Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.…
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 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, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 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. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14
Where in the Gospels is the Lord’s Parable of the Lost Sheep recorded? Most of us, I believe, will probably say it is Luke 15, where the Parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Son are also recorded. But if you have read the scripture text above (and you should have), you will realise that Luke 15 is not the only place. Matthew 18:12-14 is where the parable is recorded for the first time.
But why do we need to know this fact? Because it is unlikely that the Lord Jesus would preach the same parable on two different occasions to teach two different lessons! So it is likely that the Lord is teaching the same thing both times.
This is significant because in Luke 15, the Lord is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, explaining to them how He came to seek His lost sheep amongst the publicans and sinners. But here in our text, in Matthew 18, He is speaking to His disciples (v. 1-2), and the lost sheep are amongst the “little ones” (v. 10) rather than the sinners and publicans.
Thus, it is very likely that the Lord Jesus is not simply thinking about children in our text. Instead, He is thinking about those who are sidelined or regarded as unimportant in society.
In the first century in Israel, sinners and publicans were looked down upon. This is why the Scribes and Pharisees murmured against the Lord for eating with them (Lk 15:2).
What about children? Well, due to various cultural reasons and the high mortality rate amongst children, they were often looked down upon too. Remember the occasion when some parents brought their children for the Lord to bless them, but the disciples rebuked them? The Lord says to them: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14). Now, that is in the next chapter.
But here in Matthew 18, it appears that the Lord is not specifically referring to little children. Instead, He is referring to those who are like little children, despised and looked down upon by society. We see this, not only by comparing our text with Luke 15, but by reading the context of the Lord’s parable here carefully.
Notice how it is occasioned by the disciples’ asking Him: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1). Then the Lord calls a little child, sets him amid the disciples, and says to them:
“… Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3-4).
It is clear, isn’t it, that the Lord is not here talking about little children directly. He is talking about those who are like little children. Indeed, given the context, it is quite likely that in verses 5 and 6, by the terms “little child” and “little ones,” He is actually employing a figure of speech, a metonymy, to refer to adults who are converted and humble.
The same is likely to be the case in verse 10, where He says: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones….” These “little ones” could include children, but the Lord is not thinking about them only. He is thinking about those despised, sidelines, and disregarded by society.
He is saying that many of the sheep He has laid His life down for will be found amongst these persons, and He has come specifically to reach out to them.
This agrees with the apostle startling Paul’s declaration:
“Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen…”1 Cor 1:26-28
Those who are weak, defenceless, discriminated against, despised and disregarded by society have a special place in the heart of our Saviour. He came to lay down His life for many amongst them, and to call them unto Himself to find rest for their weak and weary souls.
What shall we do with this truth?
First of all, it is evident that if we are to be followers of Christ, we must have the same regard for those who are weak, despised, defenceless, disregarded, poor, sidelined, or discriminated against. As Christians, we must never look down on any group of people regardless of age, race, education status, wealth or vaccination status. We must seek to speak up for them, especially if they cannot speak up for themselves. As Calvin says, “It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem.”
We must pray for them, and seek to lead them to the Lord, our shepherd. That is the best thing we can do for them in imitation of our Saviour.
Secondly, let us not forget that the Lord has also charged us to “be converted and become as little children” (v. 3). Indeed, as Calvin also observes, this passage serves “to remind us that we ought to strive with each other who shall be most submissive and modest.”
If we would be imitators of Christ, therefore, let us take heed of the apostle Paul’s exhortation, to seek to have the mind of Christ Jesus, to do nothing out of strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than ourselves (Phil 2:2-5).
Finally, and related to our second point, let us be mindful that being as little children also mean being like Christ, who when “He was oppressed, and [when] he was afflicted, …opened not his mouth,” but was silent as a lamb brought to the slaughter (Isa 53:7).
Apart from seeking to be converted and become like little children, there will be occasions when we are brought low by providence. This may be due to an illness, a failure in our life, or the sinful discrimination of men. Whatever may be the case, let us seek to imitate Christ’s meekness so that we may cast ourselves under His care.
Rather than loudly fighting for our own cause, let us, like little children, humbly submit ourselves to His protection, care and defence—whether through His providence, or through His church. If we do so, then our trials will become an opportunity for us to learn of the goodness of the Lord and the blessing of being contented to rest upon Him as our Shepherd. Then shall we understand what He means when He has to us sing with Him, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Amen.