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Studies in Matthew 18 – Study 4


Studies in Matthew 18 – Study 4

Christ’s Care for Wandering Sheep

Text .    Matthew 18:12-14.

Jesus begins this parable with ‘What do you think’ – he’s not actually asking for their opinion – its a rhetorical device to get their attention. And the first question we must ask in response is the most obvious of all.  ‘What is a sheep?’

1 What is a sheepif a man have an hundred sheep,

God’s people are his sheep. Let’s briefly consider that for a moment.  There are:-

  • Sheep in the fold. His sheep, gathered together within his care, in his flock.    Psalm 100:3    God’s elect, His people, his children, sought and rescued by Him, and kept through His faithfulness.
  • Lost sheep. Lost sheep can fall into two broad classes:
    • Elect sinners, yet to repent. People who are within God’s covenant, but who have not yet been awakened to their sin, who have not yet repented, who in God’s perfect timing will seek the Lord, only to find that he has already been seeking for them, and will surely and certainly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Luke 15:5-7  
    • Wandering sheep. and one of them goes astray. So, what happens, despite the strong teaching of Jesus about how to resist temptation, and the help of the whole heavenly host of angels, – what happens if one of God’s children yield to temptation and falls into sin?  Begins to wander?  We’ll see that in a moment.
  • Goats. There is one other category that we need to consider.  There are sheep and there are lost sheep and there are goats.  Jesus did not die for goats, he is a shepherd, not a goatherd, he does not seek and search for goats, and on the last day, he will separate the sheep from the goats.  Goats can not and do not ever morph or evolve into sheepMatthew 25:32-34  So does that mean we shouldn’t preach the gospel to all?  Not at all.  We don’t know who the elect of God are, and we are commissioned to take the gospel into the whole world.  What it DOES mean though is that we are not to act ‘goatishly’ in how we present the gospel.


2 The Seeking Shepherd.   does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?

The shepherds would take the sheep up into the grazing pastures and would stay with them there, probably for most of the year.   The ground was common – there were no fences or boundaries, and, sheep being sheep, would simply wander off.  They would become prey to wolves, they would fall down the escarpment and be hurt, they would be lost and would die.  When a sheep wandered off, the shepherd would go and search for it.

  • It’s an ACTIVE SEARCH. This is important – he doesn’t sit at home and wait for the sheep to make its decision to return.  In the act of rescuing a lost sheep the shepherd is always active, and the sheep is passive.
  • It’s an EXHAUSTIVE SEARCH. It was his duty.  So the search for Christ’s sheep is an exhaustive search.  He went to great lengths to save us, sending his Son…
  • It’s a PATIENT SEARCH. The shepherd could search for many many days.  How patient is God with us, how long suffering with those who go astray.
  • It’s a PARTICULAR SEARCH. Just one sheep – the shepherd searches for it!

Jesus is illustrating for us the extreme measure adopted by God in sending the tender shepherd to search for the lost sheep.  His search is very thorough, very extensive.  He sent his own Son, to lay down his life for the sheep.  John 10:11

Yet there are two observations here:

  • Are the ninety nine neglected? No!  It almost seems that the 99 sheep who have not gone astray are just left, neglected, while the shepherd goes off on his quest for the straying foolish sheep.   There are under-shepherds, who will care for the flock while the shepherd does his saving work.
  • Are the lost sheep always found? And if he should find it, It seems as if Jesus is suggesting that in some cases, his sheep may not be found – so to make sure that the disciples understand the efficacy of the Divine Shepherd’s search, Jesus adds a reminder that it’s is not the will of God that any of his children should be lost. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perishGod’s will shall always be accomplished.  None of his children will be lost.  God’s will is associated with his greatness. The weakest of believers is eternally saved, not because of their strength, but because of God’s strength.


3 The Happy Reunionassuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.

The return of a shepherd with a rescued sheep was a time of great rejoicing in Israel.  Sheep were valuable, – to have one found and returned to the flock was a great blessing indeed.  What rejoicing there is when a sinner comes to Christ!  What rejoicing when a brother or sister who has wandered from the fold is brought back.

Luke 15:10  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repentethSee what there’s not: No lecture No recriminations. No sadness.   I am reminded of the prodigal son, who upon repentance was welcomed home by the father, with greast rejoicing.


Application.  What’s the point of all this?  For true believers who are caused to stumble, who go astray, who fall into sin, there is hope.  There is a loving Saviour who will seek them, and find them and restore them to the safety of the fold, where they will be protected, fed and find fellowship.  That’s important to know – for every one of us.


© Bob McEvoy January 2018

From → Bible Study, Matthew

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