If there were any question about the use of the word oracle (Heb. massa, "a burden") to introduce Zechariah 9 - 11 (in Zech. 9:1), it should be dispelled now. For the encouragements of chapters 9 and 10 are followed in chapter 11 by one of the darkest prophecies in all Israel’s prophetic literature.

God’s pursuit of the lost is effective. We might suppose, if all we are thinking about is the parable of the prodigal, that the son might not have returned and that the love of the father might have been frustrated. But that is not what Jesus was getting at. In the first two parables in Luke 15, the shepherd finds the lost sheep and the woman finds the lost coin. All Jesus is emphasizing is God’s joy over recovering whatever has been lost. This is what he means in Matthew, too, for in Matthew Jesus says, "Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost" (v. 14). And, of course, they are not. The Father seeks for them until he finds them and brings them home.

Why should we focus on angels when it is God who is our Savior? The parable tells us many important things about God. We have already looked at two points: (1) God cares for us individually, and (2) God understands our weaknesses. In today’s lesson we look at the third and fourth points.

God cares for us individually. When I see a hundred sheep in a meadow I cannot begin to imagine how a shepherd can distinguish one sheep from another and miss one if it is caught by a predator or wanders off. All sheep look alike to me. But I am told that shepherds do know their sheep. They know them individually and, what is more, their sheep know them and respond to their voices. Jesus was building on this fact when he told the people of his day, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15).

This parable fits into the context of Matthew 18. At the beginning of the chapter the disciples ask Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (v. 1). Jesus answers: (1) the one who is humble, like a little child (vv. 2-9); (2) the one who cares for the weak or lost believer (vv. 10-14); and (3) the one who forgives other people (vv. 15-20).