One of the first pictures of Jesus that I remember seeing as a child was the one with the sheep wrapped around his neck as he brought the lost sheep back to the flock. It was a powerful image for me as a child of age nine or ten, because the carrying of the sheep seemed to indicate such love for the sheep. He had cared enough to go looking for the one lost sheep, even though he had plenty more sheep. I thought how lucky that little sheep was to have someone willing to go find him or her and rescue them from all of the possible troubles they could have encountered, including being killed by wolves. I wondered if he would come find me and rescue me. Even as young as ten, I recognized that there were benefits to being sheep, and that if God referred to us as sheep in need of a Shepherd, then we need not be ashamed to be called sheep.
Sheep get a bad rap, being viewed as unintelligent animals who will follow anyone with food to give them. Because they tend to panic and flee quickly, it is thought that they are dumb animals, but that is not true. Sheep are flock animals, very social, living in groups, and they tend to congregate close to other members of their flock. They have the ability to recognize the faces of humans and other sheep. This all sounds very familiar to me, especially as human beings are also social animals who love to assemble together, and who are quick to panic and try to run away from their troubles. So, it is no accident that God’s people are compared to sheep in the Old and New Testament, and that the Father and the Son are viewed as Good Shepherds, taking care of their own flocks.
Psalm 100:3 reminds us that God made us; we did not create ourselves. Therefore, we are his people, the sheep of His pastures. And Matthew 9:36 states of Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The benefits of being sheep depend on who your shepherd is, or who is leading and guiding your life and whose voice you are heeding and following.
In John 10, Jesus calls himself “the Good Shepherd.” He says that his purpose is to give the sheep a rich and satisfying life (verse 10). He reminds the disciples that only the sheep that come through him are saved, for other shepherds seek only to steal, kill, and destroy the sheep. Jesus says that the sheep recognize the voice of their own shepherd and come to him when he calls, for the good shepherd knows the names of his own sheep. Because they know his voice, they will not follow any other shepherd, no matter how sweet their voices sound.
So, accessing the benefits of being a sheep begins with learning to recognize the voice of the true shepherd who gives good things to his sheep. Let me stop here and say that the benefits of being sheep does not include the absence of trials and tribulations. Instead, the benefits of being sheep are found in how they help us endure our everyday lives in ways that sheep without a shepherd simply do not know or cannot experience. No Scripture exemplifies the benefits of being sheep like Psalm 23, King David’s praise to God as his shepherd.
In this favorite psalm of mine from childhood until today, King David reminds us that the benefits of being sheep include rest in peaceful places from the storminess of life, the renewing of our strength, guidance along the right paths, and God’s constant presence when walking in dark valleys of the soul. David also lets us know that our Shepherd will prepare a feast for us in the presence of our enemies, indicating that we will be victorious over the hardships of this life. And then, He will anoint our heads with oil, removing all the dirt and shame of our past lives, making us clean. He will fill our cups with blessings that overflow, allowing us to share our blessings with others. Lastly, His goodness and love will be with us every day that we are in the land of the living, and then when the death angel calls our names, we are assured that our spirits will live with Him forevermore. What a great Shepherd we serve!
Revelation 7:17 states, “For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” I don’t know about you, but I am excited to know that a day will come when crying is over and done, and peace and joy will abound and we will share love and show respect to each person around us. The sheep will constitute a crowd too numerous to number of every race, tribe, nation, and language, singing praise with one voice, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
So, I am not going to worry when I hear snide remarks about God’s people as unintelligent animals dumbly following something they cannot see. Instead, I am going to continue to rejoice in being sheep kept by the Good Shepherd, who loved you and me so much that He sacrificed His life for us. When He rose from the dead, He answered the age-old question, “Is there life after death?” And the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
My Father, My Shepherd,
To You be glory and exaltation for sending Your Son into the world for lost sheep! I am Your daughter, the sheep of Your pastures. Lord, bless Your people today all over the world, keeping them safe and helping them be victorious in their lives. Praise Your Holy Name. In Jesus’s Name, I pray. Amen.