Parable of the Lost Sheep Bible Story Study Guide

The parable shows God's individual love for his followers

Illustration of shepherd finding his lost sheep, Gospel of Matthew
Illustration of shepherd finding his lost sheep.

Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

The parable of the Lost Sheep, taught by Jesus Christ, is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible, a favorite for Sunday school classes because of its simplicity and poignancy. The story sheds light on the celebratory atmosphere in heaven when even just one sinner confesses his sin and repents. The parable of the Lost Sheep also illustrates God’s profound love for his followers.

Questions for Reflection

The ninety-nine sheep in the story represent self-righteous people—the Pharisees. These people keep all the rules and laws but bring no joy to heaven. God cares about lost sinners who will admit they are lost and turn back to him. The Good Shepherd seeks after people who recognize they are lost and in need of a Savior. The Pharisees never recognize that they are lost.

Have you recognized that you are lost? Have you realized yet that instead of going your own way, you need to closely follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to make it home to heaven?

Scripture References

The parable of the Lost Sheep is found in Luke 15:4-7; Matthew 18:10-14.

Story Summary

Jesus was speaking to a group of tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and teachers of the law. He asked them to imagine having a hundred sheep and one of them strayed from the fold. A shepherd would leave his ninety-nine sheep and search for the lost one until he found it. Then, with joy in his heart, he would put it on his shoulders, take it home, and tell his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him, because he had found his lost sheep.

Jesus concluded by telling them there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.

But the lesson didn't end there. Jesus went on to tell another parable of a woman who lost a coin. She searched her home until she found it (Luke 15:8-10). He followed this story with yet another parable, that of the lost or prodigal son, the stunning message that every repentant sinner is forgiven and welcomed home by God.

What Does the Parable of the Lost Sheep Mean?

The meaning is simple yet profound: lost humans need a loving, personal Savior. Jesus taught this lesson three times in succession to drive home his meaning. God deeply loves and cares personally for us as individuals. We are valuable to him and he will seek far and wide to bring us back home to him. When the one who was lost returns, the Good Shepherd receives him back with joy, and he does not rejoice alone.

Points of Interest

  • Sheep have an instinctive tendency to wander. If the shepherd did not go out and seek this lost creature, it would not have found its way back on its own.
  • Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10:11-18, who not only searches for lost sheep (sinners) but who lays down his life for them.
  • In the first two parables, the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, the owner actively searches and finds what is missing. In the third story, the Prodigal Son, the father lets his son have his own way, but waits longingly for him to come home, then forgives him and celebrates. The common theme is repentance.
  • The parable of the Lost Sheep may have been inspired by Ezekiel 34:11-16:
"For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak..." (NLT)

Key Bible Verses

Matthew 18:14
In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (NIV)

Luke 15:7
In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (NLT)