And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people.

Matthew 2: 6

These wise men from the east spoke true wisdom when they were interrogated by Herod. He would have done well to have listened and responded to what they had to say in a manner that embraced both the content of their statement and also the One who would give the world its ultimate expression. David was the shepherd king, and he was a gift that God had given to Israel and to the world many years prior. Samuel describes David and his shepherding of the people and of the nation. But David was far from perfect in this role of care taker and care giver, and his time was in the dim past. Herod was a king who was about as far from the concept of shepherd in his actions as there could possibly have been. Sadly, there have been very few rulers in our world, whether they are called king, prince, emperor, or president, who have done much better. 

Jesus set a very high standard for others who would rule over nations or lead people. His primary objective was not power or control. Instead, He sought to heal the brokenness that disabled people as He cut through the external manifestations of what we perceive as strength or weakness and probed deeply into the hearts of people so that our separation from God became the true focus of His restorative work. Jesus cared for the physical needs of His people as He entered into the eternal needs of their souls. The loyalty that Christ demands is not to an earthly cause; rather, it is formed out of submission to God’s call to live righteously and the sort of loving and just life that springs up out of that well of living water. This is the sort of submission to a higher purpose and to the one true King of the Universe that can make a profound difference in the nature of a leader’s tenure in office and would define those who honestly and sincerely desire to shepherd the people that are within their arena of responsibility.

As we know, shepherds tend to their flocks. They nurture and protect them as they attend to the need for food, water, shelter, and comfort that is all a part of the ongoing life stories of the sheep that have been given to them to watch over. The Lord does all of these things for us as well; yet, He also gives over that responsibility and role to human agents. God appoints people to positions of authority of various types and at differing levels of responsibility, and the Lord then sends His appointees out to rule justly, to care for the flock with real concern for the well-being of all of them, and to do this work in a manner that points people toward God as their true and ultimate shepherd. Sadly, only a few leaders do these things very well. Yet, this should not stop you and I from seeking to be different. As we lead others, we can model Jesus and engage in shepherding those people well. We can know them deeply, pray for them faithfully, and seek to be loving and just in all that we do. We can also set the Lord’s standard and model for leadership as the one that we hold up and demand from the people that we select to rule over us. Jesus is the King who kneels down in the mud with His sheep in order to hold them close and care for their minds, hearts, and souls; we can seek to do the same for the people that we are given to lead, and we can select our leaders based upon this same desired model of leaders who are shepherds.       

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Thus says the Lord, God, “As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for my sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.”

Ezekiel 34: 12

 

God knows all about the storms that rage in this world. He is aware of the many ways that the perfect climate of His creation has been made unstable by the fracture of sin. This damage and brokenness brings about storms that are often sudden in their coming and violent in their impact. Sheep, being a rather skittish and fearful lot, can tend to run and to scatter when the wind, rain, and lightning strike. Even sheep that are very well cared for and tended can be driven off from the safety of the shepherd’s chosen path and pasture. It is the response of the shepherd in these times that matters.

 

Christ is a shepherd who never losses heart. He goes wherever He is required to go, and He looks in every possible craggy nook and each deep valley until He finds all of His sheep. We may take short trips away from His presence; sometimes, we sheep run far away and seek out the darkest caves that we can find in order to become separate from the Lord’s sight. It doesn’t matter to Him. Christ has already stepped into the depths of human bondage. He has already charted out all of the paths to separation and isolation that we humans might discover. Even when we have run until there is no breath left in our lungs, the leather is worn off of the bottoms of our shoes, and we have no idea of how far we have come or of where we are, He still sees us and He never stops loving and caring for us. This is the shepherd that we have in Christ.

 

Then the Lord does anything and everything that He needs to do to bring us back into the safety and the provision of His flock. With God this is not an issue of control, for He gave that away when He created us with the ability to make choices. With Him it is not a matter of power or might, for Christ chose to go the way of the humble lamb of sacrifice in order to save all of us from the death of sin. This shepherd comes to us with what all good tenders of sheep bring; that is, He comes to us out of a love that is greater than all of our fear, a desire to provide for us that outweighs our self-centered independence, and a capacity to provide protection that overcomes this world’s crumbling structures. Even in the dark nights and deep valleys there will always be the voice of the true shepherd as He calls to all who are lost and alone, “Come home.”

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13: 20, 21

 

There are a remarkable number of really cute videos available on-line that feature animals that have been trained to do amazing and remarkable things. We have skating cats and dancing dogs, horses that lay in a lap like a puppy, and even a pig that plays soccer and spells words with block letters. Yet, in this entire wide and wild array of video, I cannot think of a single instance where the animal involved is a sheep. I would guess that they are not very easy to train to do anything that is not by nature sheep-like. Sheep are sheep, and they behave like that regardless of the input given or the effort and talent of their human handlers. The nature of sheep is probably an important part of the reason behind their use by the various writers of the Bible as examples of the way that people act and behave. We are stubborn and set in our lost ways.

 

However, there is something critically different in the nature and the character of the shepherd who God has sent to engage with us human sheep from the earthly pictures of that sheep to shepherd relationship. Jesus, our shepherd, has the ability to bring about profound change in the sheep that He tends. This change is extraordinary and unique in all of the world. Christ does not train us to be doers of simple or of even complex tricks, as do the people who train the cute animals. The presence of Christ in our lives brings about transformative change in our nature that leads to a new way of viewing and engaging with our world. Christ is the source of all of the good that is granted to us as a gift from God, and He brings about the ability to use that goodness for the benefit of others and for the redemption of this world from its sin-induced death spiral.

 

Christ is the shepherd who does not attempt to control His sheep. The success of His day is not defined by how many of us stay close to home and do nothing that could place us in harms way or cause the world around us to take notice of our presence. Our Lord and Shepherd places within our hearts and minds a desire to follow Him into the work of sharing the truth of the Gospel message of radical love and transformative grace in every corner of the world. His Spirit grants to us the strength and the courage to place ourselves and even our lives on the line for the sake of justice and in the cause of love and care that is poured out from God upon those around us who have no place and no voice in our society. We bring glory to Christ when we live openly and boldly in our world as His chosen sheep who, unlike the natural sheep of our world, are transformed and reformed by our Shepherd Jesus Christ into a new type of creature who does amazing and even miraculous things in our world and for our culture in the power of Christ and for the sake of eternity come to dwell among us.

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Ezekiel 34: 12

 

The roads and highways of this world are a mess, and air travel seems less certain than ever. Most people end at least some of our days in places that we didn’t intend when we developed our plans for life. Yet, after encountering numerous detours, traffic jams, and washed out bridges, we become disconnected from the life that we were after. The land where we are located is foreign, and many of the people who surround us speak a language that we don’t really understand. Truly the clouds of our own decisions are obscuring the horizon, and the darkness that covers the heart is thickly oppressive.

 

Sometimes this state is naturally short lived and becomes resolved when the light of truth reaches us. At other times and for some people it persists and becomes what is normal. This foreign land to which we have traveled replaces the one that God intended for each of His people as it is then that person’s place of dwelling. This is a disturbing and unsettling place to be, for the food, language, and customs of this land are worldly and discordant with who we are as children of God. Although this pasture land is not the one that God has designated as His source of good food for His sheep, He never hesitates in going there to seek out His own. He is fearless and bold, and His love for each of His people is endless.

 

When we find ourselves tasting the strange food and drink of this place that is at the end of one of these detours from God’s path through life, we can stop in mid bite and know that Christ is there to guide us out of that dark place and into the safety of His light. There is no road too twisted for the Lord to be unable to follow, and no bridge is too broken for Him to repair. Christ has been to every desperate and deadly corner of this world, and He truly desires to leave no one behind there. When we are lost, we can always turn to God, and He will respond. His Word is everywhere, and it speaks truth to all situations. God’s people surround us, and they will come to our rescue with the boldness of Christ as their strength. As we seek the Lord, He will rescue.