The Stray Sheep in the Mountains

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 53:1-7; Ezekiel 34:1-16; Matthew 18:1-14; John 10:1-16

Text: Matthew 18:10–14

September 5, 2010

Introduction

"The Lost Sheep" by Alford Usher Soord (1868-1915)
"The Lost Sheep" by Alford Usher Soord (1868-1915)

Who are the greatest among the Protestant Reformers? Among Reformed believers, John Calvin’s name would always be mentioned—together with Martin Luther, John Knox and Ullrich Zwingli—in the top two or three.

While many evangelicals hear about Calvin in the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,” and mistakenly think that he was its author, he would not have wanted his name mentioned as the author of these doctrines. On the contrary, he would have said that Christ is the author of Scriptural doctrines. In fact, he spoke and wrote very little about himself in his voluminous writings, always pointing his readers to the Triune God. Before he died, he requested to be buried in an unmarked grave, not wishing that people would give attention to him after he was gone, but only to his Lord and Savior.

Such was the humility of this man of God, in contrast to Jesus’ disciples who argued among themselves, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In asking this question, the disciples obviously thought that greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured by human standards: accomplishments, power, wealth, influence and popularity.

Jesus responds to his disciples’ question by taking a child in his arms and teaching them a lesson about humility: a child’s humility consists of childlike trust in the parents for help in resources, direction and wisdom. The squabbling disciples must have been very disappointed to hear him say,“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). As well, a servant attitude, not power and influence, is the essence of belonging to his kingdom, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt 23:11-12).

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In Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples the nature of life in his kingdom, explaining its characteristics and its relationships, both with one another and with the world. He takes a child and calls him a “little one” (Matt 18:5), and encourages his listeners to receive them and give them “a cup of cold water” (Matt 10:40-42). Tragically, many today misunderstand these words as Jesus’ endorsement of Christian ministries to street children and the poor. On the contrary, his emphasis here is for his disciples to have a childlike trust and humility, and calls his disciples “little ones who believe in me.”

In verses 6-9, Jesus warns those who would cause his “little ones” to sin: it is better for them to drown in the sea, because they would surely be judged and tormented in hell. He then uses hyperboles to make a point that his disciples must exercise rigorous self-control, and radically cut sin off from their lives, because sin would send them to hell’s eternal fire.

But in verses 10-14, Jesus gives his disciples a reason for hope, even if they are relentlessly tempted to sin and go astray. He is the Good Shepherd who counts the number of his sheep and searches for those who go astray in the mountains. As one who cares for his flock, Jesus ventures out into the wilderness to find his stray “little ones.” His flock is secure in the knowledge that it is not the Father’s will that even one of them—even those who go astray—will be completely lost and perish in the way.

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