September 18, 2022 Lost Sheep

Lost Sheep

September 18, 2022



Read Matthew 18:10-14.


When our Lord carried on his earthly ministry, he preached from town to town and city to city. He would tell the same parable in different locations and, sometimes, to diverse audiences. Depending on who his listeners were, a similar parable could take on different applications. So it is with the Parable of the Lost Sheep.


Luke records this parable as Jesus is talking to the scribes and Pharisees (15:2-3). There, the “lost sheep” represent lost sinners who need to come to repentance and find salvation. The Pharisees needed to hear such an application to the parable because they looked down with disdain upon those marginalized people who were caught up in their own sins. The wayward people of Jesus’ day needed, as all the lost still do, to be found and redeemed.


Here in Matthew, our Lord is talking to his own disciples.


At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?[1]


Immediately after this parable, we read:


“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.[2]


So, this entire section manifests Jesus dialoguing with his disciples.


“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.[3]


Who are “these little ones?” Before this parable, our Lord used the phrase, “little ones,” to mean his disciples. He called them “little ones” because they were insignificant in the eyes of the world. In Israel, children were considered insignificant. So, “little ones” is an apt description of how people viewed his disciples.


And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” [4]

Here, at the beginning of his teaching to his disciples, he had called a child to him, placed him in the middle among his disciples and used that child as illustrative of the kind of humility needed to be considered worthy of the kingdom to come (18:2-4). Because he did this, it is easy to assume by “little ones,” he means children. But, in verse 6, where the phrase first appears here, he defines it as those who believe in him:


but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. [5]


So, what appears to be happening here is that Jesus is again, as he did in 10:42, comparing his disciples to little children. This helps us to understand the meaning of the parable here.


He is talking to his disciples about weaker disciples, ones that are easy to despise. When we come to know a spiritually weak disciple, we have two reactions. One reaction can be compassion. We see someone struggling with a sin or maybe just struggling with life in general because of poor choices they have made. Our heart goes out to them. But another reaction is impatience. We know that they know they are living contrary to God’s will in a certain area, they persist in it, and this may cause us to look down upon them.


The word for despise (ESV) in the original language is derived from kataphroneo. “Despise” is almost certainly too strong of a term. The literal rending of kataphroneo is “think down” or “think less.” Phroneo means “to think” or “to observe.” And, kata means “down.”


So, rather than “despise,” “look down upon” is more accurate. And so:


“See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones, 

because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of My Father in heaven.[6]


The original NASB translated this verse in the same way. As does The Living Bible, the New Living Translation, and others.


Why should we not look down upon, or think less of, the weaker ones? Because their angels see the face of God! In other words, there are angels ministering to all the believers, weak and strong alike! Since the majestic angels serve them, we ought not to look down on them.


Is there an angel assigned to each believer? We may not be able to say that just based on this verse. But when the apostle Peter was released from prison and went to the house where the other disciples were staying, he knocked on the door and a servant girl, Rhoda by name, reported that Peter was there. The others didn’t believe her and said that it was “Peter’s angel” (Acts 12:15). Thus, the early church evidently believed that each disciple had their own angel.


A good friend and brother in the Lord told me a story of something that happened to him when he was a boy. He was riding his bicycle and was crossing the street on his bicycle. But he had done something very foolish. He had not looked both ways before crossing. He was in the middle of the street and looked up and saw a car coming right at him at a very high rate of speed. It was going so fast that he knew, in that split second, that he was going to be hit. Then he felt the bike move, seemingly on it own accord, very quickly and powerfully to the other side of the street to safety. He had not even been peddling at that point. He didn’t understand what happened but, when he became a Christian as a teenager, he realized it had to have been an angel that saved his life.


If you belong to Christ, an angel is watching over you. Maybe more than one!


What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? [7]


We have seen already that the application, and even the understanding, of this parable is divergent from that in the gospel of Luke. The fold of sheep in Luke is Israel. The fold of sheep here represents those who already belong to Christ. There is one sheep among the hundred that has gone astray.


The “man,” the shepherd, is Jesus. But, let me ask this question: How does Jesus gather people to himself, both the lost as well as those who are already his, that is, drawing them closer to himself? He draws people to himself through the words and life of his disciples. This was the Lord’s intent in teaching his disciples through this parable. He desires that they go out and gather the wayward sheep.


And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. [8]


Our Lord truly cares about his own. Now, there are goats among the sheep. There are those who may attend church for years, may be members; they were baptized. But that doesn’t mean that they are really of his fold. But, for those who really belong to him, even if they are wayward he cares for them.


We are all hard nuts to crack. Most of us grew up being influenced by the world and its values. It takes time to shed those values that are contrary to the will of God. We have desires that are not always in line with what is best for us. God’s directives are what is best for us but it takes us a long time to fully realize that. So, the Lord must be patient with us. And, he is!


As he works in our lives to conform us to his pleasant and enjoyable will, he puts up with all kinds of resistance! Finally, if we are truly his, we come back to the fold. The Lord rejoices!


Why is he teaching his disciples this? He wants them to rejoice, too. He wants them to retrieve the wayward ones and he wants them to rejoice with him when they return.


We have looked at this verse many times over the years:


They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.[9]


The apostle is telling his readers that there were some who used to meet with them and they left. They no longer met with the church. According to the apostle, this proves that they did not truly belong to the Lord. But, it is obvious with just a moment’s reflection, that this refers to those who leave and never return.


Therefore, sometimes there are those who do belong to the Lord and who go astray for a time. How will they return to the Lord? How will they return to the fold? Now, the Lord can directly call them. For example, they may have a vivid dream that shakes their soul and they repent. They may become so dissatisfied with their lives that they get desperate. They fast and pray and the Lord may bring them to repentance in the midst of that. But, the most common way that the wayward return is through the loving concern from other members. They are visited. They are cared for. They are befriended.


How can we do this? We can just be a friend. Often, the wayward need help. We can help them.


We do not always need to be ready to correct them, even though all the wayward ones need correction! We do not necessarily need to quote them Hebrews 10:25 or I john 2:19. All we have to do, sometimes, is just feed them.


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.[10]


Do you love the Lord Jesus? Then feed his lambs and feed his sheep. We give them words of life.


It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.[11]


The words of our Lord impart life. When we share what we have enjoyed from the words of our Lord with others then they will receive life!


Quite some time ago, in another state, I was feeling rather down. I don’t even recall what I was dealing with at that time. But, I went to the hardware store for something and ran into a brother from a church that I used to attend. Instead of talking about sports or the weather or his job, he said, “Do you know what I’ve been enjoying in the Lord lately?” and he proceeded to share with me what he had learned. As I listened I felt the spirit stirring within me and I so appreciated what he had shared. It made a difference. My spirit was lifted and I experienced joy! Words of life!


We can all do this. Jesus is teaching his disciples to go after the wayward sheep. He taught Peter to feed his lambs. We are also the disciples of Jesus. We can feed others.


In order to feed others, we ourselves must be fed. You have heard me teach it and preach it a hundred times. But I suspect that some are still not doing it. You must feed yourself! Be in the word each and every day. You must set aside the time. You must make it a priority. If your memory is not that good (maybe you have a memory like mine!), then take notes every day on what you see. Then you will be prepared to share what you have enjoyed with others.


You ought to be able to share something at least every week with someone. Have you? Have you shared something this past week? It might be time to change your priorities.


When you prioritize God’s word in your life you will not only be prepared to feed others, but you will discover that you have more joy, more peace, and more contentment. Why settle for licorice when you can have steak?








[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 10:42). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Mt 18:10). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 21:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 6:63). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.