The DEEP

Textbook Shepherding

isn't heavenly shepherding.

Luke 15:1–7 (NKJV)

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

This is nuts. Every shepherding textbook teaches that when one sheep wanders off you don’t do something crazy like leave the rest of the sheep unguarded while you chase down the errant one. A sheep that tends to wander off needs to be forgotten or, if you have the manpower to retrieve it, turned into tomorrow’s dinner. The safety of the entire flock comes first.

That’s the point. Shepherding textbooks aren’t written by angels. The kingdom of heaven has a different perspective. Jesus portrays this in a way designed to shock his listeners. He even uses a negative interrogative to pin them down by saying, “What man of you, … does not leave the ninety-nine.”

Everyone should be thinking, “What? I wouldn’t.”

So, this argument isn’t going to convince the Pharisees and scribes who complained. Jesus isn’t trying to convince them.

He’s teaching an advanced lesson to us.


The advanced lesson is that the one has priority over the ninety-nine. How can that possibly make sense?

First of all, the priority is momentary, just as it would be with a shepherd. He’s not leaving the ninety-nine forever, just long enough to fetch the errant one.

Secondly, the ninety-nine will be just fine. They are not unwatched while the lost sheep is found. God is in control over all creation.

Still, the bottom line is thrilling. A single lost soul gets the undivided attention of the almighty author of space, time, matter, and energy.

And that lost soul is a perfect pain in the neck who does not deserve to be gone after.


All the weekly study guides, which include all five devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.