Matthew 18:10-14Theme: Shepherding.In this week’s lessons we see God reclaiming the lost. LessonThere is probably no image of the protecting care of God for his people in the Bible that is more greatly loved than that of the shepherd and his sheep. What Christian can mention God as shepherd without thinking of the Twenty-third Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” (v. 1)? Or the tenth chapter of John where Jesus applied the image to himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11)?
Yet it is not only in these well-known passages that the image occurs. A psalmist wrote, “We are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). Isaiah said about God,
He tends his flock like a shepherd:He gathers the lambs in his armsand carries them close to his heart;he gently leads those that have young. (Isa. 40:11)
The image occurs several times in Matthew. The first is in chapter 2, which cites this prophecy from Micah:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;for out of you will come a rulerwho will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”(Matt. 2:6, quoting Micah 5:2)
In chapter 9 Matthew wrote of Jesus’ compassion for the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36; see Mark 6:34). In chapter 26 he reports Jesus as saying, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
” ‘Strike the shepherd,and the sheep will be scattered.’ “(v. 31, quoting Zech. 13:7)
As far as the rest of the New Testament goes, Hebrews calls Jesus “that great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20) and Peter calls him the “Chief Shepherd” to whom the under shepherds are accountable (1 Peter 5:4).
The notable thing about Jesus’ use of this image in Matthew 18 is that here it is a parable. Parables were an important teaching device for Jesus. A parable is a story drawn from real life that makes a single or at most a few spiritual points. It differs from a fable, which is not drawn from real life. Aesop’s fables are an example. In fables animals or inanimate objects talk. Again, a parable differs from an allegory in which nearly everything stands for something else. The best known example of an allegory is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
This parable is found again in Luke 15:3-7, but the setting and points are different in the two gospels. In Luke, Jesus is answering the teachers of the law who were criticizing him for associating with known “sinners.” Jesus used the parable to explain that he was associating with sinners in order to save them, just as a shepherd exerts himself for a lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it. He calls the lost-but-found sheep “a sinner who repents” (v. 7). In Matthew, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and the point he is making with them is that they must be like shepherds in their care for other believers, particularly the weakest ones.
List other Scripture references to Jesus as shepherd.
Define a parable and explain how it differs from other storytelling devices.
How does this parable in Matthew 18 differ from Luke 15:3-7?
ReflectionWhat other images does the Bible use to depict the protecting care of God? Why does the Bible use such imagery?