Week 6: The New Testament and Children
Day 3: Counting Sheep – Matthew 18:10-14
I love mountains. Real mountains. No offense to those of you living in little mountains that never break above the tree line, but I love tall mountains. Several years ago, the Lord gave me the opportunity to visit with missionaries that our church supports in Romania. One of the members of the church there worked as a guide in the mountains surrounding the village, so he offered to take me and several people from the church up to a WWI memorial that stands high above the valley. It was one of the most amazing hikes I have ever taken. We were about half way to our destination when I thought I heard music. It was very soft and melodic, far in the distance. I didn’t say anything at first because I thought I was the only one who heard it. Then our guide turned to me and said, “Do you hear that?” I was excited to ask where it was coming from. He pointed across the valley that separated the peak we were ascending from the next. “There. Do you see it? It is a shepherd with his sheep. He is playing his flute.”
It was the sort of scene that, since I was child, has always come to mind when I read this third section of Matthew 18. Lush, green mountains. Morning mists followed by brilliant skies and scudding afternoon clouds. White, wooly specks on brambled slopes, accompanied by their loving shepherd. I’ve always heard this passage presented primarily as Christ’s desire to seek and save those that are lost, which it is, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone link it back to the opening verses of the chapter, even though they are clearly connected.
Jesus said, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.” (vs. 10) This is our first connector to the rest of the passage. He has not stopped speaking about how we are to treat these children which we are to “receive”. (See this blog for more on that.)
Jesus says to be careful. The word “take heed” implies seeing something with both the eyes and the mind. It reminds me of the railroad safety slogan, “Stop. Think.” Remember the millstone from the previous passage before you act!
The English word “despise” paints a much worse picture than does the Greek. When I think of despising someone, I think of hating them with a passion. That’s not something I frequently feel toward children. Most of us probably don’t. But the Greek word actually means simply to “think little of”. In fact, if you look only at the roots of the word it could be directly translated “to think down”. That is something we do with much more frequency. I don’t know how many times, in how many countries (including my own) I have seen this attitude toward the fatherless, and yet that is exactly what Jesus is warning against.
He goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” I am immediately reminded of Exodus 22:22-24, “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” The Hebrew word here for “afflict” has a similar meaning to the Greek in Matthew 18. It simply means to “look down upon, browbeat”. It doesn’t appear that God’s opinion on this matter has changed any with time. Nor does it appear that our disdain or affliction of the fatherless will go unnoticed by God. (See this post for more.)
Then Jesus begins the story mentioned at the beginning of this post. He says, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”
Jesus came to save that which was lost. The word lost here is very pictorial. It’s primary meaning is “to destroy”. The secondary meanings only serve to intensify this: “To put out of the way entirely, abolish”, “render useless”, “to kill”, “declare that one must be put to death”, “metaphorically to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell.” That is the state of so many children around the world who have no one to take them in and teach them of Christ. That is our state without Him. But He had no desire to leave us or them in such a place. He came to save us. He came to “rescue [us] from danger and destruction”. (Thayers Lexicon) He came, knowing that it would require His life in exchange for ours… but, oh, the joy that was set before Him!
He compares His search for us to that of a shepherd seeking his lost sheep. I can just see that shepherd locking his safe sheep into the fold and leaving them to go find the one that has been lost. He scrambles over steeps, slides in the shale along rock faces, tears his skin in the brambles – all in the hope of rescuing that one sheep. When at last he finds it, he picks it up and carries it home on his shoulders, back through that wilderness to safety. Then the rejoicing begins! That sheep that was lost and about to be destroyed has been saved from danger and destruction.
Jesus’ searching, however, required much more than scrambling through the hazards of the wilderness. Of Himself, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) And He did, He laid down His life at Calvary for us.
The last verse is perhaps the most powerful of this entire section as we consider the fatherless. It links right back to the beginning of the chapter and the child sitting in Jesus’ lap. Remember these are the children that we are to receive into our homes to bring up and educate, the little ones who have no one. “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” This extends to each of us, but as we follow the thread of conversation in this passages we see that it has specific meaning for the orphan and fatherless. God desires that we bring them into our homes and families, just as He has sought to adopt us into His family. He does not desire this simply that they might be fed, clothed and educated, but that they would not perish. He wants us to lead them into His family as well! He wants them to be saved from the destruction that awaits them.
143,000,000 children, a great percentage of them on the brink of hell – what are we doing about it?
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Also Check out Rachel Miller’s Book: The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption