SAFE ON THE SHOULDERS OF CHRIST
By Curtis Pugh
Consider the following brief parable taught by the Lord Jesus: “And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 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? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance,” (Luke 15:3-7). We learn from the Lord Himself the two-fold purpose of Jesus in His use of parables in Lu 8:10 where He said, “...Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” If you and I are included in the “you” in that verse we can understand the Lord's parables. Those who are the “others” can understand the words and their meanings, but cannot understand the truths taught in a spiritually profitable way. Intellectual comprehension is not that which alone profits. Hebrews 4:2 tells us about ancient Israel: “...the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Even the Gospel, which some mistakenly say is the power of God unto salvation, is only “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” (Romans 1:16). The glorious Gospel of Christ is the power of God only to believers! And it is God who gives the gift of faith through Holy Spirit regeneration. Spiritual life and all the things that result from it such as repentance, faith, spiritual understanding and a changed life, etc. are all bestowed upon Christ's sheep apart from any merit or action upon their part. Paul put it this way: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Notice these things in our text. First of all, this shepherd had a flock of one-hundred sheep. One of his sheep, however, was lost. It was a sheep: it had always been a sheep, but it was a lost sheep. Secondly, notice that this parable has nothing to do with goats. Goats are not mentioned. For the purpose of the Lord's illustration, this parable has only to do with those sheep that were the shepherd's. We are reminded immediately of the Lord's words about Himself in John 10:14-16. There He said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” We may say without fear of successful contradiction that Christ stood in a unique relation to His sheep. We may safely say that He knows them, having known them from eternity. We may also say that all His sheep come to know Him. It is also clear that Christ, the Good Shepherd, voluntarily laid down His life on behalf of – in the place of – His sheep. He also stated that He had other sheep not of the Jewish fold – Gentile sheep. He was emphatic in saying that He “must” bring them. He would do all necessary to “bring” them. He did not mean that He would bring them to a geographic place, but rather to Himself for He said “and they shall hear my voice.” Here He foretold of the breaking down of the wall of partition that once divided Jews and Gentiles as clearly taught in Ephesians 2:14-16. Christ's concern and work of redemption was for His sheep. As quoted above, His parables were understood only by His sheep and only His sheep believed upon Him. He made this clear by saying, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you,” (John 10:26).
In the third place, we see that the shepherd went “after that which is lost, until he find it.” This shepherd was capable, caring, persistent and successful. He searched for his lost sheep until he found it. Note that the sheep was lost in a desert place: a place unsuitable for a sheep: a place of enemies and dangers to that defenseless creature. Human shepherds, knowing the habits of sheep even down to the habits of individual sheep, may have an inkling of where a lost sheep might be found, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, being the Son of God as well as the Son of man, knows exactly where to find His lost sheep. Human shepherds might struggle through rough terrain in all kinds of adverse weather, but as one song says concerning our Good Shepherd, “But none of the ransomed ever knew How deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through, Ere He found His sheep that was lost.” The Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd entered this world – this waste howling wilderness. Spiritually-speaking that is the nature of this world. We have recorded for us the agony the Lord Jesus suffered by taking the sins of His people upon Himself. God viewed His own Son as sin and treated Him as sin. We say this on the authority of 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we read: “For he [God] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, [Jesus] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” [brackets added]. This Shepherd of ours bore all the sins of all the elect “without the camp” - where the garbage was burned – an outcast. But He was, if we may say it this way, an outcast from God also for He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Christ suffered alone for His sheep! The success of Christ is obvious. By His death and resurrection, He secured the eternal deliverance from sin of all His sheep – His people. His shed blood really atoned for the sins of those for whom He died. If we may paraphrase C. H. Spurgeon, Christ did not by His atonement build a bridge half way across a chasm leaving the other half to be constructed by human effort. He bridged the entire distance between God and man! Christ was made a “...faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,” (Hebrews 2:17). Now He either made reconciliation for the people or He did not! The Bible says He did! All the arguments of men to the contrary, Christ died for all the sins of His sheep! Because of His work on behalf of His sheep He could say, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37).
In the fourth place we see the rejoicing of the shepherd as he puts the once-lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it safely home. Our Shepherd is the One spoken of in Isaiah 9:6 in these words, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” His shoulder is mighty enough to bear the government of this world. He shall do that when He comes to rule. But each of His lost sheep is placed upon His mighty shoulders and carried safely home in our parable. Here is seen the great truth of God's preservation of His people. The Lord Jesus did not die for folk and then allow even one of them to struggle to be kept safe on their homeward journey. His sheep certainly have their struggles against the indwelling sin nature and the difficulties of life, but they do not need to struggle to keep themselves saved and safe: they are on the shoulders of the Great Shepherd. He is mighty to save - “to the uttermost” as Hebrews 7:25 says. We might say that a part of His carrying us home is stated in these words, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them,” (Hebrews 7:15). From the farthest distant point that a lost sheep may wander all the way to the home of the Shepherd, the now-found-once-lost-sheep need not concern himself with his safety. He is safe! Thus our Good Shepherd, is also “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep,” (Hebrews 13:20). So it was that our Good and Great Shepherd said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand,” (John 10:27-29). In our parable the now-found-once-lost sheep rides upon the shoulders of the shepherd. That is one picture. In the last quoted portion, the Lord's sheep are in both His and His Father's hand and cannot be removed from that safe place. To those who would argue that the sheep has power to remove himself from these sovereign hands and thus be lost forever, we point out that such a concept does not enter into the Lord's Word here or elsewhere. So why introduce such a thought? Grace does not include the giving of a gift that can be lost. The proper understanding of Scripture lies in believing what it says, not in introducing concepts that are foreign to the context and intent of its Author. Another part of the Lord's carrying His sheep home is His working by the Spirit in the born again one. Paul wrote, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:12-13). Earlier in this article God's preservation was mentioned. Here we have the other side of that spiritual coin: that other side being the perseverance of Christ's sheep. Being borne upon the shoulders of the Great Shepherd, the sheep is safe. Being internally worked upon by the indwelling Spirit, the sheep is caused “both to will [to do] and to do of his good pleasure.” [brackets added]. After all, God's Word does say, “The righteous also shall hold on his way...” (Job 17:9). Someone says, “But even sheep sometimes fall in the mud hole of sin.” Sadly, we agree. But it is not the nature of a sheep to either eat nor wallow with the pigs in the filth of this world. So it is with Christ's spiritual sheep: fall they may, but afterward they sorrow greatly and return to the Shepherd of their souls. They walk a different path and pursue a different goal for they hunger and thirst after righteousness.
The fifth thing of note in this parable is the rejoicing of the shepherd who calls to his fellows to come an rejoice with him upon arriving home with his sheep. Some have thought this to picture the rejoicing of angels at the salvation of each sinner saved. It may be that the angels rejoice as not doubt they do in all the works of God. It is true that there is rejoicing in the presence of angels according to Luke 15:10, but that verse does not say that the angels rejoice. The New Testament makes it clear that angels do not understand God's salvation of His people. In speaking of the preaching of the Gospel, Peter says, “...which things the angels desire to look into,” (1 Peter 1:2). Salvation is not within the experience of angels for no salvation has been provided for those among that class who sinned. Those angels who dwell in the presence of God know nothing of sin by experience and so cannot know in a personal way the joy of salvation. In the parable it is the shepherd and his friends and neighbors who are called to rejoice with him. Is it not more in keeping with the parable to say that it is our Good and Great and Glorious Shepherd who along with the Father and the Spirit – and perhaps those saints with them – the ones whom Christ “...is not ashamed to call... brethren,” (Hebrews 2:11) that rejoice most at the repentance of even one sinner?
And that brings us to the sixth thing – and the final thing – to note in this little study. In this parable Christ brings home to His hearers this great truth: it is the repentance of a sinner which brings joy to those in Heaven. We know from the Bible that repentance and faith are both twin gifts and at the same time twin requirements. By twins we mean they are always found together. True repentance and true faith do not exist separately. Imitations of both abound and are the product of humanistic preaching and confidence in the flesh. Whenever the genuine two are mentioned together they are always listed in your Bible in this order: repentance and faith – never faith and repentance. To put faith ahead of repentance changes the nature of faith, making it merely intellectual assent whereas genuine faith is a falling upon the Rock Christ Jesus and being broken in doing so (see Luke 20:18). We know from God's Word how repentance comes. Paul wrote, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death,” (2 Corinthians 710). Beware, then of the sorrow of the world! It is godly sorrow that works repentance. Repentance is a turning from sin to God while faith is complete trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work. It is dependence upon Him alone! Paul stated that he preached to everyone both repentance and faith. To the Ephesian elders gathered at the port city of Miletus he said, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21).
And so in keeping with Paul's example, we testify to the need for both repentance and faith. The question for each reader is this: have you repented – turned from sin to God and believed in Christ? Are you like those in Thessalonica who “...turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”? (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Can you say with the writer of Hebrews, “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul”? (Hebrews 10:39). In speaking to unbelieving religious Jewish hypocrites, the Lord Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins,” (John 8:24). God “...now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31). Those who do not repent (experience a broken heart which works a turning from sin to God) and experience faith in Christ and His finished work, face a guaranteed judgment. It is guaranteed - “he hath given assurance” - first of all by the resurrection of Christ as stated in the last verse and also in the following words: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,” (John 3:18). Unbelievers have a guaranteed future! Those who have not repented and believed are already condemned! They by their unbelief display their enmity against God. If we may borrow from the words written by Paul, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God,” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We do beseech you! Hear the Word of God. Repent! Believe! Accept no substitutes! Those who experience true repentance and true faith shall be carried safely upon the shoulders of the Good, Great and Glorious Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, all the way from earth to Heaven!
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726