– Geoff Milton
I enjoy the writing of Australian humourist Banjo Patterson. In the short story “The merino sheep” he describes the merino’s life focus on ruining the farmer who owns the sheep. For instance, says Patterson, the sheep “will refuse to run from a bushfire” but instead end up “rushing round and round in a circle until the fire burns them up” and “If sheep are put into a big paddock with water in three corners of it, they will resolutely crowd into the fourth corner and die of thirst”.
The current pandemic crisis shows us that though we are smarter than sheep, we may be more like sheep than we care to admit. Certainly we are very vulnerable physically, and sometimes unwilling or unable to protect ourselves from harm.
One of the great images of Jesus in the New Testament is that of the Good Shepherd. (John 10 – please have it open in front of you).
Jesus is the good shepherd and “his sheep listen to his voice” (v3). Although the religious leaders rejected Jesus, many of the ordinary people listened to him and responded, as with the blind beggar in John 9:38: “Lord I believe”. If you are a believing Christian, make the time to read God’s word and listen to the voice of Jesus your shepherd.
Jesus the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” (v3). Eastern shepherds would call their sheep by name as we would call a pet. Jesus calls us his sheep by name, that is, personally. He knows and calls and guides each one of us personally and individually. You or I are not just anonymous Christians, just one of a huge flock. Rejoice in the deeply personal relationship you have with Jesus and pour out the depths of your heart to him in prayer. He is your good shepherd, he knows your personal history, your strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. What a blessing to have such a shepherd!
Jesus our shepherd provides us with direction in life for the big things and small everyday things “He … leads them out” (v3) and “goes ahead of them” (v4). Jesus taught that the essence of life is following him and having a living relationship with him, rather than following a set of rules. In these current times, when so many things in life have been upended, and old certainties have disappeared, it is wonderful to have the rock-solid certainty of following our good shepherd, whom we can trust to bring us protection and blessing and sure and certain hope for the future.
What are these blessings of our good shepherd?
Through trusting in Him we “will be saved” (v9) from threats and dangers and also from the lostness brought about by sin (Luke 15:1-6). Jesus does that by laying down his life for the sheep (v11) through his death on the Cross.
Another blessing he brings the flock is that “They will come in and go out, and find pasture”(v9), that is he provides us, his flock, with security and nurture and provision for our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Perhaps, looking back on your life you can see how Jesus your shepherd has done just that, in the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life. I can look back on my life and see how Jesus has guided and directed me to jobs, churches and relationships and provided for my family’s needs in good times and bad. I can see with wonder how he drew me to himself through a series of Christian friends and their faithful prayer and sharing of the Gospel of Jesus’ death for my sins. All these blessings of Jesus our shepherd are described in v10 as “life to the full”, glimpsed in the Garden of Eden and in the visions of Revelation. As followers of Jesus the Good Shepherd, that is our future too.