“Seeing the people, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
Over 200 times in scripture are God’s people referred to as “sheep” of which Christ is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pe 5:4) …..which is sweet. He sort of sees us as these cute little snuggle buddies he likes to hang out with out in his beautiful pastureland. Or not. As it turns out, sheep aren’t that bright. As it turns out, they have a poor sense of direction, wandering about aimlessly and purposely, and will even follow one another off cliffs to their death. How accurately does this describe most of our lives!…much more than cute & snuggly. How fickle we are, going about our daily tasks-work, errands, chores… only to indulge in hobbies, vacations, and relationships which will never bring true satisfaction. We wander from one supposed thrill to the next passively succumbing to anything and everything our culture tells us—embracing that which suits us (2 Ti 4:3) and ignoring that which we don’t like. And yet, the ignorance, passivity, and irrational wandering which would so easily annoy and frustrate any one of us, seems rather strangely to cultivate compassion in Jesus. I wonder how often I look upon the lost souls of this world as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36).” I wonder how often it is that people are simply walking around in either pure oblivion to the reality of spiritual warfare waging against them (2 Co 4:4), oppressed or neglected by overbearing or careless authorities (Eze 34:2-5), or deceived by idols which cannot save (Jer 16:20). The Lord casts off goats (Mt 25:32) and warns of wolves (Mt 7:15 Acts 20:29) which will both stand condemned to eternal separation from him, but how does he treat his sheep? How does he approach those of little faith, of little understanding…..those dull in heart and prone to wander? Those confused and lost creatures, if left to their own devices would quickly perish?
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Jer 34:11-16)
Jesus is both fierce and gentle (Luke 15:5) in his pursuit of his sheep. I wonder how many people we see throughout the day, simply going about life, clothed in discontent, confused and bewildered and discouragingly conclude–they just don’t get it…and implicitly, they never will. Such was never Jesus attitude! He proactively sought out his own at the expense of his comfort, his reputation, his safety knowing that his father’s arm was not too short to save (Isa 59:1). Who is beyond God’s power to rescue? Jesus clearly answers, “no one is able to snatch them out of the father’s hand.” (John 10:29) As we do not, and will not ever know just who belongs to him in this life, we are to be always hopeful, always prayerful, always pursuing everyone made in his image longing that they might share in our joy and peace which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). Sheep may be dumb, but it turns out they are also relational in that they “possess a sharp sense of individuality and can recognize the faces of at least 10 people and 50 other sheep and like humans,” and “prefer a smile to a grimace.” And while it is baffling to think that the Lord of all Creation would want anything to do with ignorant, stubborn, and rebellious people who continually wander off into trouble, he does. He longs for us (Deut 5:29) and has put it into us to long for him (Ps 27:8). And not only so, but he rejoices and calls all of heaven and earth to do the same, each and every time a lost sheep has been redeemed (Luke 15:6-7). And this is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) we get to follow.
“Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to themselves, they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.” –Phillip Keller