Matthew 18

Bill McFarland

March 19, 2006


I want to ask you to think with us for a minute about the fact that as far as the Lord’s church is concerned, it is the nature of the heavenly Father which determines the character of his people in this world.  For example, Peter in I Peter 1 lays down the principle that since God is holy, his children are to be holy.  Luke in Luke 6 makes the statement that we are to be merciful as God is merciful.  Matthew at the end of Matthew 5 emphasizes that as the Father is perfect, then his followers, his people, his children are to be perfect, meaning that they are to pursue the pattern of his completeness and his holiness in their lives.

The Father’s Heart

I want to study with you this morning a great chapter in which the theme is a particular way in which the church is to be like the Father in heaven.  He is a Father who is not willing that one of these little ones, this passage says, should perish, and that part of concern for people needs to be at the center of the church’s life also.  I am thinking about Matthew 18.  Verse 14 says, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” 

Against the background of that verse, think for a moment about the heart of the Father in heaven described here by Jesus.  Jesus would know his Father’s heart.  Jesus was with his Father from the beginning, according to James 1.  He is like his Father; he knows his Father’s will, and he came to do his Father’s will.  Jesus illustrated the heart of the Father with a little parable here in Matthew 18.  This little parable has been called the simplest one of the parables that Jesus taught.  It is only a couple of verses long, and yet there is hardly a passage that is more descriptive of what God wanted to accomplish through Jesus than this little parable.  At verse 12 we begin, “What do you think (that is the Lord’s way of saying, ‘you are responsible for drawing the conclusion from this story’) if a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray?”  There is the circumstance.  One sheep has gone astray.  That tells you that this man has enough knowledge of his flock to notice when one of them is not there.  In John 10:3, Jesus as the good shepherd described himself as knowing his sheep by name.  He knows each one.  A farmer or a shepherd like this might have his entire flock named.  When they show up in the evening he counts them, and he noticed that Old Billy is not there and he is immediately concerned about this one who has gone astray.  In fact, the story continues, “Does he not leave the ninety and nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray.”  Right at that moment his urgent concern is not for the ninety and nine who are there safe but for that one.  The reason he is willing to leave these and to go after that one is that he recognizes that that sheep will perish if someone does not go rescue it.  A sheep has no ability for self-defense.  It was not smart; it was not fast; it had no weapons to fight back against predators.  If it fell on a ledge or found itself out on a steep ridge somewhere, it might fall to its death and or might just stay there on that ledge until it either starved to death or died of thirst.  Someone had to rescue it or it was done for.  The thing that sets Christianity apart from any religion that anyone knows anything about is that Christianity teaches that man does not go in search of God and finds God, but that God comes in search of man and seeks to find individuals, that God is concerned enough about the one that he knows is lost and needs help that he will do whatever he can to rescue that individual. 

And then the parable continues.  “And if he finds it, truly I say to you he rejoices over it more than over the ninety and nine that never went astray.”  In Luke 15 there is a very similar parable to this one about a shepherd that has ninety-nine sheep and finds one.  In that case it says that when he finds that one, there is rejoicing among the angels in heaven, but in this case it is the shepherd’s joy.  He himself rejoices that he has been able to rescue that one that was perishing.  What a relief it is for him that that is the case. 

Now against that little story, Jesus makes the point that I read to you a moment ago from verse 14.  He says, “It is not the will of my father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish,” – not one.  The word perish that is used here doesn’t mean that one becomes extinct.  It means that he is ruined, that his life is wasted, that it is marred and that he is in danger of death.  Now think carefully about the fact that perishing is what will happen to one who goes astray and is not found.  This parable, in fact this whole passage, doesn’t mean anything unless perishing is something to be urgently concerned over.  Jesus says, though, that this is not what the Father wants to happen to anybody.  It is not the Father’s will that even one would perish. 

I tried to think of some ways to illustrate this so we could see it in life today.  This past Fall I watched Andy help coach some freshmen football games.  I would see that when the kicking team would go out on the field, Andy would be on the sideline counting.  If there was one guy who was supposed to be out there who wasn’t out there, then there would be a search made for the one that was astray.  Years ago when our children were little Kay took them to the Ozark Empire Fair on free ride day.  When she got there, there was a huge crowd and the kids were involved with the rides.  She looks around and she has two boys and no little girl.  That, of course, was an urgent concern to her.  She began frantically looking for Kari.  She goes to the place where the police have their headquarters set up, and of course fortunately Kari is sitting there on the counter enjoying an ice cream cone.  But what would have happened if the police would have said to her, “Mrs. McFarland, you still have two children.  I don’t know what you are so concerned about.”  She might have assaulted one of them if they had said that.  You see, how can we think that the Father is satisfied for one to be gone astray and perishing?  When we talk about what God has done for us through Christ, what we have remembered this morning, we need to see in our mind’s eye how much God doesn’t want that kind of thing to happen, what he was willing to send, and what the savior was willing to endure in order to find that one that was gone astray. 

This morning we are going to sing #651, “The Ninety and Nine,” to sort of recount the story of this little parable.  I want to ask that each one of us carefully notice what we are teaching and encouraging each other with in the words of this song.  It tells the story.

The Family’s Spirit

Now the question is, “What happens to a congregation of the Lord’s people when that heart is found in us?  What kind of an application does this have to the everyday lives of a group of people who belong to the Lord?”  That really is what Matthew 18 is all about.  We would like to draw four or five principles for us to use from this passage.

First, if we share our Father’s heart, we will want to receive other fellow believers on the basis of kingdom standards.  We get caught in our lives in looking at each other based on the world’s standards.  Are the others that we want to receive and we want to be around shiny, young folks?  Are they upwardly mobile middle class people?  Are they folks who have their lives all in order as we would hope to be ourselves someday?  Those kinds of questions come upon us, and we get to thinking that the answers to our problems are whether there are enough programs and whether there are things to do that meet our needs and whether there are people to be around that just make us feel better.  If you look at Matthew 18 in the first four verses, you will notice that Jesus calls a little child (Mark says he takes this little child up in his arms) and he sets this little child before him and he says to them, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  They were arguing over who was greatest, and Jesus said you are not going to enter it unless you have the same trustful, dependence and submission that this little child has toward his parents.  And then the Lord said in verse 4, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Now here is the question, “Who should we be eager to receive, then?”  Someone who humbles himself like this little child!  In fact, the Lord applied it in verse 5.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”  Whoever does this because of me, because this child is mine, because you belong to me – whoever receives this child because these are my standards – that is the person that we want to be in our lives. 

The apostle Paul in Romans 15 was discussing the difficulty of receiving each other in the Lord’s family, and he says beginning at verse 5, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.”  The first step in a soul-willing congregation and a congregation that cares whether people are perishing is that we receive those who have been rescued, that we eagerly embrace those who have been found by the Lord.  In Romans 12:16 he says, “Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be conceited.”  One of the things that has to happen to us, then, is that we have got to receive people based on kingdom standards and not the standards of this world.

Secondly, a person with the Father’s heart must be careful to be an influence for good, an influence that helps people who have been rescued stay found.  He says this with some almost shocking language when we read through it.  Verses 6-9 says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble (that is to lose his faith, to not be doing what the Lord wants him to do, to engage in sinful activity), it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  To be an influence that causes somebody else injury is a serious matter.  To teach somebody something that causes him to not care whether he is doing what the Lord wants, Jesus taught in Matthew 5, is wrong.  To tempt somebody to engage in activities that he does not know to be right would be the wrong thing.  To make it easier for somebody to give up on his faith in Christ would be a serious or grievous mistake.  This is someone, as Paul says in I Cor. 8:11, “for whom Christ died.”  Therefore, it is urgently important whether we are like the people in Matthew 5:16 who let the light shine so that the father is glorified or whether we are like the people in Romans 2:24 who caused the name of God to be blasphemed, by the kind of behavior that we show.  Jesus shows the necessity of this with the idea that it would be better to have a millstone hanged around your neck and then to be taken to the deepest of the depths and be dropped in that.  I don’t know how good of a swimmer you are, but I can swim a little ways on top of the water if I don’t have much to carry, but you attach the kind of a millstone that a donkey had to turn, I don’t think many of us would survive that, do you?  So Jesus recommends in this passage that we get rid of anything that would keep us from being the influence for good that we ought to be.  He said that these occasions of stumbling may come (verse 7) but woe to the one for whom they come.  And then he says, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, for it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”  That is strong language, but this is a serious matter.  If you think about it, Jesus is saying if you do things that cause people to stumble, it would be better to quit doing that.  If you go places that would cause somebody to stumble, it would be better to quit doing that.  If you watch or see things that would cause somebody to stumble, it would be better to get rid of your eye than to keep on doing that.  You recognize that Jesus is not calling for us to mutilate ourselves physically.  He is calling for us to be spiritually and morally an influence for good.

Third, to have the heart of the Father we have to be people who keep a deep and abiding respect for redemption, for what it is and for what’s been done to make it possible.  How much difference does it make to us whether somebody is saved or lost?  Perishing or not?  Well, in this case notice that Jesus uses the angels in verse 10, “See to it 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 in heaven.”  These angels are like the servant in an ancient king’s court – the more honored they were then the closer they were to the king’s face.  These angels before the father’s face are ones that are sent to do service on behalf of those who will inherit salvation, Heb. 1:14.  They long to look into the salvation that has been provided for us, according to I Peter 1:11.

On the other hand, remember the mission of Jesus.  The work that we have remembered here this morning happened for a reason.  We say “help us to remember that you died on the cross.”  Why did he die there?  Why was Jesus sent from heaven in the form of a man to suffer that kind of a fate?  To try to find the lost, to try to redeem them, to try to bring them back to him.  So you and I want to have the same interests that the angels before the Father’s face and that the Son who came to offer himself for us had.

Fourth, in order to have the Father’s heart in us, we want to be people who act to overcome faults and put relationships right.  Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you gained your brother.”  Notice carefully that sin has occurred here, and so the person sinned against does not go to try to get satisfaction for himself.  He doesn’t go to say, “I demand an apology so I will feel better about this.  I want my rights to be recognized.”  That is not the point!  The point is to be just like the shepherd in the song “The Ninety and Nine” who realize that sin has taken place.  Somebody is perishing if this keeps on.  I am going to go try to gain my brother.  We are a lot more urgent about self-satisfaction and about getting our feelings back better ourselves than we are about gaining our brother.  Jesus says, “Go to him alone.”  Don’t write a letter or make a phone call or meet with the elders, talk to the preacher, get somebody you can find who will be on your side.  Go to him alone.  Get a setting and a situation which is most likely to cause you to be able to gain your brother. 

We are prone, if we are not careful, to look at this paragraph and want to rush quickly to the matter of church discipline.  But notice there are four steps here.  There is a lot to do before we come to that.  Try to gain your brother by yourself and then with two other people, at most, and then with the church.  If that brother won’t listen, then the church recognizes reality.  It has to.  The reality is that one of the ways that we are not like sheep is that we have to be willing to be found.  When we have sinned, it is not enough just for the shepherd to go looking for the sheep.  The sheep has to be willing to hear the shepherd’s plea.  A brother cannot be gained if he won’t listen.  If he won’t listen, then the church has to act with the Lord’s authority to recognize reality.

The fifth thing is that to have the heart of the Father in a family like ours, we have to be willing to extend the same patience that we have required for ourselves.  You remember the story, maybe one of the best known of the Lord’s parables, here at the end of Matthew 18.  The king is making an accounting and an old boy is called in who owes 10,000 talents.  I don’t know how to illustrate this, but Bro. McCord in his translation said he owed $20 million.  I read that he owed 10 times the entire national tax receipt for a whole year.  If he were a man who earned 100 times more a year than the common laborer, then if he were to live a whole lifetime he would barely have 1,000 talents.  This man owed 10,000 talents.  It would have taken him 1,000 lifetimes to be able to pay that back even if he had no expenses to live while he was doing it.  This fellow comes before the king and there is not a thing he can do.  He just falls down and begs, “Be patient with me.  I’ll pay it all.”  Why, that was ridiculous!  He either didn’t know how much he owed or wasn’t admitting it, but the king was so moved out of compassion for that fellow that he had patience with him.  He forgave him all of it.  And that man owed his forgiveness to that king’s patience. 

The first thing he did was to go out and find somebody who owed him $20.  He first took hold of that fellow like he was going to shake the money out of him.  Then he grabbed him by the throat like he was going to squeeze it out of him.  That old boy said, “Have patience with me.”  Where have we heard that before?  The man had him thrown into prison until he could pay it all.  The news of that situation got to the king, and he was so offended by the wrong of that situation that he in anger took that unforgiving servant and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay his debt, verse 34 says.  The reason for that, according to James 2:13, is that judgment is without mercy for one who shows no mercy. 

If we talk about seeking the lost, not being willing that any should perish, it has some implications in our lives that we may not think about.  It is not about just a personal work program.  It is about the spirit that we have as a congregation of the Lord’s people.  In Matthew 9, Jesus looked out over the crowds that came to hear him teach and came to him with their problems and he saw them, and the Bible says “he was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.  They were perishing, in other words.  And, a chapter or so later, the Lord looks out to a crowd like that and he says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  There’s the shepherd’s plea asking us to listen to him, to trust him enough to submit to him in obedience, to take his yoke on ourselves, and to begin to live for him.  If you are here this morning and need to do that and if we can help you, would you let it be known by coming while we stand and sing together.