The shepherd’s heart (Matthew 18:12-14)

The Shepherd is less likely to blame the sheep than we are.

As established in the beginning, the kingdom of God consists of the whole earth under heaven’s management, with humans as God’s agents providing his care to the rest of creation.  How we care for the animals is therefore a great analogy for how God cares for us:

Matthew 18:12-14 (original translation, compare NIV)
12 What do you think? Say someone had a hundred sheep, and one was misled from the others. Wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hills, head off, and search for the misled one? 13 And if it can be found, I tell you truly that his joy over this one is greater than over the ninety-nine that were not misled. 14 None of those who gather around your Father in the heavens want any of these little ones to come to ruin.

This is God’s heart for the whole human family. Neither the Sovereign himself nor any of the angels who gather around his throne and read in his face how he feels when humans mistreat each other (18:10) want any of God’s children to come to harm.

It’s interesting how our translations reinforce our assumptions about guilt. We get the impression that the sheep is at fault if it wanders away (NIV, NLT) or goes astray (ESV, NASB). What Jesus says is the exact opposite. Three times he describes the sheep as deceived or led astray (planaō in the passive voice).

So who is doing the deceiving / leading astray? Actually, that’s a coming theme in Matthew:

  • Jesus said the Sadducees were misled (planaō) about the resurrection (22:29). This was the faction that controlled the temple.
  • In announcing judgement on the temple, Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives (planaō) you” (24:4, 5, 11, 24).
  • The temple leaders accused Jesus of being “that deceiver (planos)” (27:2, compare John 7:12, 47), grounds for executing him (planaō in LXX of Deuteronomy 13:5).

Now that Jesus has been revealed as God’s anointed leader (16:16), the Son appointed by God to lead his people (17:5), confrontation with those who see themselves as the shepherds of Israel was inevitable.

The question Matthew wants the sheep to ask is who they should follow. Those seeking to kill Jesus (12:14; 16:21; 17:23)? Or the one seeking to rescue the deceived sheep and bring them back into the community under God’s reign? Who represents the heart of your Father in the heavens who does not want any of these little ones to come to ruin?

Let’s forget about blaming the sheep, and represent the community of the Shepherd who doesn’t want a single one to come to harm.

Open Matthew 18:12-14.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

2 thoughts on “The shepherd’s heart (Matthew 18:12-14)”

  1. This is interesting. I always have a fear of being lead astray or being deceived by a false teaching. It’s a root of distrust that God isnt really “keeping me” and that I can become un-“sealed” by deception or lead astray. Im ashamed to admit my thoughts but deep down I question just how in control God really is or how much I trust him to truly not let me wander off on accident. What if I choose the wrong path, accidentally get out of Gods will, make the wrong decision, sin again knowing I already repented for the same sin…. I’m find myself in constant self blame and fear that I don’t know enough or study enough or I’m believing lies from the enemy and fear of being separated from God bc of my own ignorance ! … I guess I struggle with to what degree is it my responsibility or with in my control to make sure I’m “in line” and not being deceived or lead astray? That’s where I feel the burden or weight of responsibility that I just can’t hold up to in my own strength. So I guess we’re supposed to trust Jesus to keep us and reveal things and impart wisdom and insight and understanding… Thanks for the post and thanks for letting me share!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Briena.
      Thanks for opening up your heart: so precious.
      We do face many pressures in the world as it is. How encouraging is Jesus’ assurance that the Shepherd of humanity is constantly watching over his sheep, seeking the ones who get separated from the others, because he doesn’t want any of his little ones come to harm.
      As you say, trusting him is our safety. He’s present in his people, the family to whom the Father imparts his wisdom, insight, and understanding. In Jesus’ story, the sheep that was in danger was the one that was separated from the others. We want to stay close to God, and to the people in whom his Spirit lives.
      Your reply was a beautiful expression of exactly that, reaching out to stay in touch with God’s people. Praying our Father sustains and keeps you.


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