This section stresses the importance of lowliness in the kingdom of God.
The disciples come to Jesus with what they feel is an important question: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus answers by bringing a young child among them (Matthew 18:2). Young children didn’t have a high social standing. They were of low importance. Jesus is saying that making less of yourself is the path to greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 18:4).
We are not only to take a low position like children, but to care for children who are in a low position (Matthew 18:5). This includes helping children to stay away from sin and leading them to God (Matthew 18:6).
We should care for children like a shepherd cares for his sheep and seeks one out if it gets lost (Matthew 18:12).
Jesus talks about the dangers of sin. If a fellow believer falls into sin, the church should correct him and forgive him if he repents (Matthew 18:15).
Peter then asks, “How many times shall I forgive my brother?” Jesus responds with, “Seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Numerically, this was a way of saying, “Stop counting.”
Jesus emphasizes this point by telling a parable about a servant who was forgiven a great, uncountable debt, but he was unwilling to forgive a small, countable debt owed to him (Matthew 18:28). The story highlights that God’s forgiveness propels our forgiveness. So when we don’t forgive, we act as if we haven’t been forgiven.
Why is this good news?
The two parables in this passage show us how we are to treat one another and children. But they also show us how Jesus has treated us as his children.
He is depicted a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine sheep to find one that was lost. Jesus left heaven and the company of myriads of angels (Matthew 18:10) to come and call out these 12 disciples. Ultimately, Jesus is the good shepherd who pursues each of his sheep individually.
He is also depicted as a king forgiving his servant’s debts. Jesus is more than an earthly king, but a heavenly one. And we didn’t owe some earthly currency, but an unplayable spiritual debt of sin. Yet, Jesus not only forgave that debt, he paid it in full by taking the sentence we deserved on the cross (Galatians 3:13).
Jesus alone is the one with all the standing and power in the Kingdom of God. Yet he seeks after us like children, delivers us from temptation, rescues us like lost sheep, and forgives us over and again without keeping count.
And Jesus accomplished all of this by not bearing his actual status in mind. He did not use his identity as God himself to get out of what he swore to do for us on the cross (Philippians 2:6). Instead, he humbled himself fully to save us, rescue us, and pay our debt (Philippians 2:8).
See for yourself.
May the Holy Spirit open your eyes to see the God who goes after his lost children. And Jesus as who humbly paid our debt.