Stop Picking on the Sheep

By Bob Hiller

How would you respond if I told you that you are a sheep? My guess is that your initial response would not be positive. In fact, when we call someone a sheep in our day, we usually mean they are weak—a follower. They blindly follow a leader with no thought or bravery. They are meek and foolish.

In fact, if you’ve ever heard one of my sermons about being a sheep, you would have heard me join in decrying the plight of being a sheep. I would have told that when Jesus tells us we are sheep, he is reminding us of our stubbornness, our weakness, our stupidity, our uncleanliness when it comes to sin. I would have told you that to tell a culture familiar with shepherds that being called a sheep would have been downright insulting.

Now, to be sure, some of this is important. After all, when we think of sheep, we think of cute, cuddly little lambs. This week, I saw a picture of a baby lamb snuggled up with a puppy and it just made my precious little heart want to melt. And we need to correct that sort of “cutesy” thinking when it comes to being considered sheep by Jesus. But I fear that in the past perhaps I have run to far in the other direction by attacking and belittling the sheep by emphasizing their faults to an unnecessary degree. See, when we come to the Scriptures, the primary characteristic of a sheep is not their stupidity or foolishness. Rather, a sheep is one who is loved by the shepherd!

If we spend too much time focusing on the sheep and their problems, we miss the real beauty of what Jesus has to say as the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is the focus here, not the sheep. And what is truly shocking in Jesus’ words is not how foolish sheep tend to be but how foolish the Good Shepherd looks to us!

Listen to what Jesus says today: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). I mean, can you imagine anything more foolish than this? A shepherd who loves His sheep so much that He is willing to die for them? I mean, if you see a wolf coming, wouldn’t you sacrifice one lamb and just throw it out there for the wolf? You’d lose one but save the others. After all, it’s only one sheep. It shouldn’t matter that much to you. It’s not worth losing your life over. It’s one foolish, wandering, stupid sheep! What sort of shepherd sacrifices His life for such lowly, foolish sheep?

Our Good Shepherd! He may look foolish to the world, but He acts in love, not for approval. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8). And while we are on it, He probably wouldn’t put up with you or me harping on the weaknesses and foolishness of the sheep for too long. He doesn’t pay any attention to those. He loves those sheep. And if you want to come in and attack His sheep—mock them and belittle them—well then, you will have to stand up against the Shepherd himself. He won’t let you or anyone get after His beloved sheep. Besides, attack them all you want. They won’t listen to you. They only gather around the voice of the Good Shepherd. It’s His rebuke they heed. It’s His voice they follow to the meal. He is the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep and lays down His life in love for those sheep.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I know that when you call someone a sheep these days you are saying that they are nothing more than a follower. But again, in the kingdom of God, behind the guidance of this Good Shepherd, what better thing is there to be than a follower? After all, He leads us to follow in His example: laying down our lives for others. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. He was the Lamb of God who went to the slaughter to offer up His life as a sacrifice for you. The blood of the Lamb washes you clean from your sins. The Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by laying down His life for the other sheep.

So the sheep follow in kind. They go where their Shepherd goes, serve whom their master serves, love whom their master loves. They hear their Shepherd’s voice, learn to follow His path, and care for those the Shepherd has set out to tend. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Sheep love in deed and in truth in the way their Good Shepherd loved them when He not only spoke of His love but actually sacrificed Himself on behalf of the sheep and then rose again to gather us into His fold.

Jesus’ shepherd/sheep metaphor isn’t given merely to decry the sheep but to emphasize the seemingly foolish love of the Shepherd. Let me give you some good news today: You are a sheep of this Good Shepherd! You are a beloved follower of the Good Shepherd who looks so foolish to the world, driven as He is by an unfathomable love for His wandering flock. He showed His love when He laid down His life for you. His voice now calls you to follow Him to do the same for one another. Foolish and reckless? Maybe. Loving sheep can be completely messy. It may even get bloody. But this is the sort of love of the crucified and risen Good Shepherd gives for you, you beloved sheep!