Keeping Hold of Each Other Matthew 18:10-14

A little housekeeping by way of footnotes first. 

  1. If you have a KJ or another older translation you probably noticed I didn’t read v. 11.  Newer translations put it in a footnote
    1. The reason is that  older translations were based on the “received text” put together in the beginning of the Reformation—the 1500’s.   The process of translating the New Testament on the “received text” began with Erasmus and six manuscripts.   It was carried on and helped along by other scholars of the time—including Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor at Geneva).  It’s a very good source.
    1. Since then we’ve found other older, more reliable documents. 
    1. V. 11 is pretty clearly borrowed from Luke 19:10.  Matthew 18:11 For the Son of Man came to save the lost.  Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
    1. One more clue that shows it was borrowed from Luke—Matthew’s version is about a sheep “who has gone astray” and Luke 19:10 is about a sheep “who is lost”.  So Matthew 18:11 would be the only verse in this parable that uses the word “lost” instead of “gone astray”.  Not what you’d expect at all.

Look at the context of chapter 18: from the disciples’ point of view, this really went downhill fast:  from “who’s the greatest” in the kingdom of heaven to chasing the lost lamb, and rejoicing over it!

  • I’ve never been too happy about chasing lost animals…chasing a goat in Cross Hill

In this parable, Jesus says that we should rejoice to chase and bring back a lost sheep

  1. Notice that it’s about the sheep in the flock—this parable is concerning Christians who have left the church, or at least have wandered away for a time
  2. Jesus gives two foundational reasons for searching for those sheep:  their angels and God’s will
    1. The holy angels who see the Father are interceding for them
      1. This is the “guardian angel” verse
        1. Guardian angel doctrine:  “Each person or at least each child has one angel watching over them—typically I’ve heard it regarding physical guardianship…”
        1. Calvin—“inherently weak”
        1. It’s not taught anywhere else in scripture.  Leon Morris, “if [guardian angels] were meant, it would point to something so significant that we would expect references to guardian angels elsewhere, and we do not find them.[1]
      1. So if it’s not guardian angels, per se, what does this mean?
        1. Angels are “ministering spirits” (Heb 1:14) who are assigned to care for God’s people in general—“serving the inheritors of salvation”.
        1. God’s holy angels are charged with helping believers in their spiritual pilgrimages.  Calvin wrote, angels “succour individual members so far as their necessity and situation demands.” 
        1. The angels’ presence in God’s closest proximity indicates that God himself is concerned and dedicated to preserving the welfare of his pilgrims.  And his angels are helping him to do it.
        1. Jesus’ picture here is that the angels aren’t so much guarding us as they are telling God what we need.
    1. Second foundational reason:  God the Father’s desire is that all of these sheep will remain in the fold.                 
      1. In addition to the comfort of knowing God’s angels serve us in our times of need Jesus tells us our perseverance is something God earnestly desires
      1. This is supported throughout scripture:
        1. 2 peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
        1. Isaiah 45:22  “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
        1. Ezekiel 18:23  Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
      1. God’s desire for Jesus’ sheep to remain in the fold is seen in his care for them by sending the angels to look after them
        1. John Legg wrote about this, “We must be very troubled when believers go astray, for whatever reason, or we are not like our Saviour. . . It may be that such wandering sheep are a nuisance, the cause of difficulty and division in the church. . . These are little ones who belong to our Father in heaven. He is not willing that they should be lost. He rejoices when they are brought back. Our responsibility is to care for these little ones, not to give them up.[2]

The parable, like all of chapter 18 is about life in Jesus’ Kingdom—his church.  Specifically, it’s about Keeping Hold of Each Other, especially those of us who aren’t doing it best.  We’ll do it in a “how-to” manual style today:  1.  Why?  2.  When 3.  How

  1. Why should we be so concerned with the sheep who are wandering
    1. Two Caveats:  sheep chasing isn’t really practical (leave the 99 for one?), and it requires commitment
    1. First caveat:  This will require a lot of resources in time and energy
      1. If they wander off, isn’t it best to let them go and conserve our resources?
      1. The church isn’t a pragmatic institution
      1. We don’t shun practical ideas or decision making that makes sense, but we are founded on God’s grace and his methods
    1. Second caveat:  We need to commit ourselves to the work of chasing lost sheep
      1. John Legg, “We should remember, when we are speaking of [lost sheep] that the Lord holds us responsible also. He speaks in the most solemn terms of judgement against those who put stumbling blocks in the way of young believers, or older ones for that matter. He speaks of millstones hung around the necks of those who do such things, and we must include looking down on our brothers in that category (18:10). Let us remember these things, and our churches will be different places, different communities, displaying much more of the qualities of our Lord. We shall shepherd the flock like the Good Shepherd, discipline the little ones like our heavenly Father, bring up these spiritual children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so produce a community that shows forth his love, grace and mercy to the world.[3]
      1. The World gives up on people—the church must never do that
    1. The Why:  because of Jesus—his work and his body
      1. Jesus’ work
        1. God’s desire for his people is most profoundly seen in the cross
      1. Jesus’ body
        1. His sheep are his body—mystical union of believers with Christ
        1. Matthew 13:44-46 parables of hidden treasure and a pearl of great value
          1. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
        1. Jesus’ point we search for and treasure the kingdom above all else—and He is that kingdom
        1. That lamb who is wandering away is united to Jesus by profession if not by the Spirit
          1. We can’t see hearts
          1. We take them at their profession
          1. We’re sheep chasers because they are the pearl of great price and the treasure of the kingdom!
  2. When do start chasing wayward sheep?
    1. We’re always chasing in a sense
      1. “Keeping Hold of Each Other” followed last week’s “Caring for Each Other”
      1. They imply the same thing:
        1. Falling away is a constant state for believers—Faith is one side of the coin with disbelief on the other
    1. We chase first in:  Positive discipline
      1. Positive discipline in the institutional church
        1. Preaching
        1. Teaching
        1. Sacraments
      1. Positive discipline in our relationships
        1. Small groups—praying, studying, fellowshipping
        1. One on one
        1. Keeping tabs and keeping an eye out for changes that might indicate trouble—words that seem unsafe, expressions that are different, attitudes reflecting apathy or disgruntled hearts
    1. Another sense of chasing when someone has truly fallen away
      1. Hopefully we’ve seen some signs before that happens and have engaged
      1. If not, don’t be shy about reaching out
        1. A phone call
        1. Drop by
        1. “Hey I haven’t seen you at church in a while, is something wrong?  Is there anything you need?  Why don’t you come over for a cup of coffee or dinner?”
      1. Engage with the lost sheep! 
        1. James 5:19-20  “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
        1. Consider the joy in that wandering person’s heart over being restored to Jesus’ body!  And, of course, Jesus’ joy at their coming home, too!
  3. How?  More than just reaching out—which is the first step and most important—how can we do this?
    1. Every situation is different—handle with grace
      1. Check your heart—be motivated for the gospel!
        1. This is for their good, reach out to them with an eye toward bringing them back, not for proving your position
      1. Know your heart—understand yourself
        1. This is harder than it sounds.  It really is a life-long task of considering yourself.  Thomas Oden (Pastoral Theology) “deep insight into and extensive self-knowledge are prerequisite to soul care…one must come to understand oneself inwardly, to know one’s own driving passions, skewed motivations, neurotic edges, latent doubts, and emerging struggles.  To know oneself is a central premise of knowing others helpfully.” (188)
        1. Have you sought to know yourself? 
          1. Struggles that help you identify with someone else’s struggles
          1. Struggles that might keep you from speaking kindly or truthfully
          1. Sinful weakness that you are working to kill successfully
          1. Other habitual sins that affect how you treat others
          1. Do you know your strengths? good listener, good advisor, or counselor, emotional awareness
            1. Know your strengths and use them
            1. But remember it’s the Spirit who ministers, lean on Him while using your strengths and your weaknesses.
            1. God’s strength is made perfect through our weakness.
          1. Seek to understand you, understand your motivations, know what your faults are so that you can help direct others to the Savior who redeems those faults.
    1. Point them to the cross
      1. Hopefully, we’re all reaching out and ask if there’s anything you need, or can I bring you a meal—it’s absolutely necessary to minister to physical needs
        1. 1 john 3:16-18 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
      1. But we can’t stop there—soul work includes the physical body, but it has to engage the soul
      1. Send them back to church—to the true church who is committed to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ
        1. The true church is the only place where anyone will find rest for their souls
        1. Did they wander for lack of feeling loved? 
          1. God loved them enough to humiliate himself and make them his children.
          1. His ultimate humiliation is the cross itself—tell them the old, old story again and let God’s power do the work.
        1. Did they wander because they haven’t been fed?
          1. Jesus is the bread of life that came down from heaven.  Feed them with Jesus.
          1. Tell them about the Savior who fills every need, but remind them that milk is only for children and they should desire the solid food as well as the easy to chew stuff.

Trust God, chase his sheep and tell them about his son and his son’s church—remind them of the good shepherd who died for his flock.  Chase each other, Hold on to each other!  This is Jesus’ Kingdom, rejoice in it, praise him for it!

The Affirmation of Faith                                                                                  The Chalcedonian Creed

We believe in one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. Amen.

The Hymn of Response                  TH #598                                Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.                                                                                                                   

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 464.

[2] John Legg, The King and His Kingdom: The Gospel of Matthew Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press., 2004), 334.

[3] John Legg, The King and His Kingdom: The Gospel of Matthew Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press., 2004), 334–335.