Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 18:11-20.
How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine which went not astray (Matthew 18:13).
Here Matthew records a version of the parable of the lost sheep. The Lord Jesus often used parables in his teaching, on many different occasions.
In Luke 15, he told three consecutive parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and then a lost (or Prodigal) son.
In John 10 he offered an extended teaching drawing on this metaphor, declaring, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (v. 11).
Here in Matthew 18 is another distinct occasion where Christ draws on this shepherd and sheep analogy.
Christ first asks, “How think ye?” (v. 12). I love that question. Christ is often asking things like this of us.
This leads to the parable proper (v. 12b). Christ takes it as normal or reasonable that if a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of them wanders off into the mountains, that the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine and seek the one sheep that has gone astray.
I want to suggest, however, that that is not necessarily normal. I am guessing that most shepherds would have factored in the possibility that some of the sheep in his flock would not make it. They might become sick or injured and die. They might be taken by predators. They might be lost and never recovered. There is also another factor here. If he leaves the ninety-nine to find the one, he perhaps leaves the flock that is secure vulnerable to mischief. I am guessing that an ordinary shepherd who had a 99% sheep retention rate throughout a season would be satisfied with that rate.
But not this shepherd. This is where we learn that this story is not about animal husbandry. It is about evangelism. Here is a God who knows every single one of his sheep. He can call each of them by name. The sheep here are the elect of God. They are, as Paul will put it in Ephesians 1:4 “chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” and he will not let a single one of them slip through his hands.
What is described here is the relentless pursuit of the Savior of his elect sheep, who were lost until he finds them and saves them.
We call it the parable of the lost sheep, but, in truth, it might well be called the parable of the Vigilant Shepherd.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle