Summary: Jesus does not protect those he loves from bad things happening, but uses bad things to fulfill his plans for our lives. When we suffer, he is glad not because we are suffering, but because through suffering we have the chance to grow in faith.
A mother was once asked by a census-taker how many children she had. She replied, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and…”. “Never mind the names,” the man interrupted, “Just give me the numbers”. The mother angrily replied, “They don’t have numbers, they all have names!”
This might be a funny story, but in our modern world this is oh so true. We are often reduced to numbers and statistics, especially by the government. Here in Canada, our governments- municipal, federal or provincial-know us by our Social Insurance Numbers, and that identity is included in almost all of our lifetime records and transactions. We are no longer identities to our governments, only our “number” is. Even our opinions are reflected by numbers in survey results, as was seen by the surveys conducted during the recent federal election campaign. No wonder many people have an “identity crisis”.
Thankfully, our Saviour Jesus Christ is not like this. He knows each and every one of us by our names, just like a shepherd knows each and every one of the sheep in his flock. Personal names and identities are important to God, especially his own; therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus knows us by our names. After all, he is the Good Shepherd.
The parable of the good shepherd and his sheep is a reference to God’s intimate knowledge of all of us. A good shepherd looks after his flock and knows his sheep. Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world. They seek the security of the flock and blindly follow the lead of the shepherd. When several flocks are grazing together in a field, they are still able to distinguish the voice of their own shepherd and follow his movements, clap, voice, etc. Sheep need a leader not because they are dumb, but because they know they can’t go it alone. They need someone to lead and to guide them.
Jesus is our shepherd. People who truly belong to God listen to and believe in the words of Jesus. We must distinguish his voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives and follow Him in faith. He provides the security of an eternal kingdom, but people often look elsewhere for their spiritual and eternal security. No forces other than our own can snatch us out of His good care and keeping. There is no security in the law, only unbelief. Christianity is not about Christians behaving themselves. It is about hope for those who do not have any-including all of us. All we have in ourselves is doubt and fear-and nothing there is certain.
In Biblical times, sheep were often placed in a fenced-in area at night for their protection. If the sheep pen had a gate, the shepherd could close and lock it and go home; however, many sheep pens did not have a gate. Instead, there was an opening. A shepherd would then lie across the opening to keep predators out. Just as the shepherd controlled the entrance to the sheep pen, Jesus controls our entrance to heaven. In fact, Jesus is the only way to heaven. As Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me”. Our comings and goings are through Jesus.
This might seem narrow-minded to some people, but it was Jesus who in his perfect mind and perfect planning paved the way for us to be reconciled to God. He did this by giving himself to us. For us he emptied himself of his deity and took on human form and became a lowly, humble servant-just like a shepherd is a lowly, humble servant. We can have all of the world’s goods, but we would still be empty inside. The only person who can truly satisfy us is Jesus. If we allow Christ to live in us, we will have an abundant life. His love encourages us and empowers us so that we will obey him out of joy and thankfulness.
As a gate-keeper, Jesus provides both protection and freedom. He gives us helpful boundaries and keeps the enemy at bay. We can trust him more than we can trust the world around us. Jesus warns us about those who would lead people far from the truth, especially false teachers and some TV evangelists. These false prophets are like junk food. They look so appealing, but a steady diet of their “spiritual junk food” will hurt us in the long run. Jesus loved people and cared for them just like a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Those of you who have ever held a yard sale might have been in a situation where a customer found an item that he or she wanted, but did not want to pay the price you were charging. Well, our spiritual life is the same. There are people who are looking for joy, peace and love in their lives. When someone tells them that they can have all of that and more just by believing in what Jesus did for them on the cross, they do not want to pay the price.