Jul 30, 2009, 7:26 AM
"My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains: They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place." (Jeremiah 50:6)
"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1Peter 2:25)
Of all the domestic animals God created, sheep is the most docile, humble, meek and gentle to the point of being very vulnerable.
All wild animals prey on them. Apart from falling easy victims, they easily go astray, get lost or fall off cliffs when grazing in the mountains. The shepherd must always be on the lookout as the sheep needs constant surveillance.
Our Lord Jesus used this image to describe his relationship with his followers. Most animals can take care of themselves but not the sheep. It can run into danger headlong, - into the mouth of a wolf even - without the least inkling that such danger could mean instant death.
Interestingly, the sheep's gentleness constitutes its attraction. Its total dependence on its shepherd for everything, for food, for help in times of trouble, for life, for water, against danger or harm makes it totally reliable on its shepherd. David fittingly describes the role of his shepherd when he wrote: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with
The shepherd gives direction; the sheep therefore feel very safe with him at the helm of affairs. Such assurance is a built-in insurance that the shepherd is always there for you, - whatever the circumstances. This imagery captures the very essence of the relationship built between us and our Lord Jesus Christ of
The choice of our Lord Jesus to shepherd the sheep then is deliberate. The sheep needs someone to protect it always, to save it from danger and to rescue it from harm because it can do nothing on its own. In a purely peasant community - characteristic of his day - anyone could understand what Jesus meant when he identified himself thus: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10.11)
Whilst by no stretch of the imagination they could have dreamt he meant dying for them, literally laying down his life for them, that was exactly what our Lord did when he died on the cross. By this action, he demonstrated his love for his sheep. By dying in such a cruel, humiliating and disgraceful manner, our Lord proclaimed that it was worth the price to die for humanity as no one could have done it in its place. "The wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23) Humanity could not have paid the price of sin. Only a spotless lamb could. "...the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) did exactly that.
How very true! A good shepherd is ready and willing to leave all behind him just to save one sheep. He is ready to risk his life for the safety, welfare and well-being of his flock. It is a sacrificial imperative even though it could be just one sheep.
God's people are his sheep
The sheep our Lord Jesus is talking about are those who believe in him, those who recognise him as the Son of God who had come to save humanity from the penalty of sin. He came for the lost sheep of
The hired hand
A hireling shepherd is not likely to stick his neck out to save any of his flock. He will seek first to save his life rather than that of the sheep. Barely a wage earner, he is not fully committed to the extent to lay down his life for the sheep. The close-knit relationship is not just there. He does not have a stake to the point of risking his life. At the sight of danger he will take to his heels. This is contrary behaviour to what Jesus said he would do - lay down his life for his sheep.
A good shepherd over the years builds a solid relationship with his sheep and not only does he know them by name, he knows when one is missing and which one of them is missing. It is a relationship knit over a long period of association. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 28:27-28)
People of my generation would recall the record label 'the Master's voice' in the early 1950s. It had a different message from the Shepherd's voice.
The shepherd's voice is mellow, reassuring and sweet. It says; "Come to me all you who are tired with carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it upon you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest. For my yoke I will give you is easy and the load I will put on you is light." (Matthew 10:28-30)
The Lord warns that Satan and his cohorts have a different goal - that of destruction. We ought to be careful not to fall into that trap. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10)
David prophesied that our Shepherd, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, would do much more: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:5-6)
Nothing can successfully describe our relationship with our Saviour than this picturesque image of the Lord leading his sheep. Whilst their may be false shepherds, the distinction is apparent in who is ready to lay down his life for his sheep.
"I have other sheep that are not of this pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16)