What do you think of when you hear the word “shepherd”? Angels on the outskirts of Bethlehem? The 23rd Psalm?
I’ll be honest, when I think of shepherds, in my mind’s eye, I often see small boys wrapped in woolen blankets poking sticks at sheep and goats. They’re watching the flocks, leading them from one grassy patch to the next, even if that patch happens to be the median of Nairobi’s busiest highway.
Until I lived in Kenya, I’d never seen many shepherds, you know?
The shepherds there are often like David, the youngest boys in the family sent to watch the sheep.
I imagine they understand some of his Psalms in ways I never will.
Because they know what it takes to be a shepherd. They know the long hours, the sleepless nights, the danger, and the sheep. So, I often think of them when I consider the fact that Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
What exactly does that mean? What does it tell us about Jesus? What can it tell us about life as his sheep?
The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep
You know, I have friends who keep sheep or have goats, but generally, they’re fenced into areas to keep them safe, to keep them corralled. Around here, a coyote occasionally poses a threat, and traffic on nearby roads is definitely dangerous. For the most part, however, if the sheep are in the fences, they stay pretty safe.
There aren’t many fences in Kenya. The animals often roam free. In fact, I once asked a friend what would happen if I hit an animal with my car. I said, “How will I know whose sheep it is?”
“Hit it, and you’ll find out” was the reply.
Of course, my driving was probably the least of those little shepherds’ concerns. They had more than coyotes to care about. Lions, leopards, hyenas…predators with a capital “P.” Danger was quite literally stalking around their flocks.
The only way to protect the flocks is for the shepherds to put themselves in harm’s way. They have to be willing to defend the flocks at all costs.
Just like Jesus did for us. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 1o:11) He went on to explain that a hired hand would run from danger because the sheep didn’t belong to him. Why should he risk his life for someone else’s sheep? The good shepherd lays his life down to protect his sheep.
The Good Shepherd Protects His Sheep
David knew what it took to protect his sheep. When he was trying to convince King Saul to let him fight the Philistine, he said, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from it’s mouth.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35)
He was not about to let his sheep be taken, and neither is our God.
When talking about his sheep, Jesus said, “no one will snatch them from my hand.” (John 10:28)
Knowing how a shepherd feels about his sheep inspired David to write, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
He knew not to fear because shepherds protect their sheep.
The Good Shepherd Comforts His Sheep
Of course, whether or not we’re afraid, like David, we still need the comfort of his rod and staff, don’t we? The paths we walk can be terribly hard to follow. There is pain; we have sorrows.
The Good Shepherd comforts us in them. “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:5)
We can be encouraged because we know that Revelation 7:17 says, “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water, ‘and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.'”
Can you even imagine?
When my children cry, I lean in close and wipe their tears. That’s the picture here, isn’t it? The caring comfort of a Shepherd who is full of compassion.
The Good Shepherd Has Compassion for his Sheep
Y’all, I’ve done my fair share of herding. Other mothers with lots of littles, you get me, don’t you? I have herded them through shopping centers, for long walks, around zoos and through museums, and sometimes, I haven’t shown compassion to my little flock. In fact, I have often lost my patience with them. I’ve rolled my eyes with every “I’m tired.” I’ve grimaced with every pull to stray from the path. And when my little sheep don’t listen? Well….I’m sure you’ve been there.
I know that Jesus has because “all we like sheep have gone astray,” haven’t we? (Isaiah 56:3)
We’ve all chosen to go our own way and ended up lost in dangerous places.
Jesus’ response? Compassion.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)
He could have rolled his eyes and thought, “I told you not to go there.” He could have grimaced and said, “Don’t you ever listen?”
Instead he had compassion on his sheep because he knows them.
The Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep
He knew the people were harassed and helpless because he knew them. A shepherd knows his sheep, after all. That’s what my friend meant when he told me to “hit it, and you’ll find out.” The owner of the sheep would recognize his own.
The Good Shepherd does, too.
Jesus said, “I know my sheep.” (John 10:14)
He doesn’t look at us and simply see a flock of nameless faces. He knows each individual sheep. That’s why he knows when one is missing. And, that is why he goes to seek it.
The Good Shepherd Seeks His Sheep
Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Matthew 18:12)
That’s what a shepherd does. God promised, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (Ezekiel 34:11)
He seeks them to save them.
He brings them back to the flock, carrying them all the way.
The Good Shepherd Carries His Sheep
Wandering is wearisome. Just ask the Israelites. They’d done it for forty years. When the time finally came to stop wandering, what did Moses tell them?
“…in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:31)
They’re feet were so tired they probably didn’t realize they hadn’t really been walking. They’d been carried every step of the way.
Because sometimes that’s the only way a shepherd can get his sheep where he wants them to go. And, he wants them to go the right way. That’s why he leads them.
The Good Shepherd Leads His Sheep
A shepherd always has a plan for his sheep: what they’ll eat, where they’ll drink, how they’ll rest when evening comes. Of course, the plan doesn’t help if the sheep can’t follow it. So the shepherd leads them. Just look at Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23: 1-3)
Did you get that? “He guides me.” Does that help you today? Are you needing to know which way to go?
Follow the shepherd. You’ll hear his voice because he speaks to his sheep.
The Good Shepherd Speaks to His Sheep
Jesus said, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)
You can’t follow him if you don’t hear his voice. That means he has to speak. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and remind you of everything” he said. (John 14:26)
That’s how the Good Shepherd speaks to his sheep today so that they can follow him. “Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21)
When we walk in the way he leads, he meets our needs.
The Good Shepherd Provides for His Sheep
If we look at Psalm 23, we notice that the Psalmist had everything he needed as long as he followed where the shepherd led. He provided nourishment, water, rest, and restoration. The sheep might have found those things in other places, but the waters might not have been still. There was peace in the paths of the shepherd.
I forget that sometimes. If I had been the one in Psalm 23, I doubt I would have lain down in the green pastures. I would have been trying to gather the grasses. I struggle and strive and seek all the things that I think God must want for my life. I work when I should rest.
What about you? Do you rest in the protection of the Good Shepherd? How do you hear his voice each day? What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Good Shepherd?
It’s Encouraging Word Wednesday! I hope you’ll participate! I was so excited to meet some new bloggers last week. In fact, if you are interested in more thoughts about the Good Shepherd, visit Ally at the Speckled Goat Blog! The link she shared last week was about “Sheep Without a Shepherd.” Thanks for sharing it, Ally!
Now, please link up your favorite encouraging, faith-filled posts this week! I look forward to reading and sharing them! Try to visit one or two other links and leave a comment.