If you’re not aware, I have two sons, very close in age. And these two sons, like most siblings, are almost complete opposites. Sometimes you wonder if they are even related. One loves the outdoors, one is, and I quote, “an inside boy.” One loves soccer, the other baseball. One is a healthy eater, choosing fruits and vegetables as a first choice, the other refuses to eat ANYTHING green. One loves people, if a stranger is in the room he’s sitting next to him learning all about him. The other, doesn’t love people. He’s not even aware of the person sitting next to him. But perhaps their most striking difference is their pace of life. One never learned to walk…he started off running. And I mean that very literally. His first steps were of him running around the room. And he hasn’t stopped since. The other is relaxed, casual, leisure. Kind of like the sloth on Utopia.
So you see the problem we face EVERY time we go outdoors. One is ten steps in front of us and one is ten steps behind up. We are constantly having to say, “slow down,” “speed up.” Our first or second year in China we were invited to a coworker’s home who live all the way out on the far east batong line. So our family of four took a bus to subway line one, transferred to the BaTong line and then walked to their home. We had a nice meal, chatted and then returned to the subway.
Well apparently my son that loves to be in front, who was about three at the time, decided he had been to this place before and because he had been there already apparently he knew everything there was to know about that subway stop and didn’t really need mom or dad to show him where to go or what to do, so as we enter the station he just disappears! 17 million people in the city (in 2008) and my son has just disappeared. What do we do? I didn’t speak Chinese at this time, and very VERY few workers spoke English at this time. He’s small enough to go under the entrance gates. He’s smart enough to know how to get on a train, but not smart enough to know where to get off.
Now how many of you suppose I looked at my other son, the one who didn’t run off, and said to myself, “well at least I have one left.” “Serves him right for running off and always wanting to be in front.”
No, he’s my SON. He’s MY son. Stubborn as he may be. Independent as he may be. Wrong as he may be…he’s my son and I want him back. No good parent would sit idly by as their son disappears into a sea of danger. He goes after him. He searches day and night. He does not give up till he has found him. And when he is found there is joy and celebration.
This is the parable that we come to today.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones (reference to believers). For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 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? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 (Summary of the Parable) So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
I want to be upfront with you this morning. The purpose of our gathering today, the goal of this message is simply to behold the love of God. Normally I would preach this passage in light of everything that is happening around it, so it would be a sermon on, us getting the heart of God so that we could learn to love one another. It’s extremely practical: In the first part of chapter 18 you have the call to think of others first, especially the weaker brother, then there the command not to cause your brother or sister to sin, that as God as shepherd leads us not into temptation, we are to coraling one another away from sin and into godliness, next is the challenge to affix value on EVERY member of the Kingdom, to not despise or overlook the lesser thans. Then it moves to dealing with conflict, forgiving one another, and lastly in Ch. 19 it moves marital relationship and how we are to be committed to one another, no matter what.
All of this is arranged around the theme that God values people, therefore we too must value people. But this is NOT want I want to talk about today. It is needed, and it is important, but I feel that there is something of greater need this morning. And that is to simply meditate upon the love of the God and allow that love to transform us. And if we correctly see his love then everything else follows.
We live in a culture, a generation, an era that affixes great value on love. In fact, our generation is one that the truth that “God is love,” and reversed it to believe that “Love is god.” Even in our churches today we often times have a misunderstanding of God’s love because it is being viewed through the lenses of our own cultural presuppositions.
What does the Bible share with us about God’s love?
1. He loves us because he loves us. v. 10
Matthew 18:10 – See that you do not despise on of these little ones.
At the beginning of the chapter Jesus picks a child out of the crowd. A child has no status in society. He’s not like the Pharisees whom people revere. He has no honor among the people. He’s not like the elders who sit at the gates. He has no ability to care or provide for himself, and if he can’t care for himself then he certainly can’t care for others. In fact, others have to care for him. He is at the mercy of someone else. To take a child into your home causes you to gain nothing, except the hassle of having to provide for him (at a time when times were hard and food in short supply).
In other words, this child has done nothing to earn love. Nothing to merit love. Nothing to be worthy of receiving love. And Jesus says of his disciples, you are like this child, but I love you anyway. My love for you is so great that angels are dispatched at my command to go and fight for you.
Not just the greatest of these, but the least of these. It’s easy for us to think, sure God cares for that person. Look at all he has done for God. God listens to him when he prays. He has God’s ear in a way I could never have. But James reminds us that Elijah was a man, just like us…God doesn’t play favorites.
You, if you are a believer this morning, are just as loved by God as anyone else in this room. Oh, but I don’t have anything to offer him…like this person or that person. But I’m not as faithful as this person or that person. But I haven’t given up as much as this person or that person.
And to those responses I say, If that’s how you think, then you’ve not understood the love of God at all!
Thomas Manton, the puritan preacher of old, has written extensively on this subject:
“Love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason of other things, but we cannot give a reason of his love…If you ask, Why he made so much to do about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust, who has now disordered himself, and could be of no use to him? We have an answer at hand, Because he loved us. If you continue to ask, But why did he love us? We have no other answer but because he loved us; for beyond the first rise of things we cannot go.
Love is the bottom of the well. It is the base and foundation of all He does. Listen to the words of God concerning his people in
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you…”
Listen to the language. His love has not been stolen by you. You have not dressed up, put on perfume, and wooed him to yourself. He was not drawn to you because of your beauty or your goodness or what you have to offer Him. He loves you because he has chosen to set his love on you.
He loves you because he loves you. But why? Oh, it’s because there’s something really good in me? Right? (Ps. 14:3 – But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!) It’s because I’m so lovable right? No, not right at all.
Our love, unfortunately, functions like that. Our love for others is most often based what they can do for me.
If you inconvenience me, we have a love problem. If you anger me, we have a love problem. If you stop being what I expect you to be, what I want you to be, what you’ve promised to be, we have a love problem. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5, that that kind of love is meaningless…love those who are hard to love, who have nothing intrinsically within themselves that causes us to love them and so prove to be sons and daughters of God (Matthew 5:43-48)
But God’s love is NOT like the world’s love. God’s love is not like the love that most of us have had modeled our entire lives. God’s love is not like what you see on a TV screen or hear in the lyrics of a song.
Now men, do not leave today and say to your wife…I love you because I love you. It will not go well. Not because it isn’t a good statement. But because we have allowed a rectangular box that sits upon our wall to determine what is and isn’t love, and for it to redefine the perimeters of love.
But it IS good news to say I love you because I love you, and it is ever better news to hear it come from the creator of the universe.
Think with me for a moment:
I love you because you’re beautiful, your hair is silky smooth, your complexion flawless, your figure perfect…sounds good, right? Here’s the problem:
If your love is based on beauty alone, then what happens when the beauty you possessed at 25 isn’t there at 45? You have an identity crisis, because you look around and see someone younger, someone more beautiful, and you begin to worry about the security of that relationship. OR even worse, you’re traded in for a newer model.
I love you because of your mind. You’re brilliant and I can always have meaningful conversation with you. Here’s the problem
What happens if you get Alzheimer’s? What happens when you mind begins to degenerate? If love is contingent on something of yours that can be lost or taken away, then that love is never secure.
humor…sours money…perishes even our interests…change over time.
Jesus has set his love on you not because of you, but because of himself. This is good news, for although we change…our beauty, our intelligence, our interests, our desires, our habits, our wills, and attitudes, and actions, he does not.
Numbers 23:19 – God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
This is good news. God loves you because he loves you and His affections do not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). His love for you is dependent on His character, not yours. His love for you is dependent on His goodness, not yours. His love for you is dependent on His actions, not yours.
He is the one constant in a world full of infinite change. Our love us so fickle and fragile. Let us not confuse His love with our love.
We didn’t trick him into choosing us. We didn’t convince him to love us. He has chosen to SET HIS LOVE ON US. And that love is based on his ever unchanging nature!
Now does he find you beautiful? Yes. Absolutely. But he finds you beautiful because he loves you, let us not reverse the process, for that is to distort, degrade, humanize his love.
He loves us because he loves us and that love:
2. His love compels him to look for the wandering sheep. v. 12
Matthew 18:12 – 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?
First I should say a few things about wandering so that we might have a bit of context behind what it means to seek the wandering sheep. If you remember a few weeks ago we talked about the hidden treasure. Jesus is that treasure that we find. And we, in joy, we forsake everything to obtain that treasure.
But here’s the problem, the world has a way of luring our hearts away from him. James KA Smith talks about how we have to daily re-calibrate our hearts. Because it is constantly being pulled away from our true North and trying to fix itself on something false.
John Piper says it like this:
Daily the soul is lured to other treasures, other satisfactions, other rewards besides Jesus. (So) Jesus taught us to pray daily, “forgive us for these wanderings and lead us not into, but out of, them.”
In 1757 Robert Robinson wrote these words: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.
All of us, at some point in our life has been in some stage of wandering. This is not a parable about unbelievers. This is not saying Jesus goes and finds unbelievers and brings them back to himself, the parable in Luke makes that point, but HERE it’s about believers (the little ones who have humbled themselves and entered the Kingdom and now they find themselves away from the flock, away from the shepherd).
There are varying degrees of wandering and different causes for wandering. There’s the lamb who has wandered thousands of kilometers (Like Jonah…maybe your coming to China was a type of wandering. Maybe how you spend your weekends is a type of wandering.) and the lamb who is still planning his escape (like the man in Psalm 36). Today, is your heart looking out across the field, maybe ven now you’re heart is thinking, planning, meditating, scheming, your wandering. You think it’s okay, because it’s only in your mind…but let me remind you that every physical act of wandering is birthed in the mind and heart of man.
You may have given up on yourself, you may have given up on the shepherd, you may be content to lay down and die…but the great shepherd of your soul is not content with giving up on you. He leaves the safe places to venture into enemy territory…for a lost sheep will not find its way back, it will lay down and give up, until a predator comes to devour it.
If you find yourself wandering today, know that the shepherd is looking for you. Let us not forget that one can be in church, sitting among the people of God, and yet still find himself far away from the shepherd of his soul. Isaiah 29:13 – The people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me. He’s looking for you, right now. Drawing you to Himself.
What does Jesus do with wandering sheep? He searches for them. But I’m reminded that people lose things all the time and just because you search for something isn’t a guarantee that you will find it.
Just this past week I saw a video of a man who carried his girlfriend out on this pavilion over the water, he got down on one knee, he pulled out the ring, he grabbed her hand, and as he slipped the ring onto her finger, the ring slipped out of his hand, bounced off the wooden boarding, rolled around until it finally slipped through a crack and descended into the water below. He searched for it. Bystanders searched for it. Church members searched for it. And it was never found.
Even in the Bible you have this same verb being used in various occasions where people sought for something, but never found it.
Herod sought Jesus but couldn’t find him (Matt. 2:13). The demons in Matt 12:43 Sought out a place to rest and couldn’t find it. Jesus’ mother and brothers sought to speak with Jesus, but couldn’t find opportunity (Matt. 12:46). The elders and chief priests sought out false testimony against Jesus, but couldn’t find it (Matt. 26:59-60). To seek doesn’t mean you will find. Even here in the analogy Jesus says…IF…If he finds it. A shepherd may go looking for a sheep gone astray, but that shepherd is not guaranteed to find that sheep.
But Jesus is no ordinary Shepherd. He has limitless resources to spend finding the lost sheep. He has boundless strength to walk the wayward lands. He has infinite knowledge of where that lamb has hidden. He has inexhaustible grace that keeps him in relentless pursuit of His people.
And although the parable says IF, let us remember that parables are not to be over analyzed, Jesus is not making the point…I will search for you and I HOPE that I can find you. Every phrase in this parable is thrusting us back Ezekiel 34. Jesus compares himself to a shepherd, that is not new language. Jesus says that he will search for his sheep, that is not new language. Jesus says he will shepherd his sheep on the mountain, that is not new language, Jesus says he will rejoice when he finds his sheep, again, that is NOT new language.
Eze 34:13 – I will feed them on the mountains of Israel…the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. 23 – And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Jesus, by sharing this parable is saying, I am the ONE shepherd, come from the line of David, a shepherd himself. But I am the true and better David. And listen to the assiduity of the passage.
34:15-16 – I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. 22 – I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey.
And if that isn’t final enough he seals it with these words:
Eze. 34:24-25 – I am the Lord; I have spoken. 25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
Notice where the shepherd is and where he goes. He comes off the mountain. The high places. The safe and secure shelters, to go out into the open fields, where beast and predator lay waiting.
The mountain, a place where Moses met with God. A place where Elijah met with God. The mountain is the holy place where God dwells.
Do you see where Matthew has placed this parable? Do you know what happened in Matthew 17? Jesus is on a mountain. He’s on a mountain with Moses, with Elijah. He is transfigured before Peter, James, and John and they see Him for who he truly is. His glory shines forth, the Father is there, it’s a heavenly reunion, something was going on on the mountain that was different from what takes place below.
How easy it would have been to stay there. Peter wanted to. Jesus knew what awaited him at the bottom of the mountain…foolish lambs who had yet to grasp the power of God. Why did he come down? Because that’s where His sheep were. Yet, Jesus didn’t just come down an earthly mountain, he came down the mountain of all mountains, heaven itself, in order to find us.
He has purchased you with His blood. And he is NOT a foolish investor. I had a friend in college who was given a car. He did buy it, he didn’t work for it, he didn’t invest in it. So one day, when he had a flat tire he simply walked away…and never returned. When I asked him how he could simply forget about it, he said, “It was given to me…what do I care.”
You were not given to God. He paid dearly for you. He will not walk away from you, for you are valued by Him.
Jesus says, where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also. You want to change your heart, put your treasure where you want your heart to go. Your heart follows your treasure. God has taken His greatest treasure, His SON, and He has placed that treasure on us. We are valued by God because His Son is on us.
He doesn’t just welcome us back – he comes to search for us (This is the story at the beginning…when Adam and Eve sinned, he came down looking for them…where are you…he utters those same words to us today..Where are you)
He loves us because he loves us, that love leads him to search for us, and lastly,
3. He rejoices over our return. v. 13
Matthew 18:13 – And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Luke states it in a similar way. Luke 15:10 – Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Imagine, the God of the universe, not angered when he finds us, not frustrated that we strayed, but rejoicing that we are found. Let’s put a few of these parables together. We are joyous to find the treasure and God is joyous to find us. The Christian life is a celebration of joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit, joy.
Zeph. 3:17 – “The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Charles Spurgeon once said this about the joy of God:
“He did not sing when he made the world. No; he looked upon it, and simply said that it was good. The angels sang, the sons of God shouted for joy: creation was very wonderful to them, but it was not much to God, who could have made thousands of worlds by his mere will. Creation could not make Him sing…But when it came to redemption, that cost Him dear. Here He spent eternal thought, and drew up a covenant with infinite wisdom. Here He gave His Only-begotten Son, and put Him to grief to ransom His beloved ones. When all was done, and the Lord saw what became of it in the salvation of His redeemed, then He rejoiced”
The word for joy (χαίρω) has some interesting uses in the Gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 26:49 – And Judas came up to Jesus at once and said, “Rejoice, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.
Matthew 27:29 – (The soldiers) twisted together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Rejoice, King of the Jews!”
What’s ironic is that in the midst of their mockery Jesus was rejoicing. Every blow was sending him further down the mountain, closer to his lost sheep. Rejoice…Rejoice.. Every strike of the nail was magnifying his voice so that his sheep could hear a voice calling them back to the fold!
Heb. 12:2 Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, because of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
You remember my son running off in the subway…once he realized that he was separated from us he could have thought, Dad is going to be SO mad. He could have hid in fear…just like Adam did. But my Son’s desire to be found, his love for his family, over rid his fear of his father. If you’re hiding in the garden today, let love overpower your fear today.
By the way, I was mad! I was fuming. How dare he run off from us, he knows better than this. But when I found him…I felt a competing emotion, Joy. And in that moment Joy overpowered anger.
Listen to the words of Joel:
2:13 – Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
I’ll leave you with these words:
James 2:13 – Mercy triumphs over judgment.