Grace Initiative: Forgiveness and Restoration
Mathew Lesson #103
November 29, 2015
“Our Father, You have given us Your Word to enlighten us, to bring us out of darkness into light, and we’re transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the light of Your Son through faith alone in His death alone.
Father, now that we are sons of light, as the Scripture says, we’re to walk as children of light, we’re to walk in the truth as Paul says in Ephesians 4. As Paul prayed in Ephesians 1, we pray that you would enlighten the eyes of our soul, so that we can come to understand fully that which You have revealed to us, that we might come to understand who You are, as well as understand more clearly who we are, and all that You have done for us to save us, and now what You are doing for us to save us from the power of sin in our own lives and to transform us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.
And Father, we just pray that as we sit here today, that we’ve come to worship You and learn about You, that Your Word will not fall upon deaf ears, but that God the Holy Spirit will make it clear to each one of us how we need to apply these principles that You’ve revealed to us, the truth of Your Word, that we might be transformed, not conformed to this world, but be transformed more and more into those who reflect your thinking and who honor and glorify You in every area of our life.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Well, I’ve got a show and tell item for everyone this morning. Some of you watched several weeks ago when we went to Preston City Bible Church, and they celebrated their 200th anniversary. The church was originally founded, I believe, about a couple of years before they built the current building, and that was in 1815, so that’s the date they chose to celebrate their 200th anniversary.
There were several pastors and interim pastors that had been invited back to speak, and they had a Bible conference that week, which I really encourage you to listen to if you get a chance, because one of the things that Pastor David Roseland envisioned as he set that up was to help some of the newer people in that congregation understand the identity of a Bible church.
Who are we? What do we do? Why do we do the things that we do, and what makes us different from other churches? And also, what makes us the same as those churches that have often been identified with biblical truth and biblical orthodoxy.
If you go through and listen—I think there were about ten or eleven messages—you’ll get a great understanding of the heritage that we all share, coming out of the 18th and 19th centuries, and why as a Bible church we have certain distinctives.
At the end of the conference, they gave a present—it was quite a surprise—for each of those who came and spoke at the conference. It was a Roman gladius, known by the Greek term MACHAIRA. This is a genuine MACHAIRA, and it is sharp enough to cut paper.
So I’m going to set it down here after class. If you want to come up and take a look at it, you may, but be careful with the blade. It will cut you.
The reason that’s important is because in Ephesians 6, Paul is teaching about the fact that we’re all involved in a war. We’re involved in spiritual warfare, a war against invisible powers, against demonic forces, and our defense is to put on the whole armor or God.
The only part of that armor that can be used as a counter attack is the MACHAIRA, which is called the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, the MACHAIRA of the Spirit.
This is chosen by God to represent His Word. It’s our weapon that we use to defend ourselves against the attacks of Satan and the world system.
So take a look at it afterwards, and we’re going to figure out some way to mount it and display it so that people can see it.
Open your Bibles with me this morning to Matthew 18. What we’re going to continue to see as we have seen, is Jesus teaching about God’s grace, but teaching about the need (in the past we’ve seen teaching about the need) for genuine humility—that in order to become a disciple, one must be humble. Now that’s not a requirement for salvation.
The requirement for salvation, to be justified, to have eternal life and an eternal destiny in Heaven, is simply to believe that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for your sins, that He’s the promised, prophesized Messiah from the Old Testament, and that by faith alone in Christ alone we have eternal life.
Now that phrase is as important phrase. Faith alone means that we don’t add works either on the front end or the back end of the gospel.
A lot of people understand you don’t add works on the front end of the gospel. It’s not a salvation by believing in Christ plus reforming your life. It’s not a salvation by believing in Christ and being a member of a specific denomination, for there are some denominations that believe that they and they alone will go to Heaven.
It’s not a belief that in the Cross plus baptism, and there are some denominations that hold to baptismal regeneration.
Now that’s not what Baptists believe. Church of Christ believes that—that you’re baptized, and that is part of salvation. You have to believe plus something.
So we don’t believe that you are saved by faith plus anything. In fact, if you add anything to faith, you destroy faith, you nullify faith. Faith is focusing on Christ as the merit for our salvation totally. His death on the Cross is that which is meritorious. Faith is not meritorious.
Faith is something anyone can do. And just as it’s demonstrated, pictured by, in the communion meal by eating or drinking, anybody can eat or drink. It’s used as an image of taking something or receiving something, accepting a gift. That’s what salvation is.
It’s faith alone. But it’s faith alone in Christ alone. It’s faith alone in Christ alone. He alone is the object of our faith.
When I said earlier that we don’t add any works to the front door, we don’t add works to the back door either. There’s a whole group of people, Christians going back for hundreds of years if not millennia, that emphasize that genuine faith, true faith, real faith, saving faith is evidenced by works; and that if you don’t have works consistent with faith, then you don’t have the right kind of faith. These folks even teach that you can have a faith in Jesus that doesn’t save.
This view is generally referred to as Lordship salvation, and there are quite a few people who teach this. John McArthur is the most well-known out of southern California, and there are many, many others that have been influenced by him.
But he didn’t originate the position. It goes back to a lot of different legalistic denominations in the 19th century, often influenced by the theology of the Puritans, the English Puritans of the 17th century.
American Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries believed this—that you couldn’t really know that you were saved unless you have works that were consistent; and you looked to the works, not to Christ, for your assurance of salvation.
So some people have called them experimental predestinarians. In other words, the only way you knew if you were of the elect was if you had the right kinds of works.
But you see, we don’t put works on the front end or the back end, because salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.
And works, that is the application of God’s Word, only comes after you’ve learned God’s Word, after you have been born again.
So if somebody believes in Jesus, all they ever hear is the gospel that Christ died for your sins, and they believe that but they never hear anything else, like the thief on the cross, they’re saved, because they’ve believed in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, that Christ died for us.
That’s the most important issue that any of us can resolve in life—the issue of our eternal destiny.
But there’s another challenge to those who have trusted in Christ as Savior. And that’s the challenge of discipleship, to grow and mature, to become a spiritually mature believer so that your life can glorify God, so that you can achieve God’s plan and purpose for your life in terms of your walk with Him, your life with Him.
That’s what Jesus is teaching His disciples in this section of Matthew, in this chapter in Matthew 18.
He’s talking to believers not about how to become a believer, but how they should live as believers, the kind of mentality, the kind of mindset, the kind of character they should have, and how they should relate to each other. And that’s fundamental.
So when we come to a chapter like this or in any chapter in the Bible, we want to ask the question, “To whom is the writer speaking?” Are they writing to believers or to unbelievers?
Of course, we know that in any audience there are always some unbelievers, but the writer is writing to the group as a whole, and He’s talking to them as believers. That’s what Jesus is doing here.
We’re told, just in terms of review, that the disciples came to Him, and they wanted to know which of them would have the highest rank in the kingdom. So they’re asking a question related to the future kingdom.
One of the things we have to clarify as always is that in Matthew, the kingdom always refers to the Millennium, which refers to the 1000-year rule of Jesus as the Messiah on the earth.
It’s a physical, geophysical, literal kingdom, and He will reign from Jerusalem. It’s in fulfillment of hundreds of prophesies, probably a couple hundred prophesies in the Old Testament related to Israel’s restoration to the land, the Davidic king sitting upon the throne.
It’s the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. It’s the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. It’s the fulfillment of the New Covenant, all coming together when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom.
So when Jesus came, as we’ve studied in Matthew, He came to offer the kingdom. But the Jewish leadership rejected His claim to be Messiah, they rejected the kingdom.
So in Matthew 12, Jesus took the kingdom away from them. In Matthew 13, He started teaching His disciples in parables in order to cloak the truth from those from whom it was being taken.
From that point on, Jesus is really beginning to prepare the disciples for His death, burial, and resurrection, and then in some ways for the coming church, although His real teaching on the church doesn’t come until the upper room discourse in John 13–17.
So the focus on the kingdom here is something the disciples, as we see, still haven’t figured out—that it’s going to be postponed. It takes them a while.
In Acts 1, when Jesus is just about to lift off to ascend into Heaven, the last question they ask is, “Lord, is it at this time You’re going to restore the kingdom?” They still understood it as a literal, geophysical kingdom, and Jesus didn’t correct them. He just told them it’s not yet time for you to know the times and the seasons.
Jesus continues to teach them about different aspects related to discipleship, and in this chapter we’ve seen that He takes this little boy and uses him as a training aid.
It’s important to understand that when Jesus first takes him, He’s using him as a visual aid to teach this principle related to the question, “Who’s going to have rank in the kingdom?”
In that culture at that time, children had no position, no place, no rank. Children were not only better seen and not heard, they were “better not seen and not heard”.
They were nothing in the culture. They were completely ignored and overlooked. Jesus is saying that’s the kind of mentality you need to have. That’s the point of connection, the point of the analogy between a child and a little child that would be a disciple.
So He’s talking about humility in terms of not asserting yourself for rank or privilege, that that’s what it means to become humble like a little child.
Then He’s going to shift from talking about this physical little child to where He’s no longer talking about physical children—something a lot of commentators and people miss, although there are a lot that do not, that recognize that there’s a shift that takes place.
Now He’s talking about the spiritual little child, the disciple who has humbled himself like the little child.
So from this point on, when He talks about “this little child” or “these little ones,” He’s not talking about physical children, He’s talking about disciples who have become like these little children. They’ve humbled themselves. It’s important to understand that in terms of where we’re going.
From this point on, the term “little child” or “little one” no longer refers to the physical child, but to the disciple who has humbled himself and is a humble, growing disciple of Jesus.
Then Jesus warns that there are serious consequences related to causing such a humble disciple to have a blow-out on the spiritual highway, to be completely derailed in their spiritual growth.
This is demonstrated by a significant set of words that are repeated, and I’ve talked about them in both of the last couple of lessons. This is critical because this term starts setting up those dots that we’ll connect through the next couple of major sections all the way through the end of this chapter.
In fact, this discourse is all about forgiveness and restoration. So we have to understand that forgiveness and restoration relates back to a sin, and that sin is related to this stumbling or causing—as it’s translated in the NKJV—causing someone to sin in Matthew 18. So let’s review this just a little bit.
Jesus says, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
What He’s saying is that as disciples, we need to receive other disciples, because others in the body of Christ, just as we do, represent Jesus Christ.
There should be a welcoming of believers into a meeting of the church. There should be a welcoming of believers, maybe at times, extending to hospitality, opening up your homes to those who are visiting, those who are visiting pastors or professors or guest speakers, in order to provide for them.
Then Jesus gives this dire warning in verse 6. He says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
This word “who causes one to sin” is the Greek word, SKANDALIZO. That’s where we get our word “scandal,” but our word “scandal” doesn’t have anything to do with the meaning of this word.
It originally meant and described a trap, baiting a trap. So if you’ve got a little mouse trap, and you’ve got a little trip switch there, and you put the cheese on it so that when the mouse hits it, it gets caught in the trap, that’s the SKANDALON. That’s the trip switch. That’s the trip wire.
But it really came to refer to causing something or someone to stumble. It’s used in Scripture to refer to those who will lead someone else into apostasy, into false teaching. That’s listed as the primary, secondary to leading them into sin and into unbelief.
So when this word is used here to translate it simply as “one who causes someone to sin,” it is probably too broad of a category.
This is causing someone to sin in a profound way, where they are completely derailed in their spiritual life. It’s not causing someone to just tell a lie or causing someone to lust in their heart or to be angry or any number of sins, where they immediately recognize a sin, confess their sin, recover.
This is talking about leading someone completely away from the Lord into a path of disobedience or false teaching.
Then what this is also talking about is three different circumstances that someone can cause a disciple to be distracted, derailed, or to defect from sound doctrine.
The source in this verse, in verse 6, is another disciple, another alleged disciple who causes this young disciple, this humble disciple, to be lead astray. And the focus of this verse is that it’s better for him to be drowned by hanging a huge millstone around his neck than to be guilty of this particular infraction.
Now our meaning for the words SKANDALIZO and SKANDALON is seen best in this particular verse—just the first part of it. The only reason that I’m using this verse is because in a poetic statement, it’s showing the parallel between the first line “a stumbling stone” and the second line “a rock of offense.”
This is, of course, not referring to Jesus as the stumbling stone or the rock of offense, It’s just showing that that meaning of SKANDALON here means to cause someone to stumble or to fall in their spiritual walk.
So that’s our understanding. It’s not just any sin, but a profound sin that completely derails their spiritual life.
The verb form means to bring someone to a downfall through the acceptance of false teaching or to sin. And the noun refers to someone who influences someone into wrong beliefs or to wrong actions.
So in these Matthew 18 examples, the focus is not just on the simple sin, but to lead someone, a disciple, far astray, to completely derail them in their spiritual life. This is a significant act that’s taking place.
The reason I say this is because where we’re going, where Jesus is going once we get into verse 15, is He starts talking about a subject that is often taken to refer to church discipline. It’s often taught completely separate from the thought flow of this whole talk that Jesus has here.
As Jesus communicates to the disciples about how one disciple relates to another, you can’t just jerk verses 15–20 out of context. It’s a natural thought flow that goes through here.
The first problem is the other disciple who leads a young growing disciple astray and derails him in his spiritual growth.
The second problem is the source of the kosmic system. I use the word “kosmic.” I spell it with a “k” from the Greek word KOSMOS, which described the worldly system, that system of thinking, the system of religions, the system of philosophies that are completely set against the thinking of Scripture.
So Jesus says, “Woe to the world because of offenses [SKANDALON]! For offenses must come, but woe to that man.”
It has always boiled down to an individual. It may be a teacher, may be a professor. It may be a friend. It may be a family member who influences somebody in terms of their thinking to not be conformed to the world.
Scripture says we’re not to be conformed to the world, but this one influences the believer to be conformed to the world, to become worldly, and thus to be derailed in their spiritual life.
So Jesus says, “Woe to that man by whom the offense comes.”
Then in verse 8, it’s the personal responsibility, so it could be another growing disciple who causes the derailment. It could be influences from someone related to worldly thinking, philosophy, and they’re derailed. Or it could be your own sin nature.
That is brought out here in verses 8 and 9, “If your own hand or foot causes you to sin”—in other words, this is part of who you are—“causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you.”
Now He’s talking hyperbolically. Jesus isn’t talking about self-mutilation here, but He’s showing how dangerous your own sin nature is in tempting you and leading you astray so that you fall by the wayside, and you’re no longer pursuing spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.
So it can come from where you go, or what you do, or what you look at—your foot, your hand, your eye.
Then we come to verse 10.
For those of you who weren’t here last week, “being cast,” we did a detail study showing that being cast into the everlasting fire is parallel to being cast into hell fire, but hell fire is a bad translation. It translates to the Greek word GEHENNA, which is derived from the Hebrew word ge’hinnom, meaning the Valley of Hinnom.
The Valley of Hinnom in the Old Testament was where Israel got caught up into the most horrific form of idolatry, child sacrifice, where they were burning their infant children alive in the fires of the idols to Molech and to Chemosh and to some of the others. That took place in the Valley of Hinnom.
God punished them and warned them that because of this idolatry and this horrific murder of their children, that they would die in the Valley of Hinnom, when the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, that they would die, and they would be buried in the Valley of Hinnom.
So the Valley of Hinnom was not a picture of eternal judgment, but a picture of temporal judgment—God’s divine discipline for disobedience.
That’s what is being warned here, that this is extremely serious to be lead into sin, to follow the world’s system, and that it’s worthy of great divine judgement. So we’re warned against that.
Then there’s another warning in verse 10. Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.”
“These little ones,” we know, is not talking about a little child. He’s not talking about child abuse here. He’s talking about abusing or leading another disciple astray. And He’s saying don’t treat them with disrespect.
It’s the Greek word KATAPHRONEO, which means to despise someone, to show contempt or disregard for someone, as if they are irrelevant and meaningless. So you’re just looking at this person, and they’re trying to grow and mature as a believer, as you just show contempt for them by leading them astray.
So Jesus says, “Don’t despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
I pointed out last time, this verse is often used for guardian angels, that there’s a guardian angel for little children. But this isn’t talking about physical little children.
This is talking about disciples, about believers. And that connects with Hebrews 1 that also talks about angels for those who will inherit eternal life.
But I think also there’s something else here. When we studied Revelation, and we studied in Revelation 2–3; they are the well-known seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. They’re basically evaluation statements and warnings to each of these seven churches.
In all but two of them something bad is said, and in all but two of them something good is said, it’s always good. But the warning is to be overcomers, to do well.
But these are all addressed to the angel of the church of Ephesus, to the angel of the church at Smyrna, to the angel of the church of Thyatira, to the angel of the church of Sardis. Who’s the angel of the church?
I spent time going through this to show that angel, the word ANGELOS in Scripture, always refers to either a literal, physical messenger, but primarily it refers to angels. It never refers to pastors. It never refers to prophets. It refers to angels.
I’ve pointed out that since these are report cards, each church, each congregation has an angel assigned to it that’s the recording angel. It’s comparable to a Federal Marshall or court reporter in our modern courts who’s recording and reporting on what is happening and what is done that is good and what is done that is not good.
So I think that this is an angel who’s watching over these disciples and reporting to the throne of God as to what is going on. They “continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven,” so they are the ones who are recording what is happening in relation to these young disciples.
When someone is maltreating them or leading them astray, then God will bring divine discipline to bear in that situation.
Then in verse 11 we have a verse that is not in some of the older manuscripts, but it’s in most manuscripts. It’s almost a verbatim statement from Luke 19:10; and many people think that it’s just been copied over or brought in because it seemed to fit the context.
But I think it’s more likely based on contextual evidence that it was included, although there’s some internal evidence where perhaps not, I’m not totally sure that it should be included. But I would rather default in that direction.
We must interpret it in terms of context. “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
In Luke 19:10, it’s clearly talking about Christ’s role to pay for the penalty for sin on the Cross.
But that’s not the context here at all. Why do I say that? Because He’s not talking to unbelievers. He’s been talking all the way through here to believers and the dangers of one believer leading another believer astray.
So in context we see that the word “saved,” the word SOZO in the Greek sometimes means to deliver, to rescue from danger. Sometimes it means to heal, and here it means to rescue from the stumbling, to rescue this disciple from being led astray and stumbling.
The word “lost” is the Greek word APOLLUMI, which is used in some contexts to refer to eternal perishing, to eternal punishment. But in a lot of contexts, it’s about a 50/50 split. It’s just talking about a physical disaster. Or, it could be talking about a spiritual disaster in terms of one’s spiritual life. But it’s not a word that automatically means that we’re talking about eternal punishment and eternal condemnation.
So the Son of Man has come to save, to rescue those who have been led astray towards self-destruction in their spiritual life.
Matthew 18:12–14 then gives us a very short parable, a three-verse parable, and the point that He goes on to show is that as we’ve seen in verse 10, every individual disciple is important to God. It doesn’t matter what you think about yourself. What matters is what God thinks about you, and that every child is important, every spiritual child; that is, every humble disciple who is growing.
That’s why we are not to despise any one of these little ones. Every individual disciple is important to God. Every believer is important to God. And what this passage shows is God’s care and concern for each believer.
Now let’s put this in context because I’m not going to get beyond verse 14. But when we get to verse 15 we’re going to talk about how to handle a situation where another believer sins against you. That’s just the next step in developing this.
First we’re going to see how God handles the situation when a growing disciple goes by the wayside, and how God initiates in His grace the search to bring them back into the fold.
When we get into the next section, if one believer sins against you, this is what you are supposed to do to bring them back into the fold. It’s the application of the parable.
Then the next thing that happens is Peter says, “Well, how many times should I forgive someone who sins against me?” And Jesus says, “Seventy times seven.”
Each of these sections builds on the previous one, and we can’t just separate them out like is so often done into individual statements. They must be understood together.
So Jesus uses this parable, a parable that is not uncommon in the Old Testament. It’s not uncommon in the New Testament relating to a shepherd and the sheep.
He says, “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?”
Now let’s just notice a couple of things about this particular setup.
He talks about this man; the owner is also the shepherd. We’ll see that in a minute. And He says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray.”
The word for “going astray” is the verb PLANAO, and it means to go astray, to wander off, to deceive.
I’m wondering if anyone here knows what English word comes from that verb? It’s the word “planet” because the ancient astronomers would see these certain objects that looked like stars, and they wandered around and showed up in different places. So they were called planets. That’s where this word came from. So this is describing a sheep that wanders off.
But what’s interesting is if you’ve ever seen these sheep in these pastures with the shepherds over in Israel, the sheep stay pretty much close together. The shepherds also use dogs. I don’t know if they used dogs in the ancient world, but they’re down in valleys and in low areas, and this sheep takes off.
He doesn’t just wander off over in the back forty somewhere. He’s gone up into the mountains. He’s taken a good hike away from everybody else. He has distanced himself significantly from the rest of the flock. So the owner/shepherd has to leave the 99, and it says he goes to the mountains to seek the one that is strayed.
So to understand the parable we have to identify the players:
The shepherd/owner relates to either God the Father, or it could be the Lord Jesus Christ. John 10 talks about the Lord Jesus Christ as the Great Shepherd of the sheep.
Then we have the straying sheep. This is the disciple that has been caused to stumble, caused to sin. He is departing. He’s this “little one.” He’s the humbled disciple who, because this stumbling block has been put in front of him, is now led astray by false teaching or false thinking, false behavior.
He represents the believer who gets off track doctrinally, gets off track theologically, gets off track spiritually, and he is now living deeply embedded in carnality. He is living according to his sin nature.
As Paul puts it, he’s walking according to the flesh, walking according to the sin nature. He’s not confessing sin. He’s not abiding in Christ. He’s not walking by the Spirit. He’s not walking in the light or walking in the truth.
It’s not that he has committed a sin and just hasn’t confessed it yet and he will in another hour or two or later in the day, but he has completely taken off, and he has left his spiritual life behind him.
It could also refer to some believers who think that the key in the spiritual life is just confessing sin, so they spend all day long sinning and confessing, and they’re in a revolving door.
The Scripture says we’re to walk by the spirit, abide in Christ, walk in the truth. Those terms “walking” and “abiding” imply being inside the house for a long time; whereas a lot of Christians have just got a revolving door at the front door, and they’re just spinning.
They’re just walking around in that revolving door. They confess sin, then they sin, they confess sin. They’re not going to go anywhere because they’re just spinning.
Then you have the others that have just decided, “Well, that’s not going to work,” so they just take off.
This believer can be moral or immoral. There are a lot of believers who are out of fellowship, living according to the sin nature, and they are pretty moral because that’s just their background, that’s how they were trained. That’s how their parents brought them up.
The Pharisees were moral degenerates. They were very moral, but they were disobedient to God. They were legalistic.
So you can have moral degenerates, and I don’t think I have to paint much of a picture of what an immoral degenerate is. We see lots of examples of that when we watch the news. We see the immoral degenerates at work.
So this young, humble disciple has been led astray. He’s been influenced, and now he’s rejected the Christian life, and he has gone off and rejected God. Maybe he’s just succumbed to arrogance. He’s succumbed to arrogance, and he’s succumbed to hatred, anger, resentment, bitterness, who knows what kinds of things are dominating the thinking in his soul.
It could be lust, lust for pleasure. We live in a culture that is motivated by pleasure, by entertainment. They use pleasure and entertainment to get away from the horrors or the meaninglessness of life.
Maybe they’re lusting for power, for approval, for recognition. Some are using drugs and alcohol in order to deaden the pain of their life because they’re just miserable.
Other people are running after all kinds of different things, trying to find peace and happiness in their life rather than focusing on the Word of God.
They’re seeking it, especially this time of year when you have people who put a lot of false and unrealistic expectations on the family going to get together. Maybe we’ll resolve some differences. Things will be great, and then the family gets together, and it’s not so great.
You have people who think that they’re going to get certain kinds of gifts, or they’re going to be give certain kinds of gifts, and there’s a focus on money and materialism and the things money can buy, perhaps, as a source of happiness.
This is the believer who’s living on the sin nature and not seeking happiness and peace and stability from God alone. So he’s out there in the mountains wandering around, and God exercises the initiative of restoration to bring them back.
Now this picture of God or the Lord Jesus Christ as the shepherd is used many times in Scripture. One of the most well-known relating to Jesus is the Good Shepherd in John 10:11–15. I’m going to go to three or four passages, and I’m just going to read and make a few comments about them.
This is where Jesus identifies Himself and compares Himself to a shepherd. It uses this metaphor, He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
That’s what we see in the parable of Matthew 18—that the shepherd is willing to leave the 99 under the care of an under shepherd or someone else and takes off into the dangerous area of the hills and the mountains where lions and bears and wolves and who knows what other calamities could befall them to seek the one sheep that has wandered off. That’s the grace of God.
Jesus says, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep, but a hireling”—who doesn’t have a stake in things—“who does not own the flock”—isn’t going to get anything out of it, he’s not the shepherd. He’s the one that does not own the sheep. He—“sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” That’s the false shepherd, the one who’s leading into false teaching, false doctrine.
“The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.”
Jesus said again, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
So the shepherd is willing to sacrifice his life for the sheep.
God is pictured in the parable in Matthew 18 as willing to encounter whatever dangers are necessary in order to find the Christian who has wandered off, the disciple who’s wandering off, and restore them and bring them back.
He’s not seeking that one sheep in order to punish the sheep for leaving. He’s seeking the sheep in order to bring them back. There are a lot of Christians who think that they’ve just done things that are too great for the grace of God, that God can never forgive them. They’re out there wandering around in the hills and the mountains, and God is seeking to restore them and bring them back. He may use one of us to do that.
Another picture of God as a shepherd is a well-known Psalm, Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” David wrote, “I shall not want.” This means that God supplies our needs.
For example, in Philippians 4:19 Paul writes, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Then what we see starting in verses 2 and 3 is that God takes the grace initiative to feed us, to protect us, to restore us, and to guide us:
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” This is place where there’s food, there’s nourishment. We are to rest there where there is plenty of food.
“He leads me beside the still waters.” He continues to protect and provide for us and to guide us.
“He restores my soul.” No matter what’s happened in your past, there’s restoration. God will forgive you, and God will restore you, and God will provide for you.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” Again the emphasis is on God guiding us, and He does this for His namesake.
Then in verse 4 we read that He is the One who protects us, even from the wolves. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
He uses His rod and His staff to protect us, to correct us, to straighten us out, to keep us in line, to keep us together, and that is a comfort to us. He supplies all of our needs. And that’s in verses 5 and 6.
We have one last passage. This passage is in Ezekiel 34, and it’s very similar in language and tone to the parable in Matthew 18. However, the context is different. That’s the interesting thing. Jesus, I think, said a lot of things in different contexts that sounds similar.
For example, we saw that earlier, that the Son of Man comes to seek and to save that which was lost. In the Luke 19 passage, if you just lift that out of context, it could mean one thing or another thing. In the context of Luke 19, it’s talking about justification, and in the context of Matthew 18, it’s talking about the restoration of those who are off the path, those who’ve gone in the hills. That’s what this parable is illustrating.
But in this passage in Ezekiel 34:11, it focuses on God’s initiative towards Israel in restoring them to the land, and restoring them to their future destiny. The grace that will restore rebellious Israel to the promise of God and to the future plan that God has for them is the same grace that will restore us no matter what we’ve done or what has happened.
In Ezekiel 34:11, Ezekiel says, “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”
This is God searching all over the world to bring all the Jews back to the land, but the principle is the same, and that is God’s initiative to seek those who have departed, those who have apostatized, those who are lost.
Verse 12, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”
(verse 13) “ ‘And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.’ ”
In other words, no matter what they’ve done—all the disobedience, all the rejection, murdering and executing God’s Son, Who He sent to His people, but His people didn’t receive Him. Instead they rejected Him and crucified Him.
In spite of all that, God showed grace and forgiveness and will bring them to their destiny. That’s true for any of us. No matter what is on our back trail, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what’s happened, God is seeking to restore us, to forgive us, and to put us back within the fold, so that we can continue to grow and mature.
In Ezekiel 34:14, He says, “I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.”
Ezekiel 24:15: “I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down.”
Ezekiel 34:16: “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”
We see this same theme there that we see in the parable in Matthew 18.
In Matthew 18:13 we read, “And if he should find it,”—that is, God finds the one who has wandered off into the mountains, Jesus says, “assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”
That shows the positive mentality of God in bringing us back. He’s not seeking to lower the boom. He’s seeking to restore and to recover.
Now in closing I want you to turn with me to Luke 15. One of the things that happens in evangelical language is we take biblical language and we distort it, and it becomes a little confused. So whenever we hear the word “lost,” we think of somebody who’s not saved. And whenever we hear the word “saved,” we think of somebody who is not going to go to Heaven or is going to go to Heaven.
But the Bible uses these terms a little differently. In Luke 15 there are three parables. I’m not going to go through these except just in a summary fashion.
It’s the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Each of them are lost. And there are lots of people who go here and they say, “Oh, they’re lost, they’re not saved, so these parables are about salvation, getting to Heaven.” They’re not!
In each case, that which was lost was previously owned by the shepherd or the woman or was part of the family of the father of the lost son. They’re all talking about restoration and forgiveness. They’re not talking about getting justified to go to Heaven.
So the first parable is similar to the parable that we just looked at. It’s the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus says basically the same thing here that He does in Matthew 18.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” The emphasis is on the joy here and the recovery—“When he comes home, he called together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ ”
And then Jesus concludes, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”—that’s not a lost sinner. That is someone who is already owned that goes out into the wilderness of disobedience and becomes a backslidden believer and is now being recovered.
Repentance isn’t for salvation. John never mentions it in the Gospel of John.
Repentance is changing your mind for recovery.
The parable of the lost coin is the second parable, and here’s a woman who had ten silver coins, but she loses one. It falls down and goes into a crack. She can’t find it, and she searches carefully and diligently until she finds it. But the coin was hers to begin with.
This is analogous to someone who’s already a believer in the family of God, and then they leave in disobedience, and they’re wandering out in the hills again.
When she’s found it, what does she do? She calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me for I have found the piece which I lost!”
The emphasis is on God’s joy at our recovery. That’s His grace. He’s not seeking to punish us and to make us miserable. He’s seeking to bring us back, so that there will be joy in Heaven.
Then the last parable is the parable of the prodigal son. It’s usually known, but it’s the parable of the lost son. You know the story. A man had two sons. One of them says, “Dad, I want my inheritance.”
So his dad gave him his inheritance, and he took off, and he spent it. He wasted and gambled it away. It ends up the only thing he can afford is to sleep in a pig sty and eat the same food that the pigs are eating.
He comes to his senses one day and say, “I need to go home. I would rather be a slave in my father’s house than here.”
So he goes home, and that’s his confession of sin. That’s his focus. “I’ve got to go back in recognition of sin in his life.” And when he comes back, his father is not holding anything over his head. He doesn’t say, “Well you miserable so and so, why did you just lose everything?” His father just rejoices because he’s come back.
The emphasis in each of these is on the joy that God has when that lost sheep is recovered, not on God’s desire to punish and condemn because we failed.
That is something that is important to understand when we go to the next development in Matthew 18, where he talks about what our attitude should be towards another believer who sins against us. We’ll get to that next time.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity that we have to reflect upon Your grace initiative toward us, the fact that You love us, and that as Your children many times we disobey You and we sin, but sometimes we just leave and depart, and we spend some time in carnality, and yet you seek to restore us. Sometimes You woo us back, sometimes there’s some divine discipline, and sometimes it’s through other believers who will come to our side and challenge us with Your grace.
Father, we pray that we might understand this, and that if anyone listening is in a position where they feel like they have departed from God, that they would realize that God is always working to call us back to Himself, to walk closely with Him, and He is not trying to punish us for its own sake or to make us miserable for its own sake, but He’s seeking to restore us—that there will be joy in Heaven over a disciple that has been restored to fellowship.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone listening who’s not sure about their salvation or their eternal destiny, that they would recognize that what we’ve studied today is not about getting saved or getting justified. It’s about how a justified believer recovered from sin.
But if you’ve never trusted in Christ as Savior, this is your opportunity to do so. Jesus died on the Cross for your sins. He paid for every single sin. God in His omniscience knew every sin, every failure, and He poured it out on Jesus Christ on the Cross. Christ paid for every sin, so that by trusting in Him and Him alone, we have eternal life, and that’s the issue for you if you’ve never trusted in Christ—is to believe that He died for you. Immediately God gives you eternal life. He makes you a new creature in Christ, and you are eternally justified, and you can never lose that salvation.
Father, we pray that You’d challenge us with what we’ve learned this morning. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”