Summary: This scripture talks about: 1. The nature of sheep. 2. The nature of the enemies of the sheep. 3. The nature of the Shepherd.
This past Christmas, the Dallas family from our church gave us a wonderful gift of Noah’s Ark complete with hand-carved animals. The problem is that it is especially fascinating to children. We have had to glue poor Noah back together more than once. After one visit from our grandchildren, we saw that one of the sheep was missing from the set. We searched for that missing sheep high and low. We looked in the toy cabinet, between the cushions in the couch, in the spare bedroom, but still we couldn’t find the vagabond sheep. Things were not right. You just can’t have a single sheep going into the ark. Some time had passed and Sue moved the couch in the family room to sweep under it, and when she did, there was the missing sheep. We were very happy. We never gave up wishing we had that wandering sheep back and hoping we would find it. Every time we passed the set we thought about it. Things were just not the same without it being there.
It reminded me of what Jesus said about God’s love for lost sheep. My desire for a sheep carved from wood could hardly compare to God’s desire for his wandering sheep, the people he had created. Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15:4-6).
What this scripture tells us is that you don’t have to be a perfect sheep for God to love you. You can be lost and he still loves you and longs for you. You can be a wandering sheep and he still wants you back in the fold. The Shepherd does not reject the wandering sheep, or hope he gets what he deserves, the Shepherd seeks to save and bring back the lost sheep. He is not angry or scolding toward the sheep; he only rejoices when he is able to bring it back home. Jesus said at the end of the parable, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). Even though we as sinners have brought him trouble, and he has had to go and seek us, he is full of joy when he can bring us home. What a great, good and loving Shepherd we have.
The first thing I would like to do today is to look at: The nature of sheep. Sheep are not particularly bright animals. It is not that they occasionally wander off, it is their pattern. It is predictable and expected. They are easily distracted and easily led astray. A story ran in the Washington Post in 2005 telling about shepherds in Gevas, Turkey who watched in shock as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff. First one sheep wandered away and fell over, and eventually the entire flock followed it. In the end, more than 400 sheep died in the plunge. There were 1,100 others that followed, but they survived because their fall was broken by the first ones that went over. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah recognized that the human condition was much like these sheep, for he wrote: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We have followed the crowd instead of the Shepherd and the result is destruction.
I’Ching Thomas tells about observing some sheep. He writes: “A few years ago, while traveling across to Europe in a ferry, we found our bus parked next to a truck. It was one of those trucks where there are two levels of storage space for live animals. This time, it was loaded with sheep. There must have been at least a hundred sheep crammed into that vehicle, all on their way to the slaughterhouse. As I observed the animals, they were behaving rather amusingly — some were sticking out their noses sniffing away, while others were trying to peek out curiously as they experienced the new smells, sights, and sounds that were quite different from their usual farmstead. Little did they know they were on their way to be butchered!” He goes on to make an application: “While we might laugh at the silliness of the sheep, it is also a vivid illustration of our human state. On a daily basis, we are offered joyrides that promise pleasure and adventure, opportunities that seem to realize our ambition for recognition, power, material wealth, intimacy, and even meaning. At every turn, we are led by advertisers to believe that their products or services can satiate our thirst for excitement and thrill. Unknowingly, we accept invitations for rides which take us on roads that could result in our slow spiritual deaths. Sadly, we are not often aware of the looming danger as we are too preoccupied taking in the new experience and novelty. By the time we arrive at the slaughterhouse, it would be too late for us to escape our end.”