Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 15: "This Man Receiveth Sinners"
Based on Luke 15:1-10
|Lost Sheep Found.—Davis Collection.|
As the "publicans and sinners" gathered about Christ,
the rabbis expressed their displeasure. "This man
receiveth sinners," they said, "and eateth with them."
By this accusation they insinuated that Christ liked to
associate with the sinful and vile, and was insensible to
their wickedness. The rabbis had been disappointed in
Jesus. Why was it that one who claimed so lofty a
character did not mingle with them and follow their methods
of teaching? Why did He go about so unpretendingly,
working among all classes? If He were a true prophet,
they said, He would harmonize with them, and would treat
the publicans and sinners with the indifference they
deserved. It angered these guardians of society that He with
whom they were continually in controversy, yet whose
purity of life awed and condemned them, should meet, in
such apparent sympathy, with social outcasts. They did
not approve of His methods. They regarded themselves as
educated, refined, and pre-eminently religious; but Christ's
example laid bare their selfishness. [p. 186]
It angered them also that those who showed only
contempt for the rabbis and who were never seen in the
synagogues should flock about Jesus and listen with rapt
attention to His words. The scribes and Pharisees felt only
condemnation in that pure presence; how was it, then, that
publicans and sinners were drawn to Jesus?
They knew not that the explanation lay in the very
words they had uttered as a scornful charge, "This man
receiveth sinners." The souls who came to Jesus felt in
His presence that even for them there was escape from the
pit of sin. The Pharisees had only scorn and condemnation
for them; but Christ greeted them as children of God,
estranged indeed from the Father's house, but not forgotten
by the Father's heart. And their very misery and sin made
them only the more the objects of His compassion. The
farther they had wandered from Him, the more earnest the
longing and the greater the sacrifice for their rescue.
All this the teachers of Israel might have learned from
the sacred scrolls of which it was their pride to be the
keepers and expounders. He not David written—David,
who had fallen into deadly sin—"I have gone astray like a
lost sheep, seek Thy servant"? Ps. 119:176. Had not
Micah revealed God's love to the sinner, saying, "Who is
a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth
by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He
retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in
mercy"? Micah 7:18.
The Lost Sheep
Christ did not at this time remind His hearers of the
words of Scripture. He appealed to the witness of their
own experience. The wide-spreading tablelands on the east
of Jordan afforded abundant pasturage for flocks, and
through the gorges and over the wooded hills had wandered [p. 187] many a lost sheep, to be searched for and brought back by
the shepherd's care. In the company about Jesus there
were shepherds, and also men who had money invested in
flocks and herds, and all could appreciate His illustration:
"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?"
These souls whom you despise, said Jesus, are the
property of God. By creation and by redemption they are
His, and they are of value in His sight. As the shepherd
loves his sheep, and cannot rest if even one be missing, so,
in an infinitely higher degree, does God love every outcast
soul. Men may deny the claim of His love, they may
wander from Him, they may choose another master; yet
they are God's, and He longs to recover His own. He
says, "As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that
he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out
My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where
they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day." Eze.
In the parable the shepherd goes out to search for one
sheep—the very least that can be numbered. So if there
had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for
The sheep that has strayed from the fold is the most
helpless of all creatures. It must be sought for by the
shepherd, for it cannot find its way back. So with the
soul that has wandered away from God; he is as helpless as
the lost sheep, and unless divine love had come to his
rescue he could never find his way to God.
The shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is
missing does not look carelessly upon the flock that is
safely housed, and say, "I have ninety and nine, and it will
cost me too much trouble to go in search of the straying one. [p. 188] Let him come back, and I will open the door of the sheepfold,
and let him in." No; no sooner does the sheep go
astray than the shepherd is filled with grief and anxiety.
He counts and recounts the flock. When he is sure that one
sheep is lost, he slumbers not. He leaves the ninety and
nine with the fold, and goes in search of the straying
sheep. The darker and more tempestuous the night and
the more perilous the way, the greater is the shepherd's
anxiety and the more earnest his search. He makes every
effort to find that one lost sheep.
With what relief he hears in the distance its first faint
cry. Following the sound, he climbs the steepest heights,
he goes to the very edge of the precipice, at the risk of his
own life. Thus he searches, while the cry, growing fainter,
tells him that his sheep is ready to die. At last his effort
is rewarded; the lost is found. Then he does not scold
it because it has caused him so much trouble. He does
not drive it with a whip. He does not even try to lead it
home. In his joy he takes the trembling creature upon his
shoulders; if it is bruised and wounded, he gathers it in his
arms, pressing it close to his bosom, that the warmth of
his own heart may give it life. With gratitude that his
search has not been in vain, he bears it back to the fold.
Thank God, He has presented to our imagination no
picture of a sorrowful shepherd returning without the
sheep. The parable does not speak of failure but of success
and joy in the recovery. Here is the divine guarantee that
not even one of the straying sheep of God's fold is
overlooked, not one is left unsuccored. Every one that will
submit to be ransomed, Christ will rescue from the pit of
corruption and from the briers of sin.
Desponding soul, take courage, even though you have
done wickedly. Do not think that perhaps God will pardon [p. 189] your transgressions and permit you to come into His
presence. God has made the first advance. While you
were in rebellion against Him, He went forth to seek you.
With the tender heart of the shepherd He left the ninety
and nine and went out into the wilderness to find that
which was lost. The soul, bruised and wounded and ready
to perish, He encircles in His arms of love and joyfully
bears it to the fold of safety.
It was taught by the Jews that before God's love is
extended to the sinner, he must first repent. In their view,
repentance is a work by which men earn the favor of
Heaven. And it was this thought that led the Pharisees to
exclaim in astonishment and anger. "This man receiveth
sinners." According to their ideas He should permit none
to approach Him but those who had repented. But in the
parable of the lost sheep, Christ teaches that salvation does
not come through our seeking after God but through God's
seeking after us. "There is none that understandeth, there
is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of
the way." Rom. 3:11, 12. We do not repent in order that
God may love us, but He reveals to us His love in order
that we may repent.
When the straying sheep is at last brought home, the
shepherd's gratitude finds expression in melodious songs of
rejoicing. He calls upon his friends and neighbors, saying
unto them, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep
which was lost." So when a wanderer is found by the
great Shepherd of the sheep, heaven and earth unite in
thanksgiving and rejoicing.
"Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth,
more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need
no repentance." You Pharisees, said Christ, regard
yourselves as the favorites of heaven. You think yourselves
secure in your own righteousness. Know, then, that if you [p. 190] need no repentance, My mission is not to you. These poor
souls who feel their poverty and sinfulness, are the very
ones whom I have come to rescue. Angels of heaven are
interested in these lost ones whom you despise. You
complain and sneer when one of these souls joins himself
to Me; but know that angels rejoice, and the song of
triumph rings through the courts above.
The rabbis had a saying that there is rejoicing in heaven
when one who has sinned against God is destroyed; but
Jesus taught that to God the work of destruction is a
strange work. That in which all heaven delights is the
restoration of God's own image in the souls whom He
When one who has wandered far in sin seeks to return
to God, he will encounter criticism and distrust. There are
those who will doubt whether his repentance is genuine, or
will whisper, "He has no stability; I do not believe that
he will hold out." These persons are doing not the work
of God but the work of Satan, who is the accuser of the
brethren. Through their criticisms the wicked one hopes
to discourage that soul, and to drive him still farther from
hope and from God. Let the repenting sinner contemplate
the rejoicing in heaven over the return of the one that was
lost. Let him rest in the love of God and in no case be
disheartened by the scorn and suspicion of the Pharisees.
The rabbis understood Christ's parable as applying to
the publicans and sinners; but it has also a wider meaning.
By the lost sheep Christ represents not only the individual
sinner but the one world that has apostatized and has been
ruined by sin. This world is but an atom in the vast
dominions over which God presides, yet this little fallen
world—the one lost sheep—is more precious in His sight
than are the ninety and nine that went not astray from the
fold. Christ, the loved Commander in the heavenly courts, [p. 191] stooped from His high estate, laid aside the glory that He
had with the Father, in order to save the one lost world.
For this He left the sinless worlds on high, the ninety and
nine that loved Him, and came to this earth, to be "wounded
for our transgressions" and "bruised for our iniquities."
(Isa. 53:5.) God gave Himself in His Son that He might
have the joy of receiving back the sheep that was lost.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed
upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." I John
3:1. And Christ says, "As Thou hast sent Me into the
world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John
17:18)—to "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions
of Christ, . . . for His body's sake, which is the church."
Col. 1:24. Every soul whom Christ has rescued is called to
work in His name for the saving of the lost. This work
had been neglected in Israel. Is it not neglected today by
those who profess to be Christ's followers?
How many of the wandering ones have you, reader,
sought for and brought back to the fold? When you turn
from those who seem unpromising and unattractive, do you
realize that you are neglecting the souls for whom Christ
is seeking? At the very time when you turn from them,
they may be in the greatest need of your compassion. In
every assembly for worship, there are souls longing for rest
and peace. They may appear to be living careless lives,
but they are not insensible to the influence of the Holy
Spirit. Many among them might be won for Christ.
If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it
wanders until it perishes. And many souls go down to
ruin for want of a hand stretched out to save. These erring
ones may appear hard and reckless; but if they had received
the same advantages that others have had, they might have
revealed far more nobility of soul, and greater talent for [p. 192] usefulness. Angels pity these wandering ones. Angels
weep, while human eyes are dry and hearts are closed to
O the lack of deep, soul-touching sympathy for the
tempted and the erring! O for more of Christ's spirit, and
for less, far less, of self!
The Pharisees understood Christ's parable as a rebuke
to them. Instead of accepting their criticism of His work,
He had reproved their neglect of the publicans and sinners.
He had not done this openly, lest it should close their
hearts against Him; but His illustration set before them the
very work which God required of them, and which they
had failed to do. Had they been true shepherds, these
leaders in Israel would have done the work of a shepherd.
They would have manifested the mercy and love of Christ,
and would have united with Him in His mission. Their
refusal to do this had proved their claims of piety to be
false. Now many rejected Christ's reproof; yet to some
His words brought conviction. Upon these, after Christ's
ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit came, and they united
with His disciples in the very work outlined in the parable
of the lost sheep.
The Lost Piece of Silver
After giving the parable of the lost sheep Christ spoke
another, saying, "What woman having ten pieces of silver,
if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep
the house, and seek diligently till she find it?"
In the East the houses of the poor usually consisted of
but one room, often windowless and dark. The room was
rarely swept, and a piece of money falling on the floor
would be speedily covered by the dust and rubbish. In
order that it might be found, even in the daytime, a candle
must be lighted, and the house must be swept diligently. [p. 193]
The wife's marriage portion usually consisted of pieces
of money, which she carefully preserved as her most
cherished possession, to be transmitted to her own daughters.
The loss of one of these pieces would be regarded as
a serious calamity, and its recovery would cause great
rejoicing, in which the neighboring women would readily
"When she hath found it," Christ said, "she calleth her
friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with
me, for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise,
I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels
of God over one sinner that repenteth."
This parable, like the preceding, sets forth the loss of
something which with proper search may be recovered, and
that with great joy. But the two parables represent different
classes. The lost sheep knows that it is lost. It has
left the shepherd and the flock, and it cannot recover itself.
It represents those who realize that they are separated from
God and who are in a cloud of perplexity, in humiliation,
and sorely tempted. The lost coin represents those who are
lost in trespasses and sins, but who have no sense of their
condition. They are estranged from God, but they know it
not. Their souls are in peril, but they are unconscious and [p. 194] unconcerned. In this parable Christ teaches that even those
who are indifferent to the claims of God are the objects of
His pitying love. They are to be sought for that they may
be brought back to God.
The sheep wandered away from the fold; it was lost in
the wilderness or upon the mountains. The piece of silver
was lost in the house. It was close at hand, yet it could be
recovered only by diligent search.
This parable has a lesson to families. In the household
there is often great carelessness concerning the souls
of its members. Among their number may be one who is
estranged from God; but how little anxiety is felt lest in
the family relationship there be lost one of God's entrusted
The coin, though lying among dust and rubbish, is a
piece of silver still. Its owner seeks it because it is of value.
So every soul, however degraded by sin, is in God's sight
accounted precious. As the coin bears the image and
superscription of the reigning power, so man at his creation
bore the image and superscription of God; and though now
marred and dim through the influence of sin, the traces
of this inscription remain upon every soul. God desires to
recover that soul and to retrace upon it His own image
in righteousness and holiness.
The woman in the parable searches diligently for her
lost coin. She lights the candle and sweeps the house. She
removes everything that might obstruct her search. Though
only one piece is lost, she will not cease her efforts until that
piece is found. So in the family if one member is lost to
God every means should be used for his recovery. On the
part of all the others let there be diligent, careful
self-examination. Let the life-practice be investigated. See if
there is not some mistake, some error in management, by
which that soul is confirmed in impenitence. [p. 195]
If there is in the family one child who is unconscious of
his sinful state, parents should not rest. Let the candle
be lighted. Search the word of God, and by its light let
everything in the home be diligently examined, to see why
this child is lost. Let parents search their own hearts,
examine their habits and practices. Children are the heritage
of the Lord, and we are answerable to Him for our
management of His property.
There are fathers and mothers who long to labor in
some foreign mission field; there are many who are active
in Christian work outside the home, while their own children
are strangers to the Saviour and His love. The work
of winning their children for Christ many parents trust to
the minister or the Sabbath school teacher, but in doing
this they are neglecting their own God-given responsibility.
The education and training of their children to be Christians
is the highest service that parents can render to God.
It is a work that demands patient labor, a lifelong diligent
and persevering effort. By a neglect of this trust we prove
ourselves unfaithful stewards. No excuse for such neglect
will be accepted by God.
But those who have been guilty of neglect are not to
despair. The woman whose coin was lost searched until
she found it. So in love, faith, and prayer let parents work
for their households, until with joy they can come to God [p. 196] saying, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath
given me." Isa. 8:18.
This is true home missionary work, and it is as helpful
to those who do it as to those for whom it is done. By our
faithful interest for the home circle we are fitting ourselves
to work for the members of the Lord's family, with whom,
if loyal to Christ, we shall live through eternal ages. For our
brethren and sisters in Christ we are to show the same interest
that as members of one family we have for one another.
And God designs that all this shall fit us to labor for
still others. As our sympathies shall broaden and our love
increase, we shall find everywhere a work to do. God's
great human household embraces the world, and none of its
members are to be passed by with neglect.
Wherever we may be, there the lost piece of silver
awaits our search. Are we seeking for it? Day by day we
meet with those who take no interest in religious things; we
talk with them, we visit among them; do we show an interest
in their spiritual welfare? Do we present Christ to them as
the sin-pardoning Saviour? With our own hearts warm
with the love of Christ, do we tell them about that love? If
we do not, how shall we meet these souls—lost, eternally
lost—when with them we stand before the throne of God?
The value of a soul, who can estimate? Would you
know its worth, go to Gethsemane, and there watch with
Christ through those hours of anguish, when He sweat as
it were great drops of blood. Look upon the Saviour
uplifted on the cross. Hear that despairing cry, "My God,
My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Mark 15:34. Look
upon the wounded head, the pierced side, the marred feet.
Remember that Christ risked all. For our redemption,
heaven itself was imperiled. At the foot of the cross,
remembering that for one sinner Christ would have laid down
His life, you may estimate the value of a soul. [p. 197]
Find out more today how to purchase a
copy of this enlightening book about the parables of Christ.
If you are in communion with Christ, you will place
His estimate upon every human being. You will feel for
others the same deep love that Christ has felt for you.
Then you will be able to win, not drive, to attract, not
repulse, those for whom He died. None would ever have been
brought back to God if Christ had not made a personal
effort for them; and it is by this personal work that we can
rescue souls. When you see those who are going down to
death, you will not rest in quiet indifference and ease. The
greater their sin and the deeper their misery, the more
earnest and tender will be your efforts for their recovery.
You will discern the need of those who are suffering, who
have been sinning against God, and who are oppressed with
a burden of guilt. Your heart will go out in sympathy for
them, and you will reach out to them a helping hand. In
the arms of your faith and love you will bring them to
Christ. You will watch over and encourage them, and your
sympathy and confidence will make it hard for them to fall
from their steadfastness.
In this work all the angels of heaven are ready to
co-operate. All the resources of heaven are at the
command of those who are seeking to save the lost. Angels
will help you to reach the most careless and the most
hardened. And when one is brought back to God, all heaven is
made glad; seraphs and cherubs touch their golden harps,
and sing praises to God and the Lamb for their mercy and
loving-kindness to the children of men.
Click here to read the next chapter:
"Lost, and is Found"