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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Ninety-Nine Plus One
Text:Matthew 18:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Added:2023-10-11
Updated:2023-10-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I Stand

Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us 

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Ninety-Nine Plus One
Matthew 18:1-14; text: 10-14
 
In the opening verse of this 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we read about the disciples arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus had called a little child to stand among them and had said, I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3)
 
This passage on the parable of the lost sheep flows naturally from what Jesus had been teaching the disciples in the previous passage on having child-like faith in Christ. He teaches us, first, not to look down on other believers. In verse 10 Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.” If you think that you are the greatest, as the disciples did, then by necessity you will be looking down on others. It is tempting, not just for the disciples long ago but for disciples like ourselves today, to become spiritually smug and look down on some who may not have progressed as far as we think we have.
 
Satan appeals to our pride so very effectively, for pride is the goal of his life, and it was pride that led to his downfall. He uses pride persuasively, knowing first-hand the power of pride to destroy.
 
Because of that, Scripture repeatedly warns us against pride. Proverbs 16:18 warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Likewise, Paul warned the Corinthians, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” And Paul’s injunction to the Philippians is crucial to believers in every church, in every era of time: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:2, 3)
   
And the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to go on to describe how Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2: 6-8)
 
Instead of arguing who is the greatest we are to be humble, not looking down on others, but esteeming others better than ourselves as we focus in faith on the humility of our exalted Savior and Lord.
 
Angelic Protection
 
The second part of verse 10 teaches us that angels play an unseen but crucial role in our lives. Jesus says in verse 10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” He is reminding us that the person we might be tempted to look down on, in our sinful nature, is a person who has been washed by the blood of Christ and therefore is cared for by angels.
 
Scripture teaches us, in many passages, that angels play an unseen but crucial role in our lives. One Old Testament example is that of Elisha. In 2 Kings 6 we find him and his servant surrounded by the Arameans, (also known as the Syrians). Elisha’s servant was terrified. “‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked.” (12 KI 6:15) 
 
“‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 KI 6:16, 17) The servant saw that the angelic army of the Lord was far greater than the military army of the Arameans.
 
Note that Jesus uses the plural here in Matthew 18:10, “Their angels.”  It is the same use of the plural that the Psalmist uses in Psalm 91:11, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…” The author of Hebrews also uses the plural, both in Hebrews 13:2 where he writes: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” And also, in Hebrews 1:14 we read: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
 
Because angels are most often unseen, or if we do see them, we don’t recognize them as angels, we often forget to take comfort in God’s protective care for us through the work of His angels. On the other hand, there is a danger in ascribing every deliverance from tragedy to that of angels. The danger is that we would become like the Colossians and be more enamored with angels than the Lord who created them. The letter to the Colossians was written, in part, to correct the Colossian church concerning their worship of angels. Yet, the fact that God intervenes in our lives in ways that we can’t explain is a wonderful testimony to His faithfulness to us by use of every means, including that of angelic forces.
 
Because of that, we can, and should be, much more grateful to the Lord for His protective care than we are. There are many instances that we don’t even know about where God has intervened on our behalf – because we are His flock – His people. And He has often intervened and spared us from danger, even when we have not realized the peril we were in by the work of angels, who, in the words of verse 10 “always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
 
Not Willing That Any Perish
 
However, the main point of this passage isn’t the angelic hosts around us, but rather that God is not willing to let any of His sheep – His elect people – be lost. He is not willing that any of His people perish. After explaining how the Shepherd seeks the wandering sheep Jesus concludes, in verse 14, by saying, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” This verse has often been cited as a verse that teaches a universalism, that God wants to save everyone, but because of the hardness of the human heart, He is unable to. He is knocking on the door of human hearts with a bloodied hand, desperately hoping that someone will open the door and, in the vernacular of our day, “ask Jesus into their heart.” 
 
2 Peter 3:9 is often used along with this verse as a so-called proof text that God wants everybody to be saved, for it says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
 
But people who take that view (they are known as Arminians because they follow the teaching of Jacob Arminius who was shown to be a heretic at the Council of Dort), fail to see that First Peter is written “to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood…” (1 Pet. 1:1, 2)
 
And 2 Peter 1 begins by saying that it is written “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours…” (2 Pet. 1:1). Who is God not willing to lose?  Who does He ensure won’t be lost?  - His elect”, those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
 
We have security in Christ, not because of anything we have done. We have security in Christ because from first to last, He is the author of our salvation, and thus He is our Surety, Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, and Lord.
 
Known by Name
 
How else does this short parable of Jesus apply to you and to me? One application is that we are to be thankful that God knows us thoroughly and completely. He knows us by name. In Isaiah 43:1 we read, But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
 
As the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, Jesus knows each of us by name (John 10:3). We don’t have a tag with a number clipped to our ear, as was often done with sheep long ago. Or, as is done today, a computer chip that marks us with an identity for the shepherd. Our Lord knows us by name, and He knows all about us, including when we wander.
 
When Jonah took off for Tarshish instead of Nineveh, God knew exactly where he was. He also knew exactly – and uniquely – how to get him back on course. The Lord knows us completely and promises to seek us out and return us to the fold when we wander.
 
We sang of that in our opening hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:
 
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
 
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

The author of that hymn was a man by the name of Robert Robinson. His father had died young and Robert had fallen in with bad companions. He was a barber by trade but he lived a wild, reckless, ungodly life. 
 
However, at the age of twenty-two, he heard George Whitfield, the Calvinistic revivalist preacher whom God used greatly, preach a sermon on Matthew 3:7, where John the Baptist declares, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Several historians point out that Robinson and his drinking buddies had gone to hear Whitfield in order to cause a drunken disturbance. Their purpose was to sidetrack the evangelist and to prevent those gathered in the great crowd from hearing the gospel.
 
But instead, the Holy Spirit convicted Robinson. He repented of his sin, became a minister, and wrote some notable hymns, including Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. But in that last verse, he had written (the last in our hymnal, there are actually five verses in the original hymn):
 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
 
Robinson apparently recognized at a young age his propensity to wander. He left Calvinism, with its clear teaching of God’s grace, and became Arminian in his theology. And then, toward the end of his life, he wandered further: He became a Unitarian. Unitarians deny the full divinity of Jesus Christ.
 
Some accounts of his life recall that as an older man, as a Unitarian minister, he was traveling far from home. He was in a horse drawn coach and there was only one other passenger, a young woman who was humming the tune of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
 
Robinson struck up a conversation with her because he wanted to get that tune out of his mind. He didn’t want to be reminded of the words he had written years before. But instead of changing the subject the woman went on to describe how much the words associated with that tune meant to her.  She perhaps spoke about God’s “streams of mercy, never ceasing,” about how “Jesus sought (her) while a stranger wandering from the fold of God” of how she “raised (her) Ebenezer” – that is her prayer life – drawn from the 1 Samuel 7:12 where Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’” Perhaps she spoke of how in answer to prayer she had “hither by (God’s) help…come.”
 
Finally, he interrupted her. He blurted, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that hymn, many years ago. And I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had!” 
 
Gently, she replied, “Sir, the streams of mercy are still flowing.”
 
Robinson was deeply touched. In God’s providence, the hymn that he had written years before was used to bring him back to the solid Biblical truth that we are saved by God’s grace through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ who “interposed His precious blood.”  Shortly before his death, Robinson wrote a sermon which appears to show that he did not follow the false teaching of Unitarianism, but was one of the wandering sheep brought back into the fold of God.
 
How thankful we should be that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, because "we all like sheep have gone astray" (Isa. 53:6). We have all wandered in one way or another and continue to wander from the truth of God’s Word at many times and in many ways. But the Good Shepherd seeks us out. The Holy Spirit convicts us. And the Father receives us back with outstretched arms.
 
Concern for the Lost
 
A second application: We are to have the same concern for the lost as God does. The Lord’s concern is brought out in verse 12, What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”
 
That is exactly what Jesus, as the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, does. In Luke 19:10, Jesus says: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” That should also be the goal of all of us who follow Him. 
   
Nevertheless, many people have trouble with these verses. To them, it seems as though God is showing favoritism. It seems to them that the Lord has far more joy and compassion for the wandering sheep who returns than the ninety-nine faithful who stay in the fold. But God is not showing favoritism. We know that He loves all the flock the same, that each one is precious in His sight and that each one has been saved by the sacrifice of His Son, yet in this parable the emphasis is on the love of the Lord for the one lost sheep.
 
I like the illustration that Dr. Ligon Duncan used in his treatment of this passage. He described how when he retired from teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, he moved across town to serve as pastor at First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Jackson, Mississippi. He wanted to move his bank safety deposit box too. But he could only find one key and the bank had given him two. The banker said, “That’s no problem; we can close the account but we have to charge $35.00 for the replacement key.”
 
Dr. Duncan is Scottish. The Scots rank right up there with the Dutch in being what could be called frugal. Not cheap, but frugal; it’s a good quality! He went home and searched for that key, but he could not find it, so he did not close the account to avoid the $35.00 charge. Months later, toward Christmas, when he was looking through a drawer for something else, there was the key! He described his jubilation and pointed out that the key that had not been lost was just as important, just as valuable and necessary to him, as the one that was found. But he experienced great joy at finding the key that had been lost.
 
In Luke 15, after telling this parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says: “...Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)
 
Since angels rejoice at the return of a lost sinner, and since Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost,” shouldn’t we have a heart for those who wander, seeking them as did our Lord?  One of the many sins of omission in my life – and perhaps in your life too – is that I have not always sought out the lost sheep with the diligence and persistence that Scripture calls us to use.
 
Retuning with Confidence
 
A third application: Those who have wandered far from the fold of God can return in confidence. There may be some among us even today who have wandered far, and wonder, “Would God have anything to do with me? Seeing how I’ve wandered, seeing what I’ve done and knowing my thoughts and the sinful inclinations of my heart, would God receive me back to Himself?” And the answer to all those questions is that God does indeed receive the wandering sheep back into the fold. 
 
I have to admit that I can relate to Robert Robinson. I grew up in a Christian home, but I wandered far from the Lord for more than a dozen years. But in His gracious providence the Lord brought me to the depths to prove to me that apart from Christ life is vanity; it is utterly meaningless leading only to an eternity of indescribable sorrow. And during those years the Lord was with me, even though I neglected Him. He is the faithful Shepherd of the sheep.  He came and sought me. He rescued me. He interposed His precious blood. He reminded me that the streams of mercy still flow.
 
No matter what is in your past, know that God came to seek that which was lost. And when by His grace, you turn to Him in repentance and saving faith He does as He did with the prodigal son described in Luke 15. He receives you back with open arms and an eternal feast. 
 
And those of us who are now in the fold – among the “ninety-nine” – even though we are as sinners “prone to wander, to leave the God (we) love” - we can yet be sure that no one can snatch us from our Savior’s hand. 
 
From John 10:27-30 we know that we are held, both in the hand of Jesus and in the hand of His heavenly Father, even as we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who serves as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22). Jesus says, in John 10:27-30: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
 
The late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, in his exposition of this passage, writes: “It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be made more secure than that. And if you think of being held by two hands – one hand Jesus’ and the other the Father’s – you can remember that God the Father and God the Son still have two hands to defend you.” (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.  2, pg. 389)
 
That is the essence of blessed assurance, the knowledge by true saving faith that Jesus has shed His blood for us and now holds us in His hand, even as does the Father, promising that no one can snatch us away.
___
 
This parable that we have read this morning is the eighth parable so far in Matthew’s gospel. It’s a short parable of only three verses of which we have only scratched the surface this morning. The parable speaks of a love so great that it cannot be fathomed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together for the salvation and protection of their flock which is the true church of all the ages, washed, cleansed, and sanctified by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep! Amen.
 
 
 
Sermon outline:
 
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them
wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to
look for the one that wandered off?” – Matthew 18:12
 
                                “Ninety-Nine Plus One”
                             Matthew 18:1-14 – text: 10-14
 
I.  This passage teaches:
    1) Not to look down on other believers (10a; cf. 18:1; Phil. 2:3-4) 
 
 
 
    2) Angels play an unseen but crucial role in our lives (10b; Psalm
        91:11; Hebrews 1:14, 13:2)
 
 
 
    3) God is not willing to let any of His sheep, His elect people, be
         lost (14; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; 3:9)
 
 
 
II. Applications:
    1) We are to be thankful that God knows us by name (Isaiah 43:1;
         John 10:3) and knows all about us, including when we wander (12)
 
 
 
    2) We are to have the same concern for the lost as God does (12;
         Luke 19:10)
 
 
 
   3) Those who have wandered can return in confidence (13; Luke 15:7)
        and those who are in the fold - among the “ninety-nine” - can be sure
        that no one can snatch them from their Savior’s hand (John 10:27-30)
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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