Vol. 9, No. 1
~ Page 13 ~
Most of our lives we have heard or done preaching on "The Good Shepherd" and have seen pictures of him as he carried the lost sheep in his loving arms and brought it back to the fold. The text used was Luke 15:4-7. Brother Burton Coffman gives what we think is the usual approach when he says, "The man with one hundred sheep = Christ the Good Shepherd. The sheep which wandered away = backsliders from the faith. Finding the lost sheep = Christ saving sinners. Elevating it to his shoulders = uplifting the fallen. The rejoicing of the shepherd = joy in heaven over the saved." The truth of the matter is that Jesus did not give this parable, (or any other) for us to pick it apart and make up various things that we think are represented. In the story of the Prodigal Son, we do not need to try to represent the father as God waiting anxiously for the son to come home, wondering how he is spending his time, but as any father who loves his lost son, so God loves the lost. The woman who swept the house diligently looking for the coin does not have to represent the Holy Spirit or God (or some other figment of our imagination), as he sweeps away the accumulated traditions or filth of the world, so the lost coin can be found. Nor does the coin need to represent some lost soul that was lost through the carelessness of someone, as we have heard and probably preached many times. As we have preached on this in past years, we have said something like this: "The sheep wandered away because it was not paying attention to where it was going. (How we knew that is a secret!). The coin was lost because of the carelessness of someone. The son went away because he chose to do so. It is true that people may be lost largely because of those things, but those are not a part of the parable. If so, who was it that was careless with the coin? Was it the woman who is presumed to represent God looking for what she had carelessly lost? Or do we have to make up some other imaginary person? The three parables have one message: God loves lost sinners, and anyone who does not care for those who are lost should be ashamed of himself.
The shepherd in the first parable does not represent Christ leaving the ninety-nine. He does not have to leave anyone if he is searching for someone else. In the second place, he does not have to wonder where the lost sheep is and go searching for him. He knows where we are at all times. Coffman's suggestion that the sheep wandering away equals backsliders from the faith is another figment of the imagination. The sheep simply represents any sinner who got to be a sinner because he failed to do what God wanted him to do. Until a person disobeys God, he does not become a sinner. Although it is a beautiful thought and picture to think of the loving tenderness of the Saviour carrying the sheep back to the fold, the Bible teaching is that Jesus says, "Come," and if the lost sheep does not want to come, the Shepherd does not pick him up and take him home anyway. Calvinistic theologians may so teach, but Gospel preachers should know better. As indicated, the message is the same in all three: God loves the lost, and the shepherd who cares for his sheep illustrates it, just as the woman who cares for her coin and the father who cares for his son illustrates that love. But to try to make this shepherd represent Jesus, the woman represent someone, and the father represent God with illustrations of how they might do various things is no part of the parables. Only one thing fits in all three of them: There is a concern for that which is lost and has a value to the owner. The Jews who criticized Jesus for caring for the lost needed to understand that. We need to understand that.
The fact that the father in the parable may be pictured as one who would divide his substance with a rebellious son does not mean we have to find something in God that would suggest the same. The fact that the father in the parable may be pictured as one who stands on his front porch, looking down the road, hoping to see his beloved son coming home or wondering where he is, does not mean we have to picture God that way. He always wants his children to be in fellowship with him, but the worry of the father (as we might try to imagine it) and the wondering about his son is not a part of the parable, and we should not drag it in as if we are giving an exegesis of the passage.
So, in the case of the shepherd pictured here. We repeat that Jesus is not giving this example of the shepherd as a picture of himself as the Good Shepherd, as he does in John 10:11, 14. This is simply a picture of any shepherd who cares for his sheep. One wanders away and he does not know where it is. This does not fit Jesus. He is out searching for it, not knowing if he will ever find it. This does not fit Jesus. He does not bid it come home. He picks it up, whether it struggles or not, and brings it back even if it had rather be out there eating grass by the side of some stream. This does not fit the picture of Jesus. The thing that fits the picture of Jesus (and God) is what Jesus is trying to emphasize in those parables. It was proper for Jesus to show love for the publicans and sinners, for God loves them and cares for them just as much as (and more than) a shepherd would care for his sheep, a woman would care for her lost coin and a father would care for his lost son.
It is true that there are some wonderful types recorded in the Bible. The trouble comes when people follow the examples of Origen, Ambrose, Jerome and others who make up their own types and find lessons that God never intended. A person who takes "I am the vine and ye are the branches" can dwell on the fact that one should not pick the grapes while they are too green and illustrate that one should not baptize a convert before he is properly taught. But if one makes it sound as if this lesson is somehow taught in that text, he perverts the Scripture and leaves the ground open for many perversions and false doctrines. We urge you to try to find the lessons Jesus wants taught and emphasize them instead of wandering around in your own imagination, trying to find better lessons than those the Lord had in mind.