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  • Daniel Botkin

Leaving the Ninety-Nine: The Parable of the Lost Sheep

“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 neighbours, 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.”

Luke 15:3-7

Some people use this parable to criticize pastors who spend time caring for their flock but do not spend time actively and intentionally evangelizing unbelievers.

Every disciple of Yeshua/Jesus, whether a pastor or not, should be a light to the world. We should all be spiritually awake and alert, looking for opportunities to share our faith with unbelievers.

However, before you use this Parable of the Lost Sheep to criticize pastors who do not spend much time actively and intentionally evangelizing unbelievers, you might want to consider a few important things about this parable.


“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Messiah” (Eph. 4:11f).

The Lord has gifted some men to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers. The primary job of an evangelist is to evangelize unbelievers and to equip the saints to evangelize. Look at D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, and other famous evangelists of the past. They may have done some teaching, but their primary focus was on sharing the gospel and convincing unbelieving sinners to repent and put their trust in Jesus. Their primary job was to evangelize unbelievers, not to shepherd the sheep. They let the pastors do that job.

While a pastor is expected to share his faith with unbelievers as he has opportunities, evangelizing unbelievers is not a pastor’s primary job. The primary job of a pastor is to shepherd the sheep, which consists of leading, feeding, and protecting the flock. A shepherd leads the sheep by example and by determining the direction the flock is to go; he feeds the sheep by teaching them the Word of God; he protects the sheep by not allowing wolves to enter the flock.


If a responsible shepherd is going to leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness to seek one lost sheep, he is going to first lead the ninety-nine to a place where there will be sufficient food and protection from predators during his absence. If the ninety-nine sheep are not fed while the shepherd is away seeking the one lost sheep, some of the ninety-nine are likely to wander away in search of food. If the ninety-nine do not have some sort of protection while the shepherd is away, some of the ninety-nine are likely to become prey for wolves.

If pursuing a lost sheep causes a pastor to neglect his primary duty of leading, feeding, and protecting the flock, that pastor can lay the one lost sheep on his shoulders and rejoice, but when he returns to the flock and sees that most of the ninety-nine have wandered away and have been scattered or eaten by predators, the shepherd’s rejoicing will not last very long. Now the shepherd and his flock are worse off than before.


“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6).

One very important point to consider in The Parable of the Lost Sheep is that the one lost sheep was a sheep. It was not a dog or a pig. A lost sheep is a backslidden believer, not an unbeliever.

The lost sheep in this parable was once a part of the shepherd’s flock, but it wandered away from the flock. The lost sheep is a backslidden believer who has forsaken fellowship with the saints and has fallen into sin. This lost sheep needs to be encouraged to repent of his sin and get back in fellowship with God and with God’s people.

Sometimes a pastor goes to a man who has gotten out of fellowship, and the pastor encourages the man to return to the flock. But the man tramples this offer of holy fellowship under his feet, like swine trampling pearls in the mud. The man turns against the pastor, and snarls and snaps at him like a dog. Such reactions indicate that this man is not a sheep. He is behaving like a dog and a pig. To bring such a man into the fellowship would bring filth and violence into the flock, defiling and harming the sheep.

“But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and, The sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:22).

Try to stop a dog from eating its vomit while it is in the middle of its meal, and the dog will say, “Leave me alone! I like eating this stuff! I enjoy the pleasures of sin! Go away and leave me alone!”

Try to get a pig to come up out of a muddy pit, and the pig will say, “Leave me alone! I enjoy wallowing in this filth! I enjoy the pleasures of sin! Go away and leave me alone!”

In contrast to a dog or a pig, a sheep who has fallen into a filthy, muddy pit will be miserable and looking for a way out. When the sheep sees the shepherd coming, the sheep will rejoice at the sight of the shepherd. The sheep wants to be rescued and reunited with the flock. For such a sheep, the shepherd can temporarily leave the ninety-nine.


“And He answered and said, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).

We have been commissioned by the Lord Yeshua to make disciples. Disciples are believing sheep, not unbelieving dogs and pigs. But lest any readers think that I do not care about lost unbelievers, let me remind you that I established and currently oversee the Gates of Eden Outreach Center. The main purpose of our outreach center is to reach out and urge sinners to repent, whether they are in the sheep category or in the dog-and-pig category.

There are some unbelieving dogs and pigs out there who have been predestined by God to be transformed into sheep. Therefore we reach out to lost unbelievers as well as to lost sheep. It is our hope and prayer that the lost sheep will come to their senses and return to their Father’s house, like the Prodigal Son did. And it is our hope and our prayer that the dogs and pigs will realize that there is a better way, and that they will not want to continue living like dogs and pigs. It is our hope that the dogs will quit eating their own vomit and will choose to feast on the good things of the Lord, and that the pigs will quit wallowing in the mire of sin and will choose to bask in the presence of the Lord.

When a Gentile Greek woman asked Yeshua to deliver her daughter from a demon, He told her, “Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet [proper] to take the children’s bread, and cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:27). It was in this context that Yeshua said that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Yeshua “came unto His own” (John 1:11). He came first to the Jewish people. He ministered to Gentiles only on a few rare occasions. His ministry to the Gentile world would take place after His Crucifixion and Resurrection. For Gentiles to be a part of His Messianic Kingdom, Yeshua first had to die and be resurrected. This truth is seen in Yeshua’s reply to some Greeks who came to Jerusalem during Passover and asked to see Him. Yeshua replied:

“The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:23f).

As that single grain of wheat, Yeshua had to die and be planted in the ground. After He rose from the dead, He would be “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10), just as a grain of wheat planted in the ground brings forth a harvest of many grains of wheat after its kind. Included in this harvest would be Greeks, but those Greeks who were seeking Yeshua in Jerusalem during Passover would have to wait. The Divine order is “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). It was not until after His Resurrection when He told the Apostles to make disciples of all nations, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

So yes, we reach out to unbelievers, not just to the lost sheep. But until people are willing to quit living like dogs and pigs, they cannot be transformed into sheep and cannot be made into disciples.

Unfortunately, many unbelievers are not willing to repent. If an unbeliever makes it clear to me that he has no interest at all in discussing the things of God, I do not cast my pearls before swine. I do not try to give that which is holy unto dogs. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs.”

As much as we want to see sinners repent, sometimes we have to let them go their own way, whether they are a backslidden sheep or an unbelieving dog or pig. We can hope and pray that they will someday come to their senses, but until that day comes, we have to let them go.

The rich young ruler approached Yeshua and asked about eternal life. But when the young man refused to follow Yeshua on Yeshua’s terms, Yeshua let him walk away. He did not chase after the young man and urge him to reconsider. He let him go.

Likewise in John 6:66, when “many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him,” He let them go. He did not go after them and beg them to stay with Him. On the contrary, He turned to the twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67). I do not believe this was a plea, begging the twelve to please stay with Him. I believe it was an invitation to the twelve to leave with the others if they wanted to go. In other words, “If you are thinking of leaving Me, this is the time to do it, while many others are leaving.”

God gives people the power to choose. If they choose to live like a dog or a pig, He lets them live that way. If they choose to be one of His sheep, He gladly receives them and makes them a part of His flock.

We want to help backslidden lost sheep find their way back to the flock. And we want to help unbelievers realize that they do not have to continue living like dogs and pigs. There is a better way, the way that leads to eternal life in the age to come and to blessings in this life as well. Please pray for our work at GOE to be fruitful.

| DB


Image: Psalm 101 by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms art project. See this unique project and all his art pieces on his art website,

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1 commentaire

Mike Weaks
Mike Weaks
29 janv.

Sadly many started well, and never finished their race. May God help us!

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