The Parable of the Lost Sheep

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”Matthew 18:10-14.

Jesus teaches God’s care over every little one (even one in a hundred who strays greatly concerns Him), and that angels watch over them. It is in the context of caring for little ones that Jesus underlines His mission on earth to seek and to save the lost.

The parable told here appears also in Luke 15:3-7. But there it is not told to disciples, but to the Pharisees, in defense of Jesus’ attitude to sinners. The parable is simple and powerful enough to have more than one use, to be told for more than one purpose. But a close look at the two passages will reveal a few differences, indicating that they were two similar parables told with very different aims. In Matthew Jesus was explaining his Father’s concern that none of the little ones should be lost.

The “little ones” are the believers, the ones who humble themselves and become like little children. If they do that, they would be among the community of saved believers. But if they mistreat the little ones and oppose them, they will share the woes.

Scripture teaches that angels guard and minister to God’s people (Ps. 91:11; Heb. 1:14) and that these spiritual beings may be assigned specific areas of responsibility (Dan. 12:1). Though this verse is sometimes interpreted to mean that each believer has a personal angelic guardian (Acts 12:15 and note), this popular belief goes beyond the biblical evidence. Nevertheless, God’s care of His people through angels should be an encouragement to Christians [RSB].

The concern for the one is not at the expense of the ninety-nine, but indicates God’s commitment to each disciple, and His special concern for one straying or in danger. God elects, seeks out, and preserves not only His church as a whole, but each individual within the church. Ezek. 34:11–16 probably lies behind this parable [RSB].

So if God rejoices over one straying sheep that is found, how would people dare cause any of the sheep to go astray? The Father is unwilling for them to be lost; so to try to scatter the sheep is to oppose the will of God. The flock as a whole will not be missing even one of its true members.

Our Lord is warning His followers that their actions, for or against the least of their brothers and sisters, would be known by the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus clearly teaches that our reward or punishment depends on how we have treated the “least” of His brethren!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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