Jesus spoke in parables to illustrate deep spiritual truths in human ways. “At its simplest a parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life” (Perrin, Brown, & Green, 2013, p. 652). “Parables were a common tradition of the Jewish people that revealed the meaning of the OT Mosaic law” (Sproul, n.d.). But Jesus’ parables also shed new revelation about the Kingdom of God. His teachings also directly reflect Isaiah 6 in the context of judgement. To reject his teachings, is to reject God and stand in condemnation. Gracefully, there’s no condemnation in Christ! So when we read the Bible or hear teachings on Jesus, we must “have ears to ear!”
Although we know that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) each record some of the same parables, there are reasons why each is recorded differently. I believe that each gospel was written independently of each other because each author had their own encounter of the Lord and unique writing style. I also think that each parable is a bit different because of divine inspiration. Perhaps, God wanted them each written in the way that they are for deeper reasons.
In Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:1-7, each author recorded a parable of Jesus about a lost sheep. Clearly, Luke’s gospel contained more lines, but each conveyed the same simple message of God’s love. In the NIV bible, Matthew’s parable is titled “The Parable of the Wandering Sheep,” and Luke’s is titled “The Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Each parable is slightly different, but their message is the same. In Matthew 18 and 17, Jesus was talking much about “little ones” and “little children.” Little children were considered to be those that weren’t self-righteous or accepted by society because of their social status or education. Just before the parable of the wandering sheep, Matthew 18:10 (New International Version), says “see that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Some manuscripts include Luke 19:10 with 18:11 that says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV). This verse is the meaning of the parables. Jesus’ whole mission was to go and get God’s children who realized their need for a Savior. In each context, Jesus was surrounded by sinners (tax collectors) who knew they needed God’s grace. “Those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven must become like little children, receiving it with faith and humility (18:2-4)” (Strauss, 2007, p. 233).
In my own summary, Matthew 18:12-13 gives a narrative of a man owning 100 sheep and losing one because it wandered off and rejoicing over that one of many because he found it. Interestedly, verse 13 begins with “if he [the man] finds it [the lost]. This verse tells us that Jesus has the opportunity to find each lost person, but only few want to be saved. This parable ends with: “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14, NIV). God loves all of humanity and has sent his Son to gather us all out of the hands of the enemy. But we have to realize that we’re lost without him and need to be rescued by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross. Luke’s parable is more personal because he omits “the man” and gets the audience to imagine being the actual person of a lost sheep. This version tugs at the heart because it reveals the Father’s personal care for each of his children and it can immediately bring one to repentance. This version also goes into greater detail about the happiness of the returned sheep. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son where the Father rejoiced over his returned son even though he had another son at home. All these parables tie together into one message: salvation. Jesus came to be the Savior for those who needed deliverance. However, he never forced himself on anyone. Those that he found freely received his love.
Matthew 18:14 and Luke 15:7 provide the purpose of each parable. They reveal the Father’s heart for humanity. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but to repent and turn back to him to be saved. The world will not be happy or supportive when people come to Christ, but all of heaven, including God will rejoice. These parables are creative and personal ways of God reaching out to man to receive his grace.
In the context of the parable of the lost sheep, God is calling believers to seek out believers who are in sin to urge them to repent and live righteously. We need to stop getting offended when people correct our wrongs. It’s not judgment, it’s obedience to God’s will. Hate is to lie, support sin, or do nothing about seeing someone drown and suffer in their sins. Love is gentle correction. Jesus loves us and wants us to live to glorify him because that is why we were created!
Perrin, N., Brown, J. K., & Green, J. B. (2013). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic.
Sproul, R. C. (n.d.). The parables of Jesus. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/the-parables-of-jesus/introduction/
Strauss, M. (2007). Four portraits, one Jesus: A survey of Jesus and the Gospels (1st ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.