The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin
William Bacon Stevens, 1857
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not 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.
"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
The three parables recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, were spoken by our Lord, in order to rebuke the murmuring of the Scribes and Pharisees, whose great complaint was, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them!"
It seems that multitudes of the publicans and sinners had drawn near to Christ "to hear Him." These classes, hated as vile extortioners, and profligate livers — were regarded as beyond the pale of mercy, and outside the sympathies and courtesies of social life. The learned Scribe, swollen with the traditions of the elders, and proud of the distinction which his legal knowledge secured — affected to despise the vulgar tax-gatherer, and the outcast sinner. The phylacteried Pharisee, with his long prayers, and ostentatious clothing, and minute ritualism, and self-created holiness — disdained the exactors of tribute, and the notoriously unclean, and would have felt that his fringed garments were soiled by a touch of such transgressors! And though their curiosity was stimulated to the utmost to hear the Lord — yet they complained that they had to listen to His teachings in company with the publicans and the profligate, saying in disparagement of the Savior, "This man receives sinners — and eats with them!"
This murmuring of the Pharisees and Scribes elicited three parables from our Lord, designed to illustrate the seeking love and receiving grace of God, and to vindicate his course in thus receiving sinners and eating with them.
As the Savior of men, it was important that we should know the grounds and methods of His procedure, when He undertook the restoration of our race. And these He condescends to set forth, not by labored argument, not by philosophical analysis — but by parables, illustrating to the humblest, as well as the highest, the purposes and dealings of God toward His rebellious children.
It is wonderful, when we think of it, what weighty, sublime, and eternal truths — are embedded in the simple parables of Jesus. While the sages of the world wrapped up their enigmatical propositions and mysterious sayings in the coverings of philosophy, or the embroidered robes of rhetoric; while the doctrines of human ethics were couched in language high above the comprehension of the common person — our Lord proclaimed His truths with clearness and fullness, and His language and illustrations, so far from covering up His thoughts, were rather like the atmosphere, enveloping all things indeed — yet the medium of a clear and perfect vision. It is easy enough to take a pigmy thought, and make it walk on high on the stilts of bombast and hyperbole. It is common enough to see a little thin idea that would not burden an infant's brain, puffed out with gaseous words, until it looms up and floats away in airy nothingness. But it is evidence of a mind of Divine compass and power, to condense the infinite and eternal truths of the Godhead, in its schemes for man's redemption — into words so few, and illustrations so simple, that the ignorant, the degraded, the little child even — can perceive and understand them.
In both the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin — Christ takes common and almost everyday occurrences to illustrate why He received sinners and ate with them: illustrations which, while glorious as the unfoldings of Divine love — are yet exquisite in their very plainness and simplicity. A man losing a sheep from his flock, a woman losing a piece of money from her bag — are familiar and every-day occurrences; yet, in the hands of the Savior, they are made to stand out as the exponents of the great principles of the Divine economy in the salvation of mankind.
The shepherd missed one sheep from his flock; and, accustomed as the Eastern shepherds are to know the face of each, and even to call each sheep by name — this loss would soon be discovered; and when known, the faithful shepherd would at once seek to reclaim the wanderer. Leaving the rest of the flock in the wilderness, not, indeed, in the sandy, howling wastelands — but in the uninhabited yet grassy and pastoral plains or valleys, where they would have herbage and shelter — the shepherd goes out to seek and save that which was lost. He goes into the mountains; he exposes himself to perils; he endures fatigue; he experiences great anxiety; but does not give up the search "until he finds it." And then, instead of beating the wayward sheep, or crudely driving it before him, or roughly upbraiding it for wandering — the shepherd takes the long-lost one in his arms, lays it on his shoulders, saves it from the weariness of travel and the accidents to which it might be exposed. And thus, bearing his precious burden, "comes home," and "calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them: Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!"
But as, among his auditors, there were doubtless those who would better understand a different simile, our Lord condescends to take a very humble figure, and says, ""Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp," — because the oriental houses have few openings or windows, and the extra light would be needed, "and sweep the house" — not merely look through it, removing the furniture to make the search more thorough — but sweeping its floors, sweeping it by the light of the lamp. And to the cleansing of the broom, she adds the diligent search of the eye, and leaves no place unexplored "until she finds it."
In the recovery both of the lost sheep and the lost coin, we find peculiar evidences of joy and peculiar language to express it.
The returning shepherd, as he comes within sight of his flock, which he had left, now quietly browsing on the plain or folded for the night, calls out to the dwellers in the tent, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!" And, as they came out to meet the shepherd, weary and faint with his tedious search, and see the wandering sheep safe upon his shoulders — they respond loudly to his call, and mingle together their pastoral rejoicings.
And when the poor woman, for we are led to infer that she was such, finds her lost coin, she gathers her friends to tell them of her success, and calls upon those who once sympathized with her loss, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin!"
In what a graphic manner do these two parables set forth the seeking love of Jesus to our lost and sinful race!
We are wanderers from God — "all we, like sheep, have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way," and had lost ourselves upon the dark mountains of sin and unbelief. The innocence which was once ours, and the companionship of God which we were once privileged to enjoy, were voluntarily renounced; and, forsaking the green pastures and still waters of the Lord's providing — we have strayed away from the Good Shepherd into the rugged paths and dangerous crags of sin and woe!
Originally made in the likeness of God, and once bearing in our souls the image and superscription of our King — we have now lapsed from our rightful owner, and fallen away into the dust and earthiness of a deep moral debasement. But Christ, infinite in His love and mercy, did not leave us thus lost and wandering. He sought us out; He addressed Himself to the work of our recovery; He girded Himself about with the vestment of humanity; He came to this sin-cursed earth, and wandered up and down in its highways and hedges, enduring the malice of enemies, the rebukes of the proud, the suspicions of friends, mockings and buffetings and countless sorrows — until, arrested as a malefactor, condemned as a blasphemer, crucified as a slave — the Good Shepherd had given his life for His sheep, and, that they might be saved, bowed His head and died! "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed!"
In a most emphatic manner did Christ "go after the sheep that was lost — until He finds it." The love that prompted the search was an infinite love; its well-spring was in the beginning; it had flowed from all eternity, and its fullness and richness are best illustrated in the costliness of its sacrifice, and the value of its atonement.
It was not the lost sheep seeking out the Shepherd, and making efforts to get back to the fold! There was in us, no desire to return — we loved our sins and we reveled in them! And man even slew the Lord of life and glory — because he sought to redeem him from his sins. It was like the diseased and loathsome patient — killing the physician because he would rescue him from his sickness, and give him health and soundness instead of corruption and pain!
What Christ did as our Good Shepherd, to seek and save us — may be learned in the wonderful record of His life. For the thirty-three years of His earthly pilgrimage, were so many years of toil, anguish, endurance, and search after the wanderers from God. No dangers daunted Him, no fatigue exhausted Him, no calumny turned Him aside, no assaults of enemies caused Him to desist. He plunged into the deepest thickets of sin! He entered the most forbidding morasses of life! He exposed himself in the most dangerous and darksome valleys of humanity, without regard to His own comfort; and at the sacrifice of His own blood — that He might find His lost sheep, and laying them on His shoulders return with them to His Father's fold rejoicing, seeing in their recovery, "the travail of His soul," and being "satisfied."
These parables were designed by our Lord to illustrate the great concern which He felt for lost souls. The value of the soul is well known to the Lord Jesus. We do not know it, because our arithmetic is finite, and it has no numbers to compute the worth of an immortal spirit. We judge of everything by worldly standards, by what it can give us, or what it can do for us, as beings of time and earth. Consequently, that which enables us to rank high, to amass wealth, to secure praise, to dwell at ease, to live in pleasure — is that which most absorbs our thoughts and engages the powers of our being. Hence, the soul, in its eternal interests, is overlooked, or regarded as a disagreeable something, ever standing in the way of our pleasure and advancement, which we would gladly be rid of if we could.
The Blessed Savior, having created the soul, having endowed it with its wondrous powers, having given it immortality as its birthright — knows its worth. And when He saw us wandering into sinful and forbidden paths, He knew the greatness of the loss which would ensue, and hence manifested such Divine concern to secure its recovery and salvation. He was happy in the glories which he had with the Father before the world was; He was blessed in the worship of the Angelic Host who ministered before Him — but all this availed not! His eye saw, His heart loved our race, even though it was fallen and rebellious — and "not willing that any should perish," He came down to deliver from eternal ruin, all who would believe on Him, and receive Him as the Savior of their souls.
There was deep concern in Heaven for the soul of man. God felt it, and so felt it as to give His only begotten Son, that "whoever believes on Him might not perish — but have everlasting life." And when it so moved the mind of Jehovah — how ought our minds to be under deepest concern for their recovery! Did the shepherd leave the ninety-nine unwandering ones, and go out into the mountains to seek and save one wanderer? Just so did the Lord of Glory leave the innumerable company of unsinning angels, that He might go forth to find the lost sheep, man. Just so did He light the candle of revelation, and with the broom of a holy law, sweep the floor of this earthly house of our tabernacle — until he found the coin which was lost, relaxing no effort which Divinity could devise or execute, to recover the wanderer, and search out the lost; for "He delights not in the death of a sinner — but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live."
The parable of the Lost Sheep also teaches us the tender care and compassion of our Lord towards the recovered wanderers. What could illustrate this more than the shepherd's act of laying the lost sheep, when he found it, "on his shoulders," and so bearing it home?
When Christ finds the wandering sinner — He does not roughly upbraid him, He does not drive him harshly before Him — but throws around him His loving arms, takes him to His bosom, lays him on His shoulder, where no harm can reach him, protects him by His hands, and pledges the mightiness of His own power to return the wanderer to the fold of God.
And with what joy is the sinner welcomed! It is faintly shadowed forth in the rejoicings made by the friends and neighbors of the shepherd, and the woman at the recovery of the lost sheep and the lost silver. It is more emphatically declared, in the words of the Savior, after the parable of the 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!" And in almost similar words after the parable of the Lost Coin, "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents!"
In this twice-uttered declaration Jesus enunciates the truth, that there is an interest and a sympathy felt for man by the angels in Heaven; a truth confirmed by several other passages of Scripture, wherein they are not only represented as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation," but as desiring to look into the mysteries of man's redemption!
There is something very sublime in the thought that angels take an interest in the moral affairs of this earth. Were our world the only orb which Divine power had framed and peopled, and poised in the else solitary field of space — there would be something of condescension in such holy beings, dwelling in the presence of God, stooping to interest their mighty minds and spotless souls in the spiritual affairs of men.
But when we are compelled to believe, however humbling to human pride, that the earth which we inhabit is so small as to appear but a sparkling point to some planets, and not visible at all to other planets, even of our own solar system; while myriads of suns, with attendant families of worlds, spangle the floor of Heaven, and mock the powers of the most potent telescope; then the condescension of the heavenly host becomes more marked and significant, and seems to indicate that there must have been some special display of God's glory on this little earth, to which other greater and brighter worlds were strangers; and hence they concentrate upon this spot a more intense gaze, and feel for us a more vivid interest. The solution of this interest is found in the fact that, for all that we know — this earth is the spot where was seen the highest display of God's moral glory, and where was waged the great battle of God's supremacy, in which sin and death were conquered, and grace and salvation won!
We know not that any other world revolted from God; we infer, indeed, from the transactions which took place here, that all other portions of His universe adhered to the holiness of their original creation; and if, as we justly suppose, that this earth alone broke out in rebellion, and threw off its allegiance to Jehovah — we can well understand how, for a time, the fact of such an outbreak would be heralded throughout the skies, and how the questions — "Shall rebel man be punished? Can rebel man be saved?" would for a season occupy the thoughts and fix the deepest interest in the heavenly host. In such a case, the littleness of the terrestrial spot was nothing — he greatness of the principle at stake was everything. The smallness of the world was lost sight of, in the magnitude of the issue.
The great principle that was here to be established, and the mighty wonder that was here to be disclosed — was the principle that "God could be just and yet the justifier of him that believes on Jesus;" and the solemn mystery of a "God manifest in the flesh, seen of angels, believed on in the world," and redeeming that world by "humbling Himself unto death, even the death of the cross."
Hence angels gathered around this single wandering world; hence they watched the dealings of God with its sinful inhabitants; and hence we find them, in all ages of the world, mingling their services to carry on the scheme of grace in its various manifestations — Patriarchal, Levitical, and Christian. Angels came to Abraham, and Lot, and Jacob, and Moses. Angels appeared to David, to Elijah, to Daniel, to Ezekiel. Angels foretold the birth of Christ to Zecharias, to Mary, to Joseph, to the Bethlehem shepherds. Angels ministered to Christ on the mount of temptation, in the garden of Gethsemane, at the rock-hewn sepulchre, and announced to the women who had gone there to anoint the Savior, "He has risen! He is not here! come see the place where the Lord lay." And angels shall attend Him in His second advent to judge the world, for Matthew says, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all His holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory."
All these angelic appearances are connected with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of Christ is the greatest moral epoch in the universe of God; and as this incarnation was "for us men and our salvation," hence it would necessarily be a matter of profound interest to angelic beings, whose service was in the presence of God, to watch the results of that great mystery, and to rejoice, as each new convert to Christ gave proof of the power, and wisdom, and grace of God in planning out such a perfect and complete salvation.
They rejoice that God's grace, and Christ's blood, and the Spirit's power, have not been bestowed in vain. They rejoice that another soul is "snatched as a brand from the burning," and has become "an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ to an inheritance" in heaven; and though supremely happy themselves, though dwelling in the presence of God, "in whose presence is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures forever more," yet such is the depth of their interest in Christ, who is their Divine Head, such the outgoing of their affection to Him in all His mediatorial work — that they find it a source of ecstatic joy to follow out the wondrous exhibitions of His redeeming love, as it flows down to the individual heart, and newly creates the soul in righteousness and true holiness!
Warranted by the repeated words of Jesus, we can imagine the angels — forgetful, as it were, for a time, of the "just who need no repentance" — bending all the force and concern of their celestial interest upon one poor sinner, watching his wandering steps as he strays away further and further, now almost stumbling with fear, as his feet tread nearer and nearer to the slippery edge of ruin; and now all excitement, as, arrested by the call of mercy — he listens, turns, retraces his steps, is found by the Good Shepherd, is laid upon His shoulder; and as the once lost one is brought back to the fold, we can conceive that there would rise from that heavenly host, from every rank and order, till the wave of their mighty congratulation would reach the Eternal Throne, the ecstatic exclamation, "He is found! One sinner more saved! One saint more for glory!"