10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
A month or so back I saw a seminary president online announcing the Fall chapel lineup for their school. He announced with pleasure how happy the school was to have so many “leading pastors” in the nation coming to speak. Last year a pastor friend of mind heard one pastor speak of another pastor as “a high impact leader.” And just recently I heard two larger church pastors speaking of another pastor as being “a small church” pastor and “unsophisticated.”
This is just a brief list off the top of my head. Examples could be multiplied considerably.
It is interesting, is it not, these power words we use?
Heard charitably, I suppose it might be a kind of compliment to those being discussed. And yet, I wonder. What is this check in many of our guts at this kind of language, these kinds of descriptors? I would propose that this check in our guts has to do with the way Jesus spoke about the Kingdom. His words sounded very different from these.
Do not look down on the humble Christian.
Jesus appealed to the example of the child earlier in this chapter. Now He seems to appeal to the child again, though we need to read this carefully.
10a “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.
A.T. Robertson says this could be referring to “each little child or child of faith.” Other interpreters see “see these little ones” as “those who are on the fence, who are half in and half out,” or “are not really little ones or insignificant persons, but those considered such by others,” or the “socially unattractive or spiritually unstrategic,” or “literal children.”
I personally lean toward the idea that, having used the child as an object lesson earlier in our chapter, Jesus is not extending the term to apply to all of His followers but maybe especially to His followers that the world would consider simple or unsophisticated. In this vein, Jesus is saying, “Do not despise the humble Christian. Do not despise my children.” I believe, in other words, that Jesus is using term “little ones” here in much the same way that John referred to believers as “little children” multiple times in 1 John.
Do not look down on the humble Christian. The world is not to despise the church, to be sure, though it frequently does. But within the church this is a clarion warning against haughtiness, against snobbery, against the importation of the power dynamics of the world: its language, its dress, its politics. Having established the need to honor these little children earlier by revealing that such is the way of the Kingdom, Jesus now makes a fascinating additional argument.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Jesus refers to “their angels,” that is, the angels of “these little ones.” While this is popularly understood to mean that children in particular have guardian angels, we should recognize that this may be too limited. If “these little ones” refers to all believers then it would mean, of course, that all believers have such an angel.
These words are popularly understood to be referring to “guardian angels,” but is this so? Do we each have an angel especially assigned to us?
The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary has demonstrated that this idea of guardian angels is very old idea and appears in early Jewish non-canonical writings. For instance:
The Old Testament story of Jacob, who had angelic protection, is often picked up as an individual with a guardian angel: “So the angel said to him, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob; I am the angel who has been walking with you and guarding you from your infancy.’”
Perhaps we should say this: there does not appear to be anything in scripture that would conflict with the idea of a guardian angel, but the lack of biblical evidence filling in the details should lead us to be humble in how meticulous a theology of guardian angels we form. Is it not enough to say what Jesus says here, that God’s children have “their angel[s]”?
Furthermore, note that what is particularly significant about these angels is that they “always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Meaning, these angels have their charges (i.e., believers, followers of Jesus) and they stand perfectly in the will of the God who commissions them.
There is great comfort in this. I recall when my daughter was a little girl how she would sometimes grow frightened at night. I used to tell her, “Hannah, though you cannot see him, at the end of your bed there stands a giant, strong, guardian angel. He will never sleep. He will never get tired. He has been commissioned to watch over you. He helps you in ways you cannot imagine and in ways you will not know until Heaven. But rest easy tonight! He is here. Nothing will get past him.”
Do not despise the humble Christian. He or she bears the protection of God.
God loves His little children.
He or she is also loved by God! Jesus draws on an image that would have been quite familiar to His audience to demonstrate the love of God.
12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
This “What do you think?” is important. It draws us into the coming analogy of the Kingdom and of God’s love. Then, the analogy itself: one sheep out of one hundred goes astray. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the lost one. That, in and of itself, demonstrates the love of God. But verse 13 adds a crucial element of feeling: after finding the one sheep “he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”
Luke’s rendering of this in Luke 15 draws out this sense of God’s joy even more vividly:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The one little sheep that goes astray once again highlights the humble circumstance of the “little child” follower of Jesus. We are that one sheep that went astray and Jesus is the good shepherd who comes for us. But the joy of these passages is most powerful: he rejoices over it (Matthew 18:13), he calls his friends and neighbors over (Luke 15:6), he bids them rejoice with him (Luke 15:6), and heaven itself rejoices!
See how you are loved! See how you are valued! We little children of the Kingdom, we lone, lost sheep who went astray: we are loved! Our Savior Shepherd leaves the ninety and the nine, seeks us, finds us, rescues us, and then rejoices!
God will save His children.
The final verse underscores this last point: that the Lord rescues His children. Listen:
14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
It is not God’s will that you or that any should perish! Peter will draw on this image in 2 Peter 3:
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Both passages stress the same reality:
- “it is not the will of my Father…that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14)
- “The Lord…not wishing that any should perish…” (2 Peter 3:9)
Do not despise the humble person, believer or not. Do not despise the lowly, as the world labels them: the poor, the unsophisticated (whatever that is!), the meek, the wayward, the lost. Do not. God loves that person…and I am that person…and so are you!
In 2007 Brian Follis was interviewed in the pages of Christianity Today about the late Christian teacher and author, Francis Schaeffer. He revealed something quite moving about Francis and his wife Edith.
How would you describe Schaeffer as a person? If we met him, what would he seem like to us?
Probably a bit strange. The knickers, goatee beard. A pretty intense individual, but an extremely caring individual. What I find fascinating is that when Schaeffer made it big in the 1970s and early 80s, when he was speaking in conferences of 5,000 and 7,000 people, his old slogan of “there are no little people, no little places” still rang true for him. So on one occasion, he was missing for a seminar. They couldn’t find him, and they tracked back his movements to find Francis and Edith Schaeffer sharing with a chambermaid, sort of one of the junior staff at the hotel. Not an important person. But to him she was important, and I think that was part of the key to the man’s success. People mattered. He was a kind, generally compassionate man, and his apologetics were a means of trying to reach people. They weren’t simply a professional ministry tool. They flowed from his love for Christ and his real love for people.
There are no little people.
Do not despise the little children, be they 4 or 104.
Be a little child in the Kingdom!
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
 A.T. Robertson. The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Mark. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p.147-148.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.2. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.219.
 Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.113.