Sheep are not always the docile creatures people envision. The popular understanding is that sheep never put up a fuss and just go along with anything. Nope, try sticking a tube down their throats to give them a deworming pill and you’ll see what I mean. They can be gentle and docile as well as stubborn, selfish, pushy, mean, and sometimes, downright ornery. Some will even attack you if you’re not watching, particularly an old ram that is protecting his rights to the harem. Sheep can be rather stupid at times, especially when following along with the flock. The one thing that always gets them in trouble is their appetite. I can recall several occasions when a lamb got its head stuck in the fence because the grass on the other side must have tasted better. And I’m sure that the lost lamb in Jesus parable of the ninety-nine wandered from the safety of the shepherd and the flock in search of something tastier. With all of that in mind does it really surprise you that God chose, out of all of the possibilities in the animal kingdom, to liken us to sheep.
The fourth facet of our diamond of who we are in Christ is sheep. Not just any sheep, however. Not a Bighorn Sheep with its curly horns and well know contests to see who is in charge. Or a Dall Sheep that hides in solitude on the high shoulders of the Alaskan range. But sheep that belong to a flock and have a shepherd.
The opening lines of Psalm 23 declare that the Lord is our shepherd. And, like a good shepherd, He is leading us to food, water, protection, and discipline. In John 10 Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15, NASB95) The thought that Jesus is our good shepherd is why I usually refer to Christians as Christ followers or followers of Jesus. We do not subscribe to a religion, a follow set of ideals, study a library of philosophy, or practice edicts of ethics. We are who we are because we follow Jesus, our shepherd. We seek to know Him and to be known by Him. We trust Him, not just for the promise of eternal life, but to lead us and guide us in our every day, “hoofs” on the ground, lives.
Also found in John 10 is the picture of sheep following the voice of the shepherd. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1–5, NASB95) While it is possible to herd sheep from behind like cattle or pigs, it works best when the sheep simply follow the shepherd’s voice. In a way, that is what sheep do and why they’re often called dumb. They follow. If one jumps over a log in the road they all jump in the same place – even when that log is removed. We are also like sheep in that we listen for the Shepherd’s call, we seek to hear His voice as we read the Bible, sit in prayer, fellowship with others, and interact with God’s creation. And hearing His voice we follow.
Knowing that we are to follow Jesus and His voice doesn’t mean that we go about blindly. Jesus told His disciples and us, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, NASB95) We are to have sheeplike attitudes. Things like humility, faith, trust, forgiveness, and gentleness. But in the midst of those attitudes, we also exercise an alertness to the dangers around us, reacting with wisdom while retaining our innocence. As I look over the landscape of the visible church I do see evidence of those values. But there are times when I also see evidence to the contrary as churches, leaders, and folks are stubborn, selfish, pushy, mean, and sometimes, downright ornery. In this world of that rewards the loudest voice we often forget who we are in Jesus.
Not only do we have a shepherd but we also belong to a flock. Sure, followers of Christ all belong to Jesus’ large flock of every believer. But God also intends for us to be part of a smaller and visible flock. You can call it anything you want, a community, a church, a fellowship, a gathering, a small group but the point is that the realities of Psalm 23 happen within the flock, not outside of it. Several of the facets of who we are contains this idea of community and togetherness. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) How can we love one another if we’re never around them?
When we shine the light of Christ on this facet of the diamond of who we are in Jesus what do we see? This facet calls us to hear Jesus’ voice and follow where He leads. We may not always understand and the way may be difficult, but we can trust Jesus our Shepherd to lead us to still waters, to green pastures, to guard us and discipline us with His rod and staff. Attitudes also shine in the light of Jesus from this facet. Attitudes of humility, trust, faith, forgiveness, and gentleness along with wisdom and peace. All because we are like sheep following a loving shepherd who laid down His life for each one of us.