Pastoral life, always more common in East than West, early became associated in men s minds and in literature with ideas of peace and tranquil enjoyment. Likewise, pastoral life has yielded many beautiful images to the inspired writers. But they used figures to teach spiritual truths. Many of the most famous men connected with the history of Israel were themselves shepherds.
Isaiah, looking forward to the Messiah, amid the more splendid imagery with which he represents him, touches our tenderest feeling when saying (40:11), “He shall feed his flock,” etc.
So when Jesus came, he frequently availed himself of this same image. He does not scrupulously adhere to the figure of a shepherd, nor need we. Consider him.
I. As giving his life for the sheep.
1. He came, not as the thief [false teachers], but that they might have life. John 10:10.
Imagine a flock, scattered, panic-struck because a furious lion has assailed them. But the shepherd comes and soon lies dead in their defense; but the lion lies dead beside him, and the flock is safe. Heroic man, how he would be honored among the rustic people-his remains, his name. You see the parallel-so may angels honor our shepherd. But here the parallel ends-he died, yet he lives, to move among those he has died to save, to be loved and followed with new affection. He laid down his life that he might take it again.
2. He died voluntarily, John 10:15, 18.
(a) Disciples were likely to think, When so often told in advance, and when his hour came, that men were compelling his death. In one sense this is true, in another it is purely voluntary. They could not, except he had chosen.
(b) The Father did not compel him to do it. Objection is sometimes made to atonement here-yet innocent not forced to suffer for guilty, it was voluntary.
(c) But was it right that he should suffer, even voluntarily? He felt he had the right. See John 10:18.
We could never have asked him to die for us. If it were now to be decided, that he should be humiliated, suffer, die, to save us from destruction, every just and generous feeling would prompt us to say, “No. Let me bear what I have merited-let him not suffer for me.” Nonetheless, without our knowledge he did suffer and suffered out of love. Shall we reject him? Now it is no longer a question, “Shall he die for us?” He did! “In his love and in his pity he redeemed us.” Shall we accept the benefits secured by his dying love-shall we be grateful-love him-be his? Consider
II. His tender care of his flock.
1. He knows them by name, John 10:14. No danger that in the multitude anyone will be overlooked or forgotten. He knows every individual, and intimately.
2. He pursues the straying-“goeth into the mountains.” This applied primarily to his coming into our world to seek and save the lost. Same thing is true of his gracious dealing with wanderers from his fold, backsliders. Such wanderers should return to the shepherd and bishop of our souls.
3. He deals gently with recent and feeble believers. Passage in Isa. 40:1 1-“he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and bear them in his bosom.” This does not refer to children particularly, as context would place beyond question, but to those who have recently become believers, and are feeble. He will take care, shelter, bear along, strengthen. May your faith “grow exceedingly.” Now babes in Christ, you shall become perfect (full-grown) men in Christ Jesus.
4. He supports in danger and difficulty.
The shadow of death is a highly poetical expression for the profoundest darkness. Conceive a flock led by the shepherd through a valley, deep, overshadowed, dark, where savage wild beasts abound, and yet they are fearless because the shepherd is with them. So we in seasons when, figuratively, our path lies through a dark valley, we will not fear because the Shepherd will be present. In affliction, when apt to feel deserted and desolate, he will be near, will uphold and comfort. How beautiful, how delightful to a flock which has been passing through a dark valley, will be the green pastures and quiet waters. And often when you have been afflicted, the subsequent seasons of health, prosperity, tranquil happiness, have been more delightful by reason of the shivering terror with which you had passed through that dark valley.
5. He guards in temptation. The flock, in a deep and dark valley, is especially exposed to wild beasts. So we have dreadful foes-“our adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). The apostle here referred especially to persecution. The great enemy commonly comes against us. The Scripture has an expression more beautiful, and not less impressive-“Satan transformed into an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14). Temptation has a dreadful power.
In the way a thousand snares
Lie to take us unawares;
Satan, with malicious art,
Watches each unguarded part;
But from Satan’s malice free,
Saints shall soon victorious be;
Soon the joyful news will come,
“Child, your Father calls; come home.”
6. He will continue to preserve them to the end, John 10:27-29. This great truth is repeatedly and strongly taught in Scripture. If we become really his, he will not forsake us, we shall never cease to be his. The ground of this is in his power and unchangeableness-assurance of it is in his promises.
Some are afraid to undertake a life of piety, lest they should not hold out. Will the Saviour hold out? He will give unto us eternal life-we shall never perish.
Now how should the flock feel and act toward such a shepherd? Only time for these things:
(a) Confide in his protecting care.
(b) Cherish toward him a tender affection. The love of the flock for their shepherd here a rebuke and a stimulation to us.
(c) Follow him with unhesitating obedience.