Sheep are creatures that are wholly dependent on the shepherd to care for them. Without a shepherd, sheep can get into all kinds of trouble. Prone to straying because of their easily excitable and distracted nature, sheep can go astray, miss their footing on treacherous terrain, fall and hurt themselves. When restless or discontented, they often wander to other fields to find greener pastures. If left unattended, they may get lost and cannot find their way back to the sheepfold.
A good shepherd keeps a watchful eye over his sheep. He is ever sensitive to their needs. He leads his sheep from the sheepfold to “green pasture” and “still waters” (Ps 23: 2). To the sheep, nothing is more comforting than the presence and care of their attentive shepherd. Though exposed to pitfalls, precipices and wild beasts in the dark valleys, the sheep have nothing to fear. Because the shepherd is present, all will be well. Feeling safe and secure, the sheep can confidently declare: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps 23: 4).
It is significant that our Lord Jesus Christ calls Himself “the good shepherd” Who “giveth his life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 11). This metaphor shows two aspects of His divine character – love and truth. A shepherd will walk for miles to rescue lost sheep, bind their wounds and carry them home. But this same shepherd will not hesitate to kill a wild beast in order to protect his flock. Many in the world today see Christ as weak and soft because He is always kind and loving. But there is another side to Him. Those who will not repent of their sins will have to face His eternal wrath. God loves us and is patient with us. But if we choose to go our own way, there will be a day when God will judge us because He is a God of love and truth as well.
The prophet Isaiah describes us as sheep that “have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53: 6). When Jesus saw the multitudes following Him, He had compassion on them; He saw them “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9: 36).
Before our conversion, we were like lost sheep, living in sin and indulging our fleshly lusts: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph 2: 2-3).
The sinner’s return to God’s fold is by divine grace. Like sheep that have gone astray, we will never find our way to the Lord. “Dead in trespasses and sin”, we would not, on our own, seek after God (Eph 2: 1). But Jesus the Good Shepherd came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19: 10). In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves “the ninety and nine” just to search for that one missing sheep – he goes “after that which is lost, until he find it” (Lk 15: 4).
God’s irresistible grace sought us and drew us unto Himself and made us alive in Christ: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2: 4-5; 8-9).
The apostle Peter affirms this truth in his epistle: “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (I Pet 2: 25). Commenting on this verse, John Gills elaborates: “God's elect are sheep before conversion; not that they have the agreeable properties of sheep, as to be meek, harmless, innocent, clean, and profitable, for they are the reverse of all this; … and by their own actual transgressions; they are as sheep going astray from the shepherd, and from the flock, going out of the right way, and in their own ways; and are, like sheep, stupid and insensible of their danger; and as they never return of themselves, until they are sought for, and brought back: …but are now returned; not returned themselves, but were returned by powerful and efficacious grace: … they are turned, not by the power of their own free will, but by the power of God’s free grace; they are returned under the illuminations and quickenings of the blessed Spirit, and through the efficacious drawings of the Father’s love, unto Christ.”
Though we are but unworthy sinners, the Lord has wrought grace in our hearts. Tenderly, He has sought and brought us to the fold. Despite our doubts and failures, our gracious Shepherd does not give up on us; He continues to bestow upon us His goodness and mercy (Ps 23: 6).
What a blessing and privilege to be found by our Good Shepherd, and to come under His tender care. In return, let us respond by loving and obeying our Good Shepherd Who “giveth his life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 11). (… to be continued)