hireling looks at the wounded sheep who seems unresponsive and tells himself something like this, "If they really wanted to be in the fold then they would be here!!!". The hireling hands the dismembered sheep a business card with his face on it and says, "Here, just call me if you need anything." and then quickly scoots out the door with his lazy conscience satisfied that the "attempt" was made. Lazy and careless hirelings lose sheep every time they take them to pasture because the sheep were never a priority.
Shepherds are humans and they have bad days and times when they would redo the way handled a situation certainly. I am speaking of an overall track record and the "Above reproach" way that is asked of them. When you were you last personally visited and cared for by the one who carries the title shepherd in your fold? Sheep are the priority of the shepherd.
So the parable is awesome because Jesus was speaking of something different here.
God's people were His sheep and they had been taken care of by hirelings. They had been mistreated and abused and left to fend for themselves.
God takes His sheep very seriously and I want to show you a passage that will really open your eyes as you read it.
"And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;
Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment." ~ Ezekial 34:1-16
God said in Ezekiel's day, "My sheep have been scattered because of shepherds that were hirelings".
They were scattered back then much like they are scattered now and it takes more than a Love Works t-shirt to genuinely love and care for the flock. This is why Jesus made the statement after the parable of the lost sheep.
"And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." ~ Luke 19:9-10
Jesus said in Luke 4:17-20
"And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him." ~Luke 4:17-20
Not all shepherds are hirelings and not all people with the title of shepherds are shepherds. I read the statement from the Chief Shepherd and the other passages above and to be honest with you it is very clear how to tell the difference. If Luke 4:18 is not evident in your personal experience with those who hold the title shepherd in your fold, then the truth hurts, but it is still the truth.
This sheep in Luke 15 was lost by carelessness and the Chief Shepherd came to earth in the form of Jesus and went looking for him until the sheep was found.
Sheep get lost and regardless of the situation, to ignore the Chief Shepherd because you had a bad experience with a bad hireling in a bad excuse. One of the biggest reasons I truly met the Father was because of a bad hireling! I remember asking God why He moved me into a situation where Ezekiel 34 was on full display. He answered with this, "Because I am not what you have seen demonstrated. You were ready to see and accept the difference."
That was the platform God used in my life to introduce me to Him. I will forever be grateful for every time I was wounded because had it not been for a hireling doing what hirelings do, I would never have truly met The Chief Shepherd! You may have a similar circumstance and to develop a hatred for the fold is understandable, but it is not the destination that you want to arrive at. Folds take on the characteristics of the shepherd who tends it. Read Luke 4:18 and understand that what you see there, according to 1 Peter as well, are what separates a true shepherd from a hireling.
Over the next three blogs I want to look at each circumstance mentioned in Luke 15 and point out something truly FANTASTIC!
The Sheep:Lost from carelessness
The Coin: Lost in Ignorance
The Child: Lost by Intention
Each of us will be found in one of these categories, and when you see how it ties together it will increase your love for Father so much more!
Knowing who you are to Him and who He is to you is truth, and where you find truth you will find life, and where you find life you will find freedom!
"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." ~ John 10:10-11
If you have been lost through carelessness and are wounded, feeling alone and in despair, I want you to know that the Chief Shepherd came for you. He administers grace to your wounds and He lifts you up on His shoulders. You are loved and you are in the perfect place to feel His embrace! Ask Him today to open your eyes and your awareness to His presence. I cannot wait for you to read next week!!!
Climbing with you,