Shepherds are leaders, pastors, and teachers who can lead us to or away from God and from each other. The Lord God, Himself, wants to be known to His own as a “Shepherd” (Isaiah 40:11). There is no closer relationship and harmony in the Bible than that between a shepherd and his sheep. Moses, David, and Jesus the Christ fostered and enjoyed such an intimate presence between shepherd and sheep. The first to greet the “Baby King Jesus” were shepherds. Their visit was brief because they had to returned to care for their sheep (Luke 2:8-20). Jesus, Himself, gave us an example how important a single sheep was to a good shepherd.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “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.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:1-7).
As a boy, I have been with sheep in Poland, where I was born. We lived on the land and we had a few sheep for our domestic use. The sheep were harmless, they huddled closely together facing inward, and they quickly responded to the voice that fed them. They did not respond to me because I tried to be a bid rough and they would run back home to safety. We were evicted from Poland during World War II, and we settled in a small town in West Germany. For protection, the people lived in the same town since the middle ages. However, their land and their small farms were in the countryside. Many people had sheep, no more than four. They had a shepherd who was the most respected and trusted person in their community. In the spring, the people entrusted their sheep to their shepherd. And in the fall, the shepherd returned the sheep to their owners with benefits; rather with young ones. We acquired a small farm nearby and every year, for a spell, the shepherd would move into our area where there was open land. The shepherd lived in a trailer. And he had two dogs, which kept the sheep together in a portable fence for the night, and the dogs also kept the predators (particularly thieves) out. During the cold season, the shepherd and his family enjoyed the Mediterranean region. I lived in Germany for six years. I came to America where the sheep are being depicted as dumb and stupid. Yet, Jesus wants us to become like sheep so we can hear “His Voice.”
Leadership is not born overnight. Good leaders require years of training. And also they require a decent environment to attain the knowledge, the skills to govern and the skill to manage various affairs of the community and of the state. Moses became a superb example of how a leader ought to be prepared. In his first forty years, Moses lived in an environment, which did not turn him into a good leader. Therefore, he had to flee to the deserted mountains. And he spent forty more years with Ruel and his daughters. Before Moses could deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery, Ruel taught Moses how to become a good shepherd by tending sheep. And while Moses was in the household of Pharaoh, he was inadvertently placed in the care of his mother (Exodus 2).
Sheep had a similar impact on King David. Caring for and tending for sheep prepared David to deal with life and to provide for those in his care. Also, David came to the conclusion that he, himself, was a helpless sheep in need of Yahweh’s care and guardianship. David’s sheep trusted him and responded to his call. His harp-playing would ease the restlessness when the animals huddled together for the night. It was while David was guarding his sheep, that he composed some of the finest lyrics and songs we sing. The most outstanding inner feeling of trust in God, who was the Shepherd of shepherds, comes to us in the twenty-third Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in path of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23).
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.‘”
When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.
David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years (II Samuel 5:1-5).
ON CHRISTMAS THE LORD GOD HIMSELF BECAME MAN’S FINAL SHEPHERD
The message on leaders (shepherds) the Lord God revealed to Ezekiel in the Babylonian captivity has been and is so much more, than ever, a warning against exploiting and against usurping leaders who destroy many nations. Ezekiel’s prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ the Good Shepherd:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was not shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth and no one searched or looked for them.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken'” (Ezekiel 34:1-24).
THE GOSPEL OF JOHN HAS JESUS HIMSELF GIVE US WHAT A GOOD SHEPHERD DOES
I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:1-18).
CHRIST JESUS, THE GREAT SHEPHERD, LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS SHEEP — AND WHAT DOES CHRIST JESUS EXPECT OF HIS SHEEP?
While being tested as sheep, the writer to the Hebrews has this prayer for us:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of our lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:15-21).
To Paul, Jesus, our Great Shepherd, is now in heaven interceding for his sheep not to be derailed from their destiny by physical suffering and even death:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.“
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
Jesus promised a reward and a special treatment for his sheep, who were acting like his sheep, without pretending to be his followers. These sheep did not expect any remuneration for their deeds:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels (sheep) with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.‘
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and othe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?‘
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.‘
Then he will say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.‘
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?‘
He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.‘
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).