Lessons from the Parable of the Lost Sheep

Jesus Christ illustrated many of His lessons to the disciples and the crowds in different ways. One of these ways was 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 one of the most well-known stories – 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. 

The parable of the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son are other well-known stories in this chapter. 

Let’s take a look at the meaning of the lost sheep parable.

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​Meaning of the Parable of the Lost Sheep

Let’s begin by looking over Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep Bible verse passage. It will be helpful to include the first few verses from Luke’s account in Luke 15:1-7 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

Christ 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”. Repentance causes the greatest joy in the presence of the angels of God

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 ninety-nine sheep”, it warms my soul. 

What is the Moral of the Parable of the Lost Sheep

Bible study about joy in suffering

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). 

At its core, the parable of the lost sheep speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of our hearts. God will go to great lengths in pursing us. Each of us, like the lost sheep, has wandered astray, ensnared by the enticements of sin and the allure of worldly distractions. Yet, in our wandering, we are not abandoned or forgotten. Instead, we are pursued with unwavering love and compassion.

This parable shows the profound truth of our need for repentance. Just as the lost sheep strayed from the safety of the flock, so too have we strayed from the path of righteousness. Yet, no matter how far we’ve wandered, we are never beyond the reach of God’s grace. His love knows no bounds, and His mercy is limitless.

It also teaches us the nature of the kingdom of God—a realm where the lost are sought, the broken are healed, and the repentant are welcomed with open arms as children of God. It’s a kingdom characterized by grace, where the wayward find their way home and the weary find rest for their souls. 

4 Lessons From the Lost Sheep Parable

How does the Parable of the Lost Sheep relate to us today? Here are just a few of the lessons we can take away from these parables of the lost sheep and apply them to our own daily life.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep Teaches The Value of Each Individual

The lost sheep is an image of a lost child. Just as the shepherd left the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep, this parable teaches us the inherent worth of every person in God’s eyes. In our own daily lives, amidst the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to overlook individuals or categorize them based on social issues. Yet, this story reminds us that each soul is of great value in the eyes of the Great Shepherd. 

The Pursuit of the Lost

The relentless pursuit of the lost sheep exemplifies God’s unwavering love and His desire for reconciliation with all His children. In Jewish culture, a shepherd leaving his own sheep and risking everything for the one sheep would have been seen as remarkable. Similarly, in our own lives, we’re reminded of the importance of actively seeking out those who are lost, whether spiritually, emotionally, or physically, and extending a hand of compassion and guidance to help in their understanding of God’s love and forgiveness.

The Need for Repentance

The parable teaches the need for repentance and turning back to God. Just as the lost sheep wanders from the flock, we too can find ourselves wandering away from the Word of God and the path He has set before us. However, through genuine repentance, we open ourselves to the loving embrace of the Great Shepherd and find restoration and renewal. The lost soul finds forgiveness and the mercy of God when they return to their great Father. 

Reflection in Life Experiences

Our own life experiences often mirror the themes found within the parable of the lost sheep. Just as the shepherd rejoices over finding the lost sheep, so too does God rejoice over each of us when we turn back to Him. Our journey may be filled with challenges and setbacks, but through it all, we can find comfort in the knowledge that we are never beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.

parable of the lost sheep

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.

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Todd PoseyMeet 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.