“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The Lord is my Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd. But who is the Lord? What is Jesus’ character? Does He have adequate credentials to be my Shepherd – my manager – my owner? In what way do I become the object of His concern and diligent care? These may not be the words many people say to themselves but when people wrestle with questions of faith, indirectly these are the questions they are asking. Penetrating, searching questions.
David, the author of the poem we know as the 23rd Psalm, was himself a shepherd and the son of a shepherd and was later known as the Shepherd King of Israel. David stated explicitly, “the Lord is my Shepherd.” He was referring to Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel. His statement was confirmed by Jesus the Messiah who, as God incarnate, declared, “I am the good Shepherd.”
Our view of Jesus is often too small, too cramped, too provincial, too human. And because it is we feel unwilling to allow Him to have authority or control, much less outright ownership of our lives. But He is the One who was directly responsible for the creation of all things both natural and supernatural (Read Colossians 1: 15-20) If you reflect on this passage, on the power of Christ and His achievements, perhaps suddenly like David, you will be glad to state proudly, “The Lord – The Lord, He is my Shepherd!”
The relationship shown to us in the bible between God and humans are those of a parent to a child and a shepherd to his sheep. The whole idea of relationship, was first conceived in the mind of God the Creator. It was made practical and possible through the work of Jesus the Redeemer. It was confirmed and made real in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit. So when the statement, “The Lord is my Shepherd” is made by a man or woman, it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and their Maker. It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny – it means a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence.
That thought alone stirs my spirit, and I hope, quickens your own sense of awareness. It certainly lends enormous dignity to you as an individual. To think that God in Christ is deeply concerned about you as a particular and unique person immediately gives great purpose and enormous meaning to our sojourn on this planet.
The greater, the wider, the more majestic our concept of Christ is, the more vital will be our relationship to Him. Obviously, David, in Psalm 23, is not speaking as a shepherd, but as a sheep, as one of the flock. He spoke with a strong sense of pride and devotion and admiration. He was literally boasting aloud “Look at who my shepherd is – my manager, my owner! It’s God Him/Herself!”
The lot in life of a sheep depends on the type of person who owns it. Sheep apparently need more care than much livestock. Some sheep owners are kind, gentle, intelligent, brave and selfless in their devotion to their stock. Other shepherds allow their sheep to struggle, starve and suffer endless hardship. So if I acknowledge the Lord as my Shepherd, I should know something about Christ’s character and understand something of God’s ability.
If you were to go to a deserted place and look up at the stars on a clear night, you could remind yourself of the majesty and might of God. There are at least 250 million times 250 million stars, (each larger than our sun which is one of the smallest stars), which have been scattered across the heavens by God’s hand. The planet earth, our home for a few short years, is so minute a speck of matter in space that if it were possible to transport our most powerful telescope to our nearest neighbour star, Alpha Centauri, and look back towards our sun, the earth would not even be seen.
All of this is a bit humbling. It drains the human ego and puts things in proper perspective. It can make us see ourselves as a mere mite of material in an enormous universe. Yet the staggering fact remains that Christ the co-creator of a universe of overwhelming magnitude, deigns to call Himself our Shepherd and invites us to consider ourselves His sheep – His special objects of affection and attention. Who better could care for us?
In the same way, if you were to stoop down and pick up a handful of dirt from your backyard and put it under an electron microscope, you would be astounded to discover that it teens with billions upon billions of micro organisms. God brought all of this into being - from the most gigantic galaxy to the most minute microbe all functioning according to definite laws of order and unity.
It is no accident that Jesus has chosen to call us sheep. Often the behaviour of sheep and human beings is similar. Humankind, in general, has a mass mind or mob instinct like sheep – that’s how riots start. We have fears and timidity, stubbornness and sometimes downright stupidity just like sheep. We don’t like to admit it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists. But despite our adverse characteristics, Jesus chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own and delights in caring for us.
Jesus continually lays Himself out for us. He is always interceding for us, He is always guiding us by His Spirit, He is always working on our behalf to ensure we will benefit from His care. The entire poem in Psalm 23 recounts the manner in which the Good Shepherd spares no pains for the welfare of His sheep. No wonder the poet took pride in belonging to the Good Shepherd.
Yet men and women continually refuse and reject the claims that Jesus has on their lives. Perhaps they fear that to acknowledge His ownership is to come under the rule of a tyrant. There have always been caricatures of God that may make us believe God is a tyrant. But through Jesus we can see God as a being of enormous compassion and incredible integrity. Though born in the middle of less than desirable surroundings, the member of a modest working family, Jesus lived with great dignity and assurance. He enjoyed no special advantages in education or employment, but His philosophy and outlook on life were the highest standards of human conduct. He had no vast economic assets, political power or military might, and yet no other person has ever made such a huge impact on the world’s history. Because of Jesus, millions of people across over more than twenty centuries have come to a life of decency and honour and noble conduct.
Not only was he gentle and tender and true, but also righteous, stern as steel and terribly tough on phony people. He was magnificent in His forgiveness of fallen people but a terror to those who were hypocritical or false. This is the One who insists that He is the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who cares enough to seek out and save and restore.
I would like you to consider these questions: Do I really belong to God? Do I really recognize God’s right to me? Do I respond to divine authority and acknowledge this ownership? Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement? Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under God’s control? Do I know rest and repose, besides a definite sense of exciting adventure, in belonging to Christ?
Some of you may still be stuck on the first couple of questions. Some can answer yes to all of them. Wherever you are on your journey of faith, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and in belonging to Him we will flourish and thrive no matter what life brings to us.