Jesus portrays Himself in various ways. In one of His “I am” statements He refers to Himself as the good shepherd.
One of the things that piqued my interest is the fact that Jesus does not refer to Himself as a sheep herder but as a shepherd. There is a significant difference between the two: Sheep herders drive their herds much like cowboys drive their cattle by pushing them from behind, while shepherds guide their flocks by leading them from the front. Also herds and flocks carry very different notions. While herding associates with feeding and running together, a flock is meant to congregate in places or alternatively head towards a location. To put it bluntly: Jesus is no cowboy and God’s children are not mindless sheep driven by one.
In Psalm 23 we put ourselves in sheep’s shoes (that is to say if sheep wore shoes) because King David wrote the lyrics of Psalm 23 entirely from a sheep’s perspective (Psalm 23:1-4):
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 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.”
Psalm 23 could not showcase the relationship between sheep and shepherd more beautifully. I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when He says about His sheep (John 10:15):
“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
There is intimate knowledge, not just mere acquaintance, of all the parties involved. How special it is to know Jesus and to be known by Him!
Jesus told us a story about lost sheep. Here is His story:
A man owning a hundred sheep performed a head count and found that one of his sheep went missing. Looking everywhere, the shepherd went out of his way to trace its steps. After much effort he finally found it. Profoundly relieved he carried the sheep home on his shoulders. As he went, He shared with all of his friends and family what had just happened, and everybody was glad to hear the good news.
I have always wondered about the ninety nine sheep that were left behind in search for the one that got lost. Hypothetically speaking, what if the sheep owner later returns to the camp to find out that his other sheep took off in the meantime? With ninety nine sheep scattered all over the place the crisis would have gone from bad to worse – or maybe not? Jesus did not specify a number. Perhaps the story of one lost sheep in all reality is the story of one hundred lost sheep.
Case in point: We crossed a threshold when we left the Garden of Eden a long time ago; ever since, whether consciously or subconsciously, we have striven to find our way back to Paradise. Unfortunately, there is a million ways we can get lost on the way, and this is where Jesus comes in. He is mankind’s Shepherd. He is the good Shepherd actively helping the lost – although He has a hard time finding certain strays that have no idea they are lost.
Have you ever gone along for a ride and the driver of the car was overly confident? No asking for directions in the middle of a foggy night in a strange town … Still driving in circles hours later, we know this is due to a driver in denial.
Spiritually, we may just as well run in circles, and we will stay lost if we are too proud to ask for directions. From the good Shepherd’s point of view, there is little or nothing He can do for sheep in denial. On the other hand, everything changes as soon as we ask for His help; Jesus will personally come to our rescue. Wherever we are, He will pick us up and bring us home.
Note that Jesus carries His rescued sheep on His shoulders, close to His heart. Close to Jesus, we stop straying and start walking with a purpose – and we are headed towards a beautiful destination called Heaven.
Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”