Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: the good shepherd

Living in the presence of the Shepherd

There are well-meaning Christians who put much emphasis abiding by correct doctrine, even adding numerous rules of guidelines as rules of conduct. The intention is to construct a barrier around the people of God so that they would know not to stray far from the truth as given in the Word of God.

But where is the Shepherd in this scene? It often seems that He has been relegated to a supporting role, the barrier that surrounds the flock is considered greater protection than the Shepherd.

Well, fences work well for cattle. When a herd of cattle is turned out into a new pasture, they will follow the fence around until they are sure that there are no weak spots. Then they will settle down and not trouble the fence again. Oh sure, there will often be one fence jumper in a herd, but the rest will contentedly ignore him and feed on the pasture.

Sheep are not like that. If the flock sees that one sheep has found a weak spot in the fence, they will all follow. That is why sheep need a shepherd, and that is why the Bible depicts the people of God as a flock of sheep. If left to ourselves, we are all inclined to follow the wayward sheep.

In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He calls His own sheep by name; they know His voice. They stay close to Him because they know He will lead them to good pasture and water, He will protect them from danger, He will care for the weak and injured.

Why then does the Bible spend so much time teaching doctrine? Why do we need doctrines if we are in the presence of the Shepherd? The doctrines are a big part of what enables us to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd from all the impostors out there. Jesus spoke of thieves, robbers and hirelings. They all call at first with pleasant, enticing voices. Some are trying to steal and destroy the sheep. Some are merely mercenaries who are acting as shepherds for personal benefit and do not care enough for the sheep to put themselves in the way of danger. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Jesus says He is the door of the sheepfold. The sheepfold was a walled enclosure to protect the sheep at night during the colder months. The shepherd stood at the door to examine his sheep as they came in, to make sure that all his sheep made it safely into the fold and that no others tried to crowd in. Often he would sleep in the doorway at night to make sure no wild animals tried to get it.

The sheep knew and trusted their shepherd. They would not go out to pasture until the shepherd called them by name and went ahead to check for danger and to lead them to the best pasture.

Here is a God given picture of the ideal state of the children of God. To live constantly in the presence of the Good Shepherd is to live in peace and assurance that all is well. I am where the Shepherd wants me to be; I am doing what the Shepherd wants me to do.

By all means, let’s study the Word of God and learn the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. They all point us to the Shepherd and help us to know Him better. But may we never begin to think that our safety is simply in knowing and obeying the doctrines. It is in knowing and obeying the Shepherd who is revealed by the Word and the doctrines.

Voices

Elijah was discouraged.  He had tried for years to remind the people of Israel from whence they had fallen.  At first, the people of this northern kingdom had maintained a form of worship of Jahweh, but now they were openly worshipping Baal.  What was the use of his efforts?

God called him to a meeting on Mount Horeb, way at the southern end of the kingdom of Judah.  After forty days, Elijah arrived and immediately began to complain that he was the only true follower of God left in the apostate northern kingdom.

He waited in the cave for a message from God.  There came manifestations of a mighty power: wind, earthquake and fire, but Elijah could not hear the voice of God in any of this noise and tumult.  Then he heard a voice, in French it says a soft gentle murmur.  The voice was so soft that Elijah could not understand what it was saying.  But Elijah knew that voice!  He went to the mouth of the cave to listen to what God would say.

God told him to go back, that he wasn’t alone, there were still seven thousand who did not worship Baal but were true to God.  God told him that He wasn’t done yet with that northern kingdom, with their apostate temple at Bethel and their false priesthood.  Elijah should anoint Elisha to carry on the work.

In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of Himself as the good shepherd, and says “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.  And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

There is a lot of noise around us, distracting noises, voices offering us temporary pleasures, voices promising much more than they can deliver.  Among all that noise there is the soft, gentle voice of the Shepherd.  Are we listening?  Are we following?

The shepherd’s voice

A friend was out in the hills of Mexico, visiting with a shepherd.  The shepherd’s flock was grazing quietly around them as they visited.

Suddenly, some unexpected noise startled the sheep and they began to flee from the imagined threat.  They tore off down the hill and along the valley.  My friend looked at the shepherd, expecting him to take some urgent measure to stop the stampede.  Instead, the shepherd opened his lunch, sat down on a rock and began to eat.

My friend watched the sheep run further and further away and could not understand the calm attitude of the shepherd.  He watched as the sheep became smaller and smaller in the distance, but he saw that they were slowing down.  Finally, it seemed that they had stopped and started to mill around, not knowing what to do next.

Now the shepherd put away his lunch, stood on top of the rock and began to call the sheep.  They turned toward the familiar voice of their shepherd and slowly began to walk back.  After awhile they were all back on the hillside, calmly grazing near their shepherd once again.

“You see,” the shepherd told my friend, “if I had begun to yell and run after them waving my rod, they would have been even more frightened.  And they would have been scared of me.  I knew that when they were quiet enough to hear my voice they would respond to my call.”

In the gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”

We have loved ones who are running away from the good shepherd and sometimes we wonder why He doesn’t do something more powerful and dramatic to call them back.  Perhaps he does and they misunderstand what is happening.  We don’t have any guarantee that they will turn around.  But we can trust that there will be a time, perhaps many times, while the other noises around them are quiet for a moment, when the good shepherd will call them.  They can choose to ignore that call, but they will know that it is His voice.

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