Sheep. They are the animals which our Lord used as the primary illustration of our relationship with Him.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36 ESV
Shepherding sheep is something that was understood and seen throughout Israel and the Middle East countries: indeed, it still is. Thousands of years ago, when King David wrote Psalm 23, he presented a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd.
A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3 ESV
The shepherd provides all that the sheep need. The shepherd leads the flock to green pastures, to fresh grass, to comfortable resting places, things that are sometimes difficult to find along the barren hillside. The shepherd takes the flock to still waters. Why still water? Because the shepherd knows that if the water is rushing past, it could kill the sheep if the animal slips and its fleece becomes soaked with water, thereby drowning the poor animal . Calm water, though, provides welcome refreshment to the flock without danger.
Flocks can be very large as the shepherds combine flocks and they then all take care of the sheep combined together. But, the shepherd can call his sheep and they will come to him, even if they are part of a large combined flock. Jesus references this in John chapter 10:
To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. …
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. …
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:3-4, 14-16,27 ESV
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep and when He calls them by name, they come to Him and He leads them out of the fold. He is the Good Shepherd and His flock is one united flock, even though it is comprised of sheep from various sheepfolds. The sheep Jesus saw before Him were the Israelites in the area; but His sheep come, not only from Israel, but from the Gentile nations of the world. That is what Jesus is talking about when He said “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”
So, are you one of the sheep in Jesus’ flock? There is a song that is sometimes sung around the campfire by children and youth, but it expresses the desire to know Jesus and to be one of His sheep.
I just want to be a sheep, I just want to be a sheep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I just want to be a sheep.
Are you a sheep in His fold?
Lord, thank You for being the Good Shepherd, and I praise Your Name for lovingly bringing me into the fold. I thank You that You know my name, and I pray that I would respond and come to You when You call.
Fear. We all have things that we are afraid of, and many of them are legitimate. Chapman University has begun an annual study of American fears, and the results from the second annual survey that have recently been released. The random survey questions cover 88 fears in various categories, such as crime, economic, environment, government, illness, claustrophobia, public speaking, and even questions about clowns.
They found that in 2016 Americans were most afraid of “Corrupt Government” by a whopping 60.6% The next closest fear was of a “Terrorist Attack” which bore a percentage of 41% with “Not having enough money for the future” coming in as number 3 with a percentage of 39.9%.
Clearly, our world is full of fearful things, and this has been true throughout all of history. There have always been tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, severe ice storms, etc. Then, too, some of the things that mankind is capable of today were not dreamed of 1000 years ago, or even just 100 years ago, but even then there were fearful things. Consider the 1st Century Christians and the persecution under Nero or the harm done to Christians in the Middle Ages, or even more recently, to the persecution of Christians in many countries of our world today. These are fearful times.
But, sometimes, looking back on our fears, we laugh at how we could have been frightened at all. For example, we watch the original television Star Trek series now, 50 years after its original airing in 1966, and we wonder how we could have been frightened by the special effects in that program! They are now so “cheesy” to us, but then I well remember being glued to my chair in fear that Captain Kirk was going to be vaporized!
My Grandmother was beyond fearful and well into terrorized when she lost track of me while she was babysitting when my parents were at some appointment away from the house. She was from a small town in Wisconsin and we lived in the big city of Chicago.
Downtown Chicago. This picture was taken from the top of the Prudential Building, “Top of the Rock”, in the early 1960s.
She was uncomfortable in such a large city and she just “knew” that there were evils hidden around every corner. One problem she had was that she remembered that the infamous gangster Al Capone lived in Chicago, and when my parents returned home, they found her in the middle of the street, screaming my name, crying that Al Capone had kidnapped me. (Actually, he had been dead for about 4 years at this point, but that was irrelevant to Grandma.) I had simply walked away from the house with my puppy and had gone to a house around the corner to show my friend’s Grandmother my puppy. She invited me in for cookies and I was watching the Howdy Doody Show on TV unaware that Grandma was in the street screaming.
Fears can cripple us from rational thinking. They are disabling and they damage our lives in ways that are too numerable to count. Fears of flying, fears of spiders, fears of going outside, fears of being in large crowds, fears of high places, fears of being in small spaces. The number of fears is too great to count because they are the fabrication of our own minds and each of us are unique.
Certainly there are fears that are normal. If we are in the woods and are bitten by a poisonous snake, we need to take immediate action to remedy the problem. But the fear of potentially being bitten by poisonous snakes should not stop us from enjoying God’s creation in nature, and even in the woods.
Scripture has quite a bit to say about fear. In Isaiah 35:3-4 we read:
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
In Joshua 1:9, God is directing Joshua in how he is to lead the people after Moses’ death. God says:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
This peace and lack of fear is available for the believer in Jesus Christ and in our God, as is seen by David’s psalm:
Even though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I suggest that the ultimate antidote to fear is found in Romans 8:28, 38-39:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Read that again – NOTHING will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God is omnipotent and omniscient … He is all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, He not only knows what is going to happen to us, He has it in His control. His purposes will be fulfilled even if they are difficult for us to understand and to live through. We have to have faith that our Heavenly Father will not put more on us than we can handle (although at times in my life I have thought that perhaps He had more confidence in me than I had). During the rough times in my life, I have rested on Paul’s comment about his own “thorn in the flesh”:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
Fears – yes, we all have them. But thanks be to God they don’t have to be disabling. No, we are more than conquerors through Christ who saved us. When we are weak, then God is strong through us. When we are afraid, He will give us courage. God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us, no matter what the trial might be.
Listen to the song “Perfect Peace” as sung on the album Scripture Memory Songs – Overcoming Anxiety. The words are taken from Scripture and provide balm for troubled hearts.
And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7 [KJV]
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
Isaiah 26:3 [KJV]
Father, I pray that these words from your Word will provide comfort and blessing to those who read them and that Your perfect peace will rest and abide on us even during tumultuous times because we have confidence that You are in control.
The tear – it can be shed because we are sorrowful, in pain, frightened, or angry. Or, it can be shed because we are joyful, relieved, empathizing, or celebrating. (I will always cry when the Bridal March begins, whether or not the bride has even begun walking the aisle!) Crying is therapeutic – it gets pent up emotions out and relieves tension. You could say that tears are suitable for a host of purposes!
What tugs at my heartstrings the most, though, is a tear from my grandchildren. Now, I know that children shed tears in the process of growing up, it just happens. I also know tears can be shed when children encounter something that is unfamiliar to them even if there is no discomfort or danger. I know that tears come as a result of, often very well-needed, discipline. And, I know that children are not above shedding some tears in an effort to get what they want, even if it is abject posturing to get something from their Grandparents!
As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. Who has not looked at their sick child and at least thought, if not said aloud, “I wish it was me instead of my baby!” Sometimes we simply cannot kiss it and make it better, and our tears will flow out of frustration, concern, helplessness ‐‐ love.
Jesus knew our feelings because He experienced them. He wept when his close friend Lazarus died.[John 11:35] He wept when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41 ] knowing that, because they had rejected him, tribulation would come and the city would be devastated. Our Savior experienced physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain, during his time here with His creation.
And, deep down inside, I believe that His heart hurts when He hears our cry and sees our tears. However, unlike us, He was not “helpless” in the face of sorrow or disappointment. He was, at all time, the God‐man – fully God and fully man. Through His act of obedience to the Father’s plan, He went to the cross so that we would have an escape from the pain inflicted upon us by sin.
Further, because of His triumph over sin and death, He knows that our troubles will last only for a short while, that there is a lesson we need to learn from the events that sparked the tears, and that He is with us through the dark times. We simply need to trust Him and hold His Hand as He sees our path while we cannot.
I have not been immune from those dark times. I have experienced nights on end with tears as my only companion. I worked to keep the family on an even keel when its support suddenly disintegrated before my eyes. There were times that the tears flowed so hard that I could not breathe, and I relied on the Holy Spirit to pray for that which was best because I could not.
I also know that no one can take your tears away; no one stands in your shoes; no one understands the disappointment you have encountered; and no one has endured the dark night that you are in or that you have experienced. It is yours and yours alone. David was well acquainted with the loneliness and pain that difficulties, fearful events, strife, and sin can create. He refers to it as the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
But notice the rest of this sentence, even though he was in the valley, he was not bound by fear. David knew that the Lord was with him and was providing comfort to him, even in the darkness of that valley.
I certainly am not David, but I can affirm that I have experienced release from the tears and dark times through the grace of God, the love of His Son Jesus, the solace of the Comforter, and the soothing hands of His Church. Beloved, rest assured that you are not alone as you go through your difficult times.
The Good Shepherd has given His life for you and He will guard and protect you as His own. [John 10:11]
Lift up your eyes and look for Jesus and He will give you strength. As incongruous as it sounds, while you are crying tears of grief, sorrow, fear or pain, you can experience peace and even joy because He has you in His arms and there really is nothing to fear. Martin Luther says it well in the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.
One day you will be able to look in the rear view mirror of your life and see the valley that you climbed out of, and you will be able to praise His Name as you thank Him for His kindness and grace, even in those dark times.
Joy is possible even as tears linger on your cheek!
Father, I thank You for being with me through your Son, my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, my Comforter. Thank You for the truth that You are sovereign and that nothing will frustrate your plans for me or for your church. Thank You for bringing me through the valley and for holding me even when my tears flowed. Thank You for your love.