Bible Study for Today: God’s Will Behind the Parable of the Lost Sheep
By Xiaoqing, China
Editor’s Note: I trust everyone’s familiar with the parable of the lost sheep in the Bible. The Lord Jesus used this parable to very vividly tell us about God’s love for mankind and to allow us to feel how sincere God’s desire to save mankind is. But does everyone know what God’s will behind this parable is? At a Bible study there were a few brothers and sisters who finally understood this through fellowship—let’s take a look together.
With a Bible in his hands, the preacher Liu Qing said, “Brothers and sisters, let’s read the parable of the lost sheep.” They all nodded and began to read. “How think you? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and goes into the mountains, and seeks that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, truly I say to you, he rejoices 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” (Matthew 18:12–14).
After everyone was done reading, Liu Qing continued on. “Brothers and sisters, we can feel from the parable of the lost sheep how incredibly sincere God’s wish to save mankind is. Every time we encounter setbacks and sink into temptation, when our faith falters, we can encourage ourselves with this parable. At no time will God’s will to save us ever change; God loves us and we must unswervingly follow the Lord Jesus.”
Everyone said “Amen!” in unison.
Liu Qing then asked, “Please feel free to share any enlightenment or understanding you have of this passage.”
With a sense of gratefulness, Sister Chen said, “All of us are that lost sheep, and it is the Lord that has brought us into His house. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to enjoy His love. I really give thanks for the Lord’s grace!”
Wen Fang then shared these heartfelt words, “Thanks be to the Lord! This parable really always has been a source of encouragement for all of us who follow the Lord, allowing us to genuinely experience the Lord Jesus’ love and mercy for us. My cousin came to my house a few days ago and just as we were sharing fellowship on this parable she gave me a book that contains fellowship on this passage. After reading it, I gained a new understanding of God’s will behind this parable; I felt that I really benefited from it. I brought the book here today. Let’s take a look together!”
Everyone responded happily, “Great!”
Wen Fang read out earnestly, “The way of expression—the parable—used here is a figure of speech in human language, and as such it belongs within the scope of human knowledge. If God had said something similar in the Age of Law, people would have felt that such words were not truly consistent with who God was, but when the Son of man delivered these words in the Age of Grace, it felt comforting, warm, and intimate to people. When God became flesh, when He appeared in the form of a man, He used a very appropriate parable that came from His own humanity, in order to express the voice of His heart. This voice represented God’s own voice and the work He wanted to do in that age. It also represented an attitude that God had toward people in the Age of Grace. Looking from the perspective of God’s attitude toward people, He compared each person to a sheep. If a sheep was lost, He would do whatever it took to find it. This represented a principle of God’s work at that time among mankind, when He was in the flesh. God used this parable to describe His resolve and attitude in that work. This was the advantage of God becoming flesh: He could take advantage of mankind’s knowledge and use human language to speak to people, and to express His will. He explained or ‘translated’ to man His profound, divine language that people struggled to understand in human language, in a human way. This helped people understand His will and know what He wanted to do. He could also have conversations with people from the human perspective, using human language, and communicate with people in a way they understood. He could even speak and work using human language and knowledge so that people could feel God’s kindness and closeness, so that they could see His heart” (“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself III”).
After she was done reading, Wen Fang shared this fellowship with a look of joy on her face: “The first time I read this was really exciting for me. I learned that through the parable of the lost sheep, not only can we realize how real God’s love and salvation for us are and see how much responsibility He takes for our lives, but we can also see one advantage of God becoming flesh to work. If He had done this work in His spirit form, appearing to people through thunder, clouds, and pillars of fire, we would have no way of drawing close to God, nor would we be able to understand His will. However, when God incarnated as the Son of man to work in our midst, the Lord Jesus used human language as well as things we often see and encounter in our lives, things we can easily understand, to create parables. This includes the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9), the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24–30), the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32), and the parable of the net (Matthew 13:47–50). We can gain a better understanding of God’s will through these parables, know what He requires of us, plus understand what He has and is, and His disposition. It’s just like when we read the parable of the lost sheep, we can see God’s resolve and attitude toward saving mankind and that He’ll save a lost sheep at any cost, and will not rest until He’s done. We also gain true understanding of the Lord Jesus’ merciful and loving disposition and we feel how kind and approachable God is—the distance between us and God grows smaller. If it weren’t for God becoming flesh and using human language to come up with these parables, to create these examples, it would be so hard for us to understand God’s will, and this is something that we’d never realize.”
Liu Qing said happily, “Today’s fellowship contains such light. God personally became flesh and came to walk among us to work and speak. He used commonplace, easily understandable language to guide us to understand His will and requirements so that we have a path of practice. This shows how important for our understanding of the truth and of God it is that God incarnated to work and speak on earth!”
Brother Wang said, “It’s true. We just know to enjoy God’s grace and blessings, but we’ve never thought about God’s will behind His every word and deed, but we don’t realize that God became flesh and spoke to us with human language so that we could better understand the truth, be redeemed by the Lord, and understand God’s disposition. God is so attentive in His considerations for our salvation!”
Sister Zheng then said, “Brother Wang is right. In the past I’ve only known that God is a God who loves us, but my understanding of His love was really limited. I’ve just known that being nailed to the cross to redeem us, and bestowing grace and blessings upon us are all His love. Today’s fellowship has given me further understanding of God’s love. God becoming flesh and coming into the world, working and speaking to save mankind, expressing the truth with human language so that we can understand God’s will and requirements—all of this is in and of itself the greatest love for us, humanity! Only God could possibly possess this kind of love. I give thanks to the Lord! This fellowship has been so beneficial for us.”
Just then Wen Fang, who had been intently studying that book, lifted her head and said to everyone, “The Lord Jesus said, ‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish’ (Matthew 18:14). The Lord’s will is behind this, as well. There’s clear fellowship on this in this book. Let’s take a look!”
Liu Qing rushed to agree: “Great, let me read it.”
Wen Fang happily handed the book to Liu Qing, who read aloud: “Let us take a look at the last sentence in this passage: ‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.’ Was this the Lord Jesus’ own words, or the words of the Father in heaven? On the surface, it looks like it is the Lord Jesus who is speaking, but His will represents the will of God Himself, which is why He said: ‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.’ People at that time only acknowledged the Father in heaven as God, and believed that this person whom they saw in front of their eyes was merely sent by Him, and could not represent the Father in heaven. That is why the Lord Jesus had to add this sentence to the end of this parable, so that people could really feel God’s will for mankind and feel the authenticity and the accuracy of what He said. Even though this sentence was a simple thing to say, it was spoken with care and love and revealed the Lord Jesus’ humility and hiddenness. No matter whether God became flesh or whether He worked in the spiritual realm, He knew the human heart best, and best understood what people needed, knew what people worried about, and what confused them, and that is why He added this sentence. This sentence highlighted a problem hidden in mankind: People were skeptical of what the Son of man said, which is to say, when the Lord Jesus was speaking He had to add: ‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish,’ and only on this premise could His words bear fruit, to make people believe their accuracy and improve their credibility. This shows that when God became a regular Son of man, God and mankind had a very uneasy relationship, and that the Son of man’s situation was very embarrassing. It also shows how insignificant the Lord Jesus’ status among humans was at that time. When He said this, it was actually to tell people: You can rest assured—these words do not represent what is in My own heart, but they are the will of the God who is in your hearts. For mankind, was this not an ironic thing? Even though God working in the flesh had many advantages that He did not have in His person, He had to withstand their doubts and rejection as well as their numbness and dullness” (“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself III”).
After Liu Qing read this, Wen Fang shared this fellowship: “I was so moved when I read this passage. These words really point out the true state of people at that time: They only believed in a God up in heaven, in a God they imagined as vague within their hearts, and they had absolutely no true understanding of or faith in God incarnate. It’s just like what Philip said to the Lord Jesus: ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us’ (John 14:8). Philip’s words show that he didn’t treat the Lord Jesus as God at all. The Lord knew that even though people followed Him, they didn’t understand the essence of Christ, instead treating Him as a regular person. That’s why He followed the parable of the lost sheep by saying ‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven.’ It was so that we would believe that those words had come from our Father in heaven, thus better accept the Lord Jesus’ words, believe that the Lord’s love for humanity is genuine, and not doubt His salvation of mankind. All of us remember that the Lord Jesus responded to Philip by saying, ‘Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? the words that I speak to you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwells in Me, He does the works’ (John 14:10). We can see here that the Lord Jesus is God Himself—His work and words were entirely governed by the Spirit of God and what He did was God’s own work. However, the Lord Jesus knew that people didn’t understand His essence, so out of forgiveness for mankind’s immaturity and ignorance, He didn’t directly state that He was God, but instead quietly performed His work, expressing God’s will to save mankind from the perspective of the Son of man so that people would be more able to believe and follow Him, and thus gain salvation. We can see from this how humble and hidden the Lord Jesus was, and how sincere His desire to save mankind is!”
Brother Wang nodded his head and said, “So the Lord Jesus knew that we didn’t have an understanding of the incarnation and wouldn’t be able to worship Christ as God, so He spoke of it that way so we’d be better able to accept His words. The Lord understands our shortcomings so well!”
Liu Qing said with a sense of great significance, “That’s right. Even though we didn’t realize that the Lord Jesus was God Himself and didn’t worship Him as God, He was forgiving of our ignorance and used His words to strengthen our faith so that we could better accept the Lord’s words. From the Lord’s words we can also get an understanding of God’s will to save mankind. This is an advantage of God personally coming to earth to speak!”
Wen Fang said, “Thanks be to the Lord for His enlightenment and guidance! Now we understand that every word uttered and every deed done by God in the flesh contain truth we can seek. God’s will, His requirements of us, and His love for us are hidden within all of this. This is why we must maintain a heart of reverence toward God incarnate’s work and words. We have to seek and ponder these things more—this is the only way we’ll be able to understand the deeper meaning with God’s words.”
Liu Qing nodded and said to Wen Fang, hardly able to bear to part with the book in his hands, “I feel this book is really beneficial for us and can guide us to know God and understand His will. This is what we’ve been lacking in our faith—I really want to read it carefully. Sister Wen, could you ask your cousin if I could borrow a copy?”
The other brothers and sisters chimed in, “Yeah, could we get a copy too?”
Wen Fang said happily, “Of course you can! I’ve been reading this book nonstop lately. I’ve also seen really clear fellowship on God’s will behind the Lord Jesus working on the Sabbath, why the Lord Jesus asked Peter ‘love you Me?’ three times, the significance of Jesus appearing to His disciples after His resurrection, as well as truths regarding God’s incarnation and how God determined people’s outcomes and destinations. I’ve understood a lot of truths by reading this and I’ve also gained some understanding of the Lord. The more I read it the more my heart brightens. Over the last couple of days I’ve been mulling over: Who would be able to explain the Lord’s will behind every one of His words and deeds so clearly? I think that only God Himself could explain all this so clearly. I feel that these are God’s words, that this is God’s voice! Also, the Lord Jesus once prophesied: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come’ (John 16:12–13). And in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, it is prophesied many times that: ‘He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ These prophecies say that the Spirit of truth will come in the last days and utter more words to guide us to enter into all truth. I feel it’s quite possible that the Lord Jesus has already returned; I want my cousin to share more fellowship with me. Hey, do you guys want to come along?”
Liu Qing got a look of sudden understanding and said excitedly, “Thanks be to the Lord! Now that you put it that way, I think that must be true. Who can possibly fathom the Lord’s heart? Only God Himself knows the Lord Jesus’ thoughts behind everything He did and the Lord’s will for mankind, and only God Himself can explain it clearly! Just like in those two passages we read—the fellowship on God’s will behind the Lord’s parable of the lost sheep was so clear, allowing us to gain understanding of the Lord. That couldn’t come from a regular person. I feel it’s really likely that these are God’s words! We really have to take them in carefully. Wen Fang, how about you invite your cousin to come to the church so that everyone can hear her fellowship? If these really are God’s words, then we will be welcoming the return of the Lord Jesus.”
Brother Wang and Sister Zheng said happily, “Yes, Sister Wen Fang, set it up as soon as possible.”
Wen Fang nodded and said, “Certainly!”