What is God like? Countless books on this subject line library shelves, written by scholars in multiple languages from diverse cultures around the world. Speculation abounds with possible answers. Jesus Christ answered that question plainly for all to understand during His earthly ministry. He often spoke in parables: stories with word pictures that describe spiritual truths in practical ways. One of my favorite parables, offering a word-picture peek into divine realities, is found in Luke 15:3-7. The story of the lost sheep focuses more attention on the heart of the shepherd than the absence of an animal.
Notice the admirable qualities of the shepherd:
- He demonstrated great concern for every single member of his flock.
- He focused attention on details as he counted individual sheep entering the fold of safety.
- His deep concern for the one absent sheep caused him to rearrange his schedule and go on a search-and-rescue mission.
- His restless heart refused to allow him to return empty-handed, for his search continued until he located the lost one.
- His compassion reached out and rescued the vulnerable loner.
- His loving embrace carefully placed the sheep over his shoulders for the journey home.
- His deep emotion gathered friends and neighbors together for a time of celebration.
Verse 7 indicates that Jesus intended His listeners to apply this story to spiritual realities. Perhaps Jesus had Ezekiel 34:31 in mind as He spoke: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.” If that is the case, the shepherd represents our heavenly Father. The lost sheep represents every man, woman, youth, and child lost in sin. Thus, to this day we refer to individuals held in sin’s grip as “the lost.” The flock represent God’s children already safely in the fold. The restless, searching heart of the shepherd represents God’s prevenient grace longing, seeking, and reaching out to every least, last, or lost one.
Some in contemporary culture imagine God as disconnected from our reality: irrelevant; an out-of-touch doting grandparent; a relic of a primitive, ancient faith. Others describe a stern cosmic law enforcement officer waiting in the shadows to condemn anyone who breaks a moral law. Jesus, on the other hand, set the record straight with the authority of One who knows the Father intimately. Jesus said our heavenly Father cares deeply for both the community of faith and for lost individuals. His care manifests itself in daily involvement in the lives of all who remain outside the fold of safety.
God’s involvement does not end when He rescues and restores those who are lost. These acts of God throw the door wide open to personal, daily relationship with Him.
Restoration opens channels of conversation and fellowship between God and His children that give new meaning to life on earth. Beyond that, it anticipates a deepening of those conversations and that fellowship for all eternity. Luke 15 reminds us that the prevenient nature of God’s grace to us is simply one aspect of a divine grace so magnificent and abounding that we will grow to understand it more and more, not only in this life, but forever when we reach our eternal home. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
Frank Moore is editor in chief of Holiness Today.
Holiness Today, September/October 2020
Please note: This article was originally published in 2020. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.