THE LOST SHEEP
Matthew 18:12-14 How think ye? If a man have a 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? 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. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (See Luke 15:3-7).
The disciples of Jesus posed this question, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? It is evident from their question that the disciples expected a temporal kingdom on earth to be established by Jesus. Mark tells us that the disciples had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest (Mark 9:34), while; in Luke's account we find this same reasoning, which Jesus perceived in their hearts (Luke 9:46-47). In this earthly kingdom, which they anticipated, they desired to know who, of their number, would hold the higher positions of responsibility and honor.
To answer this question, Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them (Vs. 2). He then toldthem that, to be a part of His kingdom, they must be converted - they must change their way of thinking about the kingdom. They must become as little children (Vs. 3), having no pride or ambition for positions of power and authority. Rather, they were to develop the humble character and nature usually associated with a child. Using the child as an example, Jesus tells them, whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Vs. 4). In Mark 9:35, Jesus added this thought, if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and a servant of all. Servants, as humble as children, are to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus was to establish. This was just the opposite of what the disciples expected. Indeed, it was necessary for them to change their earthly conceptions of the kingdom that was to come - they must be converted and become childlike.
There are many references that establish elders as the leaders of the body of Christ, His church, which represents the kingdom of heaven on earth. Deacons are also named to serve under the direction of the elders. The qualifications of elders and deacons can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. In Acts 14:23, we find Paul ordaining elders in every church. Elders were to rule well. They were to labor by upholding and teaching the word and doctrine of God to the membership of the church as implied in 1 Timothy 5:17. They were to minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of each individual Christian making up the church over which they served as elders (James 5:14-15). In other examples we find elders administering relief to those in need (Acts 11:29-30), and correcting doctrinal errors (Acts 15:23-29). Paul told the elders of Ephesus, take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:28-29).
We can see, in this reference, the analogy made between the responsibilities of elders to that of shepherds. The flock they oversee is the membership of the particular congregation they serve. Using this same analogy, application can be made to the lesson text to show the importance of each individual member of a congregation of God's people. Verse 6 indicates that elders are neither to offend, nor to allow others to offend, God's children in any way, causing them to err or sin. The word of God is to be taught and upheld. Peaceful conditions and purity are to be maintained so members will not become discouraged and lose faith, but rather to trust and continue in the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A sheep that has strayed from the fold is in danger of losing its life by falling prey to wolves. A good shepherd will leave the sheep that are in the protection of the fold to search for the one gone astray. Finding it and saving it from death is cause for rejoicing. So it is with the children of God. Each soul is dear to God, and regardless how "little" they are, His will is that none should perish. Elders are God's shepherds on earth. It is a great job, yet it is lowly, because it is the position of a servant. They are to seek and save God's children when they stray. Indeed, they will find joy knowing that heaven is also rejoicing.