We're turning this evening in our Bibles to Luke's Gospel and chapter 15. We've been thinking these Sunday evenings - and this indeed is the last Sunday evening we'll be thinking upon the parables - about these stories that the Lord Jesus Christ told. We're thinking this evening of quite a well-known one, which is the parable of the lost sheep.
Luke chapter 15 and verses 1 to 7: "Then drew near unto him", that is Jesus, "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".
Let us pray: Our Father, as we come to Your word this evening we thank You for it. We thank You that, as believers this evening, we are not resting in our own thoughts, or own philosophies, or even our own abilities - but, Father, we're resting and abiding on the Rock of the word of God. Father, we know that the law without the Spirit brings death and bondage - but we pray, our Father, that the Spirit would bring life here tonight, that He would apply the word that He has inspired on these pages - Father, that men and women, teenagers, even boys and girls, would see these words, would see them portrayed through the love of Christ to them, and would yield their all to the Lord Jesus Christ in salvation. Help us, Lord, tonight - help me - help us all to pray. Father, we pray that one lost sheep, even ninety and nine lost sheep, would come into the fold tonight through Your word this evening, for we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
'Black sheep' is a name that no-one would like to be given. Many people within families have been labelled 'the black sheep'. Perhaps a family has been good living, perhaps it has been religious, moral, up-standing in the community, but there has just been one - the runt of the litter, the one who never stood up to the expectations, perhaps, of their parents or the rest of the family. In fact they went the opposite direction, they went into areas, perhaps, that were frowned upon - they were seen as the black sheep.
Perhaps you're here tonight, and that's the way you feel. Perhaps you're here, and that is what you're called. Even if they do not call you that, you know that in their thoughts that's the way they think. You could be a backslider, a person who was once a professor of the gospel of Jesus Christ - you once professed to be saved, but now you're nowhere, now you're a black sheep. Perhaps you're not saved, perhaps you've never been saved, perhaps you don't know what it is - and all the pleasure that you find, all the joy in life that you have, is in the pleasures and the sins that this world offers.
I wonder have you ever been lost? The title of my message tonight is this: 'This Could Be Your Problem'. I wonder have you ever went to one of those mazes and they're made of hedges, or made of walls. You go into the maze, and at every corner you turn, or at every corridor you go down, it seems to be a dead end. You just wish that you could fly, and you could lift yourself up above the maze, or you could walk up a mountainside or a hillside, or go up in a helicopter and look down upon it to see how you get in and out. Maybe you have done that, and you know the feeling of being lost. You know what it feels like not to be able to know or even find your way. You've got into this situation and you can't find your own way out.
It's a feeling of being in a desert, isn't it? There's nothing scares me more than thinking of being in a desert, like the Sahara desert. If you imagine being dropped right into the centre of it, right in the middle of it, and all around you you can only see a horizon of sand. A horizon of sand, and above it all you see is the sun and the blue sky scorching down upon you. You can't seem to find a way out, you don't have a compass, you've no direction - all you see around you is sand. How frightening that must be! Or to be parachuted into the Amazon jungle, and all you see around you is trees, plants, rivers - but you don't know where you are, you don't know where to go, you don't know what direction to take - you feel lost.
Do you remember those feelings of childhood? Perhaps you're in the supermarket, or the ordinary market, or out on the street doing the shopping with your Mum or your Dad - and suddenly you turn around and they're not there. As a child usually what you did was stood there, and you panicked and you cried, and you just stood waiting for your mother or your father to find you. You didn't move, and cried - such a feeling within you, can you remember what that was like? You felt insecure, you felt lost, you felt a feeling of dependence you felt a lack, you felt a need, you felt a fear - total insecurity.
That's what this parable is about this evening. We see in verses 1 and 2 who this parable was addressed to, because it says that the publicans and sinners came to hear the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I take great comfort in this: the publicans and sinners came to hear Jesus Christ! Now let's get this: it wasn't the religious fuddy-duddies, it wasn't the hierarchy of the religious system of Judaism of His day, it wasn't the high-fluting statesmen and politicians, it wasn't those type of people - it was the outcasts of society, the outcasts of the church of the day, it was the publicans and sinners.
Maybe you feel like an outcast tonight, an outcast in this church, an outcast in our nation. Perhaps people in the community frown upon you because of the lifestyle that you have led in the past, or are leading now. Well, take comfort tonight because Jesus came - listen - Jesus came for you! Not for righteous people, for righteous people don't know their need - they think they can get there on their own steam and their own effort. People like publicans and sinners, people who have reached rock bottom and can't go any further, those people know that they need help - they cannot help themselves.
These people were lost, these people were lost - and the irony of it was: it was the religious leaders that had come, it says in verse 2, the Pharisees and the Scribes murmuring and saying 'This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them'. Now to eat with a sinner in this society was not the same as eating with someone today. In fact, just as the Lord's Supper portrays Communion, every meal and every eating session in Palestine back then portrayed communion, portrayed fellowship. What was happening here was: these Pharisees, these legalistic religious hypocrites, were looking on, they were seeing Jesus Christ who claimed to be the Son of God, claimed to be sinless, and He was sitting with the dregs of the earth.
Which one are you tonight? Are you lost in your sin? I want to tell you tonight - and this is glorious, and I rejoice in this, even to think of it again - you are not only lost, but you are loved. Have you got that? You are loved! You could say to me: 'David, now hold on, you don't know my background, you don't know my life'. I'm telling you this evening that no matter who has failed to love you in the past - whether it be father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister - you are loved by someone tonight.
In verse 4 we read about a shepherd who had 99 sheep whom he left. He should have had a hundred sheep, but something went wrong. What had happened was one of the sheep went missing. Because that sheep went missing, that shepherd was committed and was able and was willing to leave the 99 sheep that were OK in his fold, and to go out and fetch the one that was missing. If you're a farmer here tonight, you might think: 'Well, that wasn't too practical' - but listen, practicalities didn't come into it. Do you know why? Because this shepherd loved his sheep individually. Have you got that? He loved them individually, he loved every single one of them, every single one meant as much to him as the other.
It's like your children, isn't it? You maybe have five children, and you don't have number one son and number two son, and you love number one son more than number two son - that's not the way it works. You love them all, don't you? You love them all individually, perhaps in a different way, perhaps for different reasons, but you love them all nevertheless. There is individual love. That's the same with God. God loves you so much tonight - and listen, please, to this - He loves you so much, and He is interested in you so much, that He knows every intricate detail about your life.
You know that problem that you had this week that no-one knew about, or you thought no-one knew about? God knew about it, God was concerned about it - and if you only had opened yourself up to God, He would have tried to help you and soothe you and comfort you and love you in that situation, but you shut Him out. In fact the word of God says that God knows you so much, and in so much detail, that every hair of your head is numbered (that wouldn't be too hard a job for some of you!). But think of that: every single hair! He says that every little sparrow that falls - a sparrow! Sure you could be going down the motorway and bang one with the windscreen, and that's another one away. Insignificant, you think, but God Almighty in heaven is such a God of love that every single one that falls He knows about it!
Scientists tell us that black-haired women have 110,000 hairs - think of that, when you look in the sink, men, you know all about that, in the morning, how many hairs they have! Blonde women have 140,000 hairs - I don't know about dyed blonde hair, whether that increases the amount that they have! But the average woman loses 100 hairs a day - and listen, I'm not exaggerating here this is what the word of God says: every one of those 100 hairs that you lose per day, God knows about. That is how much He cares for you. He knows everything, He cares about everything, He wants to get in and - if I can say it reverently - muck in with everything in your life, be concerned, be involved, take control. He wants to do it because He loves you, but you won't let Him in!
You're loved - but you see verse 4 shows us also that you're lost. I want you to try to imagine the situation here: this shepherd goes one night and he takes all the sheep. He's walking with the crook, he's walking perhaps in a wintry scene with the wind blowing in a cold icy night in Palestine. He's walking over the mountains and the rocks and the crevices, and he brings all those sheep - he thinks - into the fold safely. As they did in Palestine, he lies across the door of the sheepfold - but before he does that, he counts the sheep. When he counts them he can't believe it, because there's only 99 and he can't remember leaving any of them anywhere, he can't remember even seeing one straggle behind - but he knows that he had 100, he knows every one of them by name - but one of them is lost.
If you can see it tonight: out on a mountain in the wild and bare, with a cold wind gale blowing, hitting that little lamb, with the hail beating down - standing on a pinnacle with those little matchstick legs shaking, and the knees knocking together - a little lamb standing, waiting to fall. It's lost. I wonder are you lost tonight? I heard a story about a miner, he was down in the pits in Wales. When he was walking back to the tram that would take him back up to the surface, he realised he had missed the tram. Suddenly the lights went out, the electric was cut off and he was standing in pitch darkness. He shouted, he stood where he was, he was afraid to move - and he shouted out for help. There was a woman in a house above that pit who could hear the faint cries of that man. When they sent a rescuer down to get him they found, when they brought the torch into that pit, that that man was standing right at the edge of a ravine. That man was lost, but listen: if that man had taken one step by himself he was damned.
Do you hear that? If he tried himself, just like the sheep sitting on a pinnacle, to move or to help himself, he was damned because he couldn't do it. He was in darkness - and if you are lost, if you're not saved, and you think that you will be able now or at some stage in your life or before death to help yourself - listen, I say to you in grace: you will only damn your soul!
A newspaper article featured two photographs. One photograph was of the Council, the local town Council, and the other photograph was of a flock of prize-winning sheep. As often is the case, the editor of the newspaper mixed up the captions at the bottom. Underneath the Council he had these words: 'Naive, vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world'. Of course it should have been under the sheep, but that tells us so much about ourselves, doesn't it? We're naive, we're vulnerable, we huddle together for security to feel good - and because there's plenty of us like ourselves, and do the things we do, we feel secure against all the uncertainties of the outside world. But what does the word of God say? It says that we're all like sheep, we're all like sheep, dumb sheep! We have gone astray, we turn every one to his own way - we lead others astray! We're lost.
Charles IX of France, on the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, was lying in a pool of his own blood, choking on the clots in his throat. All he could be heard to say was: 'I'm lost'. Are you lost tonight? Listen, if you're backslider you might never have been a 'frontslider' in the first place - and you have no security of it. You could be lost tonight, you might not have even been saved. Are you lost? Well, I want to tell you from this parable this evening: not only are you loved, not only are you lost, but the word of God and Jesus says that you are looked for.
In verse 4 of the parable it says that he went after that which was lost until - listen to these words - he went after it until he found it! Who's looking? The shepherd is looking, but it's not just an ordinary shepherd, because what ordinary shepherd would go after one little seemingly insignificant sheep when there's 99 good ones. Think of it: he leaves the good ones to go and get the lost one - who would do it? Listen: he's a good shepherd, isn't he? Better than that: He's the Good Shepherd, He in fact is the Chief Shepherd - there's no other Shepherd like Him! I can say, and many here in the meeting can say, that the Lord is my Shepherd - can you say that?
Do you know why we can say it? Because He went after us until He found us! Is He your shepherd? Who do you follow? Are you like a sheep without a shepherd? Do you follow every whim and every feeling and every emotion that comes within you, or the trend that is without you, or the fashion of the world? What do you follow? Do you follow someone who is dependable? The Good Shepherd of the sheep.
But where is He looking? Well, that Psalm that I quoted: 'The Lord is my shepherd' - we all know it well, we've sung it many times - it tells us where He is looking for us in verse 4 of Psalm 23: 'Yea', David says, 'though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil'. Do you know where the Shepherd is looking for you? Listen: in the valley of death. Yes, you see that shepherd in the valley of death, putting his life on the line when the wind is blowing. He has no companion with him, he's going alone down that valley, to climb that ravine, to get to the pinnacle, to risk his life and to take that sheep and to bring it back to the rest of the fold. Can you see him tonight doing that for that lost sheep?
John 10 verse 11 says of Christ, listen, that He is the Good Shepherd who not just lays His life on the line for the sheep, but gives His life - lays His life down, dies - for His sheep. You know a shepherd would do anything for his sheep. I've been told that a shepherd goes to any lengths to protect and care for his sheep in snow and hail, in storm and wind - in every situation - at the edges of rocks. What makes him do it? Is it the market price of the sheep? Well, if pigs are anything to go by today, I'm sure it's not. What is it that keeps him going?
I heard of an incident, and this is a true story, of a storm that hit a little hillside in Wales. There was a flock of sheep that were on the mountain precipice, and all the full force of that storm - wind, hail and even snow - was beating upon that flock of sheep. There was a snowdrift which had blocked the way over the mountaintop. The only way that that shepherd, a little shepherd boy, was to get that flock of sheep out of the danger was to bring them along a very thin ravine. The only hope of those sheep not falling over was for that young shepherd boy to stand at the edge of the ravine, between the sheep and the falling snow. Think of it: if those sheep had panicked, if there had been a rush, a bottleneck, that little child would have fallen down to his death - but he stood at the edge, he took the risk. Do you know why? Because he loved his own, he loved his own.
Do you know something? The Lord Jesus Christ loves His own, and He loves you tonight. When He was on the cross of Calvary, when He was bleeding, and the sweat and the blood were mingled flowing down His lovely face, when His eyes were stinging with the sweat and blood, when His face was marred, when His scars were evident and open and weeping and oozing - when He was there in agony and blood, listen: He cried to God, 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?'. Do you know why? Because He was walking through that valley to find His lost sheep. I don't know what He suffered, but I know this: that none of us ever knew how deep were the waters He crossed, or how dark was the night that the Lord passed through 'ere He found that sheep - this sheep that was lost. He was crushed, He was ripped, He was bruised, He was broken, He was bleeding in order to find that sheep - but He went for it because He loved it.
Sheep are thankless creatures - and you could be thankless tonight for what Christ did for you. In fact, you could be openly ignoring it - even now contemplating how you're going to get around rejecting Him, even now you're thankless for the blood that He shed for you to free you, to find you, to look for you and get you. Listen: He's going to seek you - listen - until He finds you. He's looking for you here tonight. He's looking for you in this meeting. He's looking for you in your life, day by day - and you could be here tonight, and you're running day by day from Him! Are you not tired running from Him? Are you not fed up? Will you not throw down those arms of rebellion? He's catching up on you, do you not see Him catching up to get you? Will you not give up and cry to Him tonight?
There was a mother sheep on one occasion - this is a true story, again from Wales. She gave birth to a little lamb, and when she gave birth the shepherd helped the birth through and everything, and cut the cord and washed and bathed the little lamb so that it would be clean. He brought that little lamb back to its mother and left it beside, but the mother nosed it away - didn't want anything to do with the lamb. The lamb began to get thinner, it wasn't being fed, it wasn't being cared for, it was kept cold because the mother wouldn't make it warm. Eventually the shepherd had to pick the little lamb up and he had to feed it with a bottle, and he had to warm it with a hot water bottle - he had to take care of it because that mother sheep wanted nothing to do with it. Until one day the shepherd was walking across the courtyard of the farm with the little lamb in his arms - and the little lamb, for the first time, gave out a little bleat. As soon as that lamb bleated, a little insignificant bleat, the mother sheep stood still and straight, came running to that lamb - because she recognised its cry.
Listen tonight: all God requires of you - as He says and Christ said: 'All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me', and listen, 'Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise', no way, 'cast out'. If you cry, like the little lamb, to Christ tonight - He will hear you, God will hear you, and He will come like the father of the prodigal and run to you with open arms. He'll take you into His fold. John 10 says you will never perish, and no man will ever pluck you out of His hand. You cannot fall, you cannot go to hell, you cannot be judged according to your sins, but you must - tonight, listen - cry to Him.
You're loved, you're lost, you're looked for - but I want to tell you finally, listen: you can be lifted. Now this is wonderful: you can be lifted! Verse 5 says: 'And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing'. Listen, many people say: 'I'll not be able to keep this Christianity. How could I live like that? It's all good living'. Listen tonight, He will lift you! He will set you on His shoulders! He will carry you! He will look after you! Psalm 40 says: 'I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock', and listen, 'and established my goings'.
The Lord will sort you out. The Lord will take care of you. The Lord will not leave you alone. Americans now have devised a collar, a collar that goes underneath the skin of sheep in the wilderness in America. You see, coyotes would hide behind rocks, and the wild dogs would wait until they saw a sheep out on its own, and they would just pounce. The place where they go for first with their teeth is the neck of the sheep. These scientists have devised a collar, and inside that collar is poison - so that when the coyote pounces and sinks its teeth into it, all it gets is poison and it drops dead.
Listen: if you're worrying about a husband or a wife, or someone in your family, or someone in your work who will oppose you if you trust Christ - or the hard time you will get - listen, if you come to Christ tonight you will be a child of God, and as Zechariah 2 and verse 8 says: 'He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of God's eye'.
'There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out in the hills away,
Far-off from the gates of gold.
Away in the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd's care.
Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine,
Are they not enough for Thee?
But the Shepherd made answer: 'This of mine
Has wandered away from Me.
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to find My lost sheep.
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Or how dark was the night that the Lord passed through,
Ere He found the sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless, and ready to die.
Lord whence, from where, are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain's track?
They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.
Lord, why are Thy hands so rough and torn?
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.
But all through the mountains, thunder riven,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a cry to the gates of heaven:
'Rejoice, I have found My sheep'.
The angels echoed around the Throne:
'Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own'.
'I say unto you', Jesus says, 'likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance'.
Our Father, we thank You for tonight, we thank You for the Gospel, we thank You for these wonderful parables of the Lord Jesus Christ that illustrate so well for us the gospel of His grace. Father, we pray that that Gospel would be effective tonight, to the saving of precious souls in this place, the restoration of backsliders, and to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Give grace tonight, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "This Could Be Your Problem" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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