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3 Wonderful Lessons in the Parable of the Lost Sheep

parable of the lost sheep

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. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18:10-14

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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. – Luke 15:3-7

Is it possible that one story can have two different meanings found in two different passages of Bible Scripture? It is, because the parable of the lost sheep is one of those stories.

This parable Jesus tells is recorded in both Matthew and Luke, yet they each tell the story in different ways. Let’s look first at the Bible story verses in Matthew, then in Luke—and consider three powerful lessons in the parable of the lost sheep.

Lessons in the Lost Sheep Parable in Matthew

When you look at the wider context of the story told through Matthew’s lens it begins with a conversation among the disciples regarding (of all things) greatness. They wanted to know who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and so they asked Jesus.

I wonder if they were expecting Jesus to mention one of them by name, because from time to time they argued over who is the greatest. (Luke 22:24, Mark 12:34) Instead of Jesus pointing to any one of them, he calls a little child and says the greatest is the one who becomes humble like this little child. This was the lead-in to the story about sheep.

Before we discover two wonderful lessons in this parable of the lost sheep, there are first three truths you must consider. 

1. You must take on the heart of a child.
Jesus begins the discourse by talking about the type of heart required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It takes the heart of a child. Why is a childlike heart so valuable to Jesus? There are two reasons…total faith and total dependence. A child will take you at your word and depend on you the parent to provide everything they need.

This is the type of heart that God is looking for. One that will believe what God has said and rely on God as their source for everything they need in life.

2. You must protect the heart of a child.
Prior to telling this story, Jesus warns of the person who would harm these little ones who trust in him, by leading them into (or causing them to) sin. This is a responsibility to parents, leaders, and anyone with influence over these little ones to be careful of how you lead them. Your influence matters—so don’t take it lightly.

3. You should not diminish the value of a child.
The last thing Jesus said before telling this parable is don’t despise or look down on one of these little ones. This is a reminder of the high value that God puts on the life of a child. I guess another way of looking at it is: the little ones are just as important as the big ones. 

I think you would agree that these three truths are important. What you’re probably asking is how do they connect to the two lessons in this parable of the lost sheep? Here’s your answer:

The first lesson in Matthew’s version is: the heart of God is like a parent searching for a lost child. What parent, if their child is lost or separated from them, would not go to extreme lengths to find their lost child? They would literally leave everything behind to search for their child who had wandered off (I know I would). This is a picture of the type of love God has for you and me. 

The second lesson is: you are one of God’s children. Earlier in this passage, Jesus said to become like a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, you must become one of the little ones. Think of it in this light...while he was referring to the little ones literally (because he called a little child to him) could it be that you and I are the little ones, figuratively?

If you are one of His little ones then consider this: woe to the person who causes you to sin or who looks down upon you or despises you. But here’s the good news, should you wander off...know that you have a heavenly Father who will go searching for you because that is the heart of God.

When he finds you, he will rejoice because the wandering little one is now back in the fold.

lost sheep parablePhoto Credit: ©GettyImages/Mahiruysal

The Lesson in the Lost Sheep Parable in Luke

Then Jesus told them this parable: Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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. – Luke 15:3-7

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a similar story...however the parameters have changed. The background here is that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and teachers of the law don’t like it.

While we see the same heart of God, the object of God’s heart has slightly changed. Understanding this will uncover another amazing lesson. But let’s first look at two truths in the parable of the lost sheep in the Gospel of Luke.

1. God’s heart includes those outside the fold.
Remember Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. Guess what they are? Lost sheep. Jesus is trying to let these hard-hearted Pharisees and teachers of the law know how much he cares for those outside the fold. It’s very similar to when Jesus said:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. – Luke 5:31

In other words, Jesus is telling them it’s not the sheep that are in the fold that I need to find...it’s the ones who are not. That’s why he came to seek and save those who are lost.

2. God rejoices over repentance.
The Bible tells us a lot of things to rejoice over. Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord always. The Psalms are full of calls to bless the Lord. Have you ever considered what God and heaven rejoices over? The one thing God and all of heaven rejoices over more than anything else is one person who repents.

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. – Luke 15:7

The lesson in Luke’s version is: God celebrates when a lost soul is found. This shoots an arrow right to the heart of why Jesus came and how wonderful our salvation is. 

In Hebrews 12:2, it says that for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross. I never thought about it before but the joy set before him wasn’t being crowned King of Kings. The joy set before him was all the lost sheep (that’s you and I) who would repent and be reunited with him and the Father.

The crown of the cross is your life and mine that God has redeemed. This is what causes the greatest celebrations and parties in heaven.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of which version of this story you read, the core of each story remains the same. God has an absolutely awesome love for you and for all of mankind. If there is another wonderful lesson in the parable of the lost sheep it’s this:

Let’s not give up on anyone who may have wandered from the faith or who is not currently in the fold. Let’s pray for them. Let’s search for them. Let’s love them. It’s what Jesus does and it’s the heart of the Father. Let’s see if we can find some lost sheep and set off a great celebration in heaven.

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What Does the Parable of the Talents Mean for Us Today?

What Are Parables? 5 Things Jesus Teaches Us

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Joaquin Corbalan


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.




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