Sunday, July 7, 2019

the Great Shepherd of the sheep

artwork by Krista Hamrick

This beautiful artwork by Krista Hamrick reminded me of the warm feelings I had when I was a little girl, growing up at First Baptist Church of Lakeland. Our pastor at that time, Dr. Arthur Rich, would close every morning worship service with this Scripture benediction from Hebrews 13:20-21. I can still hear his lilting Canadian accent powerfully praying God’s Word over us as we left each worship service:
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, 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.

Our pastor, Dr. Arthur Rich, would close the evening worship services with this tender benediction prayer:

And now as the people go their many scattered ways, may Thy blessings as bright as the morning light when it dawneth, as gracious as the dew when the eventide cometh, as tender as a mother's goodnight kiss, go with each one of these our friends tonight and all the days and nights that lie ahead through Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Savior. Amen


These beautiful scripture-based prayers led me to a word study of the word, shepherd, from 
Isaiah 40:11: He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.

Pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes: “He is not the great Shepherd when He dies; He is the good Shepherd. He is the great Shepherd when He is brought again from the dead. In resurrection you perceive His greatness. He lies in the grave slumbering; He is the good Shepherd then, having laid down His life for the sheep. Life appears again in Him, the stone is rolled away, the watchmen are seized with terror, and He comes out the risen one, no more the dying—now He is the great Shepherd. In the covenant we are the sheep; the Lord Jesus is the Shepherd. You cannot make a covenant with sheep—they have not the ability to covenant. But you can make a covenant with the Shepherd for them, and so, glory be to God, though we had gone astray like lost sheep, we belonged to Jesus. He made a covenant on our behalf, and stood for us before the living God. It is very beautiful to trace the shepherds through the Old Testament, and to see Christ as Abel, the witnessing shepherd, pouring out the blood that cried from the ground; as Abraham, the separating shepherd, leading out his flock into the strange country where they dwelt alone; as Isaac, the quiet shepherd, digging wells for his flock, and feeding them in peace in the midst of the enemies; as Jacob, the shepherd who is surety for the sheep, who earns them all by long toils and weariness, separates them, and walks in the midst of them to Canaan, preserving them by his own lone midnight prayers. There, too, we see our Lord as Joseph, the shepherd who is head over Egypt for the sake of Israel, of whom his dying father said, “From there is the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Gen 49:24). Head over all things for His church, the King who governs all the world for the sake of His elect, the great Shepherd of the sheep, who for their sakes has all power committed unto His hands. Then follows Moses, the chosen shepherd, who led his people through the wilderness up to the promised land, feeding them with manna and giving them drink from the smitten rock—what a wide theme for reflection here! And then there is David, the type of Jesus, reigning in the covenanted inheritance over his own people as a glorious king in the midst of them all. All these together enable us to see the varied glories of “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”

Shepherd (poimen is from a root meaning to protect) (verb poimaino = to shepherd) literally describes one who cares for a flock. One who herds, feeds, and tends a flock. A herdsman. A sheep herder. The main responsibility of the shepherd was to keep the flock intact, to protect and to provide for the sheep. Metaphorically poimen described one who assumes leadership or guardianship over a group of believers. As alluded to above, this title is applied to Jesus Christ in Scripture.

A shepherd is one who carries out oversight, protecting, leading, encouraging, discipling, guarding, guiding and feeding ("feed and lead"). English dictionaries say that "to shepherd" means to guide, direct or guard in the manner of a shepherd.

Pastor Larry Richards writes that, "The verb poimaino means "to act as a shepherd," "to feed and care for the flock." In the Judaism of the first century, the occupation of a shepherd was considered demeaning, and shepherds were generally despised. However, the New Testament itself reflects the attitude of the Old Testament, and the metaphor continues to be used to represent God's love for his people.”

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of a "Good Shepherd" Who leads the sheep and protects the sheep, even to being willing to lay down His life. Jesus' willingness to die for His flock contrasts with hirelings who don't care for the sheep and will depart when the wolves come, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and destroyed.

When we lag behind, He does not scold us. Rather, He gathers us up, encircles us with His strong arm, and carries us next to His heart. (Isaiah 40:11)  The essence, the central core of God's character, lies here: He has the heart of a tender shepherd. His pursuit is not a reward for our goodness but the result of His decision to love. He is driven by love, not by our beauty. He is drawn to us when we have done nothing right and when we have done everything wrong. Jesus said: What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost (Mt 18:12, 13, 14).

Sheep don't have to go looking for their shepherd—it’s the other way around. He's out looking for them. Even if the sheep aren't thinking about the Shepherd, He pursues them to the ends of the earth. Pastor Simon Tugwell wrote, "He follows them into their own long, dark, journey; there, where they thought finally to escape Him, they run straight into His arms."

Pastor John MacArthur writes: A shepherd has his own sheep. He knows his own sheep. He not only has the right to lead and feed his own sheep, but he has the responsibility to lead and feed his own sheep. At night, the sheep would come into the village fold and every shepherd would bring his sheep, and they would all be in the same fold. And then in the morning, the shepherd would come and call out his own sheep and call them by name. He knows his sheep. He calls them by name. The sheep know their master’s voice, and they follow him. The sheep will not follow a stranger. While they’re in the fold at night, thieves and robbers may try to climb over the wall and fleece the sheep or even slaughter the sheep. And so, there has to be a guard set at the door to protect the sheep, because there are always thieves and robbers. The shepherd is committed to protecting them at night in the fold, and then in the morning coming and leading them out and, by name, one by one, to green pastures and still waters. The shepherd is even the door, because they have to pass by him to be identified as his own.

The shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out; he goes before them, preparing the way and protecting them from harm. When he speaks to them, they follow him because they know his voice. These verses remind us that because sheep are in such an intimate relationship with the shepherd and spend so much time with him, they can discern the difference between their shepherd’s voice and that of stranger and won’t be deceived. So it is with us. As we commune more with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and become familiar with his voice, we will not be deceived by the voice of the enemy; we will not be distracted or derailed by the myriad other voices in the world around us. As the song says, we will hear our shepherd more clearly and follow him more nearly, not just in the extraordinary times but day by day.

In the eastern tradition, a shepherd walks at the head of the flock. This is much different from the western tradition of driving the sheep from behind. The shepherd calls the flock out of the pen in the early morning to lead them to pools or wells of water where they can quench their thirst. He then guides them to green pastures, taking them around the rocky places where they might stumble. He assists the tiny and fragile sheep by lifting them with the crook of his staff. He runs his hand over the sheep as they enter the pen, counting them and ensuring that they have returned from the pasture unharmed. Then the shepherd settles in for the night to watch for predators. How awesome that Jesus is our shepherd. He will lead us to living water and guide us along the right path even when the way is rocky. He carries us when we stumble and watches over us during the dark nights of our lives, making us feel secure. All that he asks is that we respond to his voice and follow him. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in the journey called life.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for making me one of your sheep. What a privilege it is to belong to you! Thank you for going ahead of me and preparing the way for me. You call me by name and speak to my heart and lead me. With all the “voices” clamoring in my world, quiet my mind and heart so that I will recognize your voice and follow only you. I thank you that you are ever vigilant, watching over me, meeting with me in the morning, and abiding with me through the night. May I always respond to your voice and stay close to you. I gladly follow you as you call my name! Strengthen and equip me with every good thing so that I can do your will. Prepare me for what you’re preparing for me. And open my heart wider to the working of your Spirit so that my life—inside and outside—will honor you. Produce in me, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Look Up—meditate on Isaiah 40:11 … pray to see what it reveals about the character of God.

Look In—as you meditate on Isaiah 40:11  … pray to see how you might apply it to your life. Be propelled to ask galvanizing questions about your discoveries: "Because God is_________, I will_____________."

Look Out—as you meditate on Isaiah 40:11  …pray to see how you might apply it to your relationships with others. Let the nature of God impact on every relationship, for your good, and for His glory.

* If you liked this post, you’ll love this book – Name Above All Names Devotional: Focusing on 26 Alphabetical Names of Christ

16 comments:

  1. Oh, such depths of truth I gleaned from this today! I thought of how it takes a concentrated effort to be as submissive as a sheep. Just to become "dumb" to our own understanding and to choose to lay aside our own preferences and what we think is best and just follow Jesus. Also, with all of the voice and clamoring noise in our world, it is hard to get still before Him to actually hear His voice. But, oh when we do! He is so faithful to lead us and to point out the way, and what a comforting thought it was to me to be reminded that all I have to do is follow. I over-complicate it all and always feel the need to figure it out and lay out plans and know what is going to happen next, when all along He has had the plan laid out before me. I just couldn't see it. It is such a walk of faith and never by sight. Faith requires trust, and so often, I have approached my Shepherd with a sense of suspicion and compared Him to human influencers. I am slowly learning to be a sheep. Thank the Lord so much for you, dear friend. You are such a dear blessing to me. Love you!

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, Cheryl! I am praying without ceasing for you and your sweet family during this time of transition. Truly, we are all His little sheep, and we rest most peacefully when we allow Him to scoop us up in His mighty arms and carry us as we rest in His finished work. Many blessings to you ❤️

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! Praying you are encouraged...many blessings to you ❤️

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  3. Beth, hi! So good to be your neighbor at Mary's today.

    And yes, the benediction was a steady, comforting, powerful part of my childhood worship.

    All I can say in this season is, 'amen.'

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    1. Linda, thanks so much for stopping by! God is so good to give us positive and encouraging childhood memories. Many blessings to you ❤️

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  4. Hi Beth, you've really dug up some treasures here and I'm so glad I found this post in Patricia's link-up today. So many points stood out but I think the one I want to linger on says, 'sheep don't have to go looking for a shepherd, it's the other way around'. How often in this social media age we're looking for someone to follow, when in fact the Shepherd is the One looking for us! Just wow!

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    1. Marva, Thanks so much for stopping by! It is such a joy to share what has encouraged me with others. Many blessings to you!

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  5. Hi Beth! We are neighbors at #dreamteam and I wanted to let you know how very interesting this post is and how beautiful the artwork is. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate you stopping by. Many blessings to you!

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  6. I love the look up, look in and look out prompts - and there is SO MUCH to unpack here! Thank you for this great post! x
    Anastasia | MightyMemos.com

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. It is a joy to share with others what has encouraged me. Many blessings to you!

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  7. Hi, Beth. I'm your neighbor at "Welcome Heart" today. What a rich reflection on our Shepherd, Jesus! It's such a comforting Truth - that He leads us, protects us, provides for us... but most comforting is that His shepherding does not depend on how good we are as sheep. He shepherds because He loves us!

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    1. Jana, I so agree with you! We can rest in our Great Shepherd's Arms because of His Finished Work on the cross. Many blessings to you!

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  8. So glad to have Jesus as my shepherd. Thanks for coming by the Legacy Link-up

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    1. Mandy, Amen! I so agree with you! Thanks for stopping by. Many blessings to you!

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