(…continued) The sins for which the Good Shepherd died are not always dramatic or horrible. They are often passive, sheep-like little sins. But still they can lead us away from what is best; and we can, like sheep, end up wandering away from the Shepherd on whom we depend for everything. The Bible has much to say about lost sheep.
Did you ever feel lost? How did that happen?
Sheep don’t usually get lost by intentionally deciding to run away from the shepherd, bolting off in a sudden, rebellious attempt at escape from the shepherd in order to be free. Sheep get lost by doing what sheep always do– eating, with their head down, not paying attention to anything but the grass ahead of them. And bit by bit, or, bite by bite, they simply ‘nibble their way lost.’ And people don’t usually make a conscious decision to longer have faith in Jesus, to mess up their lives, or to get lost. People, like sheep, often just don’t pay attention and wander away, and end up in trouble, far from Jesus. Like the prophet Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way. And the Lord has laid on Him,” on the Good Shepherd, “the guilt of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
To the eternal, almighty, Holy God, we could be as worthless as a six dollar hat or a $60 dollar sheep. We could be hardly worth putting up with, much less, worth dying for. But we are the ones to whom these words of John chapter ten are spoken: “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That the amazing grace of the Gospel—Jesus gives his life for a bunch of ignorant and indifferent sheep.
Several months back, somewhere in the Mideast, two missionaries were killed. It was a husband and wife team, living far from home and family, spending their lives trying to tell some otherwise unreached people about Jesus. Then, in the prime of their service, after years of training, learning the language, and earning the trust of the people they are there to serve, they were gunned down, killed for the sake of some political agenda, by some of the very sheep they were there to serve. It is not an unusual story. That sort of thing, ignored by a news media uninterested in the persecution of Christians, is going on all over the world, all the time. Are the sheep those Christians are there to serve worth so great a price?
In 1905, at the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer was already an international success, having received world-wide acclaim as a musician, historian, and theologian. He was in a comfortable university teaching position and would have been able to go anywhere and do anything he wanted, admired by all who knew him. But then Schweitzer heard about the suffering of the people in Africa, and about their need for better medical care. Schweitzer was inspired by Jesus to do something about that. So he resigned from his lucrative job, left his world famous reputation behind, and went to medical school so he could become a doctor to some unknown Africans. He went deep into the jungle, set up a clinic, and stayed there until he died at the age of 90. Schweitzer went back to Europe only twice for brief fundraising trips for his clinic and hospital. He gave up everything the world had to offer, in order to offer himself to some forgotten sheep. Are sheep worth so great a price?
In human terms we may well wonder about the sacrifices of Albert Schweitzer, that missionary couple, and Rita. We can hardly imagine anyone willing to do that. But have we grown so used to hearing about the death of Jesus on the cross that we take that sacrifice for granted and hardly give it a thought? But that must not be taken for granted. The Bible says we are sheep, and hardly worth such a sacrifice; but still, such a sacrifice was made for us. Paul in Romans puts it even stronger, describing us in chapter five not as timid little sheep, but as rebellious enemies of God. Nevertheless, Paul wrote, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us so that we might be saved (Romans 5:8, 10)-0.
In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice.” We have heard that voice. And what a privilege it is to know Jesus is still willing to call us, and still willing to receive us. Sheep spend their days with their heads down, seldom looking up. But all they have to do was stay within hearing of the shepherd’s voice. They know that in him is their safety and security. If they can just hear his voice, they would be all right.
God’s Word works like the voice of the shepherd. As we keep ourselves within hearing distance of that word—in prayer, in Bible reading, and in worship—we find there the words that give us the only eternal hope, comfort, and security:
That voice says, “Even to your old age and grey hairs, I will be with you” (Isaiah 46:4).
“Whether you live or die, you belong to me,” the voice of the shepherd says (Romans 14:8).
And, “Come to me all who are burdened and weary, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
And, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
And, “Cast all your cares on God, for he cares about you; and he will uplift, strengthen, and restore you” (I Peter 5:7, 10).
“I will lay down my life for my sheep and they will hear my voice,” says Jesus to you. And what a comfort that is for anyone who is listening. It is the only sold ground we have. All else can slide out from under us at any time and be gone in an instant– except for that voice which says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Someday, everything will be taken away, but even then, Jesus has another place prepared for us. Everything we have is from that Good Shepherd, blessing after blessing in the good times; and a strong, steady, certain voice of comfort and hope for the bad times, and even for the end of our time.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me; and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish and no one shall take them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28).
My Lord Jesus Christ, you are indeed the only Good Shepherd, and I, alas, am a lost and straying sheep. I have fear and anxiety. I would gladly belong to your flock and be with you and have peace in my heart. I hear from your Word that you are as anxious for me as I am for you. I am eager to know how I can come to you to be helped. Come to me, O Lord. Seek me and find me. Help me also to come to you and I will praise you and honor you forever. Amen.