What an absolute privilege it is to be in his flock!
What makes a shepherd? Not a trick question – what makes a person a shepherd is that he or she takes care of sheep. No sheep, not a shepherd.
Very well known, Jesus identifies himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:1-18). There are quite a few more references to his shepherdhood or his sheep. A sampling:
- Relating to his kingship and his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6)
- Relating to his work of redemption of Israel: He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)
- Relating to his role as Judge: Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)
- Relating to his resurrection and the sealing of the everlasting covenant: Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant… (Hebrews 13:20)
Clearly an important part of who he is! No, that’s not right. Way beyond “important”, and way more than “part” of who he is. Crucial; definitive even.
Jesus identifies himself as the “good shepherd”
So if he’s the shepherd, who are the sheep? Still not a trick question. You, me, anyone who is a follower of Jesus. We are the sheep. But here’s the rub. In ordinary daily life, it’s no compliment to be called sheepish. People who are called “sheep” are deemed timid, blind followers who can’t think for themselves, easily manipulated, totally at a loss if they don’t have someone to obey, people who can be dismissed as unimportant.
We don’t really like being thought of like that, do we?
And actually, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus is looking for us to be. The world may hold us in contempt, as it certainly did Jesus. Particularly if we are willing to accept the label “sheep”. (If we don’t accept it, what does that make us? Goats, I think—there’s no other category at the judgment.)
Here’s what I think Jesus is looking for in the sheep who follow him:
- Sheepish, yes, in the sense of not putting ourselves forward the way the world urges. But not timid—not afraid to speak up for what is true, right, compassionate, godly.
- Followers, yes, but not blind or unquestioning. Eyes open, choosing to follow our Shepherd because of who he is and what he stands for.
- Not thinking for ourselves, yes in some ways. But only because we’ve seen the bankruptcy of asserting our own will, and have learned to trust that it’s far better for the Father’s will to be done, and trust His appointed Shepherd to direct us.
- Manipulated? I think not. It’s not manipulation if we have the information and make a conscious decision to follow.
- Needing someone to obey, yes. Or at least, coming to the point of realization that we do need to obey. For our own good and for the glory of the Father.
Let’s never forget that the Shepherd does not look at us with contempt, never dismisses us as unimportant. The sheep are his whole life! He laid down his life for his sheep! He asks us to be loyal to him, but only while demonstrating that his loyalty to us is even greater.
What an absolute privilege it is to be in his flock! How encouraging that he’s there to defend us against the “wolves”. How amazing that when we stray, as we’re so prone to do, he comes looking for us. Really, it’s just fine being a sheep.