Some people view God as a harsh old man waiting in heaven to smite them. Others view him as a sort of hipster-dad who is cool with whatever you choose to do, as long as you are ‘true to yourself.’ Jesus portrays him as neither one. What you do actually matters. Sin separates you from God, it gets you lost. But rather than endorsing your actions, or cutting you off with no hope, the Father comes looking for you.



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Matthew #62 Matthew 18:10-14

If you simply sit down and read it, it becomes obvious that the whole of Matthew chapter 18 goes together. Actually, I encourage you to do that, right now: read the whole chapter at one sitting; it’s not long. Starting with the issue of greatness, Jesus’ teaching flows from one thing to the other, and all of them are connected. So he moves from the issue of greatness to the value of smallness, including how valuable “little ones” are in heaven; so valuable that the good Shepherd will leave 99 sheep to find the one lost little one. Speaking of finding lost ones, Jesus goes on to talk about the best ways to actually bring back a straying sheep. But there’s more to it than simply a procedure for bringing someone back; there is also forgiveness involved, and so Jesus tells the story of the forgiven and unforgiving servant.

Matthew shows Jesus covering all of this in just one discourse. I have to assume that Matthew was summarizing, but even if he wasn’t, the words of Jesus are so profound that there is far too much in Matthew chapter 18 to cover in just one message. For this reason, I have broken it up into three or four different sermons, but I want us to keep in mind that all of these subjects are closely connected to one another.

Last time, we considered Jesus’ comments about greatness, and his special contempt for those who lead others astray or corrupt them. In contrast to the disciples’ focus on greatness, Jesus now focuses on “little ones.” As I mentioned last time, I do think Jesus had children in mind when he used this term. However, I think he is also using it more generally, as a gentle reminder to his disciples who wanted to be great. Thus, “little ones” also means, in general, everyone who has that childlike trust in Jesus, that trust that he himself said was so necessary for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom of heaven. He is serious about what he said in verses one through ten: he really does want us to think of ourselves like little children of our heavenly father.

He says that not only should we not look down on little ones, but that “their angels continually view the face” of the Heavenly Father. I want to pause on this thought for a second. This is probably one of the main places where we get the idea of a “guardian angel.” It sounds like Jesus is saying that each person has an angel associated with her or him. The first Christians apparently had this idea also. Some time after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Peter was put in prison. When he was miraculously released, he showed up at a house church meeting in Jerusalem. At first, the people did not believe it was him, and said that it must be “his angel” instead (Acts 12:15).

The writer of Hebrews tells us about angels:

14Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14, HCSB)

This also sounds a little bit like what we think of as guardian angels. However, we should keep in mind, there are more than 170 verses in the New Testament alone which talk about angels, and most of them do not describe angels doing “guardian duty” for individual believers. Certainly, angels do a lot more than take care of individuals.

For myself, I tend to think that perhaps each of us believers does have an angel helping us out; perhaps it is always the same one, perhaps not. I find it a comfort to think that God has assigned real spiritual resources to help us, and there is the evidence I have just shared with you. However, the doctrine of guardian angels is not so significant that it matters much if I am wrong. Also, we should make sure to not make angels more important than they are. Paul writes:

18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual mind. (Col 2:18, HCSB)

Now, let’s look at what we call “the parable of the lost sheep.” It’s really more of analogy than a parable (parables are usually stories). Our family has kept goats for about twelve years, and I really relate to this idea. Our goats roam the pastures during the day, and at night, they return to our barn. More than once, when we go out to feed them in evening, we have found that one is missing. When this happens, we don’t simply shrug and say, “Oh well, those are the breaks. I guess we’ve lost one. Farming is tough.” No, a missing goat means the whole family turns out with flashlights to go look for it. Usually, in this scenario, a goat has stuck her head through a fence, and can’t get loose again. What kind of person would leave the goat trapped out there, to be torn apart by coyotes while she is stuck helplessly? We search until we find the animal, free her, and escort her back to the barn where the others are waiting.

We used to keep goats with horns. Often, they got caught in the fences through their own stupidity, and many times, the same goat would get caught, over and over. Freeing a goat with horns caught in a fence is a tricky thing. The stupid animal fights you, because it doesn’t understand what is going on. Most of us have had our fingers pinched, our feet stomped on, and even been knocked over by animals we were trying to help. We never said, “This is a stupid animal. It doesn’t even act like it wants my help. Forget it.” No, we patiently worked to get it free, even when it cost us some bruises and scratches.

So, Jesus says, our heavenly Father, seeing that we stray, does not simply shrug and say “Oh well.” He comes after us, he seeks us, he doesn’t stop until we are found. We are usually lost because of our own stupidity. Sometimes, in our foolishness, we even fight the One who is trying to set us free and bring us to safety. But he frees us anyway, at great cost to Himself.

Jesus is reflecting the same heart of God that spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

4Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored,

and I love you,

I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.

5​Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east,

and from the west I will gather you.6

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold;

bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the end of the earth,

7everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isa 43:3-7, ESV2011)

Some people view God as a harsh old man waiting in heaven to smite them. Others view him as a sort of hipster-dad who is cool with whatever you choose to do, as long as you are ‘true to yourself.’ Jesus portrays him as neither one. What you do actually matters. Sin separates you from God, it gets you lost. But rather than endorsing your actions, or cutting you off with no hope, the Father comes looking for you.

Now, I used to be bothered by Jesus’ words in verse 13:

And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. (Matt 18:13, ESV2011)

I used to feel like maybe that meant God loved people who rebelled against him more than he loved someone who tried their best to trust him and follow him always. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus means. He loves us each just as much as the other. But it is a special cause for joy when someone who was lost becomes found, and learns to trust Jesus. Those who have already learned to trust him should be rejoicing right along with Jesus.

Jesus adds:

14So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matt 18:14, ESV2011)

We talk of people who are seeking God, but the truth is, this parable of the lost sheep means that long before anyone thought to do so, God has been seeking us. So Paul writes:

7For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die.8But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom 5:7-8, HCSB)

Francis Thompson was a man who lived in the 19th Century. For most of his life, he was a lost sheep. In fact, he was not just wandering, but was actively running away from God. At last, he surrendered to the Love who pursued him. He wrote a poem about this experience that has become a classic work of English literature from that time. The poem is called “The Hound of Heaven.” The language might be difficult for some today, but someone has created a fabulous illustrated, modernized adaption of the poem including music and drawings. In spite of modernization, it retains a lot of the feeling of the original. You can find it here: The Hound of Heaven: A Modern Adaption: It is well worth the twenty minutes to watch. If you are braver (or want something only 8 minutes long) you can hear actor Richard Burton read the original poem here: One of the great things about the poem is the way it portrays God as both tender and relentless. Thompson came to realize that everything he was seeking was fulfilled only in the One who sought him.

God does not automatically approve of everything you do, or every choice you make. But he seeks you, relentlessly. He doesn’t say, “Oh well, I guess, I’ve lost that one.” He comes after the lost sheep. Maybe today you need to stop and realize that it is the Lord who has been pursuing you all these years, frustrating you, haunting you with desires that can’t be fulfilled. Or perhaps, you need to remember that this is true for one of your loved ones. He doesn’t just leave them out there, lost. He does everything in his power to bring them back to Himself.

Pause and listen to the Holy spirit today.

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