Irresistible Grace

Stumbling blocks are those things that cause the adopted children of God to stumble into living like strangers. The children of God are exempt from the civil and ceremonial laws and belong to Him by grace alone. Strangers are bound by the Law. After revealing the truth about divine adoption, Jesus spoke a woe on those through whom stumbling blocks come and challenged His disciples to not despise any single adopted child of the Father for any reason. Now, He poses a question to His disciples concerning the nature of adoption.

Matthew 18:12-14

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

The will of the Father

Why do you think Jesus poses the question He does to His disciples? Why do you think Matthew includes this particular question at this point in his narrative? Jesus’s question follows His revelation that sons are exempt and his explanation of how those who are adopted by the Father are to be accepted rather than despised. He asks a rhetorical question about a shepherd’s care for his flock and teaches that God’s will for His adopted children is like a shepherd’s care for his flock. Jesus is telling His disciples how the Father feels and how serious He is about His watchcare over His adopted children. It is not the Father’s will that any of His adopted children perish, so He chases them down.

The Father cares such for His adopted children that, no matter how they stray from Him, He does not will that any one of them perish. So, His election is unconditional. That’s it. That’s the point of this passage. Considering this passage, I want to pose a few questions.

Who are the lost sheep?

There are three possibilities: The Jews, the elect who have not yet experienced conversion, or those who have been converted but have stumbled. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). In that text, we get a taste of Gentile inclusion with Israel. So, the lost sheep according to Matthew are at least some Jews and come to include some Gentiles (cf. John 10:16). In the immediate context, stumbling blocks are in view. So, all three possibilities are healthy interpretations of Jesus’s teaching. Jesus likely has all three in mind, and Matthew’s special emphasis is on the Jews because he is writing to his fellow Jews.

Are the lost sheep all of Israel or a remnant? They are a remnant. Consider the turning of the Old Testament. God selected a nation, Israel, and consistently only saved a remnant. During Jesus’s bodily ministry on this earth, only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remain. Israel is a type of the eschatological people of God. Not all Israel is Israel (cf. Romans 9:6-7). Jesus condemned a certain group of Pharisees and scribes, calling them sons of serpents and revealing that they were condemned in their false teaching (cf. Matthew 12:34-37). The lost sheep of the house of Israel are those within Israel who are elect to be adopted as eschatological children of God. The inclusion of the Gentiles is similarly not the inclusion of all Gentiles, but only the elect remnant. Jesus came to seek that which was lost.

How does the Father feel about the return of a lost sheep?

Look at verse 13. In His illustration, Jesus describes the rejoicing of a human shepherd:

If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.

The Father’s will is like this. The human shepherd rejoices if he finds his sheep. The Father rejoices when He finds His sheep. He rejoices more over the lost sheep who are found than over those who are not currently straying. That’s not to say He doesn’t delight in the community of faithful believers. How much more, then, when one of His elect enter into the fold? If God rejoices over those who are brought back to His fold despite their sin and straying away, should we not also rejoice despite their previous sin and straying away?

Does the Father succeed in bringing the lost sheep back into the fold?

Notice, the sheep does not seek the Father. The Father wills to seek after the sheep. He does so in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to seek and save what was lost. If Jesus does not accomplish what He purposed to accomplished, then He failed and was wrong about what He would accomplish. If Jesus was wrong about His own mission, then He is only a man who makes mistakes like any other. Further, If Jesus was wrong about His mission and fails to bring in all the lost sheep, He is either a liar or a crazy and delusional man with a hyped up messiah-complex. If all the lost sheep are not converted, Christianity is a fraudulent worldview. The reputation of Jesus Christ hinges on His ability to bring all the lost sheep into His fold—not a pastor’s ability to build a local church but Jesus’s ability to build His own church according to the Father’s will. All of the sudden, we come up against the doctrine of irresistible grace. People seem to have the perfect freedom to resist God’s grace, don’t they? Everyday people seem to reject the Gospel and “Christians” seem to walk away from the faith. Others might not leave the faith but do fall away from the covenant community and into sin. They stray. Those things to not happen outside of Jesus Christ’s promise. He personally seeks those lost sheep who are unconverted or who have stumbled and again live like strangers. No one the Father has given Him will be lost (cf. John 6:39; 10:28). Jesus will convert all the lost sheep. He will bring those who have stumbled back into His flock, the covenant community.

Irresistible grace does not mean people cannot decline a proper Gospel invitation or stumble. Irresistible grace does mean that Jesus will convert and deliver all those the Father has chosen into His kingdom. Jesus cannot fail. He will win His bride, build His church. The Father does not will that anyone He has chosen to adopt perish. What a comfort for Christian parents who have apostate children or faithful sheep with friends who have gone astray. What a comfort it is to know that Christ does not fail. When we practice evangelism, we participate with Him–which means we cannot fail to accomplish the Father’s will for His lost sheep in our communities. Hallelujah. Let’s go conquer the earth with Christ.

A child of God is…A stranger is…
converted, adopted, by grace alone and exempt from works-righteousness.stuck trying to earn his or her own righteousness.
not a seeker, but sought after and won by Christ.stuck trying to find his or her own way.


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