Matthew 18:10-14Theme: Shepherding.In this week’s lessons we see God reclaiming the lost. LessonToday we conclude our study of the important things this parable teaches us about God.
5. 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.
Remember that in Matthew, Jesus is teaching how the disciples are to care for weak believers, the “little ones” who are in view throughout the chapter. So this is not teaching that all people will be saved, the doctrine known as universalism. It is about the perseverance of the saints, the teaching that not even one of those who have been given to Jesus by God will perish.
It is what Jesus taught in John 10, the chapter we think of most often when we think of Jesus as our shepherd. In that chapter, after he had spoken of how he would call his sheep and how they would hear his voice and follow him, Jesus said, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (vv. 28-30). I call this clinching the nails, just as a carpenter will drive nails through two pieces of wood and then bend the point of the nails over sideways into the wood in rough carpentry. It is a way to secure the joint.
“I give unto them eternal life” – that is the nail. “They shall never perish” – that is the clinch by which the doctrine is made fast. “No one can snatch them out of my hand” – that is the second nail. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” – that is the second clinch.
No one could be more secure than that. And if you think of being held by two hands – one hand that is Jesus’ and the other the Father’s – you can remember that God the Father and God the Son still have two hands free to defend you.
I want to go back to the story of the Prodigal Son, because one part of it is a picture of what we often wrongly do. It is a contrast to what Jesus was urging when he said in the chapter we are studying, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones” (v. 10).
We are told in the story that when the prodigal son came back, his older brother was out in the fields. But when he came in, heard the rejoicing, asked what it was and was told that it was because the younger son had come back, he refused to go in. The father came out for him, but he argued, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him” (Luke 15:29-30).
Many find it easy to sympathize with the older son. But the only reason we do is that we think of ourselves as being like him. We suppose that we are not like the prodigal. We think we are faithful, hardworking, obedient. But we are not. Or if we are, it is only because God has already sought and found us. And it is probably true that we have also often wandered away and been brought back.
What were the disciples thinking about when Jesus told them about the lost sheep? They had been arguing about which of them should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They were among the ninety-nine who were still safe on the hillside, and they were concerned about which of the ninety-nine would be top sheep. As long as they were thinking about that, they would never be concerned for the one who was lost.
Who will be greatest? It is the one who is most like the shepherd who gave himself for us. We are never more like God than when we exert ourselves to help others, and if God rejoices over the one we help to come home, it is probably the case that he is rejoicing over us, too.
Study QuestionExplain why this parable does not teach universalism. What does it teach?