Archive for the ‘Sheep’ Category

View from the Mountain Crag

May 10, 2008
The air was clear, and I could hear the bleating of sheep beneath me. On this particular day, I had sought solace for my reading on the crag of a mountain, high enough up the side that I could enjoy a cool mountain breeze. Since it was the south face of the mountain, there was also plenty of light for my reading, and stretching out below me was a burbling brook fed (I suppose) by a mountain spring or by the melting of snow from cap of the mountain towering behind me.

I had climbed to this perch, and figured no one would interrupt my scholastic pursuits, but the air’s clarity had an unexpected side effect. I could hear not only the birds chirping, but also the words of the shepherds tending their flocks of sheep on a plateau below me.

How or why they brought their flocks up to that mountain plateau, I will never know. Perhaps it was the clarity of the water, perhaps it was the greenness of the plateau pasture, or perhaps it was the convenience of a mountain-side cave into which they could herd their flocks at night. Whatever the cause, my outpost gave me a full view both of the shepherds and their flocks.

I could hear the mother sheep calling to their lambs, and the lambs bleating back. But amidst the sheep, I could hear the shepherds talking: sometimes to themselves, sometimes to each other, but often to the sheep.

In fact, it was the call “Here sheep!” (in the shepherd’s native tongue) that first caught my ear. What a marvelous sight it was to see. For what appeared to be a single mass of sheep coming from the distance shortly split into the two flocks, each following their shepherd – as the shepherds moved away from the book and into the meadow.

Of course, it was not only a call that the shepherds used, but occasionally a sturdy staff (was it oak? I could not quite make out its composition) was called to bear to the rumps and ribs of wayward animals.

I could see that the shepherds were friends, for they were not fighting for the sheep amongst themselves. Thus, I was somewhat puzzled over the division. My first theory was that they simply want to split up the sheep into two flocks to better distribute the sheep throughout the meadow. Soon, however, I recognized that this was not the case. Each shepherd viewed the flock as his own.

From my vantage point I could hear the shepherds as they went around throughout their flocks, calling each sheep by name, tending to their injuries, checking their health, and assisting the ewes in giving birth. I realized that the shepherds considered the sheep their own. They took a personal interest in their sheep.

The broad meadow was itself mostly flat. But at the edges of the meadow furthest from me, there was a dreadful precipice, extending a hundred or more feet to some more gentle slopes below. I had noticed this precipice first when viewing the mountain from afar, for it served turn the brook on the plateau into a sparkling ribbon of a waterfall that seemed perpetually graced by a rainbow in the daylight hours, and into a strand of soft silver in the moonlight.

But this beauty was best admired from the foot of the mountain. From the plateau, this cliff was a danger: an accident waiting to happen for any sheep that trotted off on its own.

The shepherds naturally appreciated this danger to their flocks. From time to time I would hear them shouting out warnings to their sheep to stay away from the edge, for it was dangerous. Once in a while, I would see the shepherds tan the hides of a sheep that started walking too close to the edge.

Mindful of my purpose in climbing to my lonely perch, I turned my nose back to my books. It was not long, however, till I heard the unmistakable bleat of a falling sheep – the sound of its “baa”-ing rapidly disappearing in the distance, followed by the muffled but audible “thump” of sheep making an impact.

I saw from my vantage point one of the shepherds holding his head in hands, weeping for the sheep that had fallen. After a while, he seemed to regain his composure. Then, I saw another sheep approaching the cliff edge. This time I saw the shepherd call to that sheep by name – warn him of the danger – and even strike a few blows with his staff to try to scare him back to the flock. But this stubborn sheep refused to hear. Instead it kept going as it was going.

Soon, I was sad to hear a recap of yet another unsuccessful experiment in the field of ovine aviation. More grieving from the shepherd followed. I admit I was astonished to see it. Looking across to the other side, I noticed a similar pattern with the other shepherd. A wandering sheep would leave the herd and make its way toward the edge.

The other shepherd likewise would call to his sheep, warn it of the danger, and smack it with the stick. There was a difference, though. If it seemed that the sheep was two stubborn to heed the warning and the beatings, the second shepherd would use the crook of his stick, to grab the sheep, and turn its neck back to the flock, thus saving the sheep from a gruesome demise.

I knew that the grieving shepherd could see how the other shepherd was preserving his flock, and finally my curiosity got the best of me. I shouted down to the grieving shepherd to ask why he did not do as the second shepherd did.

It was difficult to communicate because of my own lack of familiarity with the dialect of the shepherds, but eventually I came to understand the situation. The grieving shepherd explained that it was love of the sheep that prevented him from turning their heads back to the flock. “For you see,” he told me, “I cannot force them to love life. I love them too much to do that to them. If they wish to destroy themselves, I must be content with the choices they freely make.”

Then, I asked the other shepherd why he did not do as the first shepherd did. He also replied that love was behind his actions. He told me, “I love my sheep so much that I would die for them myself. I realize that they may not be as free as they like, but I truly believe that at the end of the day, they are happier for it. If I am willing to sacrifice myself for the lives of my sheep, is it so bad if I occasionally force them back from the cliff face?”

These reasons made me wonder, which shepherd really loved his sheep more? The shepherd who did everything in his power to preserve the sheep, or the shepherd who held back, because he was more concerned with the sheep’s freedom than the sheep’s life.

And you, dear reader, as you have read this fictional account: what say you? Which shepherd loved his sheep more? Why then will some claim that our loving Shepherd, who calls his sheep by name, might let some perish so that they can have something they view as freedom? Aren’t we a little shocked by a shepherd who lets his sheep plunge to their deaths over an issue of “free will”? I trust we are.

Moreover, God can work more powerfully than any earthly shepherd. He has the ability to change the heart: to replace a desire to try to fly with a desire to be among the herd eating the green grass.

As the Apostle Paul explained it, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Now, we don’t believe that the supposed “freedom” (some sort of self-deterministic autonomy from God) even exists. No, there is nothing that happens apart from the will of God – there is nothing that is “free” from divine predetermination. But suppose such freedom did exist! Suppose that man’s autonomy were similar to the wooly-headedness of the sheep on the plateau pasture. Would not a loving Shepherd make every effort to save the sheep, not only appealing to its head with tender words, to its hide with the blows of a disciplining staff, but also to its neck?

Can we believe that a sheep’s neck can be too stiff for a shepherd to turn it? Perhaps. But too stiff for God to soften it? God forbid! For God is the Almighty one. He does whatsoever he pleases and no one can stop him.

So then, let us recognize the love of God, which is able to overcome every obstacle and save those whom the Father has given to the son.

With Paul, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) So then, repent of your sins, and trust in the Good Shepherd. Hear His voice, and enter into His love, dear reader.

Praise be to the Lord!


As Wise as Sheep

February 17, 2008

Sheep are not wise. It is no great compliment to be called a sheep. Nevertheless, in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Christ proclaimed the parable of the Shepherd and the sheepfold, in which he compared us to sheep, and Himself to the Shepherd.

John 9:35-10:29
35Jesus heard that they had cast him [the man who was born blind, whom Jesus miraculously healed] out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. 1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
19There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. 20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?
22And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. 24Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. 26But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

There are many things that can be gleaned from the passage. One is the fact that Jesus is divine. If we were going to emphasize that, we’d continue down the passage, for Jesus is shortly afterward explicitly accused of blasphemy.

In this post, though, we are going to focus on the soteriological aspects of the passage. The sheep are the elect, those who will be saved from judgment on judgment day. We know this because Christ says “I give unto them eternal life.”

1. Once a Sheep, Always a Sheep

This would seem to be an obvious fact from the nature of things. Sheep do not change their species. Sheep do not become goats, they do not become wolves, they do not become dogs. A wolf may slip in disguised as a sheep or a goat may get caught up in a sheep stampede. But a sheep is a sheep, and a non-sheep is not a sheep. There is no more saddening condemnation to hear than to hear: “ye are not of my sheep” from the mouth of God. On the other hand, to know that one is a sheep is the most encouraging thing we can know. We know that the sheep will never stop being a sheep, because Christ says: “they shall never perish.”

2. Once a Sheep of Christ’s, Always a Sheep of Christ’s

Again, this would seem to be an obvious fact. Christ is God. He cannot be robbed by thieves. No one is stronger than God to be able wrestle sheep away from him. Furthermore, sheep are not self-determiners of their ownership. No one asks a sheep for his permission to own the sheep. A sheep cannot decide to become someone else’s sheep. A sheep can wander off from the flock, but the Shepherd will bring him back. Furthermore, Christ explains this in the passage above: “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (and likewise, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all.”)

3. The Sheep Come Because they are Sheep

Some people have suggested that people become sheep because they come. This is absurd. Sheep are sheep before they come. A lost sheep is a sheep. A sheep cannot hear his master’s voice, unless he is a sheep. This also leads us to the second suggestion we sometimes hear: that a sheep become’s Christ’s by hearing his voice.

But that is not how ownership of sheep works. Furthermore, that’s not how the matter is described in the passage. Instead, the passage states: “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.” You see, there is a reason why the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger, it is because they know his voice. They follow the shepherd because they are his sheep, not the other way around.

4. The Sheep are Called Particularly

It is often overlooked that the sheep are not called en masse. One sees people discussing the passage as though the Shepherd is standing out in a huge field of sheep yelling, “Here Sheep!” That fits with the mistaken view above that sheep become sheep (or Christ’s sheep) by coming. That’s not the picture here. The picture here is Christ calling his sheep particularly, individually, by name: “he calleth his own sheep by name,” “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.”

5. The Sheep will be Saved

There is no doubt, no uncertainty about sheep of Christ’s that are still outside the fold. Christ declares the certainty of their salvation. This conflicts both with an open theistic view of God, and with a universalistic intent theory of the atonement. Christ aim is to save the sheep (“My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all”) and he will save the sheep (“other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice”).

6. The Sheep are Given to the Shepherd and the Shepherd for the Sheep

The Shepherd’s duty is to save the sheep. Christ states: “Them also I must bring.” Likewise, He states “My Father, which gave them to me.” They are his sheep, with Him leading the way: “when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him.” And furthermore, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” We can also see the same thing negatively put here: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not.”

7. The Sheep are the Blind that Now See, the Others Think they See, but do not

Recall how this passage begins. The man born blind is healed, so that he sees and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisees do not see, and mockingly ask whether they are blind. Jesus tells them in essence that if they realized they were blind, they would be given sight, but since they think they see, they remain dead in sins.

8. What do the Sheep do right?

– the sheep hear his voice
– the sheep follow him: for they know his voice
– a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
– the sheep did not hear them.
– they shall hear my voice;
– My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

9. Why don’t others do the same?

“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.”

10. Conclusion

That’s the simple truth of monergistic salvation. The sheep do hear and follow, but they do so because they are the sheep. The others do not, because they are not Christ’s sheep. Christ is our Good Shepherd, who was prophesied by Jacob:

Genesis 49:24 “…from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:”

David also prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 23:

Psalm 23:1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

(Its worth noting as an aside against the Ebionites that this is Jesus being referred to as Jehovah.)

Asaph likewise prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 80:

Psalm 80:1 (To the chief Musician upon Shoshannimeduth, A Psalm of Asaph.) Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.

Isaiah, that great prophet of God, likewise prophesied:

Isaiah 40:10-11
10Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. 11He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

(again, Jesus is identified with Jehovah)

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah prophesied the same thing:

Jeremiah 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

Ezekiel also:

Ezekiel 34:12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.

It is this Shepherd whom John and the other evangelists preach to you, and which confirmed by the other Scriptures:

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the Sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant,


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