Sheep to the Core

By Toby Chan

We are currently wedding planning and it sunk in to us that the cost of an average Australian wedding hurts. Some of our friends around our age and in similar jobs are spending not 5,000 or 10,000 more than us but multiples of what we are aiming to spend. It’s such a trap. We are trying to work everything out now.

Today I want to share with you from John 10:11-14.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. 13Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

In my time growing up in the church, I have heard countless of messages about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Now if Jesus is the Shepherd, what are we? We are His sheep. Why sheep? Why not cheetahs, wolves, tigers, or any other animal with a bit of flair, a bit of class? Why not dogs? Dogs are incredibly loyal, aka man’s best friend. How about cats? But we are called His sheep. Is this a coincidence?

If we take a look at the Bible, there isn’t just this one mention of sheep. There are 490 instances when the word ‘sheep’ is used throughout the Bible. Now, not all this instances refer to sheep as an expression or an analogy. There are many specific references in the Bible where sheep are referred to as a unit or measurement.

Take for example Exodus 22:1 that says: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep”. Sheep are livestock, property. In today’s terms, you could paraphrase this verse as: “If you steal or break someone’s iPhone, you need to pay 4 iPhones in return”.

So did Jesus know what He was talking about when He mentioned sheep in John 10? Did He know about the previous references? Of course he did. When Jesus was growing up, the Jewish custom was to formally educate boys to the Torah, which is composed of the first five books of the Bible, at 10 years old. Many records say that by 10, they would have remembered the Torah by heart.

Let’s go to Luke 2:41-52.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

This passage tells us that Jesus was above the norm. He was better than the rest of the boys his age. At 12, it wasn’t just adults but teachers and rabbis who were astonished at His understanding. Biblically, Jesus knew the previous references to sheep. Most importantly, agriculture was everywhere in that era, and thus, we see a lot of references to farming in the Bible like the principle of sowing and reaping.

Now, is it a new thought? No, the Bible often says that we are sheep. We are sheep and God is our Shepherd. Psalm 23:1 says: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pasture, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul”. This psalm has always been reassuring every time I read it. But it is until recently that I have realized that David calls himself a sheep.

I grew up in the city so when I think of sheep, I think of two things: wool and meat (aka lamb). So I have never really focused on what it means to be sheep until now.

You do not need to do much research to know that sheep are not survivors. They are not strong or independent. There are no proud hunters or fierce predators. They are actually kind of pathetic, entirely dependent upon a shepherd for at least three reasons. Two of these reasons are related to their brain and another to their body.

Now let me share you real news that aptly tells us the first reason sheep need a shepherd: because sheep are dumb. Sheep suffer from herd instinct.

Hundreds of Turkish sheep follow leader off cliff
By Sam Savage

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay.

Four hundred sheep fell 15 meters (yards) to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said on Friday.

Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said.

The loss to local farmers was estimated at 100,000 new lira ($74,000). ($1=1.3440 new lira)

One sheep wandered off a cliff and 1,499 others just followed along. Can you picture it—1,500 sheep walking off a cliff, one after the other? Soon, they were piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed to death and the ones on top were lying on a big soft pillow. It is completely absurd. So the first reason sheep absolutely need shepherd is because they are not the smartest animals in the world. In fact, they may be just about the dumbest animals.

Now let’s take a look at the video “Most People Are Sheep”. Here is a second reason sheep need a shepherd: they are directionless. Sheep are prone to wanter. Even if you put them in an absolutely perfect environment with everything they need (like green pastures and still waters), sooner or later, they will just wander off. If a shepherd does not manage them and keep them under constant surveillance, they will be lost. Left to themselves, sheep will not and cannot last long. Put a sheep in the wild and you have just given nature a snack.

There are different ways animals react when they perceive some kind of danger like fight, flight, and posture.

Let’s think about fight. A sheep gest frightened when in danger. What is it going to do? Without claws, fangs, venom, spines, quills or large talons, it has nothing to protect itself. Fighting is definitely out. But that’s okay because there are lots of other animals that do not fight it out.

How about flight? That’s a good defence mechanism. Unfortunately, sheep are not fast or agile, especially when their wool is long and/or wet. Last time I checked, they did not have wings. So a sheep is not going to outrun or outfly a bear. They cannot take flight.

How about posture? A dog will park and growl, showing its teeth to warn you away. A lion will roar. A rattlesnake will shake its rattle. A cat will arch its back and hiss. The best sheep can do is baa. A bear is not going to be too intimidated, right? It is for good reason that no one relies on a guard sheep to keep their property secure.

Sheep cannot fight, run away or scare away. So what do they do when danger comes? They flock.   When a bear approaches, sheep will gather with others in a pack and run in circles in complete panic, just hoping that the bear will choose someone else. Without a shepherd to protect them, they will be picked off and eaten one by one.

Sheep are dumb, directionless, and defenceless. So I guess when God says that we are sheep who need a shepherd, He does not mean it as a compliment to us but neither as an insult. Jesus is not calling us dumb, stupid, and directionless. It is just a very realistic assessment of who we are. If Jesus is our Shepherd, then we are His sheep. Now if we are His sheep, then Jesus is our Shepherd. We are sheep who are completely dependent upon a shepherd.

It is only when we realise who we are that Jesus can truly be who He is in our lives.

Some of you might say: “Wait! God is God regardless of how we see ourselves.” Yes, I agree, but can a shepherd be a shepherd without sheep? Can a doctor be a doctor without patients? With a degree and an experience, it is possible.

Now, if we as sheep go out into the world thinking we are fast, cunning wolves with big fangs, when the Shepherd comes and offers us green pastures and protection, we will probably say no. “Why do I need that? I will fend for myself”. That’s the trap of not knowing who we are. The sooner we learn that we are sheep and live like sheep, the sooner God can act like the Good Shepherd in our lives, caring for, providing for and protecting us.

Recognizing that God is our shepherd and we are His sheep is to humble ourselves, admitting what is true about us, and to elevate God, declaring what is true of Him.

When you say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” you are speaking something that ought to move your heart in praise and gratitude because God the Good Shepherd stops down to care for the poor, sick, lost, and not-so-smart sheep like you and me.

Finally, let’s think about a well-trained pet. When the owner gives orders, it follows. Have you ever seen another person or tried yourself to give orders to a trained dog? Does it listen to you? No, because it is not familiar with your voice. In fact, Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27).

How many here feel that life is tough and complicated? When we know who we are and start acting like that, we will start to hear and recognize the Master’s voice. Once we learn His voice, our whole life becomes clearer. Like sheep, we cannot survive on our own. We are totally dependent upon the shepherd. As sheep, we come to know that when the Shepherd speaks, we should follow Him because His plans are better than ours. Perhaps, one of the reasons we do not know the will of God in certain areas of our lives is because we have not applied God’s will in all areas of our lives.

Obedience to the revealed truth guarantees guidance in matters unrevealed.

Let’s pray.