How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
While Jesus’ disciples were busy trying to figure out who would be the greatest in Jesus’ messianic kingdom (Mt 18:1), Jesus was beginning to show them how different His kingdom is from the kingdom of this world. His object lesson was a child (Mt 18:2), and the principle of entering into the kingdom of heaven required a child-like trust (Mt 18:3). Jesus answered the disciples’ inquiry into greatness with God’s evaluation of greatness. Great faith wins the struggle for greatness. Hindering the faith of God’s little ones comes with severe consequences (Mt 18:6), and the world is filled with stumbling blocks which hinder God’s people (Mt 18:7–9).
In Matthew 18:10–14, we learn how much God values His blood bought children. My neighbor in Los Angeles used to buy and sell memorabilia. He makes good money because he understands the Greater Fools Theory of economics. If he buys something valuable, he only needs to find someone who values the object more. Nobody really knows how much a Babe Ruth baseball card is worth, but there is a market value for it. It is worth more if it is a signed by George Ruth himself. What is the value of God’s children? Jesus establishes a principle (Mt 18:10), and then He tells a parable (Mt 18:12–13) before giving proof of God the Father’s love for His children (Mt 18:14).
Man is a broken vessel. Sin has marred the image of God in man (Gen 3). A broken vessel, like a broken clay pot, is worthless (Jer 18; Rom 9). It is to be thrown into the fire and burned like a broken tree branch (Jn 15:6). God has chosen to redeem and restore some people in a glorious demonstration of His mercy (Rom 9:23; Eph 1:4–5). Christ died for these people (Eph 5:25), and he refers to them as “little flock,” which is imagery for a shepherd and his sheep (Ps 23; Jn 10). They were bought with the precious blood of Christ (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:19), and this is what gives them their value.
Dr. Luke, the Gospel author, captures this principle Jesus is teaching in Matthew 18. The value of women, children, and the poor are highlighted in Luke’s Gospel. In the patriarchal culture of the day, it was easy for these groups to become marginalized. Jesus was teaching His disciples to value the valueless. Negatively, the disciples were not to despise even “one of these little ones.” This term “little ones” is figurative for those who “receive Me” and “believe in Me,” as noted in Matthew 18:5–6. Jesus is not referring to babies, toddlers, or even children; rather, He is speaking of those with little faith, who are growing in grace and knowledge to become mature believers. He includes the disciples in this category and even calls them “little children” in John 13:33.
Jesus qualifies “little ones,” as those whose angel in heaven continually beholds the face of God. Interpretations abound regarding the meaning of “their angels.” Some think of guardian angels as being sent from God to protect His children; thus, when you hurt a child of God, she has an angel reporting it to God. Others suggest “their angels” refers to the fact that Christians are seated with Christ in heaven (Eph 2:6). In this interpretation, the human spirit is in the presence of God. An example of this is when Peter was released from prison, and came to the house, and knocked on the door. Rhoda, the servant girl, heard Peter and reported to the group inside. They were praying for Peter in prison, but Peter was already outside the house knocking on the door. They said, “It is his angel.” Every man has a spirit, and the reference to the spirit of a man is “his angel.” Regardless, of the interpretation, we can agree with the understanding of prohibition against harming a child of God.
Jesus refers to God as, “My Father (18:10b).” The allusion supports what Jesus teaches in John’s Gospel about “my Father and your Father,” which makes the disciples on par with Jesus. He is our elder brother. We are co-heirs with Christ. Jesus brings many sons to glory, and these have been given the right to be called the children of God. God warns against hurting His children, and Jesus issues the warning. Simply stated, the principle is, “Do not mess with God’s children whom He loves.”
In Matthew 18:11, the principle warning is enhanced by the declaration of Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” This statement is the bridge to the parable. Jesus came into the world to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). They were lost, but He paid a great price to have them found. He gave up heaven to come and seek for them in their wandering waywardness. The Son of God was enfleshed to become the Son of Man. Christ is God, and God took on flesh to become a man, in order to accomplish the redemption of His elect people. This is a magnificent sacrifice. Though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes. What joy fills the heart of both parent and child when the child was lost but now is found.
Second, behind the principle warning of not harming, nor hindering God’s chosen people, is the parable of the shepherd leaving his flock to find one lost sheep (18:12–13). That’s love! The rural shepherding culture received Jesus’ teaching about shepherds and sheep with gladness and understanding.
David, the shepherd of Israel, gave us Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…” Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, gave us John 10, “I am the good shepherd…” John 10 gives us the shepherd’s perspective of God’s relationship to His people, and Psalm 23 gives us the sheep’s perspective God’s relationship with His people.
Jesus loves God’s people because they are His people. In love, He predestined them to life. He demonstrates His love by laying down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11, 15). A shepherd risks his life to protect the sheep from predators, but Jesus is not just their shepherd. Jesus is the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29). He became one of the sheep, and He was just like us save for sin (Heb 4:15). He offered Himself in our place of death (Rom 5:8; 8:34). He bled and died under the punishing wrath, of God’s judgment for sins committed in the flesh. The punished sins were not His, but our sins, which He bore in His body on the Cross (1 Pet 2:24). This is the rescue plan, foreordained from before the foundation of the world (Rev 5:6, 12).
Christians are the lost sheep of God’s flock. We were separated at conception, being born with Adam’s sin, inherited by all his progeny (Rom 5:12–21). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He sent His Spirit to us while we were wandering in the wilderness of sin (Jn 14:26; 15:26). He destroyed the works of the devil (1 Jn 3:8), who was holding us in blind captivity to sin (Rom 6:6; 2 Cor 4:4).
The Spirit opened our eyes that we might see the things of God (1 Cor 2:14–15). Because of our separation from birth, we did not recognize we belonged to the Shepherd of heaven, until He came for us, scooping us up into His everlasting arms and holding us close to His heart. He is the One who is carrying us home (Jude 24–25), to the place of restful pasture. We are loved.
In Matthew 18:13, the joy of the Lord is in view. Heaven rejoices when one sinner repents (Lk 15:7, 10). The lost sheep, found, is joy in the heart of God. Joy is an attribute of God, and God manifest His joy in believers through the work of His Spirit giving the gift of joy (Gal 5:22). Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, Shepherd, who is God of heaven and earth. The saint sings, “He has made me glad.” Paul insisted, “Rejoice and again I say, rejoice!” Rejoice, the Lord is King! Rejoice, rejoice, in Emannuel, who is our God and Shepherd with us.
Finally, the proof of the principle, illustrated by the parable is found in Matthew 18:14, “So it is not the will of your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones perish.” God’s will must be done (Eph 1:11; 3:11). God’s will is for His beloved is to live a new (Rom 6:4), abundant (Jn 10:10), and eternal life (Jn 10:28). Death has lost its sting for the sheep in the eternal embrace of God, the life giver.
The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is highlighted here (Jn 10:28–29; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 1:12). Perseverance is not a performance of man. It is the will of God, and it is accomplished by the One who began a good work in us and Who has promised to bring it to perfect completion (Phil 1:6). God’s elect will not die the second death because God has predestined them to life in the eternal Christ (Rom 8:30; Eph 1:4–5). No one can pluck them out of His hand (Jn 10:28–29). In Adam, our bodies die because of sin (Rom 3:23; Rom 7:24). In Christ, our souls have been afforded indestructible life, and our bodies have the promise of resurrection life (1 Cor 15).
How should we therefore live with this principle, parable, and proof? First, we must walk in great humility under this great truth of the Father’s love for us (1 Jn 3:1). Christians are not to be haughty children of such a benevolent King. In walking humbly with our God, we follow in Jesus’ steps of condescension and incarnation (Jn 1:14; Eph 2:5–11). He took on flesh, but we take on His Spirit, the epitome of humble submission to the missionary will of God the Father and God the Son. Walking by the Spirit emboldens us to boast in the Lord (Eph 5:1), which is a great act of faith and humiliation because the world does not receive our message, nor does it receive Him (Jn 7:7; 14:17; 15:18).
Second, Christians must proactively seek out, “the least of these My brethren.” Ministering to the poor and imprisoned, to the widow and orphan, is true religion (Jas 1:27). Men of the world pursue and cater to the rich and powerful, but our cup of cold water is given to the little ones we go to with His love (Mt 10:42).
Christians must be compassionate. We were once lost, but now we are found (Lk 15:6, 9, 24, 32). We follow Jesus’ incarnation mission by going on mission into the world clothed with Christ (2 Cor 5:2–4; 1 Pet 5:5). We enter the suffering of others in order to minister the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph 2:7; 3:8). The ministry of reconciliation is our joining in Jesus’ pursuit of the lost sheep (2 Cor 5:18–20). We go in the Spirit to seek and to save those ignorant of Christ, the Good Shepherd (Jn 10; 2 Pet 3:18). We bring the Word of reconciliation, a message from the heavenly sheepfold, “Come to Jesus, you lost and weary sheep, and He will give you rest.”
Shepherding is a dirty business. Sheep are earthy. They stink under the weighty matting of sin. They tip over, crying, and murmuring about the conditions of the wilderness. They have been incessantly bombinated by insects and bullied by dogs. How unfortunate it is to be a sheep in a world of carnivorous creatures. If that was not bad enough, sheep bite and head butt one another, too.
The scene for lost sheep changes, when one of the sheep appears as a shepherd. Jesus was a Shepherd, who incarnated as a sheep. Christians are sheep who are filled with the Spirit of Christ to become shepherds. These Spirit-filled ones appear as ordinary until they engage in compassionate ministry. This is where Christ shines bright in a world of dark self-centeredness. Little lights are the little children of God, and together they represent a city set on a hill offering refuge to the weary traveler at night. Day is soon coming for the people of the city of lights, but for now the dark of night prevails. The bright morning star has begun to rise, and soon all things will be revealed.
Finally, we must live with endurance. We have the hope of heaven and the promise of perseverance. Our days are a short sojourn here, but our destination is eternity. This is why we press on with the upward call of Christ, being constrained by His love, and operating as ambassador sheep.
In summary, we have considered the principle of God’s warning people not to hinder the little ones who believe in Jesus. We have seen how much God loves His people in the parable of the lost sheep. We have also considered the proof they will not perish because it is God’s will to extend to them His eternal love. Christians are God’s children, who have received God’s love, and the promise of never being forsaken by the Good Shepherd.
In conclusion, we have a life and ministry to live out in humility, compassion, and endurance. Our Father in heaven has given us an infinite treasure that can never run out. Such love, vast as the ocean, has been bestowed upon us, to share with others this treasure we have in earthen vessels. May God grant you grace to walk humbly with your status, and to live generously in the midst of others, and may you know the joy of sharing life-giving water from the infinite well, all of your days, as a beloved child of God.
David E. Norczyk
January 7, 2021