God often describes His people as sheep. For example, in John 10, the Good Shepherd repeatedly refers to us as his sheep. The theme passage of this year’s convention, Psalm 23, is the familiar confession of sheep.
When God calls us sheep, he is not paying us a compliment or flattering us. Rather, he is telling us there is something wrong with us by nature. Sheep are foolish creatures, prone to wander, helpless, selfish, and stubborn. By calling us sheep, God reminds us that these are our natural characteristics as well.
Yet it is very blessed to be a sheep, because sheep have a shepherd. Though the sheep cannot care for themselves, they belong to one who can and does care for them. So it is for us. Our shepherd is God himself through Jesus Christ. All of the glory for our care and our salvation, therefore, belongs to him.
Rev. McGeown already developed the idea of the Shepherd. As we now turn to the idea of the sheep, we are going to see the same overarching theme: all glory goes to God, not to the sheep. Our comfort is not that we save ourselves, but that our Shepherd does. This is the viewpoint of Lord’s Day 1: My only comfort is “that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Let us look at just two ways that we have this comfort as our faithful Shepherd cares for us helpless sheep.
First, sheep are prone to wander. Isaiah 53:6 teaches, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” The question is, Why do sheep wander? One reason is that sheep are naturally proud, thinking that they know the way that is best for them. Isaiah 53:6 again: “We have turned every one to his own way.” How ridiculous for a sheep, of all creatures, to be proud! Yet sheep think they know best—and we do too. We are tempted to listen to the appeal of the world or our own sinful flesh instead of the wise advice of parents and family. In pride we think that we know best what is good for us. How ridiculous for us, of all creatures, to be proud! The right way is the way that God has laid out in his word, but we turn to our own way.
Another reason that sheep wander is that they are hurt. Ezekiel 34 describes the sheep who were scattered because false shepherds came in and neglected them. In their confusion and fear, the sheep scattered. There are many ways that we are hurt in this life as well. It is, after all, the valley of the shadow of death and the vale of tears. When we face difficulties and trials, we may be tempted to scatter by questioning God’s goodness or the benefit of belonging to his flock. Our calling is to respond to hardships in faith and trust, but we are prone to respond with frustration and impatience.
The Shepherd rescues us from such wandering. He calls to us by his voice, and that voice causes us to follow him. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Through the preaching of his word, the sheep hear Christ’s voice.
The sheep know the shepherd’s voice so well that they are in tune with it. They ignore the voices of other shepherds, and follow only when they hear their own shepherd. What voices are we in tune with as young people? What voice excites us and makes us eager to follow? Is it the voice of worldly entertainment that interests us, or the voice of fornication, or the voice of drunkenness? As sheep, we must be in tune with the Shepherd’s voice, so that our greatest joy is to hear him. Your love for Christ’s voice has been evident at this convention so far, and for that we are profoundly thankful.
Second, sheep are naturally selfish and cruel to each other. Sheep do not look out for each other, but for themselves. Ezekiel 34 describes the sheep who push with the shoulder and butt with the horns so that they can have the best pasture to the hurt of the other sheep. This is our nature as well. At a convention, we are tempted to size each other up with a glance and disdain those who do not meet our standards. We are tempted to talk and gossip about him or her, and avoid them if at all possible.
The Good Shepherd saves his sheep from this sin of hating the neighbor by his own love for the sheep. When Jesus says in John 10, “I know my sheep,” He is saying, “I love my sheep.” His knowledge is the deep and personal knowledge of love. So great is his love for his sheep that the Good Shepherd even laid down his life for us (John 10:11). The cross is the greatest demonstration of Jesus’ love for His sheep, as the Good Shepherd gave himself to the curse of God in our place, that we might live.
That love of the Shepherd for us he also bestows upon us, so that we love him. And loving him, we also love his sheep. The cross of our Lord changes the way we look at each other. Instead of sizing each other up with a superficial glance, we look on each other as fellow members of the flock of Christ. Even more, we look at each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. No more pushing each other around in selfish hatred, but receiving one another in love as blood-bought family members.
All glory goes to the Shepherd, who rescues his helpless, wayward sheep. No honor goes to us, but what a glorious thing to be a sheep! Then we can confess, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” And we can confess, “My only comfort is that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful shepherd Jesus Christ.”