This month I accepted a challenge to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts three times in September. The purpose was to “see the forest” instead of the individual trees. One of the things I saw when the Lord showed me the whole gospel picture was how Jesus truly led his people like a Middle-Eastern shepherd.
Shepherds in the Middle East, unlike American shepherds, lead their sheep. Their sheep follow the call of the shepherd as he goes before them, rather than the western way of driving the sheep. This method of leading puts the shepherd at the vulnerable point. He is the one to see danger first and is expected to act to protect the sheep, even if it costs him his life. Jesus would often come upon those who wanted to stop the spread of his teachings. He stood up to them using scripture and illustrations or parables as his arguments, which often silenced his critics for a time, but ultimately led to his death. Jesus did not expect his followers to deal with the “wolves,” the Jewish critics, while he was here, but he did give us an example so that after he had given his life for ours we too could stand up to Christianity’s critics.
Jesus showed us how a good shepherd tries to prevent the loss of his sheep, not only by those who are used by the enemy to entice them away, but by a sheep’s own curious way of wandering off the appointed path. Left to our own devices we often are enticed by the glitter and shine of the objects in our world that keep us off from the shepherd’s best path for us. A good shepherd will go and look for the sheep that has wandered off and appears lost, but we can be assured that our good shepherd, Jesus, always knows where we are and that he is willing to come and find us and set us on the right path once again. He, like a good shepherd, will often scoop us up and carry us close until we are reminded of his scent and the sound of his voice and are more willing to follow in his footsteps.
A good shepherd always provides good pasture for the sheep. There are many occasions when we see that Jesus made sure that food was provided for his disciples. There are even two instances when Jesus made sure that the thousands who had followed him had food provided for them also.
Jesus also provides for our other needs. We see him bring cleansing, healing and deliverance, to many in the gospels. A good shepherd cares enough about his sheep to minister to their wounds as well as to remove the ticks and fleas that bother and torment the sheep.
A good shepherd often needs to prepare a safe fenced in area for his flock. Jesus, as the good shepherd prepares his followers for the life he calls them to live and the possible circumstances they may find themselves in. He gives us boundaries, a fenced area, that if we stay within it, will provide some amount of safety, but he also warns us of the possibility of a thief who would want to climb the fence and come in to steal, kill, or destroy us. Jesus’ warnings of difficult times to come prepares us to take our stand as his flock, to stand together in unity against the forces that may come against us. He tells us:
Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
We can count on the goodness of our shepherd, Jesus, to protect, prevent, provide, and prepare us in our daily living as well as in the kingdom to come. (If you are interested in reading about how a shepherd lives I suggest you look at devotional books written by Phillip Keller, a modern day shepherd.)
Finally Jesus’ own words give us peace to know that we are not wandering this world alone. We can have a good shepherd who will lead us.
…his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:4-5)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15)