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The Shepherd and His Sheep

INTRODUCTION: God sent angels to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem to announce to them the birth of the Savior. They responded by going to see this very special child for themselves, and returned to their flocks glorifying God for what they had heard and seen. After considering the record of this event, there are other points in scripture about shepherds that may suggest why these common workers were chosen for such an honor, as it is evident that there is a consistent theme in both Testaments of the Bible. The Great Shepherd of scripture is the same in the Old Testament and in the New Testament: Christ Jesus is the LORD God.

A - The Shepherds of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Luke

"8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, see, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told to them." (Luke 2:8-20 AKJV)

COMMENTS: These men were told how they would know they had found the child, though not explicitly instructed to go to Bethlehem; but they were so moved by the message and the way it was presented that they went quickly to see for themselves the fulfillment of this startling revelation. The excitement within them after seeing the child, overflowed to a sharing of the news with others, but they also returned to their responsibilities with the flocks. It is not likely that they fully realized that they had actually seen the Great Shepherd who would care so much for His flock that he would give His life to save them. They had come to see what the angel had described and joyfully accepted the sight of this newborn child without questioning the details of how this baby would become a Savior. all those who heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds, but Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart. When Jesus entered his public ministry some thirty years later, he openly described himself as a shepherd.

B - The First Loyal Shepherds

"And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." (Genesis 4:2 AKJV)

"By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks." (Hebrews 11:4 AKJV)

"11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And why slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." (1John 3:11-12 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Shepherds and sheep have been important to the LORD since the beginning of the family of man, and the first recorded shepherd, Abel, was entrusted with the flock that provided the required sacrifice for God. From Genesis we know that Abel's animal sacrifice was acceptable to God, and Cain's sacrifice of crop produce was not. God gave Cain the opportunity to do what was right, but Cain chose to murder his own brother. Hebrews tells us that Abel offered the more excellent sacrifice, that he was righteous, and his testimony is alive. John tells us that Cain did not demonstrate love, but rather murdered his brother because his works were evil and his brother's works were righteous. This causes me to consider some of my own attitudes and actions: do I sometimes try to offer my own choice of gifts to the Lord, and even worse, do I sometimes become jealous of the gifts I see others offering?

C - Moses a Shepherd of Sheep and the Under Shepherd of God's People

"Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb." (Exodus 3:1 AKJV)

"Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:10 AKJV)

"You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron." (Psalms 77:20 AKJV)

"15 And Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd. 18 And the LORD said to Moses, Take you Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. 20 And you shall put some of your honor on him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient." (Numbers 27:15-20 AKJV)

"18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brothers, like to you, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. 19 And it shall come to pass, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:18-19 AKJV)

"And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like to Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face," (Deuteronomy 34:10 AKJV)

"19 Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brothers, like to me; him shall you hear in all things whatever he shall say to you. 23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. 24 Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days." (Acts 3:19-24 AKJV)

COMMENTS: After Moses hastily left his lost position of influence in Egypt, he took care of his father-in-law's sheep in Midian for about forty years. Then the LORD called Moses to lead His people out of their bondage in Egypt. Psalm 77 tells us that it was actually the LORD who led the people through his agents of Moses and Aaron. But, when Moses displeased the Lord, he was told that he would not enter the promised land, and Moses responded not by pleading for himself, but that the people of God not be left without a leader. This was perhaps the finest gesture in the life of Moses that demonstrated his concern for the "sheep" in his care. Joshua (which is the same name translated as Jesus in the New Testament) succeeded Moses as the shepherd leader for Israel, and he successfully brought them into the land of Canaan that God had promised to them. Deuteronomy records that the LORD promised Moses that he would raise up a prophet like Moses, but Joshua was not that prophet, nor were any of the Old Testament prophets who followed. At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the text states that "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like to Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face," Only God himself could truly be the shepherd of His people, and all men who faithfully lead Israel before Christ Jesus were only preparatory to His coming. In the book of Acts we have the declaration by Peter that Jesus Christ is that prophet who was to be like unto Moses, and he further declared that all prophets since Moses foretold of the very days of Peter and those whom Peter addressed, because Jesus had come in that present day.

D - David The Shepherd Became David the King

"But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem." (1Samuel 17:15 AKJV)

"34 And David said to Saul, Your servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: 35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him." (1Samuel 17:34-35 AKJV)

"Now therefore so shall you say to my servant David, Thus said the LORD of hosts, I took you from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel:" (2Samuel 7:8 AKJV)

"And David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, See, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father's house." (2Samuel 24:17 AKJV)

"11 And it shall come to pass, when your days be expired that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will raise up your seed after you, which shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build me an house, and I will establish his throne for ever. 13 I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before you: 14 But I will settle him in my house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for ever more." (1Chronicles 17:11-14 AKJV)

COMMENTS: The scripture verifies that David had been a shepherd at Bethlehem, the same environs where centuries later, shepherds were visited by angels. David was a brave and loyal shepherd, risking his life to protect his father's sheep. The Lord took David from the sheep grazing in a pasture, and placed him over the sheep of God's chosen flock. David did not make himself to be king, but the Lord God placed him in that position. Moses and King David were servants of the LORD, and each represented an aspect in type, of the Christ who was to come. But each needed a savior to cleanse their own sin: Moses could not enter the promised land on his own merit, and David had more than one occasion of needing to ask forgiveness. Moses had a very personal relationship with the Lord and as His representative to Israel, and more than once he placed the people of God ahead of his own well being. David was a man after God's own heart, and when he saw the loss others suffered because of his own sin, he asked the Lord to spare the sheep-like people and place the punishment on him alone. Later, the Lord promised that David's descendent would have an everlasting kingdom. That descendent was Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God: the Great Shepherd, and the coming King!

E - The LORD Has Always Been The Shepherd for His People

"But his bow stayed in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)" (Genesis 49:24 AKJV)

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." (Psalms 23:1 AKJV)

"Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you that lead Joseph like a flock; you that dwell between the cherubim, shine forth." (Psalms 80:1 AKJV)

"Hear the word of the LORD, O you nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock." (Jeremiah 31:10 AKJV)

"My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill: yes, my flock was scattered on all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them." (Ezekiel 34:6 AKJV)

"11 For thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day." (Ezekiel 34:11-12 AKJV)

"And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." (Ezekiel 34:23 AKJV)

"And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them." (Ezekiel 37:24 AKJV)

COMMENTS: As Jacob (Israel) prepared to die, he spoke with all of his sons in words that held direct and indirect future significance to them, and to an even greatly expanded audience through history. Jacob spoke to his son Joseph who had been violently separated from his brothers, but his restoration for the benefit of all God's chosen was made sure by God; as Jacob declared, "the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob." Jacob further described his God as the shepherd who is also the corner-stone and the solid foundation for our faith. The Psalms help us to see that the shepherd of our souls is Jehovah (the Lord God), and therefore that shepherd cannot be separated from Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh as the Great Shepherd. The inspired words from Psalms clearly identify the Lord God as the shepherd of those who trust in Him. Jeremiah and Ezekiel told of the failed shepherds of Israel, and looked ahead to the coming shepherd and king who would never fail His people. Ezekiel records God's words to us, "thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out." What a marvelous unfathomable truth, that the Lord God took upon himself the form of man in Christ Jesus, and fulfilled His promise to become the shepherd seeking out and placing both Jew and gentile into His chosen everlasting flock.!

F - Jesus Is The LORD Our Shepherd

"And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things." (Mark 6:34 AKJV)

"11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. 13 The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine." (Joh 10:11-14 AKJV)

"And Jesus said to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." (Mark 14:27 AKJV)

COMMENTS: Jesus displayed great compassion as a tender shepherd in many examples throughout the gospel accounts. Jesus made it clear that His sheep were not given to him as though He was an appointed hireling, but in fact they are His own full possession for whom He is willing to give His life. He also makes it clear that just as sheep know and respond to the voice of their shepherd; believers know the truth of God's word, and follow after that truth through obedient actions. This does not imply that the sheep will never be scattered through persecution or dangers, but our loyal shepherd has already overcome death by giving His life for ours, and then being raised to life so he ever lives to come to our rescue at the final call of His voice. Jesus, as a descendent of King David, first came as the Great Shepherd, and will return as the King of an everlasting kingdom. His right to the throne of God is secured because he is the eternal Son of God, and he fulfills all requirements of the Law and the prophets.

G - Our Great Shepherd Calls Us to Follow Him to the Fruits of Eternal Life Even Now

"23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch. 24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said to him, How long do you make us to doubt? If you be the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and you believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. 26 But you believe not, because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:23-28 AKJV)

"20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Hebrews 13:20-21 AKJV)

"24 Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." (1Peter 2:24-25 AKJV)

COMMENTS: When asked if he was indeed the messiah, Jesus left no doubt to those who were open to hear His voice, and that is still true today as His sheep will hear His voice and believe. Those who do not respond to His voice are not of His sheep. And to those who believe this Almighty God gives eternal life that cannot be removed by any mere man. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the God of peace brought the Great Shepherd of our souls back from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant. May His work within us be complete to do His will through Jesus Christ, who must receive all honor and glory. We were like sheep going astray until he took our sin on the cross, and transferred his righteousness to us for His glory, as He called us back to the Shepherd of our souls. Oh Lord, that we would be obedient sheep, constantly listening for your voice to guide us into the paths of righteousness beside still and peaceful waters.

--- Reflections In Prayer ---

Lord, I am overwhelmed by the many images that travel through my mind as I consider my position as a sheep, totally dependent on my eternal shepherd. I was lost and wandering, but you came to seek me, and you placed me into the flock with all others who believe your Word. I must continually follow you to find the necessary food and drink for my soul; and I have no defense against the ferocious Lion-like enemy of my soul, except that which you provide when I faithfully hear and obey your voice. You have been the Great Shepherd since you first created man and placed him in the green pastures of that incomparable garden. Throughout scripture, you have continually displays how you established this beautiful picture of tender loving care. Only the Lord God could meet my every need for ever and ever, and this is only one of the many wonderful and gracious aspects of your provision and love for me as your redeemed possession. May I continually give praise to my Savior and God, Jesus Christ, through my trust and obedience to my Great Shepherd. Amen and Amen.

Published 26 January 2008