The sheep of the Lord
Is there a more iconic Christian image than Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his people as his sheep? It’s in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” You can find it in Revelations 7, “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.” And in the Gospel of John 10:27, Jesus teaches, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Why do you suppose this image is so powerful? Perhaps it’s because in a world beset by so much trouble, people connect sheep and shepherds together with peace and quiet. Psalm 23 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” It’s that peaceful setting people imagine when they contemplate sheep and shepherds. Think of a sheepskin rug or blanket. The wool is soft and clean and fresh. So surely the animal that gave it must be like that: soft and gentle, clean and fresh. It’s a peaceful image: Jesus the Shepherd and his people, the sheep of his pasture.
The problem is that if more people knew how sheep really behaved, they may not like being called sheep. Sheep’s wool may seem clean and fresh, but that thick wool picks up a lot of dirt as the sheep goes about its day. What comes to us as clean and soft starts out as filthy and muddy before it’s sheared. Sheep are also prone to wander from the flock. All it takes is the sight of greener grass and they wander until they find themselves far away. Sheep can also be stubborn, headstrong and willful creatures.
Just like sheep in the field, Christians have an amazing ability to pick up dirt from their surroundings. How often do you find your thoughts and words reflecting those of your non-Christian neighbors! Are you sometimes tempted to wander to what seem to be greener pastures? Perhaps worldly concerns have coaxed you away from the flock of God. If so, you’re not alone. Isaiah said it well: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turned to his own way.” Isaiah 53:6
All people are sheep: dirty, lost and stubborn. And so serious is the problem that God took a radical step to solve it. – How? The Lord, the Shepherd of Israel, became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When you were lost, without hope and without God in the world, he wandered far from his heavenly home in search of you. His search took him to a lowly virgin in Nazareth, to a humble manger in Bethlehem, and finally, on a dark and lonely Friday afternoon, to an accursed tree. All for you.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Return to the Lord your Shepherd who calls you in love and waits for you with open arms.