In July of 2005, an amazing and terrible thing happened in Istanbul, Turkey. High up on a mountainside, a herd a sheep were peacefully grazing while their shepherds sat nearby eating breakfast. Inexplicably, under no threat from weather or a predator, one of the sheep suddenly jumped over the side of the cliff. What happened next was as awful as it is instructive. One sheep after another followed the first, until almost the entire herd, approximately 1,500 animals, had jumped. About one-third of the sheep that went over the cliff died because they followed the followers and not the shepherd.
There may be no better word picture in all of Scripture than the image of men and women as sheep who are in desperate need of a Shepherd to lead and guide them. The prophet Isaiah put it this way, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). More than 700 years later, the apostle Matthew recalled that Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds of people who came to Him, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
How often do we wander away from our Good Shepherd! And without His watchful eye and saving hand, we would simply hurl ourselves over cliff after cliff. It is our nature to follow the followers rather than our Leader. The world dangles pretty baubles in front of us, we see our friends and neighbors chasing after them, and we follow, thinking that the world’s enticements will give us the peace we so desperately crave.
David’s Twenty-Third Psalm paints a beautiful picture of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of our Good Shepherd:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths 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 23:1-6)
We could spend the rest of our lives unpacking the blessing of just the first five words: “The LORD is my shepherd!” That truth conveys as much comfort as it does confidence. Sheep are totally dependent upon the shepherd, and nothing could be more true of the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd. Our Good Shepherd cares for us, provides for us, restores us, comforts us, heals us, and He has promised never to abandon us!
Now don’t miss the image of the “rod and staff” in the hands of the Good Shepherd. The rod was for fighting off any wild animals that might attack the sheep. And the staff was for gently but firmly guiding the flock in the direction the Shepherd intended.
To make this metaphor meaningful today, we can see our Good Shepherd using the “staff” of Scripture to guide us into His perfect plan and purpose for our lives. We are totally dependent upon our Shepherd, and we acknowledge that dependence by spending time prayerfully considering all He has to say to us in His Word. The best way to keep following the Leader—instead of the followers—is to marinate and meditate in His Word every day.
About 2,000 years before the shocking deaths of hundreds of sheep in Turkey, another large group of sheep gathered on a mountainside in the Middle East . . . but these sheep stayed huddled close to their Shepherd, feasting eagerly on every word that came from the mouth of God. And during that glorious Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded them . . . and us:
“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
The unbelieving world will trumpet that we need cash or cars or clothes or careers to make us content. But seek first the Lamb of God, who died for you to take away your sins. He is the Good Shepherd who lives today to guide, govern, and direct your every step down His paths of righteousness.
May the confession of our lives be one of following our Leader and not the followers!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!