We Obtain Salvation By Our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Thessalonians 5:9)
Man in his mind often takes credit for his own salvation;
This is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
By Doyle D. Dewberry, Retired Pastor and Author of Sovereign Grace Baptist Proclaimer
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.' I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7)This is one in a trilogy of parables (the shepherd and the lost sheep, the father and the prodigal son, and the woman and the lost coin) with very much in common. In all three parables, there is the effectual and persistent searching for the lost, which represents one of God’s people, and the finding or return of the object. In heaven there is rejoicing and celebration on the return of the object—the repentance and return of one of God’s elect, or every one of God’s people.
When I look for lost sheep, I am looking for any sheep. When the Lord looks for a lost sheep, He is looking for His own sheep, one of His fold. The sheep that I may find is the one He has been seeking to save, every one of whom He knows by name (John 10:3).
One of our problems in understanding this parable has to do with the “when” of our salvation. We generally think of it as the time when we first believe, but God’s people are those given to Him before the foundation of the world. God sees us as His people before we were ever born, yea, before the world began.
When we believe, it is just our Lord finding us, as this lost sheep, and we are returned to the fold. It is a matter of our status before Adam and before the fall, and after Adam and after the fall. While all men fell with Adam, so also did God’s people, whom He chose before time began:
“Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).
What is the occasion for this parable? The religious people of the day were complaining because the Lord was receiving and eating with sinners (v. 1-3). The same is true today. We have the religious but lost (even those who appear to be divinely drawn unto the Lord and salvation), who look down upon the poor sinner because they consider themselves not to be sinners. But unless a man sees himself a sinner, and lost, he cannot be saved, for the Lord came to seek and to save the lost sinner.
Who is the shepherd? The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has come to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and, yea, even to give His life for the sheep (John 10).
What sheep does Christ look for? The sheep He seeks are they whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the world began and, as a result of the fall by Adam, are His lost sheep. Christ’s sheep will or do believe, and are designated as His Sheep. There are many other sheep in the world, but they are not His sheep. Jesus said of them,
“Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27).Who are the 99 that He has left in the wilderness? They are the found sheep. In Luke’s account of this parable, he only tells us that the 99 were those He left behind while He sought this one lost sheep; in Matthew’s account of the parable, we learn more of the 99—the 99 are they that did not go astray. We do not assume that they are just persons that need no repentance (v. 7), but that they, like all of God’s people, need on-going repentance—it is the self-righteous that think they do not need to repent.
“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” (Matthew 18:11-13)
Here are five important points of this parable, which reveal to us the Lord’s saving of all His sheep:
- Our Lord was not seeking just any sheep, but one of His sheep, which was lost. If He had seen 99 other sheep, it would not have deterred Him in His search for the one sheep, which was His, but lost. There were many sheep in the world, but He sought His own.
- The Lord seeks that lost sheep, for He goes after that which is lost (v. 4). Remember the words of our Savior who said that He “came to seek and save that which was lost.” Evangelism is no more than our finding those whom the Lord seeks, and while we know them not before, He knows them, has purposed their salvation, and thus He foreknew them and predestined them (Romans 8:28-29).
Notice also the occasion of His sending His disciples out to gather in His sheep, showing us that salvation was to the Jew first (Romans 1:16), but includes only His lost sheep:
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)The importance of this verse is in what He did not say. He did not say “Go ye to the house of Israel, the lost sheep,” but that they were to go to the lost sheep “of” the house of Israel. They did not go to every Israelite in the land. Paul taught: all of Israel is not of Israel (Romans 9), indicating there is an Israel according to the flesh and one according to the Spirit. A true Jew is not one outwardly, but one inwardly—and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:28-29).
- The Lord will seek His sheep until He finds it; He is an effectual Shepherd. A good example of this is when the Lord went to Zacchaeus—it was Jesus’ main purpose in going through Jericho. While Zacchaeus was up in the tree where he could see the passing Savior, the Savior came to him, telling him to come down, for he is told, “Today… I must abide at thy house.” This man was a publican (who are cited along with sinners in Luke 15). Publicans were Jews working with the Romans collecting taxes from the people, and hated in Israel, but the Lord loved him.
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who He was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him: for He was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.” And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.' 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 19:1-10)The sheep was a helpless sheep (v. 5) and therefore lost in the wilderness. He could not come to the fold as other sheep, so the Lord carried him there on His shoulders, as we are told:
“When He hath found it, He layeth it on His shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5).You will never find sinners coming to Christ before He first comes to them, and no one will enter heaven, as this sheep in the fold, except on the shoulders of the Savior Himself. Salvation is not something that man does for God, but that which God does for man. God is the God of salvation.
Consider repentance, which is not first of man, but first of God:
- The shepherd rejoiced over finding the sheep and sought his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him (v. 6). It is typical of that which takes place in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over 99 of the self-righteous that think they need no repentance.
Keep in mind all three related parables, including the woman who lost the coin (drachma) and the father who lost a son: they represent the triune-Godhead in the salvation of sinners. We have the Father, the Son, and the Spirit represented. The latter may be a little difficult to understand, but the Holy Spirit is like a mother to the Church, even though He is spoken of as in the masculine, He broods over the Church much as He did in creation (Genesis 1:2).
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:1-9)
Consider also the following, which can be said did not lead to the saving of this sheep!
- It was not saved by any law or good works. We are told, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight, and that our salvation is by grace—not of works. Works are for those who are already saved, for we are the workmanship of God, created unto good works.” (Ephesians 2)
- It was not saved by seeking the Lord. As it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
- It was not saved by praying. Praying is for those already saved. It is so set forth in the Scriptures. When Paul was writing to the Church in Rome, he said, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
- It was not saved through a witness other than the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus. This is not to say that God’s people are not saved through another witnessing, but it does demonstrate that man is not necessary in the salvation of anyone. Peter brought the message of salvation to the Gentiles (all through the leading of the Lord for him to do so), but the apostle Paul was saved on the road to Damascus by the personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Himself, which was after the Lord’s ascension into heaven!
We sometimes get the opinion that no one can be saved unless man speaks to him: it is one way, but not the only way. Missionaries sometimes feel that unless they go to a certain country, no one could be saved there, but God has not put the fate of man in man’s hands, but in His own! Many have been saved from reading the Scriptures only (the testimony of this writer), others from reading messages in papers and books. Preaching the gospel is accomplished by publishing as well as proclaiming!