Following the Lamb
Sermon by Duurt Sikkens
You all know the parable about that one lost sheep. Let’s read it together, beginning at Matthew chapter 18 verse 10.
The chapter starts with the disciples asking a question: “who is the most important in the kingdom of heaven?” they want to know. And so to illustrate his answer Jesus calls a child over, and says to the disciples, that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to become like the children. Then he goes on to compare the adults to the children. He calls them “little ones”. But I expect you know all this. It is a well-known story.
And He continues to talk about these little ones. And then all of a sudden He says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones:” and this time when he says “little ones” he is not referring simply to all children in general as he was at the beginning of the chapter, but to spiritual children, because He goes on to say: “for I tell you, that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven”. So that means these ‘little ones” are believers. Because if you think that all children in the whole world have their own angel to intercede for them, then why do so many of these children die? So take time to consider the deeper meaning of the ‘little ones’ here .
He is talking about the ‘little ones’. And the ‘little ones’, that’s us.
We are not big, we are little. In the original Greek text we see for ‘little’ the word “micron”. And everybody knows what a micron-person is, that’s you. That’s something else for you to ponder on, micron.
And don’t despise them, Jesus says. And ‘despise’ means “look down on”. That’s what people do who think they are more important than others. Who think they are better than other people. And Jesus has always had an affinity with the little ones, the lesser, the least, the last, the lowest. Those people who often go unnoticed in this world.
And the angels of the believers, we read, are always in contact with the Father. And then we come to a very important sentence: “the son of man has come to save those who are lost”. That is the heart of the gospel. Jesus says: “I want to try and find and keep with me all those who I have lost. That’s the reason I came”.
What do you do when you lose something? Lose someone. You go and look for them, of course! And so Jesus then tells us a parable about this. About the lost sheep.
And I often ask myself the question: “Does my heart go out to those people who seem to be lost. Do I try to keep them in the fold’?” Because if I let them go, then I lose them, then something, or someone is lost.
“So, what do you think”, Jesus says. And I think that’s a wonderful question. And if you’re not careful you don’t even notice it when reading the passage. “What do you think?” He says.
Verse 12: “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them is lost, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that is lost? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish”. He is talking again about the ‘little ones’. So what do you think? In a different translation, instead of ‘what do you think?’, it says “or did you think differently?” Good, isn’t it? “or did you have other ideas”? Jesus says. “Did you think He didn’t care about this one little sheep”. Because if you did then you really don’t understand anything about God, and what He’s like.
Verse 12 begins with, “If a man had a hundred sheep, but actually the original text says “someone or other”. “If someone or other had a hundred sheep……” Just anyone. It doesn’t have to be someone important, just anyone. “…... and one was lost. And so we come to that notorious word “lost”. Is he saved or is he lost, we hear so often. Well that word “lost’, actually means in the original Greek text, ‘lost the way’ or ‘gone astray’.
I remember once that I was looking for a street in Amsterdam and all the roads were closed because of a marathon that was being held, and so I thought: “I’ll ask the way”. So I got out and walked towards a couple that were standing there and I asked, “Excuse me, but I have lost my way”. And the lady turned round, and with a terrible smell of alcohol coming from her mouth she said: “Well, sir, that happens to all of us at one time or another”.
Losing the way is what can happen to people when they belong in a group together. That is what the parable is about. People who belong in a group. But then they start to wander off and roam around. They go from one place to another. And in evangelical groups there are lots of people wandering off to see if there is anything sensational happening elsewhere. “Religious-shoppers” we call them. They go from one place to another, but no longer form part of their group. And then they don’t get fed and looked after properly. The shepherd has lost them. The word in the original text for ‘lost’ is ‘planaoo’, and that also means “to be tempted to sin”. “To be sent the wrong way”. They are lost to the shepherd because they have been tempted by other things and have wandered off and gone astray, gone the wrong way.
Well, that happened to me too, you know. I was taught to believe in predestination and in eternal sin. And I tell you now, if you believe these things, then you too are on the wrong path; you have wandered off the right path. You don’t want to, you don’tmean to, but you have.
And in all sorts of groups they have thought up the craziest of paths to walk on. Very strange ways of thinking that do you no good. And then you are being misled. And that’s what “tempted” means: ‘to be led a different way’. We read about it the most in the book of Revelations, so we can be sure that it is going to happen more and more.
Watch out that you are not misled. I pray that too: “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil, from satan”. Because it is satan who is the great tempter.He is the one who wants to mislead us, and that is a well-known fact. He is the tempter, always trying to keep us away from God, because that is his purpose in life. He does not want you to have an untroubled and happy life. You walk around in this life as a vulnerable little sheep. Satan is like a wild animal hunting for prey. He is a thief and a robber.
And this Greek word for thief also means deceit. Something is said to you, and later on it turns out not to be not true.
For example, when it comes to physical healing. Expectations are high but we see many disappointments.
And the poor sheep, who are searching for healing, let lots of different people lay hands on them, even in far away countries, because they think that is the right path.
This Greek word for ‘thief’ also means: to be led on to the wrong track, to be misled. They are not the paths of righteousness talked about in Psalm 23.
For example, in some evangelical groups they worship the holy spirit. When you hear some of the things they say, you can’t believe your ears. You can’t worship the holy spirit! That is put quite clearly in the book of Revelation. “Worship God’. There is no text to be found in the Bible about worshipping the Spirit. And it is all very vague, and can sometimes bring you into a sort of trance. And Jesus said in Luke chapter 21 verse 34: “Be careful for intoxication and drunkenness”. And He is not talking about opium addicts, but about religious addicts. They work themselves up into a spiritual trance just like the people of Israel did round the golden calf.
It also means “to be mistaken”. I made a mistake, that’s all.
Well, I have experienced all these things. Who hasn’t? Who among us has NOT had someone try to persuade them to follow a different path, or to distract them, or to tempt them to sin, or have said themselves, “I made a mistake”.
And now imagine you are that sheep. A member of the congregation, someone who originally belonged to the fold. Zephaniah mentions something about this in chapter three verse 18. The Dutch bible translates it as follows: “those who are sad and far from the festivities I will gather together, because they belong with you”. That’s what the shepherd says. “Those who are far away from the group, I will go and get them, because they belong with you”. Isn’t that wonderful?
And that is what this work of Vox is focussed on. On the few people, or even just the one person who has gone astray, and is far away from the festivities.
So imagine that you are a sheep all on your own and you get stuck. You get lost, or whatever, but you get stuck. It can happen, even to you here. You can come here every Sunday but you could be spiritually lost, stuck. Then you are adrift, you have wandered off and are alienated from the shepherd, because a flock is a flock thanks only to the shepherd, because he keeps it together.
You may even been alienated from yourself. And then you don’t know who you are anymore. “Am I a sheep? Do I belong in the fold?” That is a spiritual identity crisis. But it also has to do with a fear of commitment. You don’t dare to join in a group because you want to keep your freedom, but you muddle it up with loneliness. You get in a muddle with your thoughts. Do you dare join in a group, to belong in a group, because your life is dependent on this group. Do you dare to give the other person a chance to love you? Do you dare to allow someone near you, who will show you compassion, who is simply good for you? Or do you say: “O I’ll be alright on my own. I don’t want to bother other people”. And more of those sort of remarks, which keep you from experiencing the love that God wants to show you through other people. Do you want to be loved or not?
Or is it just that you are not used to it. Because then you are one of those people who are in need of that warm gesture, that friendly arm around you, showing God’s love.
By people who are lonely, completely alone, and then I mean spiritually alone, are easy prey for the wolves. And which wolves are the most dangerous do you think? Those in sheep’s clothing. They talk about theLord, and about God, because theouter layer is the sheep’s clothing, his wool, making him look and sound like a sheep.
Jesus is so cross with these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Do you know what He said once?
“Hypocrites, you travel all over the country and seas to convert one person, and then he becomes twice as bad as you”. That’s what He said. He saw through them. In Matthew chapter 23 verse 15 he says: “You make him a child of hell”. They are wolves.
Ezekiel prophesied about the sheep. “Do you know why they wander off?” he said, “there is no shepherd. No one to keep them together”.
And the shepherd’s tools, do you remember what they are: two staffs. One is called “loving kindness” and the other “keeping together”. That is all described in Zacharias chapter 11.
But do you know what I think is so awful? The attitude which many people have toward the sheep who wanders off. If you see a sheep wandering away from the fold, if you see him getting lost, being tempted away, making mistakes and being deceived, one of US, are you going to kick him while he is down?
Send him an email or a letter to admonish him? If that is your attitude then you have got it all wrong. Because all God wants is a chat. A friendly chat. Go to the person concerned and talk to him.
But then of course there is that famous text in Matthew chapter 18 verse 15: “If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone”. The Dutch bible even says go and punish him. But do you know what the original text says? “Help him put things right”. You don’t blame him or punish him. He knows himself he’s done wrong. You help him put it right, so that he can get back onto the right path. Don’t judge.
If people see each other regularly, they don’t write each other letters or emails warning them about the consequences of their behaviour. Judas also became a victim of this. When he confessed of having done wrong He was told: “what does that matter to us. Deal with it yourself”. That is kicking someone when he is down.
And what happens to the sheep if you do that? It becomes a black sheep. People are often so quick to judge, and their harsh words seem to come so easily. And some even go a step further, and go after the person, and try to bring him back to have him punished. Well, it won’t help. Maybe then with two of you. But that won’t help either.
And then Jesus says in verse 17: “Treat him like a heathen and a tax collector”. And so my question to you is: “Who was it who went about with heathens and tax collectors?”
Our Lord, of course, because if you associate with heathens and tax collectors, then you have the opportunity to tell them about the gospel. All over again.
Never write anyone off. If you do, then you don’t understand anything about the gospel. You despise the little ones, the lesser ones. You can never go after someone and reproach him for his sins, because they are forgiven.
Think for a moment of all the people who live near you. What sort of things do you say about them? What is your opinion of each other? How do we think about each other. Have I got a past? I have, but that’s what it is, in the past. Kicking someone when he is down is really low. He is already down on the ground.
Do you want to be a good shepherd? Do you really? Then that shows that you really care about people, because a good shepherd really cares about all the sheep in his flock. A hireling is just someone being paid to do a job, and is not a real shepherd at heart, and doesn’t understand anything about the sacrifice of Jesus, because Jesus died for friend and enemy. He was a black sheep himself.
Being a black sheep, means that you get the blame for everything. Jesus took all the blame on Himself. He was completely innocent but he said; “Give me the blame. Make me the black sheep, then you can’t be blamed”. What do you think of that?
I don’t need to tell you about the ritual of the “Day of Atonement”. Most of you know about that. Well, on this day the sins of the whole nation were loaded onto two goats in the desert. Moses did that, or the high priest.
One goat was sacrificed, representing our Lord Jesus Christ dying for our sins on the cross. On the other they layed hands on and then sent it into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the sins of Israel, just as God removes our sins far away from us.
In English they call this goat a ‘scapegoat’. Have you ever read about that? ‘Scape’ from EScape. You escape your punishment thanks to the sacrifice that Jesus made, which is why Paul says in Romans chapter 8 verse 1: “There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.
What a wonderful person Jesus was. “Give me your sins” he said. When Jesus hung on the cross, it was the great day of reconciliation in heaven, the Day of Atonement. And then all things were fulfilled. What love and compassion he showed! This divine and spiritual Sabbath, to which everyone can come for rest, took place at Golgotha. That was a high sabbath John says in chapter 19 verse 31.
With this sacrifice Jesus manifested his love. And “Love” Paul says, “real love, the love of God” – and he’s talking about the agape, the pure love of God, “is not selfish”. This is love of a higher degree, a love that reaches out to others, to care for them, to get back what has been lost.
I think it is such a wonderful story that Jesus tells here, about the shepherd who says: “I’ll leave the ninety-nine sheep here. They will be alright”. Because he is concerned about the that one sheep who isn’t there. His heart goes out to that one sheep. And if he finds it……..yes if, because that’s actually what it says, “if he happens to find it”. If he is lucky enough to find it. Because he can go out looking for it, but it could be that he doesn’t find it. But if he does find him…………..well what do you say to him then? Because maybe he is afraid, or feeling guilty. Well, you should show your joy in finding the sheep. And I think it’s so wonderful that the shepherd is happier with thisone sheep than with all the rest. He shouts out with joy.
So how do you think do the other ninety-nine react to this?
“We have always been faithful. We have never had a feast laid on for us”, just like the brother of the prodigal son? Why have they never celebrated? Why didn’t he just lay on a feast himself? He could have done that. So celebrate when a lost sheep returns with the shepherd. The angels rejoice too.
So please try and take a milder attitude to brothers and sisters who sin, and to christians who have lost their way. Try to separate them in your mind from all the religion and religious rules in this world, and just and go out and search. Just search. You will find these lost sheep everywhere. In every kind of church and evangelical group.
But don’t forget to show them compassion. That’s what’s important. Because otherwise when a sheep does eventually come to the conclusion, “I’ve gone the wrong way, I have sinned”, he may feel too afraid to come back. Because of something that had happened in the past. He may have been hit with a stone, or even with a staff. Can a lost sheep return and find refuge with you? What sort of message do you send out? What can they expect from you? Forgiveness? Compassion? Or do you despise the little ones? Do you care about what happens to others? What motivates you, what influences your thoughts?
For example: if someone comes to your church. Someone who has been to lots of other churches, and you know him and all about his past. Is he welcome or not? He might be standing outside worrying about whether he should go in, maybe even smoking a cigar for his nerves. Is he welcome or not?
In the story about the prodigal son, if you look carefully, you will see that it says that the father went out to meet him………….running. Running!!!! What a wonderful father. “There he is” he shouts in excitement. What a way to be welcomed back!
So my question to myself is – because I always ask myself these questions too; “AmI a good shepherd, or not? Can someone confide in me, or not? Will I listen to them, or do you find it necessary to begin straight away by telling them what you think of them?
Judging first and listening afterwards. Well, that is a pity then.
I would rather have someone put their arms around me and not say anything. If I had gone astray, gone along the wrong path and someone just comforted me like that, then I would feel safe.
If they showed me warmth and understanding, then I would feel able to confide in them and look to them for help.
Now a few more thoughts about the sheep. In the original Greek text it says: ‘probaton’. Do you know what that means? He walks in front, he leads, a leader. A sheep, or a goat etc. it doesn’t matter they are all small animals, the micron. A sheep is an image of your inner person, of your spirit, of your soul. And Jesus chose a very small sheep, a lamb. Something else for you to think about!
It even says baby lamb. Well, you can’t get much smaller than that!
The small cattle, those who have just been baptised, reborn.
Look up in Genesis the passage about Jacob’s herds, with all the small cattle. Jacob is going to meet Esau, Genesis 33 verses 13 and 14, and then this happens: “My lord knows that the children are frail, and the flocks and herds giving suck are a care to me; (I’m talking about the people in the church, you realise that by now I hope); “if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die”. How fast were they going then? Quite slowly actually.
So then he says: “Let my lord pass on before his servant (he’s talking about Esau), and I will lead on slowly according to the pace of the cattle which are before me and according to the pace of the children”.
So how about that!? What a good shepherd Jacob proves to be here. He doesn’t urge them on faster and faster. He slows down to the tempo of the children and the small cattle, the flocks of sheep and goats. They don’t go very fast. And sometimes they stop and sniff around, and the children run off. And what does the shepherd do? He says, wait for them. Go slower. This is our tempo. The apostle
Paul would say: ” He who believes will not make haste”.
What do you think of that? The little ones determine the tempo, the micron. What a good shepherd. Jacob and Abraham are well-known for being good shepherds. Why? Because they have God as their good shepherd, their example. And God does not rush you. He doesn’t use his staff to make them go faster, he leads them to quiet pools of fresh water.
There are goats too. Do you know what the goat portrays? Someone who is obstinate. Who won’t listen. Who is rude, and cheeky, and loud mouthed. But the biggest characteristic is: domineering.
They want to be in charge. But in the end the sheep and the goats are separated. And a lamb, a small sheep, that is a symbol for gentleness and innocence and helplessness. It cannot defend itself in its own power, it is very vulnerable. The lamb of God; do you see him there in the unseen world. Do you see God protecting that Lamb?
That little lamb, THAT Lamb walks in front and leads. Because we say, as in Revelation 14 verse 4: “We follow the Lamb wherever it goes”. And where does that lead?” to goodness and mercy, because following the Lamb means in His tempo, according to His compassionate nature, and then goodness and mercy will follow YOU.
And when the Lamb looks round, the Lamb of God, and He sees us following, then He can also say: “Goodness and mercy follow Me because these sheep, these people who are following me, radiate goodness and mercy.” THAT is what his true followers are like: full of compassion and goodness and mercy. And the expression “To follow Jesus”, is used in all sorts of situations. But who has the courage to follow? Who dares? The little Lamb walks in front and leads us.
I want to read a prophecy to you which has always meant a lot to one of our sisters who is living in a psychiatric setting, and it encourages her and keeps her going.
“For you. For all of you, who are afraid, because you have been beaten and pushed around from one place to the next, you who have been abused and are running away, refugees in a strange environment. Deep within you is such a strong desire for love, to be loved, to become someone’s beloved. A longing so strong that it becomes a groaning cry emanating from deep down within you.
And that longing will be fulfilled by God through his people, through someone who will manifest the love of God to you and who will treat you as God would. Trust yourself, with all your pain and helplessness, and your hidden sorrows, to God’s trusted followers”.
And then? What happens then?
Do you long to be that sort of person who everybody feels safe with, whom people feel they can confide in, because they have seen that you are a loving and compassionate person, and they know they can trust you? One of Gods trustworthy followers?
If so, you will embrace those who are depressed. You will help those who are frightened to have a life free of fear, raise up the downtrodden, show love and respect to the outcast, give the abused a proper life and offer an eternal home to the refugees. In this way you show these unfortunate people God’s love. And by manifesting God’s love for them, you also show them how important each one of them is to God.
Show mercy instead of judging, and then it can be said of you: “Behold, my loved ones, listen to them”.
I just want to say a short prayer: “Father, teach us to be a lamb, and to become and good shepherd.