Psalm 85:5-6

Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
asTea they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sheep

It was fascinating to watch the "Occupy [insert city here]" protest movement grow this fall and winter.  I first saw some u-tubes of "we are the 99" before there was a single reference to any tents out here in the Northwest boonies where I live. But even in that first  viewing of the various (mostly young) people talking about their lives, and ending with the statement, "I am the 99", there was a visceral reaction inside that said, "Oh no you aren't. You are the 1."  When I was talking about this with a friend in December, he had a similar reaction, but his had to do with the economic reality of most Americans in relation to much of the world. That friend is currently in South Africa visiting some of the poorest of the poor, so he knows what of he speaks.  But my reaction had less to do with the economics of the protest and everything to do with the gospel, specifically, the parable of the lost sheep, which is the perfect way in to the "I AM" we've reached in the gospel of John.

The parable of the Lost sheep is found in Luke 15:4. Luke has most parables than the other gospels combined. The good doctor must have found something compelling about this way Jesus had of teaching. In a class I took at Regent College, it was called, "Telling it Slant." Parables come at us sideways, give us a glimpse of life that sink between the rocks we build up into walls around our hearts so we can really 'get' something we very much need to get, in ways we might close off if simply told straight.  I am always hard-pressed to decide which of the many stories I like the best, but the Lost sheep is right up there. No where am I put so directly into the story of what God's eternal plan is than in this parable. "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home."  This is our salvation story.

But it doesn't end there. In John Jesus makes it clear. He does tell us straight out. "I AM The Good Shepherd," He says, (John 10:11, 14). He gives us a full description not only of who He is, but of what it means that we are His sheep. John 10 is picture of what it means that He's our Good Shepherd.

First, The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep (verse 11).  As usual, Jesus never strays from His primary purpose--The Cross. He uses every opportunity to tell His disciples what He came to do. Of course, we have the advantage of understanding this because we have the whole story laid out in front of us and they didn't, so they didn't know what He meant until that Friday when it actually happened, but that wasn't for His lack of telling them. And it's essential that we don't stray from the centrality of the cross either.  Whatever else Jesus is, He is always first, our Savior.

Second, our Shepherd know His sheep and His sheep know Him (verse 14). Earlier in this passage, Jesus speaks of the sheep listening to the voice of the Shepherd. The sheep follow because they know His voice (v. 4). In verse 27, He repeats that "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me."  Any time Jesus repeats Himself this often in one conversation, it's worth taking particular note. And it's this simple: we get to know His voice, we listen, then we follow. This isn't rocket science (though my nephew IS a rocket scientist!). This is our lives in Christ. Jesus is clear that He knows us.  It's His knowing us that precedes everything else. Not that we know Him. Our following Him is based on the fact that we belong to the Shepherd. Sheep don't pick out a Shepherd, the Shepherd is the one in control.

Along with this (still the second point), the idea of hearing His voice is one of the most complicated and misunderstood things for Christians. Isaiah 50:4 says, "He awakens me morning by morning, He wakens my ear to listen like one being taught."  Many times people say, "the Lord told me," or, "I felt the Lord say..." And I think He intends it to be clouded while we are in the body--like in a mirror dimly (though that's a slightly mixed metaphor).  However, we can be certain that His Word is true and that He speaks through it. Also, we must put ourselves in positions where those who are ahead of us in maturity in Christ are speaking into our lives.  These are ways we cultivate His voice. AND we must not be afraid of the small voice that is much less that we expect.  Read I Kings 19: 8-13. This is an example of God speaking in quiet and unexpected ways. The more we get to know Him, the more we will cultivate our ear. It's like learning a different language, I suppose.

The third aspect of the Good Shepherd is that He has other sheep that He also wants to bring into the flock (verse 16).  This speaks to the world-wide scope of the gospel. We have the privilege and responsibility of being Jesus to our neighbors, co-workers and whoever He puts in our paths. He intended this. With His ascension to Heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we actually get to call others into the flock.  I've seen sheep call to sheep. Really. It's a rather amazing phenomenon. You can call "Bunch" to sheep, and they'll not only begin to bunch but bleat and call out to each other. They herd each other. They help each other into the herd.

It's an awesome privilege that the Good Shepherd uses us to draw His beloved lambs into the pen. We are the integral part of His work on this earth. If we pay attention to the Shepherd who lay down His life for us, listen to His voice, His love will compel us to do exactly that.  Those "We are the 99"? They are "the 1" and need "The ONE" to become part of the Sheep pen, too. Who will we help to toward that pen today?


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