18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!  For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell  of fire.
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.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed  in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:1-20 (ESV)
“So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
Thus Jesus ends his parable about leaving the 99 and searching for the one. About what it means that we don’t despise the little ones, cause them to fall away from the faith, or let them stray without any concern. It’s the central thought that pulls all four of these collected sayings of Jesus together. The Father’s love for little ones, the Father’s love for you and yours. The Father’s love for all those who have been humbled in the waters of baptism and like little children and have entered the kingdom of heaven, to be adopted by our father in heaven, through the death and resurrection of his son, who purchased them with his blood because they were unable to redeem themselves.
No, God does not will that any of these little ones should perish, should lose the faith and die in despair. And it is a very real fear. And it happens for so many reasons as the result of so many scandolons and temptations. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! It is necessary for temptations to come, but woe to him through whom they come!” These are the words of Jesus speaking of how one despises the children, the little ones of God. And the sin he speaks of is the sin of unbelief, the sin of false belief that leads to despair, and from despair, every other great shame and vice known in this world that spurns the love of God. The temptations that drive the children away, to think that God himself despises them and does not cherish them, because his church does not love them and will not forgive them, places obstacles and stumbling stones in their way, perhaps even requirements for their repentance to be good enough after humpty dumpty has had his great fall and all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t put humpty dumpty together again. And life is so often that way when it comes to the relationships through which these temptations come. And the children come to church and no longer feel at home, because the Lord’s Table of Grace is about as comfortable as thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws.
But it is precisely then, that the Lord would leave the 99 behind and go search for the one who has strayed off the path, and found themselves lost amidst the cliffs and crags of the desert of death. It is precisely then that he says to the church, to the disciples, to his children, if your brother sins against you, if your sister trespasses and strays from the path, don’t be the stone that causes them to stumble. Rather go to them, try to reconcile. Go to them that is in a spirit of forgiveness and try to win them back. If you can’t do it, then take two or three others, if that doesn’t work take it to the church. All the while remembering that the goal is to win for yourself a brother, to gain a sister in the faith, to see one humble himself like a little child, and that means the difficult, the hard, the unpleasant task of humbling yourself. Difficult, yes. Impossible? Perhaps if it is left to you alone, but then what ever you ask in the Lord’s name, where two or three on anything agree, when you are gathered together in his name, well then it is Jesus there in the midst of you, granting whatever you ask, because you ask for what he desires, because you ask for him to do what he wants to do, to go and find the lost sheep of Israel, to restore unto them the joy of his salvation. Because it is not the will of our Father in heaven, that any of these little ones, any of them humbled in the waters of baptism, buried into the death of his son and raised in his resurrection to the newness of life, any of those for whom his son shed his blood on the cross, should ever perish. No, not even you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.