Have you ever heard or participated in a discussion about which animal humans are most like? Scientists have often tried to liken us with other animals. Lab tests for different medicines and immunizations are performed on rats and mice since their bodily functions are similar to humans. We’ve been compared with ants and bees because they, like us, are social creatures that live in structured societies. Psychologists liken us to dolphins because of the similar ratio of brain mass to body size. Over the years our culture has become inundated with Darwin’s theory that we are the descendants of apes. Now by the looks of some of us, that theory may be true. You knew that was coming, didn’t you?
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the monkey that was walking out of the library with the Bible under one arm and Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” under the other. A bystander saw him and asked, “Mr. Monkey, what kind of research are you doing?” Mr. Monkey replied, “I’m trying to find out whether I’m my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”
So the question is, which animal are humans most like? Or maybe the way we prefer to ask the question, which animal is most like humans? Well, in several passages of the Bible, God draws up a comparison that I believe fits us a little better than bees or dolphins or even monkeys. Can anyone tell me what animal we are likened to in Scripture? Sheep. David repeatedly compares us to sheep. Ps. 100:3… we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Ps. 79:13… We thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever. Isaiah wrote All we like sheep have gone astray. Jesus as well compares us to sheep several times throughout the Gospels. The Bible likens us to sheep.
Now, to be honest with you, I don’t know how much I appreciate being compared to a sheep. Sheep really aren’t my favorite animals. They smell bad and to me they aren’t the brightest creatures to roam the face of the earth. I don’t know that they are the dumbest animals alive. I mean, some recent studies have shown how good of a memory sheep have. But honestly, how many animals do you know of that will walk into a corner and then not be able to figure out how to get out of it? How many animals do you know of that will roll over onto their back and then not know how to get up on their feet again? To me that’s just kind of dumb. And the bad thing is it happens often. A sheep is not an animal that I necessarily want to be likened to. And it’s not just because I think they’re dumb. But sheep are defenseless. I mean, look at all the other animals in the animal kingdom. Most of them have ways to defend themselves. A bear has his strength and his claws. Lions have their powerful jaws. Snakes have their venom. Porcupines have their darts. Even skunks are able to defend themselves with their scent. Most animals have some sort of defense, but not sheep. As a result of that trait, sheep are also timid and afraid. Their stubborn creatures of habit. They don’t have good eye sight. They get lost easily. They demand a lot of attention and work. I don’t really like being likened to a sheep.
But you know, as I think about it, maybe we as humans are a lot more like sheep than we like to admit. Maybe some of those traits like fearfulness and stubbornness and demanding of attention are a bigger part of us than we think. Maybe the Lord was right when He compared us to sheep. And really, the more I think about it, maybe it isn’t so bad after all. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a sheep when we read verses like John 10:11,14 where Jesus says I am the good shepherd and the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep and I know my sheep and they know me. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a sheep when we read verses like 1 Peter 5:4… And when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Maybe it’s not so bad being a sheep when Jesus is our Shepherd. In fact, I like the idea of being part of the Lord’s flock, don’t you? I can handle being a sheep when I know that Jesus is my Shepherd.
This evening I want us to take some time to gaze upon this shepherd of ours, and I want to talk with you for a little while about some of the traits that He has, some of the activities that He has taken upon Himself. You can find this description of Him in the book of Isaiah 40:9-11…
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Verse 11 here tells us three things about our Shepherd. They are three traits that are absolutely necessary for any successful shepherd. Let’s look at them together for a while this evening in light of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
I. The Providing Shepherd
The first thing that I notice about our Good Shepherd is that He is a providing Shepherd. You know, one thing about sheep is that they are very dependent upon their shepherd. As I mentioned they are creatures of habit. If left to themselves they will graze upon the same pastures and walk the same paths until there is nothing left but barren waste land. If left to fend for themselves they will stay in their favored spots and gnaw the grass down to the root, giving way to parasites and diseases… and the scarce amount of food will leave the sheep sickly and thin. If left to find their own water they will often settle for polluted pot holes where they will pick up more parasites. Needless to say, one of the greatest responsibilities of the shepherd is to make sure that his sheep are provided for with clean water and fresh, green pastures. He must carefully observe regularly the ground on which his sheep are grazing to make sure that the most benefit possible for both the sheep and the land is being met. A good shepherd will be sure that he is providing properly for his sheep.
Isaiah tells us that our Shepherd will feed his flock. Jesus says
in Matthew 6…
Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? A couple verses later He says… Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, How shall we be clothed? For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
We humans tend to worry a lot about whether or not all of our needs are going to be met. Yeah, we know the Bible tells us that God’s eye is on the sparrow and so obviously His eye must be on us as well. Actually, if He is so close to the sparrow I wish He would tell them to quit building their nest in my gas grill. But we’ve read all those verses. Verses like, “My God will supply all your need according to His riches in Christ Jesus,” but we never seem to really be able to live with the peace and assurance that God will really supply all our needs.
There was a point in our lives when Cora and I were so thankful to be able scrap up enough change to order a double cheeseburger from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. There was one time I remember us cooking chicken fettuccini alfredo minus the chicken, and it wasn’t because we were vegetarians. But you can tell by looking at me that I’ve never gone hungry. God has always supplied our needs. But I’ll have to admit, as many times as the Lord has come through for Cora and me; as many times as He has provided for us, we always seem to worry when it doesn’t look like the supply is going to fit the bill. We always seem to find ourselves questioning how that need is going to be met. And then when it is met, when God comes through like He always does, we find ourselves wondering why it was so hard for us to trust God with it in the first place. Anyone else ever been there?
But listen, as long as I’m in my Shepherd’s pasture I don’t have to worry about whether or not my needs will be met. As long as I’m with my Shepherd I know that I’m going to be provided for and cared for. No, being a Christian is not a guarantee that we are going to be rolling in the dough as some TV preachers would have you assume. Just because you are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock doesn’t mean that you are going to become financially prosperous. John the Baptist experienced extreme poverty. Jesus himself didn’t even have a place to rest His head. King David was a man who obviously went through times in his life where he knew real hardship and deep poverty, and yet he penned the words we love to quote, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” Before Paul said, “My God will supply all your needs,” he wrote the words, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul knew what it meant to have needs.
Joining the flock of the Good Shepherd is not a get rich quick scheme. Being in the sheep fold of the Master does not necessarily mean that you will never experience need again. But being part of that flock does mean that I can be completely satisfied with the Shepherd’s management of my life. I can know that He is constantly on the job making sure that I am properly provided for in every detail. For Him, there’s no greater satisfaction than knowing that His sheep are contented and well taken care of. I can know that my Shepherd is deeply concerned about my welfare. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” The Psalmist said, “Blessed be the Lord who daily loadeth us with benefits.” We can count on our Shepherd to provide for His sheep.
No, by signing up to Christ’s sheepfold we are not guaranteeing ourselves to never experience need again, but, what a peace and rest there is in knowing that our Shepherd takes our needs as His responsibility. We are His children. We are the sheep of His pasture. And He will provide for us. And you know, one thing I’ve found about the Lord’s provision… His timing is always perfect, His method is always faultless, and His supply is always enough. The Good Shepherd always provides for His sheep.
II. The Protecting Shepherd
Secondly I notice that our Shepherd is a protecting Shepherd. Again, sheep rely totally upon their shepherd for protection. They have no defense of their own. They don’t have any claws or fangs or even scents with which to ward off any predators, and for some reason they have a lot of predators. In 1999 about 273,000 sheep and lambs, valued at close to $16.5 million, were killed by predators in the United States. Shepherds have to work hard and continuously to keep coyotes, wild dogs, bears, mountain lions, foxes, and even eagles from getting into their sheep. As few as two dogs have been known to slaughter as many as 292 sheep in a single night. Shepherds are constantly battling with predators and there have been many that have been driven out of business because of their numerous losses. It’s important that the shepherd not only provide for his sheep, but he also must protect his sheep.
The Psalmist wrote in chapter 46… God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Later on in that chapter he says Be still, and know that I am God.
You know, one of the strange things about sheep is that because of their timid make up they refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear. Even an unexpected jack rabbit running across the field can send an entire flock of sheep fleeing for their lives. Sheep have to have the assurance that they are safe before they can settle enough to lie down and be still. And there is nothing like the presence of the shepherd to give them that sense of safety. There is nothing like knowing that the shepherd is there to ease their fears.
Sometimes we humans, like sheep, demand a whole lot of assurance that everything is going to be OK before we can settle and rest. Sometimes the least bit of unexpected events can send us into a furious chase for safety. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible we think to be still and know that God is God. A bit of bad news in our world and we fear that there’s no hope. The slightest move of Satan sometimes leaves us frightened out of our wits. A little bit of uncertainty about tomorrow and we can’t lie still enough in our beds to sleep at night. But, Oh, there’s nothing like the presence of the Shepherd to give us the reassurance that we’re going to be OK. There’s nothing like the Shepherd’s presence to let us know that there’s no need to worry. There’s nothing like the presence of Christ to dispel all the fear and the terror of the unknown. There’s nothing like knowing that my Master, my Shepherd has everything under control.
You know, when a predator threatens, sheep tend to do one thing… run. They obviously can’t fight so they’re going to run. Now, the dumber sheep tend to scatter. But the smarter ones tend to stick together as they’re running. It’s a little more difficult for predators to get to them if they are all in tight together. For sheep there is definitely some strength in numbers. But no doubt the safest possible place for a sheep to be is close to his shepherd. After all, it is the shepherd who carries the rod and the staff. It’s the shepherd who has the power to ward off or kill the predator that is trying to get his sheep. And it’s a lot easier for a shepherd to defend the sheep that is next to him than it is to defend the one out by the edge of the pasture.
Pastor Keaton, I want to purpose to be close to the Shepherd so that I can claim the promises of His protection in Psalm 91 like you preached this morning. I want to stick close to His shadow so that I can say, “He is my refuge and fortress.” I want to be in the place that allows Him to deliver me from the fowler. I know that it’s close to Him that I can be free from the fear of the terror by night and the arrow by day. I don’t want to be the sheep that scatters out to the edge of the field. I don’t want to be the sheep that wanders away from the Shepherd. I want to be the sheep that dwells in His presence, whose habitation is near Him. For it’s close to the Shepherd that I am safe. It’s close to the Shepherd that I gain the confidence and the peace that everything is in His hands. It’s under His shadow that I am given the promise of His protection.
Jesus said in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” He’s a protecting Shepherd. When we stay close to Him no predator is too strong or too quick to steal us away. No predator can out-maneuver Him. No predator can out-smart Him. He protects His sheep. He keeps His sheep.
III. The Piloting Shepherd
Lastly this evening, not only is our Shepherd a providing Shepherd and a protecting Shepherd, but notice with me that our Shepherd is a piloting Shepherd. He guides His sheep.
As I’ve said, sheep demand a lot of attention from their shepherd. Without his leadership the sheep will either get stuck in a rut and roam the same paths as always, again, destroying the value of their eating fields, or they will unknowingly wander off and get lost or hurt or worse. The shepherd must put a lot of effort into leading them in the right paths. After all, it is he who has studied the pastures and knows where the best feeding ground and water holes are. He knows where the wolves’ dens are. And he is the one who is able to steer his sheep into the right places and out of the wrong ones. He leads his sheep.
Now, there are three things that come to my mind when we speak of our piloting Shepherd. First of all His leadings involve discipline. A shepherd in the Middle East generally carries two things with him... a staff, probably like the one you picture in your mind, the long rod with the crook on the end; and a club. These tools are used not only for the protection of the sheep but also for disciplining the sheep. When a sheep begins to wander off a shepherd is quick to send his club hurling in that sheep’s direction, sending the animal scurrying back to the flock. Maintaining discipline within the flock is important.
A lot of times God’s leadership involves discipline. Sometimes we need the correction that His rod provides. Sometimes we get out of line and we need to be nudged back to the flock. Admittedly, most of us don’t like being disciplined. But it should be encouraging to us that God makes that kind of effort. For when we get out of line, yielding to His discipline can save us from getting lost. Think about it, if the shepherd just allowed the sheep to wander off any old time, it would probably wind up as dinner for a coyote before the end of the day. But the shepherd cares about the sheep, so he corrects him. In the same way, our Shepherd loves us, so He corrects us. The writer of Hebrews says, “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Sometimes we need the discipline of the Shepherd, and when He does chasten us or correct us it doesn’t mean that He’s out to get us, but it simply means that He cares about us and He doesn’t want us to end up lost. The Shepherd disciplines His sheep.
I believe that the Shepherd’s leadership also involves the commitment to seek us out when we are lost. Jesus asked in Matt. 18, “If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” A shepherd that cares about his sheep seeks out the ones that are lost.
I’m so glad this evening that my Shepherd sought me out. When I wandered off on my own He didn’t just sit back content with the sheep that stayed home. When I found myself lost He wasn’t willing to just leave me that way. But He sought me out. He searched high and low for me. And when He found me tangled in my sin and dirty He didn’t decide I was hopeless and leave me there, but He rescued me and He rejoiced because He had found His lost sheep. Aren’t you glad this evening that our Shepherd takes the time and makes the effort to seek out His lost sheep? He isn’t content to sit by and maintain His chosen few while the world spins into hell. He isn’t fooled into thinking that there are no more sheep to be added to the fold. He isn’t discouraged into giving up on those that are seemingly too tangled up in their sin. But the Bible tells us that He came to seek and to save those who are lost. I’m glad that when this little lamb was hopelessly lost in sin, my Shepherd sought me out and untangled me from the mess that I was in and cleaned all the stains of dirt and grime that sin had left on my fleece and brought me into the fold. The Shepherd seeks out His lost sheep.
Thirdly, I believe that the Shepherd’s leadership involves lifting up those who have fallen. See I wasn’t kidding when I said that sheep actually will lay down and not be able to get back up. The way it happens is this. A sheep will lie down in some little hollow or depression in the ground, and it may roll slightly to stretch out or relax. But then the center of gravity shifts and he turns on his back far enough that his feet no longer touch the ground. In a sense of panic it may start to paw frantically which only makes things worse. Now I have never seen this, but I hear it is a rather pathetic sight. Lying on it’s back with it’s feet hopelessly flailing in the air as it struggles to get back up. And if left there for even a matter of a few hours it could die. So it’s vital that the shepherd keeps a good eye on his sheep to make sure that none are cast down. And if a sheep is cast down the shepherd is the one who has the power to roll the sheep over to it’s side and lift it to it’s feet. If it’s been down long the shepherd must be patient enough to rub the circulation back into the sheep’s legs while whispering words of comfort.
You know, sometimes we find ourselves having fallen down under the pressure of some problem. Maybe someone hurt us with words. Maybe someone let us down. Maybe the storms of life have just gotten us to a point of despair, and we’re cast down, just like those sheep. And we’re hopelessly flailing trying to get back on firm ground. But all of our effort is in vain. Have you ever been there? I have. It’s no fun being cast down. But when the Shepherd comes He brings such comfort. When the Shepherd comes He holds the power to lift us back up. When the Shepherd comes He will lift us out of the despair and the anguish and give us peace and joy that cannot be found elsewhere. Our Shepherd is always faithful to lift up those who are fallen.
The Good Shepherd leads His sheep. He guides them into fresh pastures and clear waters. He leads them past the snares of the predator. He disciplines them back into the right paths. He seeks out those who are lost. And He lifts up those who have fallen. And Isaiah tells us that He does it gently. When He disciplines He isn’t hurtful, but He chastens us lovingly. When He seeks us out He doesn’t condemn us for getting lost, but He weeps for joy that He found us. When He lifts us up He doesn’t tell us how stupid and weak we are, but He whispers words of comfort. I’m glad my Shepherd is interested in gently piloting His sheep.
The Bible is full of pictures of who Jesus is. He’s the Bread of Life. He’s the Light of the world. He’s the Way and the Door. He’s the Vine. But I think that my favorite picture of Christ is that of a Shepherd. A Shepherd that lovingly provides for His sheep. A Shepherd that actively protects His sheep. And a Shepherd that gently pilots His sheep. I don’t necessarily enjoy being likened to a sheep, but it’s not so bad when Jesus is my Shepherd. Aren’t you glad that you’re part of His flock? Aren’t you glad that you’re in His care? There’s no other place I’d rather be than in the pastures and in the presence of my Shepherd.