In conclusion to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often should I forgive?” Jesus said: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35). It seems to imply a “works” salvation – if you forgive others (a work), you will be forgiven.
When Jesus told Peter, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt.18.22), He did not mean that we do not need to forgive the seventy-eighth time, of course. It was a way of saying that we should never stop forgiving. Then Jesus told this story:
The way we develop character and master godly conduct is one step at a time, and the disciples were learning it – not very fast perhaps but surely. They had asked about being great in Christ’s kingdom and had been taught that greatness begins with humility, like that of a child. They had been taught to avoid sin and were warned about causing another person to sin, especially a new or weak believer. But what if the other person sins against you? The answer to that question was Jesus’ next important lesson.
The Greeks believed God cannot have emotions because, if He did and if we are the cause of His emotions – whether grief, anger, sorrow, love, or dismay – then to that extent we would have power over God and control Him. That may be reasonable as philosophy, but it is not the Bible’s teaching. The Bible says that God grieves over sin and rejoices when a sinner is reclaimed. Jesus makes this explicit in Matthew 18.10-14, saying in the parable of the great shepherd, “He is happier about that one sheep [that is found] than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” The fact is, God rejoices when we repent and return to Him.
We said last week that it is not the angels who are important in Matthew 18.10-14. They may be interceding on behalf of weak or wandering Christians, an encouraging thing to know. But what is really important here is that God is compared to the shepherd who seeks and finds the lost sheep.
Bunnies, easter eggs and baskets? Many images in the Bible convey the protecting care of God for His people, but probably no image is more greatly loved than that of the shepherd and His sheep. What Christian can consider God as a shepherd without thinking of the Twenty-third Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”? Or the tenth chapter of John, where Jesus applies the image to Himself: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”?