The Shepherd’s Heart
June 16th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE SHEPHERD’S HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-16-68 7:30 p.m.
In your Bible, whether you listen on radio or are present in this great auditorium, turn to Luke the Third Gospel, Luke chapter 15. We shall read the first seven verses. On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Shepherd’s Heart, Luke chapter 15, now we read out loud the first seven verses:
Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
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 neighbors, 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.
Nor could the pastor assign himself a more beautiful or preciously Christian text than this from which I preach tonight. This is of all things most Christian, most like our Lord and ought to reflect us.
It came about like this. There is a present tense here; there were drawing near unto Him, there were surrounding, there were gathering around Him publicans; that is, tax gatherers, a most despicably despised group in the social order of that day [Luke 15:1]. There were gathering unto Him publicans and sinners. Now by sinners they referred to people who did not keep meticulously the tradition of the elders. They would call Jesus a sinner, and did so, because He did not live according to the wearisome minutiae of those endless traditions that were handed down from rabbi to rabbi to rabbi. So these people were gathering to the Lord, they were coming. And as they were coming, here is another present tense, the Pharisees and the scribes were a-murmuring [Luke 15:1-2].
Now the thing goes together as you read it here. As the sinners and the publicans were gathering, the scribes and the Pharisees were murmuring, and the larger the crowd gathered around the Lord, the louder did they murmur, say, houtos—now you have it translated “This Man receiveth sinners, and He eats with them” [Luke 15:2]. Well, there is nothing wrong with the translation, but it doesn’t give you the idea of what these people were murmuring at all. The Pharisees and the scribes were murmuring, saying houtos, “this guy”: it is an expression of infinite contempt. “This guy, this fellow,” houtos, “this fellow,” you can see them point Him out. This fellow receives sinners, and He is just like them. He likes their company. He likes their kind. He is one of them Himself. He eats with them. All of it was, in their eyes, infinitely derogatory; abjectly so.
Now, if it had to be, I am glad that it happened because it brought from the heart of our Savior the most beautiful parable, in three parts; the most beautiful parable in the Bible. “And He spake this parable unto them”: and the message tonight is from the first part. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” [Luke1 5:3-4]; the parable of the good shepherd.
Now one thing that you will find in the Bible is the Hebrew and his reverence for the calling of a shepherd. That is all through the Bible. Moses was a shepherd. Forty years he kept his father-in-law Jethro’s flocks on the back side of the desert [Exodus 3:1]. The calling of a shepherd was reverenced by the Hebrew nation all through its history. David, their ideal king, was a shepherd king. He kept the flocks, and out of his shepherdly care of the flock did Samuel anoint the boy to be king over Israel [1 Samuel 16:11-13].
And Jesus Himself loved and appreciated the long toilsome devotion of the shepherd, guiding, guarding, feeding, taking care of the flock, and He referred to Himself as the good shepherd [John 10:11,14]. One time He spoke like this—He had compassion on the multitude—“I have compassion on the multitude,” He said, “because they are as sheep not having a shepherd” [Mark 6:34].
So the parable that He uses is so finely representative of the Hebrew reverence for the calling of a shepherd, and our Lord’s own ministry to which He likened it. A man who is a shepherd and he has a hundred sheep [Luke 15:3-4]—now, He is going to talk about these sinners. See, that is His reply. He is talking about these publicans and these sinners [Luke 15:1], but He never uses that word. They use the word, “Look at those publicans and look at those sinners” [Luke 15:2], but Jesus never uses the word. He substitutes for it a universal word, and that word is lost [Luke 15:4]. And He will use it endlessly.
“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save”—sinners? That’s right, but He doesn’t use the word. He will always use the word “lost”: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10], and He will apply it always as He speaks of people and as He delivers the message of God to people. They are sinners, yes, but He calls them not sinners. He calls them lost. And here in the parable He will liken them: they are lost like a sheep [Luke 15:3-7]. They are lost like a coin [Luke 15:8-10]. They are lost like a wayward prodigal boy [Luke 15:11-32]. They are lost like a sheep wandering away from God.
They are lost like a coin through the neglect of others. They are lost like a boy sometimes incorrigible and obstreperous and self-willed. They are lost like a sheep. How is a sheep lost? By malice, by aforethought, by plan, by procedure? No, a sheep is lost because he just wanders away. There is this tuft of grass and this lush watercourse, and the sheep is following appetite, and suddenly he finds himself away from the fold and the shepherd’s care, and the sun is setting, and nighttime comes, and the mountains rise like great walls around him, and the sheep is lost.
Many times the Lord would say, “Humanity is lost like that. People are lost like that.” They are not lost in self-will or in violent rejection of the gospel. They are not lost because they rise up to say, “I hate God, I don’t believe in the Bible, and I’m against the church.” They are not lost like that. They are lost because they just wander away from God. They follow appetites, and desires, and likes, and affinities, and proclivities, and they just gradually drift away from God, lost like a sheep wandering away. Now, how is it that Christ speaks of these who are lost like that? Well, there are three things here that are very distinct. One: the shepherd immediately, immediately, when he found that one was lost—the shepherd immediately sought that one that had wandered away [Luke 15:4]; immediately.
Now, I am rebuked in this. And I don’t feel like preaching to you about it. I am so guilty of it myself. Most people, most people are not violently anti-Christ, or anti-church, or anti-God—they are just not—but most people are un-won, and unchurched, and unresponsive because there is nobody who takes any shepherdly interest in them. We just pass them by and let them go, and “Oh, maybe sometime I will. Tomorrow I will. Some other day I will.”
Around the corner I have a friend,
In this great city that has no end,
And he is lost; a fine strong man,
But he is lost. And I always do plan
To speak to him about God’s love,
Of Christ, who came from heaven above
To die on the cross, that He could pay
The sinner’s debt. I think each day,
Somehow I must speak my heart to Jim
Tomorrow; tomorrow I’ll have a talk with him.
Tomorrow comes, and crowding cares
Clutter my day with busy affairs.
The day is gone and, again I vow,
“Tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll talk to Jim somehow.”
For my friend is lost. He does not know
The peril he risks. He must not go
Year after year like this, and die
Before I tell him how truly I
Desire to see him give his heart to Christ.
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes.
And the distance between us grows and grows.
“Here’s a telegram, sir: Jim died today.”
For I delayed; thus came the end:
Jim lost his soul. Christ lost a friend.
[adapted from “Around the Corner,” Charles Hanson Towne, 1900]
That’s we! Not because they are viciously antagonistic or violently rejective; they are lost like a sheep. “And the shepherd,” seeing it, “left the ninety and nine and immediately went after that one that was lost” [Luke 15:4].
The second thing: the shepherd having a hundred sheep, it would be pretty hard for us in our day and time to enter into the exact emotional feeling, attachment, identity that the shepherd has with his flock. The shepherd lives with the flock, all day, all night. And when the evening comes, they pass under the rod, that is, into the fold; he’ll put across his rod, and he calls his sheep by name. He knows every one of them by name [John 10:3], and as they go under the rod, he calls them by name, and he counts them. But he counted ninety-nine, and one was gone [Luke 15:4]. Well, I’d say that was a pretty good batting average, wouldn’t you? If a man were batting nine hundred percent he would be a miracle of a man.
And if a man didn’t lose but one out of a hundred, he would be doing pretty good. If a man in his investments made ninety fine investments that were lucrative and ten that were not, he would be a genius of a financier. You apply that percentage to any area in life, and it will look good: ninety-nine out of one hundred, only losing one percent.
Think of it: what man of you, having a hundred sheep, if you lose just one of them—and we are that way in Sunday school. Why, if I had a class of a hundred and they were all there but one, I would say, “Man, look at us!” Or the Training Union, or anything about the church, we are very much that way; if we get a majority we are doing fine.
But that’s not God. That is not the Lord. And aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad? For God doesn’t look at us by gobs, and by buckets full, and by oceans full, and by digits, and by vast numbers, crowds, mobs of us. That’s not God. This is God: He looks at us one by one, one by one. He knows your name [John 10:27; Luke 10:20]. He says, “I know the number of the hairs in your head” [Luke 12:7]. I often think about that. Do you?
He says, “There is not a sparrow that falls to the ground, but that He saw it fall” [Matthew 10:29]. You know, if I could define the Christian religion as any one thing above any other thing, I would call it the religion of the one lost sheep and the one lost coin and the one lost boy [Luke 15:3-32]. Did you ever notice, as you read in the life of our Lord, it will always be a one somebody that He is ministering to? He will preach His greatest sermon on the new birth to a congregation of one, to Nicodemus [John 3:1-21]. And He will preach His great sermon on spiritual worship to one and that a despised, outcast Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26].
Did you ever notice the Lord Jesus—it will say, “and He laid His hand on the leper” [Mark 1:40-42], or He opened the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30; John 9:1-25], or “He healed the demoniac [Luke 8:27-35], or He called the publican”? [Luke 18:10-14]. His ministry is to one by one.
You know if I have any sadness and heaviness of heart in my ministry in this church, it is this: I wish I could call every child’s name in every family in this church. These little children come up and speak to me so graciously and sweetly and kindly. They reflect what they find in their home, and the father and the mother love the pastor, and they teach that child to reverence and honor the pastor. I wish I knew all of their names. I don’t, but He does.
Do you have a little boy in your home? God knows him! Do you have a little girl in your home? God knows that child! And the Lord watches over as though that were the only child in this world. That’s God. That’s the Lord. He never looks at us in the mass, in the mob, in the plurality of the thousands of us. But God always looks at us in the one, in the single individual. What man of you, a shepherd have a hundred sheep if he lose one, one; one? [Luke 15:4]. I’m going to bury tomorrow in the early afternoon a little baby. Reckon God saw that, and sees the grief of the young father and mother? He does. That’s God—the religion of the one lost soul. I must hasten.
The third and the last thing: look what he does when he finds the one that is lost. He searched and he searched until he found it—and when he found it, he upbraided the sheep, and he beat the little thing, and he castigated it, and he cursed it? Well, I guess that’s what many of our attitudes are about people who are wayward and sinful and lost: “Oh, condemn them! Upbraid them! Castigate them!” I guess that’s the way of the world. But it’s not God’s way. You read it for yourself. It’s not God’s way.
When the Lord found that one that was lost [Luke 15:4], there was no upbraiding, there was no beating, there was no castigation, there was not even a finding fault, none at all, but there was rejoicing, and there was gladness, and there was gratitude. And when he had found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, and he brought the little thing home and called his friends and his neighbors to gather together, saying, “Be glad with me and rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which had gone astray, which was lost” [Luke 15:4-6]. “I say unto you,” He says that God and heaven are like that! “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that turns, over one that repents, more than over ninety and nine just people who say, I don’t need any repentance” [Luke 15:7], who are superior, like these Pharisees and these scribes.
That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord. May I take a leaf out of the life of my beginning ministry? In my little rural church, little village church, sweetest little congregation, there was a deacon in the church, a great, big, rough fellow, gangly, he was built big and rough; big hands, a working man, a very successful farmer. He leased, beside his own farm, he leased hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres. I never knew how many. He even in that day—and this is forty years ago—even in that day he was mechanized in his farming. He did it with machinery, sections and sections; one of the finest, humblest men that you could ever know, with a sweet wife and among his children a precious girl.
In our little community we never had a high school, so he sent his girl to the county seat to high school. And upon a day, upon a day the word was whispered that the girl—a beautiful girl—that the girl was going to have a baby, and nobody knew who the father was. Now, you’d have to go back forty years and you would have to live in a little community to know how that was in that day and time and in that little community.
My deacon disappeared. He never came to church anymore. The family disappeared. You never saw them anymore. Maybe to buy necessities, hastily and back to the farm; and it broke my heart. I went out to the farm, and I visited them again and again and again. And the little baby was born, sweetest little boy you ever saw. And I prayed, and I visited, and I invited, and upon a day I got that family back to church. And that sweet girl that somebody betrayed reconsecrated her life to Jesus. And I was so glad.
Well, there was a horse doctor in the community that belonged to the church. So he sent for me, and I went to his house, and he had a swing on the front porch. Did y’all ever sit in a swing like that? You know, it would come down like this, and you would swing on the front porch? So he had me come to see him. Well, in those days it was as close from his house to where I was as from where I was to his house, but he sent for me. He never came to me. I went up there to see him.
So, he took me out and we sat in the swing. Then he turned to me and he said, “Young fellow, I’ve got something to say to you. You are condoning sin and fornication, and if you don’t turn that girl out of church I am going to see to it that you are turned out of the church.” Well, I said, “Let’s drive that by just once again. Let’s just look at that once again.” And he repeated it. “You are condoning sin and fornication, and if you don’t turn that girl out of the church I am going to see to it you are turned out of the church.”
Well, nothing equivocating about those words. I understood them, they were very plain; very plain. I said to him, “Fine. You go down to the church, and you do everything in your power to turn me out of the church. Fire me as pastor and turn me out of the church. But as long as there is breath and strength in me, I will stand by that girl and by that family.”
Well, he did his ding-bustedest and his gosh-awfulest, he really did. He went throughout the community. He told them what I was doing. He condemned me in the morning and in the afternoon and at night, and he had the church called in conference to dismiss me as pastor and to turn me out of the congregation.
You know, the Lord has been good to this boy all the days of his life. When the vote was taken and the people stood up, when the vote was taken, he and his wife were the only two who stood up against me. Would you like to know how that story ends? Upon a day, in the passing of time, there came into that community one of the finest, handsomest young men you ever looked upon. He married that girl, he adopted that beautiful little boy for his own, and the last time I heard of her she was the head of the Primary department in the city in which they were making their home. And my deacon and his family died in the faith and in the love of Jesus in that beautiful, precious little country church. That’s the Lord.
And when he had found it he cursed it? No! He berated it? No! He found all manner of castigation and accusation against it? No! But when he found it, he laid it on his shoulder, next to his heart and brought it home and said, “Rejoice with me. I have found my sheep which was lost” [Luke 15:5-6]. That is the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. That includes us all; you, me, all of us. Oh, bless and praise His wonderful name!
Now we are going to sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, while we sing the song, come, come tonight, “Pastor, I give my heart to Jesus, and here I am. Tonight I am putting my life in this dear church.” Come, do it now. However the Spirit shall lay the appeal, shall press it to your heart, answer with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come. The dear Lord bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.