Years ago, before my sons started to get taller than me, our family participated in a local 2-mile race. We weren’t going to win first place, but this annual event was a fun chance to walk, jog, or run the course with others in the community, including the opportunity to cross paths with random people that we knew.
One of my sons (who was pretty young at the time) got tired before the end of the course, so I picked him up and seated him on my shoulders for a while, as we followed the streets that had been blocked off for the race. As the finish line came into view, though, I asked him if he wanted to cross it by himself. He agreed, so I set him down, and he ran on his short legs to the end of the race.
At this community event, a small crowd was gathered near the finish line (like usual) to cheer on those who have made it to the end of the race. I overheard someone at the side of the road cheering on my son. The bystander told him, “Way to go”, and then (at least, as I understood it) pointed out that having one’s dad carry you to almost the end of the course, and then crossing the finish line on your own, was a great way to complete the race. This supporter was jokingly suggesting that my son had planned things that way, to make me do [almost] all of the work, but for him to still get the credit.
Now, I’m clearly not God, but there’s some similarity between that event and this verse from the parable of the lost sheep:
And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.
Luke 15:5 NLT
After leaving the rest of the flock (presumably in a pen, or under the care of a trusted friend) to find the one lost sheep, the owner doesn’t force that errant sheep to walk all the way home, driving it with a stick as punishment for getting lost. Instead, he personally carries it, rescuing the sheep from the danger of being separated from him, as well as reuniting it with the rest of the flock.
Once we realized that we are (or were) lost sheep, and that God is the one looking for us in this parable, I think that the lessons speak for themselves. Let’s list a few of them out, though:
- God doesn’t want us to remain separated from Him. In fact, as recorded in Matthew’s account of this parable (see Matthew 18:12-14), Jesus said as much. Those who have a skewed view of God, thinking that He is looking for a reason to cast people away, have been regrettably misguided by a lie.
- God doesn’t expect us to carry ourselves home. It pains me to know that there are still people who think that they need to become righteous and sin-free before God will accept them back. We can never be good enough to earn our way back to a holy God, but Jesus already paid for all of our sins. Our faith in (and acceptance of) Jesus as our Savior is what is required, not meeting some standard of behavior (see Galatians 2:16 and Romans 10:9-10).
- God meant for us to not only be restored to Himself, but also to be with the rest of the flock. I’m inferring a bit, here, but when the lost sheep was brought home, I expect that it was reunited with other sheep in the fold. Passages like Hebrews 10:24-25 suggest that, whether or not this parable is saying so, those who have allowed Jesus to find and rescue them should become a contributing part of a body of believers (a congregation within the body of Christ).
- God is the one who brings us home. While Jesus was clear that His followers must share the good news with a lost world, no Christian can save anyone else. We can tell another person how to accept Jesus and experience a transformed life, but only He offers salvation. As a result, while every follower of Jesus should be investing in getting the word out, we cannot take responsibility for others’ decisions, as long as we have done what we can, with the direction of the Holy Spirit. (For a contrast, see a portion of Moses’ complaint in Numbers 11:14.)
So, if you haven’t let Jesus bring you home, give Him the chance to do so. Talk to Him, let Him know that you are ready to come home, and choose to give Him first place in your life. As you get to know Him better, you will find more and more ways in which He demonstrates that He is like the loving shepherd in this parable, willing to carry you to the finish line of this life, and into the celebration of Heaven.
If you have been reunited with God and others who were also adopted into His family, rejoice as He does that you have been carried home. Encourage others to let Him do the same for them, but don’t try to do His job. He will carry all those who let Him.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.