With a spring in his step and an eye to the sky, at sunrise, he makes straight for the sheep fold. As soon as he rattles the gate, he gives his morning call, greets the sheep, often by name, every sheep is on its feet. They spring toward the gate, with expectancy written on their faces and in their eyes, another great day on the range with their loving shepherd leading the way to fresh grass and cool water.
How they eagerly bound through the gate, one after another, the younger lambs and yearlings with a skip and a bound of sheer joy, pleasure, and playfulness, the older sheep in a more sedate and dignified manner, as if reserving their energy for the demands of the long day ahead.
The sun peeps over the hilltop horizon to make jewels of the dew on the bushes, the ground grass and tussocks. The air is clear, brisk, and bright. The wind has not yet arrived and there is a sense of peace all around. As the flock strings out, all is joy, abounding life, and togetherness.
The sheep follow after as the shepherd leads them along a different course in a new direction to feed on a fresh range that has not been grazed for months. The leaders are at first unsettled and seem to want to return to the old paths and the well-trodden ways, but they reluctantly follow the lead of their shepherd as he directs them to fresh, clean pastures and sweet grazing.
As they enter this new range, all is action. The flock comes alive. Each of the sheep tries to out step the others in a search of the first morsel—a sweet wildflower, a ripe seed head, a rich bottom clover, or a ground-hugging plant. Each tender morsel is nipped off on the move, a bite at every stride. What a joy to observe a flock of hungry sheep graze the fresh, sweet pastures.
It doesn’t last long. The first pangs of hunger are soon satisfied, and the mob aligns itself behind the active leaders. The lambs are ready for their morning treat: mother’s milk. This wonderful mother gives all to her twin lambs, as they grow bigger and fatter, while she becomes thinner, and until they almost lift her off the ground as they bunt and bump to bring down the sweet milk. No wonder she often lags a bit and appears exhausted, having to meet the insatiable demands of these ravenous “younguns” that never seem to get enough.
The leaders are either alone or have only one lamb to tend to. Often they are barren ewes, wethers [castrated sheep], or rams, with nothing to hold them back. They are often more selfish than the other sheep, who are making many sacrifices. They hurry on, run ahead, push and jockey for position, demanding the first and best morsel for themselves.
The shepherd is well aware of their behavior and knows all about it. Many times he will deliberately let them charge ahead and up a barren rock plateau, while he turns the tail of the mob and the stragglers into a path leading to the sweet side valley and into the rich pasture. Gradually he goes back to the greedy sheep and the leaders who are stringing out the flock and taking them in the wrong direction. The shepherd takes his time to turn them and to bring them back to join the others, being sure they have had ample time to nourish themselves on the first fruits.
As the day grows hotter and the sun climbs to its zenith in the clear, bright sky, the mob starts to search for shade—the shade of any tree or bush or overhanging rock—and each sheep shows signs of thirst with the drooping ear and the licking of lips.
The shepherd knows the range. He has walked the sheep paths long before any of his flock were born. He knows where the green pastures are and he knows where the fresh springs of water are. The way is not always easy.
Sometimes the sheep must be forced and persuaded to move down a steep, rocky path. It is often difficult going. They would much rather climb than to descend. It is their natural inclination. The rocky path is narrow. The rocky path is perilous. The rocky path hurts their tender feet. There is unnecessary crowding—and there is dust and there is heat.
Finally, they come to the low plateau and the lower ground. At last, around the bottom bluff, the spring gently gurgles, making a still pond of crystal clear water. The leaders call to the others, signaling the discovery of the water, and within a few minutes, all is contentment. Thirst is replaced with refreshment.
And what a sight! Each sheep takes its turn. Each sheep sips, rather than gulps. There’s no charging in, no shoving aside, no forcing itself ahead of the other. They wait politely one for another. They often take time to wet their silky muzzles, swish, and toss their heads, drinking slowly with no haste and great contentment.
Then it is siesta time, the sheep in the cool shade of boulders and bushes and trees, and the shepherd in the shade of a high point, where he can survey all the flock as they settle down for a 2 or 3 hour nap. At last the rams, the wethers, and the older sheep have found rest and relaxation. At last the lambs have quieted down, and are willing to leave their mother–ewes alone and undisturbed. A time for quiet. A time for rest. A time for meditation. A time for chewing the cud. No noise. No predators. No perils. No dangers. At last, near the soil, the grass, the water, the best part of the day. What a sanctuary for sheep and shepherd, and under his watchful eye.
It is mid-afternoon, and the first to move is the shepherd. The shadows are beginning to grow longer. The heat of the day is passed. And it is time to retrace steps back to home and to the sheepfold. The flock is slow to stir from its siesta. The sheep would remain where they were all day and into the twilight if the shepherd would let them, but it is time to depart and begin the journey homeward.
The leaders of the flock are started back first, along the path that leads homeward, and up the steep path. The rest slowly follow. On regaining the tops, the afternoon winds begin to stir. The stir becomes a strong wind and a gale, directly in the face of the flock, the dust flying and the hot air whistling straight into their faces.
How the flock dislike wind in their face! Always on the range they immediately turn their backs to the wind. But now they must take the wind head on. Why? Why doesn’t the shepherd let us go before it, turn our back to it, or lead us some other way? The answer is, although it be difficult, although it be hard, it is the way home to the sheepfold. If they linger, if they dawdle, if they are not there by sunset, the flock will become scattered, sheep will lose their way, and they will become prey for predators, for thieves, for robbers—who prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil.
It is not an easy end to the day. Many problems have been faced, many dangers anticipated, many needs met, and the shepherd has had to be vigilant all the day long.
When the way is hard, the flock may often become quite unsettled, even when it’s on its way home. The shepherd observes a poor old ewe, limping along at the tail of the mob. He goes to her and finds a small hard stick between her hooves. He takes the ewe in his arms, holds her gently and reassuredly, and carefully removes the offending hurt. He rubs in some soothing salve, lifts her to her feet, and moves her into the homeward path.
A count of the flock reveals that one sheep is missing. He looks far and wide, and then retraces the path of the sheep, looking for the one that is lost. He searches high and low, and there, in the thicket of a thorn bush is the hogget [a young sheep], caught and unable to escape. Gently he works the yearling loose and carries it over his shoulders the half mile to rejoin the procession home.
When he catches up with the flock and returns the lost sheep, the shepherd spots two big rams fighting it out for leadership and dominance within the flock. Hurriedly the shepherd parts them and teaches them who’s really the boss—the shepherd himself.
While the shepherd was gone, a ewe has become cast in a hole and her lamb separated off on the other side of the mob. Both are in great distress. The shepherd goes into action, lifting the ewe back on to her feet, reassuring her, walking her through the mob, while she calls for her little lamb. Finally they are soon reunited—with joy abounding.
The sun is setting amidst the colorful clouds in the western sky—“red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”—there is promise of a wonderful day tomorrow.
The last mile, the easy mile, is a well-worn path back to the sheepfold. It has been traveled many times and on many days. The sheep sense familiar territory, their home field and their home fold. The shepherd precedes them, and stands at the sheepfold with the gate wide open. He calls them in, “come unto me … and ye shall find rest.” The mob with little prompting streams through the portal to rest, to protection, and to contentment.
Here, in the sheepfold, no more dangers or perils. There are no rocky paths. There are no predators. There is no blazing sun, no dry grass, no dust, no wind, no thorns, no crying, no pain. Rather there is sweet straw, pure water, high walls around the sanctuary, protection against all dangers, sweet peace, sweet rest, and sweet fellowship—until the shepherd comes to awaken them again to a bright, new morning.
The shepherd knows his flock. The shepherd knows the correct number, and all are present and accounted for. All are in and he shuts the door. No one can enter and no one can leave. He alone has the power to open it again.
From: John Macarthur’s God’s design for the church
Related Text Illustrations
Contributed by Owen Bourgaize on Oct 30, 2000
Contributed by Paul Fritz on Oct 18, 2000
Have you ever stopped to consider how God demonstrates His love to us? Most people assume that God loves us just because He created us, but there is much more evidence. God’s love involved a supreme sacrifice in His Son, Jesus Christ. It must have grieved