“He brings me back.” Psalm 23:3
The Camden, Maine Herald ran two photos on the same page: one of Camden’s board of selectmen and town manager; the other of a flock of sheep. Unintentionally the captions were reversed. Under the picture of the sheep the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; the one under the photo of the city fathers grouped around a table read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.” —Down-East
Shepherds in the Holy Land, when asked to describe how sheep operate, have said that once a sheep knows that it is lost, it tries to hide under a bush or rock and begins quivering and bleating. The shepherd must locate it quickly lest it is heard and killed by a wild animal.
The psalmist, King David, provides some insight here to one of Jesus’ most popular yet misunderstood parables. The parable is of the lost sheep. It will add to our study of the Good Shepherd. One thing about the parable that is often most misunderstood is, why would the shepherd leave the 99 to go after the one? Isn’t bad stewardship? Do we just count that as collateral damage? If you struggle with this logic, you are thinking like a human and not like the divine.
The Background of the Text
Jesus is addressing this set of three parables to the self-righteous Pharisees, who believe they are so right with the Ancient of Days that they have no need for a savior.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So, he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that 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 his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 1
Why Does the One Matter?
Here is where the next and most important lesson about sheep comes in to explain Jesus’ odd mathematical calculations. Once a sheep is lost it becomes so traumatized that it is unable to walk and must be carried back to the flock or the village. Unaided, the lost sheep cannot find its way home and will most certainly become the victim of a predator. That is the same fact that awaits the sinner who is lost and outside God’s sheepfold. He/she cries out to be found. The sheep may not even realize it is crying out, but the Good Shepherd hears that plea for help. He sees it in the choices the sheep is making. The shepherd hears it in the prayers of desperation that are prayed in their hour of deepest need. And just like actual sheep, the lost soul’s only hope is the Good Shepherd who will come after us and hopefully find us, pick us up and carry us back to safety. There are two critical actions the shepherd must take.
The shepherd must come after the lost sheep, which in itself is a costly endeavor for the Good Shepherd to come rescue it. The Good Shepherd has to lay down His life on Calvary’s cross and then three days later pick up that life again. He does this because a price must be paid by the shepherd to restore the lost sheep to the flock. That is why when any lost sheep is restored there is rejoicing in heaven, because the cost for each sheep is precious. God desires all lost sheep be restored. That is just how valuable the sheep are to the Good Shepherd. Now you see why Jesus will drop everything to go after the one. The one matters to God.
 Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 1533–1534). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.
Other posts on Psalm 23.