Jesus Christ illustrated many of His lessons to the disciples and the crowds through the use of parables. These parables are scattered across the “synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Luke chapter 15 in particular contains 3 successive parables, which we might call the “lost and found” chapter. Beginning with the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus illustrates the joy that is felt in Heaven and by God when one who has been spiritually destitute is returned and restored to God’s kingdom.
When we’re done here, check out this post about lessons that can be learned from the parable of the prodigal son, which is the 3rd parable from Luke 15. Before you do, however, let’s learn together what the parable of the lost sheep meaning is.
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What is the Moral of the Parable of the Lost Sheep?
To learn more about the parable of the lost sheep meaning, let’s begin by looking over the parable of the lost sheep Bible verse passage. It will be helpful to include the first few verses in Luke 15 to develop further context:
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! – Luke 15:1-7, NLT
Jesus often taught in parables to help the listener gain knowledge of God’s Kingdom. Sometimes, Jesus used them to answer His critics, as He does here. We see that the parable of the lost sheep was given in response to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. They were upset with Jesus for associating and eating with “sinful people”.
This is not the only time we see in the gospels that the Pharisees and teachers of religious law had a problem with the behavior of Jesus and His disciples. Some of their complaints were that Jesus and the disciples did not follow their traditions (Mark 7:5), that they plucked grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2), or that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14).
Now reflect on the beginning of this passage for a moment: “notorious sinners often came to listen” to Jesus’ teachings. Shouldn’t this have been an opportunity for the Pharisees and teachers of religious law to rejoice? Here were the people who needed to hear teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven more than anyone else.
There was another time when Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners. In responding that time to the complaints of the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, Jesus said:
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17, NLT
Let’s pause on that phrase “think they are righteous” for a moment. Because Jesus says something similar when He wraps up the parable of the lost sheep Bible verse passage. Jesus says that there is “more joy in heaven” over one repentant sinner than the 99 who are “righteous and haven’t strayed away”.
Have you heard the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury? When he sings about the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” and how it “chases me down” and “leaves the 99”, it warms my soul.
If there is a moral of the parable of the lost sheep, it is this: Jesus died so that anyone who repents and believes upon Him can be saved. It is Christ’s desire for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-7). Those who are with Him, Jesus Christ is thankful for. But He will continue to long for lost souls to “come back to God” in repentance (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
How Does the Parable of the Lost Sheep Relate to Today?
So what is the parable of the lost sheep meaning? What can it teach us in our modern-day spiritual context?
I think there are at least 3 helpful lessons we can take away from the parable of the lost sheep.
It Teaches Us the Importance of Loving Your Neighbor
The Pharisees and teachers of the religious law were being judgmental and self-righteous. They could not see beyond their own prominence in religious life to understand God’s compassion for the lost. So starting with the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus told them 3 parables about rejoicing over finding lost things. Jesus wanted to drive home to these pious leaders that they needed to learn compassion for those who are seeking after God.
Is there any person or group of people for whom you struggle to love? Who you wouldn’t be willing to associate with, or show compassion? We are commanded by Christ to love our neighbor. And everyone is our neighbor – even our enemies!
It Reminds Us How Personal God’s Love is
Not only in the parable of the lost sheep, but all 3 parables in Luke 15, we see a picture of God as one who is looking for “just one” of something: 1 lost sheep out of 100, 1 lost coin out of 10, 1 lost son out of 2.
Do you notice how the population keeps dwindling with each successive parable? The parable of the lost sheep meaning, along with the meaning for all 3 parables, teaches us a progressive focus on the preciousness of the lost entity. Ultimately, it says that it doesn’t matter how many have come into God’s fold, He is still hopeful for one more.
But the parable of the lost sheep has the largest population. For Jesus, 99 out of 100 is not a good percentage; He wishes for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
It Reminds Us that the Wanderer can be Restored
Again, let’s talk about the ending parable of the lost sheep Bible verse. What is the cause for joy in Heaven we read about? It is because one lost sinner “repents and returns to God” over the 99 who “are righteous and haven’t strayed away”.
The contrast is important, because this doesn’t sound like a person coming to faith in Christ for the first time. It seems to be describing one who has “strayed away” – unlike the other 99. And just in case this thought came to mind, the Pharisees and teachers of religious law are not the 99 in this parable. Jesus is not ascribing a false righteousness to these sheep. They are the truly righteous who haven’t strayed.
So, the lost sheep is the one who repents and RETURNS to God. You see, the key is repentance. If someone has wandered from the faith, God will gladly restore them when they return in repentance and walk again in the path of righteousness (Revelation 2:5).
The parable of the lost sheep, like all of Christ’s parables, has deep meaning for His followers to understand. I hope that as we have looked together at Christ’s love and the need for us to love like Him that you have been moved to dig deeper into God’s word and Christ’s many parables.
Related Posts and Resources:
- Parable of the Good Samaritan
- Lessons from the Parable of the Soils
- Bible Studies for Women
- Free Bible Study Printables
Meet the Author:
Todd Posey writes about his Christian journey at Abiding With Christ. A few years ago, a pivotal one-on-one study with a friend changed Todd from a drifting lifelong church member to an enthusiastic disciple of Jesus Christ. He discovered the foundational truth of abiding with Christ, “for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Todd doesn’t claim to be perfect; he learns more about being a disciple of Christ every day and hopes his writing helps others do the same.