The image and illustration of a shepherd and his sheep is common within the Bible. Jesus tells stories of the lost sheep, and He calls himself the Good Shepherd. Perhaps the most familiar phrase for many comes in Psalm 23 where it says “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Having grown up in the country this idea of sheep and shepherds were very familiar to me. I remember several holidays staying on a sheep farm in Wales and helping the farmer to tend his flock. When we holiday in the Lake District over Easter the fields are full of sheep with their lambs and by the summer these sheep are back roaming the mountains. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of what Jesus was describing when He uses the image of God being the Good Shepherd and us being His sheep. However, a recent sermon and subsequent discussion at our church Bible study group brought new perspective and has provoked some questions over the past few weeks as I’ve thought about this.
A Shepherd knows their sheep…
In the UK most sheep farmers have a large flock of sheep. Now whilst there are many different breeds of sheep, I find it difficult to see many distinguishing features between one sheep and the next. Indeed our farmers mark their sheep with coloured markings to help them identify their flock from those of other farmers. Yet Jesus says of Himself that He is the Good Shepherd and that He knows His sheep (John 10:14). God, who created all things and each person knows each one by name. How incredible it is that the Almighty God knows the intimate details of all that He has created! In Psalm 139 David expands on this saying that God is all-knowing over everything that He has created.
So we can have confidence in a God who knows us and treasures each one of us, knowing our individual personalities, gifts, strengths and weaknesses, and being able to tell us apart from everything else He has created.
Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice…
In John 10 Jesus is speaking to a crowd using the analogy of a Shepherd and their sheep. He says that the shepherd goes on ahead of his sheep and that his sheep follow him because they know his voice (v4). Now if you’ve ever watched a shepherd in the UK rounding up his sheep then this picture presents a different approach to what we do here. In the UK the farmer rounds up his sheep using sheep dogs and if he wants to move them from one field to the next then he uses the dogs to drive the flock from behind with the sheep demonstrating some fear of the dogs and run from them. Yet here Jesus gives us a picture of the shepherd going ahead of his sheep, choosing the path for them and guiding from the front which is quite different. Here the sheep follow out of choice rather than be driven out of fear. In fact the sheep cannot be fearful. They must have complete trust in their shepherd to follow him. What a picture of how Jesus wants us to come to Him. He desires us to put our complete trust in Him and follow whichever path He may take us on. In Psalm 23 it uses the image of the Lord leading us to green pastures, beside quiet waters, in paths of righteousness and even through the valley of the shadow of death. Are we prepared to follow Jesus as He walks ahead of us on whatever path He has chosen for us, trusting Him completely that He is our Good Shepherd?
Psalm 23 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
In John 10 Jesus tells us that His sheep know His voice and that they will run from a strangers voice. This gives us the challenge to think about how well do we know Gods voice? Are we able to discern it from the many voices of our world that ask us to follow them, things like the call of a career, of money or success?
As we take small steps on our journey following Gods call and as we spend more time with Him then we will become more attuned to His voice and more confident in the character and nature of our Shepherd.
For in His call to follow there is life and all that we need. Psalm 23 tells us that our Shepherd will provide for our needs (v1), give us rest and sustenance (v2), He will restore us and continually guide us (v3), He will remove fear and give us comfort (v4), He will be generous to us (v5) and we will live with Him in eternity (v6).
Feed my Lambs…
When the resurrected Peter met with Jesus He was given the command to “feed my lambs” and “take care of my sheep” (John 21:15,16 & 17) and God still asks that of us today. This has caused me to think about how we shepherd Gods flock, those He has given us to care for and encourage as they journey with Him? Do we lead by example, being willing to walk ahead in steps of faith as we encourage others to follow or do we shepherd from behind, driving people forward at a forced pace? Do we display in our own lives the life God gives when we follow Him? Do we have testimonies of Gods ongoing provision for our needs, of His daily restoration of our soul, of the removal of fear, of the receiving of comfort in hard times? Do we mirror Gods interest in His people, knowing them individually and valuing their uniqueness given by God? And how well do we know our Good Shepherds voice and are we in-tune to His daily calling to follow?
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