In Need of a Shepherd
April 22, 2018
They were creatures of habit. Day after day the sheep would do the same thing; they would go out through the gate to graze and wander around. Occasionally they would get a wild streak in them and they would go off on their own to explore and check out places they had never been before, expanding their horizons if you will. Thinking that the “grass was greener” on the other side, they would go here and there and they would often end up getting lost and getting themselves into trouble, only to have the shepherd come and find them and get them back in line.
But at the end of the day they would always come back home…home through that familiar gate that would provide security and rest. Inside their pen they knew they were safe from predators and bandits and the world that surrounded them.
We’re a lot like the sheep; we too are creatures of habit as well. And if you don’t believe me let me ask you this: do you sit in the same place in church every Sunday? Do you sit in the same place during Sunday school? Some of you may go to the same restaurant over and over again…so much that the server knows what you’re going to order? Are you in the habit of eating at the same time every day and watching the same shows over and over again every day? And at the end of the day like the sheep, for each of us, there is no place like home, because home provides security and protection from the world around us.
But there are times when we feel like we’re in a rut. We get tired of our mundane lives and like the sheep, we go out and search for new “pastures,” places that allow us to break away from our daily routine…places that provide a sense of newness and joy and excitement. We like the security and we like the familiarity that our daily routine gives us, but there’s also a part of us that desires change. That’s why we daydream. That’s why we think about getting away for a while or maybe getting a new job, or maybe we think about retiring or maybe we’re retired and we think about going back to work again.
Our minds and our bodies are in constant motion. Like sheep we come in and we go out on a regular basis. We like the feeling of familiarity and security and predictability but at the same time we also like the idea of change…of seeking newness and excitement and a break from our monotonous, daily routines.
In biblical times, the shepherd was held fully responsible for the welfare of his sheep. If anything happened to one of his sheep, he had to produce some kind of proof that it wasn’t his fault.
The law in Exodus 22:13 made it perfectly clear: “If the animal was attacked and ripped apart, its torn body must be brought back as evidence” (CEB). That’s why Amos tells of a shepherd rescuing two legs and a piece of ear out of a lions mouth (Amos 3:12). The idea was that a shepherd must bring home proof that the sheep had died, and that he had done everything possible to prevent the sheep’s death.
That why David tells Saul how, when he was keeping his father’s sheep, he had to battle with a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36). Isaiah speaks of numerous shepherds who were called upon a various times to deal with lions (Isaiah 31:4). W.M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes of “…a poor fellow last spring, between Tiberias and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces with their swords” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol II, Louisville, Kentucky; WJK Press, 2001, 71).
To the shepherd, defending and even dying for his sheep was the most natural thing to do. The true shepherd never once hesitated to risk or lay down his life for his sheep.
Today, Jesus tells us that he is not just any shepherd, but he is the good shepherd. The good shepherd is different from run of the mill shepherd because the good shepherd loves his sheep and is willing to do anything for them…even lay down his life for them. A person who is hired to do nothing more than to watch the sheep has no investment in them. He’s there to do his job. To watch the hands on the clock go around and to collect his paycheck at the end of the day…and if something bad happens and he has to choose between his own safety and the safety of the sheep…it’s a no brainer. He’ll be gone because he cares more about himself than he does about the sheep.
Jesus, the good shepherd, was motivated by love. It was the unifying principal of his life. True love is not a human characteristic – true love comes only from God. We throw the word “love” around loosely in our culture. We love our families. We love our dog or cat. I love my new house or my new car or my carpet or furniture. I love my new hairdo. I love to eat here or I love the movie I saw last night. What we refer to as love is really nothing more than human infatuation or affection or lust.
Love is not something you learn about in a book or by attending a seminar. To know about love, we have to experience it in our own lives. For the Christian, we know all about true love because we have experienced it in our own lives through Jesus Christ.
That’s why we look at the cross as being the supreme expression of God’s love. To know the meaning of the cross is to know not only about the love of Jesus, but it is to know about the sacrificial love of Jesus. To fully understand that type of love is to accept it and to open our hearts and our minds so that we can have the opportunity to experience it. And once we experience God’s love, once we experience that sacrificial love we can allow it to change our lives in ways that we could never dream of.
That’s the cause of so many of the problems with our world today. The world doesn’t know anything about love because the world knows so little about God. Jesus is love…and the only way we will ever know or experience that love is to open our hearts and our minds to experience it ourselves…and then pass that same sacrificial love on to others by the ways that we act and the things that we say.
Love goes beyond words. Love is action. It has to be applied to our daily lives and it sometimes has to be given to people who aren’t very loveable. But that’s what real love does…that’s what real love is all about. It requires us to take our eyes off of ourselves and see the needs of others.
For Jesus to describe himself as the “shepherd” and to describe the people as being “sheep” was probably pretty difficult for the people to hear and fully understand. In fact, they may have thought that what he was saying was a little bit vain and egotistical…putting himself as the shepherd “way up here” and referring to the people as lowly sheep “way down there.”
And I’ll admit, there is something a little hurtful or degrading about being described as or associated with sheep…especially when we know that sheep really aren’t very smart. They have a hard time taking care of themselves and they are in constant need of a shepherd for day to day survival.
But when it comes to our own relationship with God, Jesus understands our human tendencies better than we understand them ourselves. When it comes to living our own lives, we are a lot like the sheep. We don’t need just any shepherd, we need a good shepherd. We need a good shepherd because we have a tendency to follow others…and sometimes we follow the wrong person or the wrong things and we find ourselves in a big mess…a mess that we can’t get out of by ourselves. We’re gullible and we’re vulnerable and we confuse true, heartfelt, Godly leadership with the kind of leadership offered by the run of the mill hired hands Jesus was talking about. We find ourselves following shepherds who end up putting us in compromising positions because they really care only about themselves. They are doing what they are doing for all of the wrong reasons. And like sheep we are probably most vulnerable to our own selves and our own tendencies to wander off and get lost…away from the care and safety of the shepherd and the care and the safety of the rest of the flock. With all that being said, we need more than just “a shepherd”; we need a good shepherd, like Jesus, who is willing to do whatever it takes to care for us and to watch out for us, even if he has to sacrifice his life for us.
Because God is omnipotent and powerful and all knowing we can’t help but think of him as being just the opposite of what we are. We’re weak…God is strong. We’re foolish and make all sorts of mistakes…God is wise and full of wisdom. We are sinful…and God is holy. We’re way down here at the bottom of the pedestal and God is way up here sitting at the top of the pedestal, so high up that we can’t even see him.
But then into our limited and often distorted minds comes David, the psalmist, to put it all into perspective. David comes to cut our feet out from under us and take our breath away with the simplicity of what he writes. David says that:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters;
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names’ sake.
Even though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Though preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Could there be a more descriptive way of clearing our minds and bringing our thinking back down to earth? Could there be a better way for us to fully understand the love of God?
Jesus says that “I am the Good Shepherd” but David goes one step further by saying that not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd…but that Jesus is my shepherd…my own personal shepherd. That alone shows us where we stand with God. That alone shows us just how important each and every one of us is to God.
Three men were talking about the meaning of being important. They asked “How do you know when you’ve arrived? How do you know when you’re really important?
The first man said, “I’ll tell you what it means to be important. It’s being invited to the White House for a personal conversation with the President.”
The second man said, “No, that’s not it. You know you’re important when you’ve been invited to the White House for a personal conversation with the President, the hot line rings, and he just looks at it and decides not to answer it, giving you 100% of his attention.”
The third man said, “No, you’ve both got it wrong. Being important is when you are invited to the White House for a conversation with the President, the hot line rings, the President answers it and he says, ‘Here, it’s for you.”’
It’s important to know the difference between saying “Jesus is a savior” and “Jesus is my savior.” It’s important to know the difference between saying, “The Lord is a shepherd” and “The Lord is my shepherd.” It’s the difference between being saved…and being lost. To say that the good shepherd is my shepherd…is to say that the good shepherd was willing to give his life for me.
From the minute you take your first breath here on earth right up until the time you take your last breath…and beyond that…God is with you and God will watch out for you…if you allow him into your life.
It’s our human nature to want to be in control of our lives. We can’t help it; that just the way we were made. That’s why it’s so hard for people to give up control of their lives and admit that they can’t do it on their own. But then again, that’s exactly why we need a good shepherd to show us the way and save us and protect us from all of the evil that is out there in the world waiting for us.
If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to let him be a constant part of our lives…and if we are going to do that we have to be willing to accept our spiritual likeness to sheep…and we also have to be willing to accept the fact that we need a shepherd to watch over us. Not just any shepherd…but Jesus, the good shepherd…the one we are willing to accept as “my shepherd.”
As we continue on with this Easter season and we continue to contemplate the good news of the resurrection, may we be aware that the only way for us to fully experience the love of God is to give up total control and allow Jesus, the good shepherd, the shepherd who is willing to give up his life for us, to be the shepherd of our lives.