Rescue

Scripture: Psalm 23:3a   (He restores my soul)

 

Title: Rescue

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • He brings me back
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

This morning we continue our series on Psalm 23

  • The key message of Psalm 23 (as a whole) is, the Lord is my security
  • God looks after me like a shepherd looks after his sheep

 

The plan is to look at one aspect of the psalm each week

  • So far we have covered the first two verses…

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside still waters

 

Today we start verse 3…

 

He restores my soul…

 

He brings me back:

On the wall here we have four pictures

  • Tell me, what do these four pictures have in common?
  • What is the one word tying them all together?
  • Wait for people to respond

 

That’s right – rescue

 

We often understand, He restores my soul, to mean something along the lines of

  • ‘I was tired or depressed and the Lord lifted me out of my sadness and gave me back my strength & joy’
  • However, this is not the primary meaning of verse 3

 

A more accurate translation of He restores my soul is He brings me back [1]

  • With this translation the sheep is lost and so the good shepherd goes after the lost sheep and brings it back
  • So, He restores my soul or (more accurately) He brings me back is primarily about rescue

 

When a sheep is lost it will hide under a bush or in the cleft of a rock and begin to quiver with fear and bleat so that someone will come to its rescue

  • In the wild middle east (where David was a shepherd) a lost bleating sheep was at risk
  • The shepherd had to find the sheep quickly before some wild animal heard it and killed it
  • Then, once the shepherd found the sheep, he would pick it up and carry it back – because it would be too traumatised to walk

 

So, he restores my soul really means, ‘I was lost and alone and scared but the Lord found me and carried me back

 

Henry Baker captures this idea in his hymn, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, where he says…

  • Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
  • But yet in love He sought me,
  • And on his shoulder gently laid,
  • And home rejoicing, brought me. [2]

 

Please turn with me to Luke chapter 15 – page 100 in your pew Bibles

  • This image of the good shepherd finding and bringing back the lost sheep reminds us of Jesus
  • From Luke chapter 15, verse 1 we read…

 

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!”

 

So Jesus told them this parable…

 

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them – what does he do? He leaves the other 99 sheep in the pasture and goes looking for the one that got lost until he finds it. When he finds it, he is so happy that he puts it on his shoulders and carries it back home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate.’

 

In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 respectable people who do not need to repent.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

During the week, early Tuesday evening, I got a call from Robyn saying she had lost her keys at school

  • As a teacher Robyn has a lot of keys and losing them is quite stressful
  • It would be an expensive and time consuming exercise to try and replace them all
  • One of the keys has an electronic chip in it which means it costs about $120 to get a new one
  • We didn’t really want to buy new keys – we wanted to find the old ones

 

Without the keys Robyn was pretty much incapacitated

  • For starters she couldn’t get into her car to drive home
  • So she called me to ask if I’d come and help

 

By the time I arrived Robyn had been looking everywhere for these lost keys but had no joy in finding them

  • We decided to go home and start the search again tomorrow
  • You see there is a child in Robyn’s class who has been known to hide things in strange places
  • It could be this child had hidden the keys somewhere

 

So the next morning Robyn very gently approached this 5 year old and said…

  • “I’ve lost my keys. Do you think you could help me find them?”
  • And the 5 year old said, “Yea, I’m really good at finding keys”
  • Then they went straight to the place where they had hidden them and restored them to Robyn’s hand

 

I got a text from Robyn shortly after to say she had the keys

  • Needless to say I was overjoyed

 

I like the way Robyn approached the child

  • She didn’t go in with all guns blazing
  • She didn’t make any threats,
  • She invited the child to help her
  • She made it easy for the 5 year old to do the right thing

 

Earlier we heard a parable of Jesus, about a lost sheep and good shepherd who went searching for and rescued the lost sheep

  • This parable is the first of three which Jesus tells, not to his disciples, but to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law
  • Following this parable Jesus went on to tell two similar stories – one of a woman finding a lost coin and another of two lost sons
  • All three parables have the same message essentially – something is lost and then is found or restored
  • We are just going to look at the first parable of the lost sheep

 

As I was saying, Jesus tells this parable to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law

  • That is, the religious leaders – the shepherds of Israel at that time
  • These were the men who were in charge – the ones who were supposed to take care of the people, at least in a spiritual sense

 

Sadly the Pharisees and teachers of the Law weren’t behaving like shepherds

  • They were not looking after the people – in fact they made life more difficult for the people with their man-made rules and traditions
  • And when Jesus welcomed outcasts & sinners they grumbled against him

 

On this occasion Jesus responded with gentleness

  • He didn’t go in with all guns blazing
  • He didn’t make threats or accusations
  • Jesus told them a parable

 

The Pharisees and Scribes were experts in the Hebrew Bible – what we call the Old Testament

  • So they would have known the 23rd Psalm back to front
  • They would be well aware that the Lord God is like a shepherd who brings me back (or rescues me) when I’m lost
  • Jesus was starting where they were at, with a metaphor they were familiar with, from a source they accepted

 

The parable Jesus told was both explanation and invitation

  • Jesus was explaining to the religious leaders why he was welcoming outcasts – because the outcasts were like lost sheep and that is what a good shepherd does – he rescues the lost
  • At the same time Jesus was inviting the religious leaders to join him in the work of finding and bringing back the lost
  • Can you help me find my keys?
  • Can you help me find the lost sheep of Israel?

 

Jesus begins the parable by saying…

  • Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them

 

There are a number of things to note in this simple phrase…

  • Straight away Jesus is saying, ‘you Pharisees and teachers of the Law are the shepherds of Israel’
  • And by implication, as shepherds, you have a duty of care for the people

One thing which is lost in translation is that the shepherd owns the sheep in this parable

  • He has a hundred sheep – means the sheep belong to the shepherd [3]
  • It is a closer (more invested) relationship than merely being a hired hand looking after someone else’s sheep
  • Jesus is saying to the religious leaders, these outcasts that you are grumbling about, they are actually part of your flock
  • The loss of even one of them is a loss to you personally and it’s a significant loss, like losing a $120 electronic key
  • You don’t want to get a new one – you want to find the old one

 

Another thing worth noting: 100 sheep at that time and in that place was a large flock

  • By NZ standards it is a small-ish flock but to Jesus’ original audience it was big – you would need to be quite rich to own 100 sheep
  • But even though the flock is large and the shepherd is wealthy the value of the one lost sheep is not less
  • The rules of supply and demand don’t apply with God
  • Each sheep is valuable in its own unique way

 

If Robyn had 100 keys on her key ring (she doesn’t have that many but she does have quite a few) but if she had 100 and she lost one of those keys, she wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’ve got 99 more’

  • She would say, ‘I need to find that key because without it I can’t access the door which it opens’
  • You see, none of the other 99 keys will be able to do the exact same job that the one lost key can

 

Everyone is important to Jesus – everyone is valued by God – everyone has a particular purpose (a unique gift) which no one else offers

  • The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you”. And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you”. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… [4]

 

 

Jesus goes on…

  • …and suppose you lose one of them
  • Now this is quite a confronting thing to say
  • Normally in the Middle East, where there is a strong honour / shame culture, to preserve reputation, you would say something like…
  • ‘The sheep went astray’ [5] or, ‘the sheep got lost’
  • So it would be the sheep’s fault
  • You would never admit to losing the sheep yourself
  • And you certainly wouldn’t say, ‘You lost the sheep’
  • But that is what Jesus says here…
  • Suppose you lose one of your sheep

 

In a very gentle way Jesus is pointing out that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law have lost some of their sheep – the outcastes and tax collectors

  • As shepherds it is their responsibility to bring the lost sheep back

 

I say that Jesus is being gentle in his approach with the religious leaders because compared to the prophets of the Old Testament he is

  • In reprimanding the shepherds (or kings) of ancient Israel in Old Testament times Ezekiel writes…

 

The weak you have not strengthened

The sick you have not healed

The injured you have not bound up

The strayed you have not brought back

The lost you have not sought

And with force and harshness you have ruled them [6]

 

Ezekiel goes on to say that the Lord is against the shepherds of Israel and will put a stop to their tending of the sheep

 

As I said before Jesus’ parable to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law is both explanation and invitation

  • Jesus is inviting the religious leaders to join him in searching for and bringing back the lost sheep of Israel
  • He is making it easy for the religious leaders to do the right thing

 

Kenneth Bailey who I find so helpful in this study decodes what Jesus was saying to the scribes and Pharisees…

 

Gentlemen, you are not trapped by the past. We all know that the bad shepherds in the writings of the prophets who lost their sheep and failed to even try to bring them back were harshly punished for their failures. But you are not trapped into following that path. You are free. I have pioneered a way forward. When a shepherd loses his sheep he naturally goes after it until he finds it. He then carries it home and has a party. It is as simple as that. The lost that I am “bringing home” are sheep that you yourselves have lost. I know that you don’t like them and that you despise me for going after them. But when they are lost – you lose because they are part of your flock! When they are found, it is your gain!           …Can you join me in the great task of restoring the lost sheep of the house of Israel? …  [7]

 

Returning to Jesus’ parable we note how the shepherd leaves the 99 where they are in the wilderness to go looking for the one lost sheep

  • In reality a responsible shepherd in the Middle East would never leave his flock unattended in the wilderness
  • The original audience understood that the shepherd would leave an apprentice or another shepherd to protect the 99 sheep
  • So the 99 are not abandoned – they are cared for too

 

When it comes to searching for and bringing back (or rescuing) the lost sheep, it is the shepherd who does most of the work

  • The shepherd has to walk all over the place looking for the sheep, calling out to the frightened animal
  • And when he finds it the shepherd then carries the sheep home on his shoulders because the sheep is too distressed walk by itself

 

But although the shepherd does most of the work the sheep must still want to be found

  • Because the lost sheep will likely be hiding behind a rock or under a bush it must bleat and call out so the shepherd can hear where it is
  • If the sheep doesn’t make a noise, well, the shepherd is unlikely to be able to find it
  • Or if the sheep hears the shepherd calling and runs in the other direction then the shepherd can’t rescue the sheep

 

Perhaps the sheep’s bleating is equivalent to a human being praying – calling out to God for help

  • If we are lost we have to want to be rescued
  • It is a fact that we won’t call out to God until we realise our need for Him – until we become aware that we are lost

 

One of the key elements of this parable (and the two which follow) is the joy and celebration when the lost are found and restored

  • In verse 7 Jesus interprets his own parable saying…

 

In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 respectable people who do not need to repent.

 

The main point here seems to be: the Scribes & Pharisees shouldn’t grumble about Jesus welcoming sinners and outcasts – rather they should be happy that Jesus is restoring their flock

  • But it is curious, don’t you think, that Jesus talks about the respectable majority who don’t need to repent?
  • We know that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God
  • So we all need to repent – right?

Yes – precisely

 

Jesus’ parable finishes with the lost sheep safely home and the 99 respectable sheep still out there in the wilderness

  • The Scribes & Pharisees were themselves lost, only they didn’t realise it
  • They didn’t think they needed to repent but clearly Jesus’ parable indicated they did

 

Heaven, aka the heart of God, does not rejoice in self-righteousness or blindness

  • God rejoices in the truth
  • He rejoices in those who know they are lost and accept being found
  • Jesus was telling the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in a gentle way that the very people they despised brought more joy to God than they did

 

Whether we are part of the respectable majority or whether we are outcasts – at some point we all need to be found and brought back to God

  • But before we can accept being found we must first realise we are lost and believe God wants to find us

 

Conclusion:

Jesus is the good shepherd who searches for and brings back the lost sheep

  • This speaks to me of a God who pursues us with His love

 

[1] Kenneth Bailey, The Good Shepherd, page 44

[2] Quoted in Kenneth Bailey’s book, The Good Shepherd, page 45.

[3] Refer, Kenneth Bailey, ‘The Good Shepherd’, page 121.

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:21-22

[5] Refer Kenneth Bailey, The Good Shepherd, page 123.

[6] Ezekiel 34:4

[7] Refer Kenneth Bailey, The Good Shepherd, page 125.

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