The Lost Sheep Of Israel

He Shall Save His People

JESUS WAS COMMISSIONED to the house of Israel. He was commissioned to them, and He was not commissioned to anyone else. Jesus was commissioned to one people only, and they were a people who were lost (Matt.15:24). Furthermore, most shocking of all, this one, lost people to whom Jesus was commissioned to seek and to save (cf Matt.1:21; 2:6; Luke 19:10), remain, as a whole, unsaved!

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To be sure, Jesus prophesied that only a few would be finding the way that led into life (Matt.7:14). Furthermore, He announced privately to His disciples that the prophesy of Isaiah 6:9,10, was filled up in this people whom Jesus was commissioned to seek and save: They heard and observed, but their heart was stoutened, lest they should understand and be healed (Matt.13:14,15).

It was not just Herod (cf Matt.14:1,2), who was, after all, an Edomite and extremely superstitious, but it was the most dedicated and disciplined out of Israel itself, who remained stubbornly in their lost state despite the miracles and healings and all the powerful deeds performed by the Lord. Again, Jesus cites Isaiah: “This people with their lips is honoring Me, yet their heart is away at a distance from Me. Yet in vain are they revering Me, teaching for teachings the directions of men” (Matt.15:8,9; cit. Isa.29:13).

This is the lost people Jesus came to save! Their heart was far from Him, and that warrants judgment, but it also is indisputable evidence that they were lost. We cannot dismiss the fact that Jesus did not save them by saying their behavior as lost sheep shows they did not deserve to be saved or calls for His everlasting rejection of them and condemnation to eternal hell. He did not come to save sheep that were well behaved and obedient, but sheep that were lost. And that was the obvious state of His people, Israel.

Even though many of them, “who have an illness” (Matt.14:35) were “brought safely through” their physical debilities, they were not brought safely through their more serious debility of being lost in sin. Their leaders were blind, and they were leading the people who also were blind, so that they all would “be falling into a pit” (Matt.15:14). Yet this danger was not pointed out to the crowds of people, but only to the disciples. To these few, Jesus gave warning, though even here not always in clearest of terms: “For whosoever may be wanting to save his soul shall be destroying it. Yet whoever should be destroying his soul on My account shall be finding it. For what will a man be benefited, if he should ever be gaining the whole world, yet be forfeiting his soul” (Matt.16:25,26).

The facts are that Jesus came to save a people He did not save; He spoke to the people in such a way that they would not understand; He explained what He was saying to only a few, who themselves had difficulty grasping it and sometimes denied it outright (cf Matt.16:22); God Himself had declared their blindness and stoutened heart centuries before; He alone could reveal the truth to them (cf Matt. 16:15), and He was not doing so.

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This does not mean that Jesus does not carry out His commission. Because the sheep were not found during this ministry does not mean they will never be found and saved. Because their hearts were stoutened does not mean they will not be granted mercy and enlightenment (cf Rom.11:32). The truth was hidden from the masses, but the truth is that the entirety of Israel will be saved from its sins, that Israel will be blessed and be a blessing, that Jesus will be known as He is. If Jesus is not realized as Saviour, then it is not true that He saves His people from their sins.

Israel was a people like sheep without a shepherd (Matt.9:36). Very pointedly Jesus asked those in the synagogue who put their interpretation of the law above the meaning of the law, “What man of you will there be, who will have one sheep, and if ever this should be falling into a pit on the sabbaths, will not take hold of it and raise it?” (Matt.12:11). Later He used a similar picture of a shepherd and a lost sheep to speak of His own work of seeking and saving “the little ones” of Israel, lest they should be perishing (Matt.18:12-14). In John’s account, the analogy is expanded. Jesus’ testimony was that He was “the Shepherd ideal” Who lays down His soul for the sake of the sheep (John 10:11-16).

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Peter becomes the privileged example of the lost sheep who is found and saved by the Shepherd. He had witnessed the Lord’s power over the storm and raging sea recorded in Matthew 8:23-27, crying out “Lord! Save us! We are perishing!” Now in 14:24-33 when they are again threatened by the raging sea, impetuous Peter asks the Lord to order him to walk on the water as the Lord Himself was doing. Yet fear and lack of faith takes over once again, and Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!”

Time after time Peter rushes ahead, wanders in accord with his own way, and gets himself in trouble, needing to be saved. Yet all these experiences are from God and for Peter’s good, so that he would learn to recognize Who Jesus is. The great avowal of Matthew 16:16 is not a formula for salvation, but rather it is the consequence of God’s revelation to Peter through his failures and God’s salvation granted to him of the truth: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is not a creed learned by rote in order to become saved. It is a testimony of having been saved, and of knowing it.

This is how the lost sheep of the house of Israel will be saved and how they will come to avow that Jesus is Lord (cf Rom. 10:9,10). It will not be revealed by other human beings, but by the Father of Him Who saves them from their sins.

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It was not given to the people as a whole, at this time, to understand the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens (Matt.13:11). They saw the signs that pointed to Jesus as their Saviour from sins, the miracles of healing and authority over powers of evil, but they were not healed of that universally human, inner leprosy of sin and hypocrisy and self-centeredness that was at the root of all their troubles and was of the essence of their lostness.

They, as a people, did not even recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed Son of the living God. Instead, some were like Herod, and decided He was John the Baptist risen from the dead, or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt.16:14). Only a few were like Peter in recognizing the truth and knew the happiness of believing that here was the Saviour Who was the Anointed One and the Son of the living God (16:16).

Revelation and understanding could come only from the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not anything anyone could boast in. If the revelation of Christ could come only from the Father, no less would the work of the salvation of the lost sheep of Israel be that of God, His achievement, and all to His glory!

The revelation of Jesus as Saviour from sins, as the anointed Christ Who would rule and bless, as the Son of the living God Who would manifest the power, wisdom, and love of the Father, did not enter the hearts of this people. But that must ultimately be done. Otherwise, Jesus is not their Saviour from their sins, their Good Shepherd Who finds the lost sheep, or the true Son of the living God. What His Name says He is, what He is called and designated to be, He will become in full recognition with joy and praise and thanksgiving.

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In making the saving work of the Good Shepherd dependent on the independent willingness of the sheep to be saved, the severity of the condition of being lost has been exaggerated beyond recognition. Since it was left up to Israel whether or not they would let Jesus save them, it is reasoned to be necessary that the results of a wrong choice be exceedingly harsh. Being lost was not enough. The lostness must involve eventual, everlasting, painful lostness. Otherwise, (it is supposed), the sheep might not think it worthwhile to admit their present lostness, or be motivated sufficiently to keep themselves within the confines of salvation and be faithful in following the Shepherd.

But this is not what is being presented in Matthew 16. Those, like Peter, whose will is directed to picking up their cross and following the Lord (Matt.16:24) would do so because of their recognition of Christ as the Son of the living God, which recognition is given to them by the Father (16:16,17). Such a happy recognition was not then given to the scribes and Pharisees or to the majority of that nation. The result for them is that they will be forfeiting their soul (16:25,26).

This is severe enough. But it is not a matter of suffering loss for all eternity in hell. Soul speaks of the senses and here especially of pleasant sensations. It has to do with the joys and pleasures of that great kingdom which was promised to Israel, and will surely come and be clearly perceived (16:28). These will be forfeited by those of Israel who do not take up their cross (the temporary sufferings that precede the kingdom).

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We say it is unfair for someone to suffer for something they were not given the grace of avoiding. But being lost in sin involves not only present misery but future suffering as well, as God deems best. The problem here is not the existence of future judgment and loss, but in viewing these future losses entirely as ends in themselves and as penalties entirely divorced from divine responsibility and purpose in wisdom.

The forfeiting of the joys of the kingdom is a sad thing in itself, but it must be viewed in light of God’s operations. That sin has future repercussions needs to be made clear. But in making this clear we must never lose sight of God’s great and triumphant and gracious dealings with sinners. With reference to Israel and the forfeiting of the soulish pleasures of the kingdom by many lost sheep of that nation, we must always keep in mind that Jesus came to seek and save these lost people of His from their sins. That will help put God’s works of choosing some and revealing His truth to them, while still locking up others in stubbornness for a while and bringing them into judgment as well, in perspective.

So we marvel at God’s great grace to us in this day of darkness and human pride. Yet we rejoice that all God’s operations, choosing and calling as well as judging and condemning, must finally be related to that great work of the cross and that glorious triumph of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour and Lord of us all.

Dean Hough

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