Sheep are interesting animals. People have used animal metaphors to describe people for centuries, but you’ll be hard pressed to come up in connection with sheep that’s positive. You may have heard someone say, “She is as bold as a lion!” or “He’s strong as an ox!” or “She’s wise as an owl!” or “He’s silly as a goose!” or the one I use the most, “I’m as hungry as a horse!” I have heard the phrase, “He’s sheepish,” but nobody wants that said about them because it means that he is easily embarrassed or lacks confidence.
Think of all of the animals that Jesus could have used to compare us with as He spoke to the crowds. I wish He would have chosen the lion or the owl or the ox, but He never compared people to any of those animals. As Jesus watched and observed people in His day-to-day life there was one animal that most often came to mind. Do you know which one it was? It was sheep. He could have chosen any animal, but Jesus said we are most like sheep. The truth of the matter is that the idea that the behavior of people most resembles sheep didn’t originate with Jesus—we find the analogy often in the Old Testament. Let me give you just a couple of examples. In Isaiah 53:6 we read,
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 NIV)
David spent years as a shepherd taking care of, watching over, and contemplating the behavior of his sheep. David also wrote many of the Psalms so it is only natural that David was able to see firsthand how he possessed some of the same characteristics of his sheep. David wrote,
176 I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. (Psalm 119:176 NIV)
Sheep stray, sheep are followers, and sheep are not very smart. Sheep need a shepherd. They are reliant on their shepherd to take care of them, to lead them, and to provide for them in every way. Phillip Keller wrote,
The relationship which rapidly develops between a shepherd and the sheep under his care is to a definite degree dependent upon the use of the shepherd’s voice. Sheep quickly become accustomed to their owner’s particular voice. They are acquainted with its unique tone. They know its peculiar sounds and inflections. They can distinguish it from that of any other person.
If a stranger should come among them, they would not recognize nor respond to his voice in the same way they would to that of the shepherd. Even if the visitor should use the same words and phrases as that of their rightful owner they would not react in the same way. It is a case of becoming actually conditioned to the familiar nuances and personal accent of their shepherd’s call… His voice is used to announce his presence; he is there. It is to allay their fears and timidity. Or it is to call them to himself so they can be examined and counted carefully. He wants to make sure that they are all well, fit, and flourishing. Sometimes the voice is used to announce that fresh feed is being supplied, or salt, minerals, or water. He might call them up to lead them into fresh pastures or into some shelter from an approaching storm. But always the master’s call conveys to the sheep a positive assurance that he cares for them and is acting in their best interests. (Keller, Phillip, A Shepherd Looks at The Good Shepherd and His Sheep. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979. pg. 39-40)
What Phillip Keller has described for you and me is a shepherd who is devoted to his sheep. The shepherd sacrifices to protect his sheep, he provides for the needs of his sheep, and he means them no harm. When we come to the Prophets of the Old Testament we find that God had a message for the shepherds of His people who were leading them astray. Listen to this…
6 “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. (Jeremiah 50:6 NIV)
If you want to read something from God’s Word that is the polar opposite of the description Phillip Keller gave of the model shepherd then you’ll want to turn to Ezekiel 34:2-4. Ezekiel speaks for God when he says,
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:2-4 NIV)
“Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” That’s “Shepherding 101” isn’t it? As we read what Ezekiel spoke to the people of God, we can learn a lot about what God expected of His shepherds, those He had entrusted with the care of His people. Take a look:
- A shepherd should take care of his sheep.
- A shepherd should strengthen the weak.
- A shepherd should heal the sick and bind up the injured.
- A shepherd should bring back those who stray and search for the lost.
Those are the fundamentals of shepherding. This is not only what God expected from His shepherds who were shepherding His people in biblical times, but it is still what God expects from His shepherds who lead, care for, and watch over His people today. At the same time we can learn from Ezekiel what God’s shepherds are never to do. Take a look at our Scripture from Ezekiel once again.
- A shepherd should never just care take care of themselves.
- A shepherd should never rule harshly and brutally over their flock.
Yet, this is what God’s shepherds were doing. It is interesting that in the New Testament Jesus brings some of the same charges against the religious leaders of the people in Israel. In Matthew 23, the entire chapter, all 39 verses, we find Jesus launching a scathing attack on Israel’s shepherds who were failing miserably in their call to shepherd God’s people. Six times in this chapter Jesus called them “hypocrites.” The Greek word for “hypocrite” is “?????????” (hupokrites), and it means, “a pretender,” “a godless person,” or “an actor.” The word was used to describe people who played several parts in an ancient play by wearing masks for the various roles they played. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were playing a part, pretending to be God’s shepherds, but in fact they were pretenders who were really looking out only for themselves with no regard for God or His people. Let’s just read the first four verses so you can get a taste of what He had to say.
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:1-4 NIV)
What would God do? Many of His shepherds in Israel failed to shepherd God’s people, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Jesus’ day failed to shepherd God’s people, and we’ve still got the same problem today don’t we? We hear stories all of the time about how many of God’s shepherds in our day are failing to shepherd the flock that God has placed under their care. Shepherds called to care for their flock who care only for themselves. Shepherds who are called to protect their flock end up taking advantage of members of their flock. Shepherds called to demonstrate tenderness and compassion treating their flock with harshness and a dictatorial attitude. Watch out! Watch out for those who leave a good first impression only to later be discovered for what they truly are. Jesus spoke about these kinds of shepherds in Matthew 7:15-16. Listen to this.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16 NIV)
What is God to do? Is God just out of luck? If those He has put in charge fail to do what they are called to do…what is God to do? I’ll tell you, God says that He’ll shepherd the sheep Himself. Listen to this amazing description of the Great Shepherd’s love and care for His sheep from Isaiah 40:10-11.
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:10-11 NIV)
Wow! We should take the next few minutes and think about that shouldn’t we? I’ve been thinking about this description of God’s willingness to shepherd you and me this past week. I’ve known bosses in the past who were disappointed with one of their employees. When they finally reached their breaking point they said, “I’ll do it myself!” as they stormed out of the room. I don’t know the attitude they had as they went and did it, but I seriously doubt they were a joy to be around for the employees who had to be there when the boss came in to finish the job. God’s “employees,” His shepherds didn’t get the job done and yet Isaiah tells us, “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” How beautiful is that!? That’s what God wants to do for you this very morning.
For some of you that is hard to believe. No, you just can’t get past what you have done. You given up on the thought that God could ever love you because of what you’ve done. You’ve strayed so far from God that, in your mind, you could never find your way back. I’ve got good news for you. Do you remember what we talked about last week? Do you remember Luke 15 and the three stories Jesus told of those that were lost and eventually found? He’s the God of the lost. He’s the God who goes looking for those who are lost, mired in sin, those who have turned their back on Him, those who have shaken their fist at Him and want nothing to do with Him. He searches and searches and relentlessly searches for those that are lost. Long before Jesus ever told those stories in Luke 15, in Ezekiel 34, the Lord said,
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. (Ezekiel 34:11 NIV)
He is the God who goes searching for the lost. I know this to be true because He found me. I’ve never known a shepherd like the Lord. He has loved me when I’ve been unlovable, He has shown me grace upon grace, His mercies have proved to be new every morning, and He has loved me with an everlasting love. Just a few verses later in Ezekiel we read what I’ve experienced in life, and what you who are lost this morning can begin to experience if you will only cry out to Him. The Lord said,
15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16 NIV)
He is our Shepherd and those who follow Him shall never want. God, the Great Shepherd, drew near that night when Jesus was born. He grew to become a man who was unlike any man who has or ever will live. He was and is “Immanuel,” God with us. When Jesus began His ministry He shepherded God’s people. He reached out to the broken, He went searching for the lost, He bound up the broken and bowed down, and in John 10:11, He said,
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11 NIV)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He laid down His life for you and me when He went to the Cross to die so that we might live forgiven, reconciled with God, and free to listen to our Shepherd’s voice in a society full of voices that would seek to lead us astray, down the path of destruction.
We can’t leave here this morning without us taking moment to be still, to listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Are you lost? Are you broken? Are you weary? Have you given up on God? He’s not given up on you. That’s why He brought you here this morning. You might have been lost as lost can be, but this morning He has found you my friend. Won’t you let Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 14, 2015