The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?… Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? — Luk_15:4-8
“There Is Something Astonishing in the Christian Religion”
In the Catacombs at Rome there is no more familiar painting than that of the Good Shepherd with the straying sheep. Sometimes the other sheep are at His feet, gazing up at Him and at His burden; sometimes He is portrayed as sitting down, wearied with His long and painful journey; but always there is a great gladness in the picture, for the painter had felt, in all its morning freshness, the wonder of the seeking love of God. I trust we shall never lose that sense of wonder. “Let men say what they will,” wrote Pascal, “I must avow there is something astonishing in the Christian religion.” And there is nothing in it more astonishing than this, that God should have come to seek and save the lost. It is that glad news which lights up all our lesson. It is that truth which, like some strain of unexpected music, makes these two parables a joy forever. We shall never know, till all the books are opened, how much sinful and despairing men have owed to the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
He Seeks Them One by One
Now as we read these two parables together, one of the first things to arrest us powerfully is the worth of single souls. It was one sheep the shepherd went to find. It was for one coin the woman searched the house. If a score, say, of the flock had gone missing, we could better understand the shepherd’s action. And we might excuse the bustle and the dust if five of the ten coins had rolled away. The strange thing is that with ninety and nine sheep safe, the shepherd should break his heart about the one. The wonder is that for one little coin there should be such a hunt and such a happiness. It speaks to us of the worth of single souls. It tells us of the great concern of God for the recovery of individual men. We are all separated out, and separately loved, by Him who counteth the number of the stars. I have looked sometimes at the lights of a great city, and tried to distinguish one lamp here and there; and I have thought what a perfect knowledge that would be, if a man could discriminate each separate light. But God distinguishes each separate heart. He knows and loves and seeks them one by one. And I can never feel lost in the totality, when I have mastered the chapter for today. I am not one of many with the Master. With Him, souls are not reckoned by the score. I stand alone. He has a hundred sheep to tend, I know it; yet somehow all His heart is given to me.
No Cost Is Too Great
Again this truth shines brightly in these parables: no toil or pains are grudged to win the lost. When the shepherd started after his straying sheep, he knew quite well it was a dangerous errand. He was going to face the perils of the desert, and he took his life in his hand in doing that. True, he was armed; but if a band of robbers intercepted him, what chance had one man of coming off the victor? And who could tell what ravenous beasts lay couched between the shepherd and his vagrant charge? A hireling would never have ventured on the quest. He would have said, “There is a lion in the way.” But this shepherd was not to be deterred; he risked all danger; nothing would keep him back, if only he might find and save the lost. The woman, too, was thoroughly in earnest. She spared no pains to get her piece of silver. She lit her candle and she swept the house, till the whole household grumbled at the dust, and charged her not to fuss about a trifle. But the trifle was no trifle to her; and she persisted and swept until she found it. Do you not see what that is meant to teach us? God spares no pain or toils to win the lost. Do you not see where all that is interpreted? It is in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He, like the woman, was passionately earnest, till all His household—His own: the Jewish people—murmured at Him in their hearts and hated Him. And He, like the shepherd, ventured on every danger, and for His sheep’s sake, took the road to Calvary. No pains, no sorrows, were ever grudged by Him who came into the wilderness to save; and He has left us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
Where Are the Lost?
I want you, too, to mark this in our lesson: there is loss in the house as well as in the desert. It was in the wilderness that the sheep was lost. It was far from the fold with its protecting wail. But the coin was not lost in any wilderness—it had not even rolled into the street. It was still in the house; it was within the walls; it was lying somewhere on the dusty floor. So there are multitudes of men lost in heathendom; lost to the joy of the Gospel and the hopes of God in the far countries where Christ was never known. But are there not multitudes who, like the piece of silver, stamped with God’s image, coined for useful service, are lying lost and useless in the house? They have been born and nurtured in a Christian country, they are encircled by Christian care and love, they are within the walls of the church visible, they have heard from childhood the message of the Gospel; yet they have never yielded their lives to the Redeemer; within the walls of the homestead they are lost. Are there no lost coins in your home? Give God no rest till by the light of His Spirit they are found.
For What Are They Found?
Note, lastly, in a Word, this joyful truth: the sheep, when found, was carried by the shepherd. He did not drive it before the flock. He did not commit it to the charge of any underling. He laid it rejoicingly on his own shoulders, and on his own shoulders bore it home. When the coin was found it was restored to service; it became useful for the woman’s need. But when the sheep was found it was upheld in the strong arm of the shepherd, till the perils of the desert were no more. So everyone who is saved by Jesus Christ is saved to be of service to his Lord. There is some little work for him to do, just as there was for this little piece of silver. But he is not only found that he may serve. He shall be kept and carried like the sheep. He shall find himself borne homeward by a love that is far too strong ever to let him go. It is only when we are leaning upon Christ that we are able to win heavenward at all. He alone keeps us from falling, and can present us faultless before the presence of God’s glory, with exceeding joy.