white sheep
Wikipedia Commons

If you’ve read the Bible, I’m sure you’re familiar with being called a sheep.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the precious sheep he watches over.  Most of us read into this with a simple understanding that a shepherd keeps his flock safe.  He loves and cares for them, keeping them from dangers such as wolves, bears or other predators.  Technically this is correct.  The Shepherd does all these things.   But, there’s a much deeper meaning to this whole comparison.  When Jesus says we are the sheep, he is revealing a great revelation to all who would listen.   The people of Jesus’ day were very familiar with the ways of sheep, and the lifestyle of a shepherd.   The shepherds (those who took care of sheep) would’ve had the deepest understanding of what Jesus said, since they lived the life, day in and day out.

The season of Passover is upon us.  Passover will begin at sundown on April 19, 2019 and continue through April 27. Jesus, of course, died as the Passover lamb for our sins.  This is an especially great season to remind us that the Lamb of God died for his sheep.  It’s the perfect time to understand why he calls us his sheep.

shepherd bookI’ve been reading a book called The Shepherd Trilogy, by Phillip Keller.   The book is written by an actual shepherd.  He has been in the trenches with the sheep.  His feet have trod their path, and his hands have sheared their wool.  He examines the 23rd Psalm, and reveals the amazing parallels between people and sheep.  I am learning more about sheep than I ever wanted to know.  The more I read, the more I realize I really am a sheep–  I’m a sheep with blonde hair, but nonetheless, I am a sheep!

I want to share with you some of the golden nuggets I took away from this amazing book.  I will start by quoting the verse from Psalm 23, and then tell you how it applies to us as sheep.

“He leadeth me beside the still waters.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe shepherd always knows where the best watering places are.  He knows which ones are fresh and clean.  It is his job to lead the sheep to these clean sources of refreshment.   If the sheep are left to their own devices, most will automatically choose inferior, muddy water.  Often times, sheep are very thirsty out in the field.  When they are thirsty, it means they lack water within themselves.  They can only replenish it from an outside source.  The shepherd will lead them on a journey to the water they greatly need.   The shepherd will take great care to keep the sheep on the path to the clear water.  But, he has to keep his eyes open because along the way there will usually be mud holes and the sheep will plunge their faces into them and  drink away.   These sheep cannot wait long enough to get to the best spot with the shepherd.  They want the water now  -even if its dirty!   This muddy water will give them parasites that will make them sick and miserable.  Its inferior quality will bring intestinal pain to the sheep.

muddy water

 

 

Isn’t this very much like human beings?  Like the sheep, we all thirst.  We cannot make our own water so we must get it from an outside source.  Oftentimes we choose the easier route and drink the first thing that comes along, or we choose things that are inferior and downright harmful.   We prefer to have it now, rather than wait.  We drink these harmful things up and then later reap the “indigestion” and “parasites” of our actions.  We end up in a miserable state.

If only we would let Jesus, our living water and shepherd, lead us to the cool, clear water that satisfies, and does not give us parasites!

All of us get thirsty not only physically, but spiritually as well.  Many people try to fill this spirituality with all sorts of false gods and false religions.  All the while, Jesus says, “All who get their water from me will never thirst!”

Here’s some amazing food for thought- or should I say grass for thought.  Sheep can get much of the water they need by simply eating grass.  But, there’s a catch.  To get moisture from grass they have to go out early in the morning.  Why?  Because the dew is on the grass.  The grass is drenched with moisture and the sheep is filling up on this precious moisture which is actually a very clean, fresh source of water.

As children of God we are in need of the living water for our spirits.  How can we get this water?  We know Jesus has it, but how do we get it?  One way to get this living water is by spending time with Jesus.  Perhaps, like the sheep, we can rise early in the morning and get the living water BEFORE WE START OUR DAY.  We need the living water before our day begins to battle life’s daily annoyances and tribulations.  The morning dew can be found before our day starts and like the sheep, we can be refreshed before we go “into the fields.”

The next verse is-

“He restoreth my soul.”

lamb and sheep
Wikipedia Commons

 

This is a very important verse that holds great significance and importance to Christians.   As the sheep of the Lord, we certainly need restoring almost daily.  But, there are certain times when the restoration is bigger than we can bear.

In the sheep world, there is a term known as a  “cast down sheep.”  This is a term used to describe a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again- if it does get back up on its own, it is very difficult.   A sheep laying on its back is a sad sight.  The sheep will kick its legs frantically and bleat hysterically.  All the while, it cannot get back on its feet.  If the sheep stays in this position too long, it will die.  The gases in the rumen of the sheep will start to build up.  Eventually circulation to the legs will be cut off.  The final result will be death.   Luckily the shepherd’s job is to look for these cast down sheep.  He must get to them very quickly.  If not, they will die- full of anxiety and pain.  Thankfully, the good shepherd makes his way through the flock.  He knows each sheep by the sound it makes, and even by the wool on its back.  He can find a cast down sheep because he knows it as his own.

When the shepherd gets to the cast down sheep, he is careful not to startle it.  Instead, he talks gently to the sheep.  He speaks softly, but firmly.  He slowly massages the legs of the sheep, allowing circulation to resume.  After some time, the sheep will be on its feet again.  In a spurt of joy, the sheep will bound off to mingle with the rest of the flock, soon forgetting its harrowing experience.

I am sure we can all relate to being a cast down sheep.  I have been cast down more times than I can count.  There have been seasons of my life where I was on my back for months.  I can honestly say there were times when I didn’t even want to get back up.  It was easier to lay there in distress, hoping the season would pass on its own.  But, that’s where Jesus, the Good Shepherd, would come to my rescue. He would not let me stay in that season.  He had much better plans for me.  He doesn’t want me lying around being useless in the kingdom.  He doesn’t want me to live my life in despair.  He doesn’t want me to go the way of death.   So he comes and puts me back on my feet.  He speaks tender words that revive my spirit.  He reminds me I am part of his flock.   If I will only follow his voice, I will not stay cast down.

Below is an interesting video about how you can help a cast down sheep.

 

The next verse is, “Yea, though I walk through the valley.”

When a shepherd needs to get his sheep to higher ground, he doesn’t take them straight up the mountain in a line.   He takes them through a series of valleys that are dark and full of shadows.  Some might say these valleys are downright dreary.  Why in the world would a shepherd want to take his flock through so much darkness?  Why not take them through bright, sunlit paths?

Believe it or not, going by way of the valleys offers the gentlest grade of the land.  Instead of climbing uphill at steep grades, the valleys allow for a gradual trek upwards.  Also, it is in the valleys where the water is the most plentiful, and the freshest.  Streams line the valleys, along with fresh grass.

When sheep are in the valley, they are never left alone.   The shepherd is with them through the entire trek.  After all, they are not in an open field grazing.  When they are in the valley, the shepherd takes extra precautions to guard them because often predators lurk in the shadows and among the cliffs that can surround the valleys.   In these darker areas the shepherd stays on guard, staying in step with the flock as they make their way to higher ground.  Now the thing about valleys is that they are prone to some very serious threats such as mudslides, flash floods, sudden storms and avalanches.  All these things could kill the sheep.   Sudden rain can come quickly as well.  If a sheep’s coat is soaked by the rain, the sheep will lose body heat very quickly.  Their skin is thin, and death by freezing can happen quickly.  This is why the shepherd is ever watching, ever attentive.

Now certainly we have all been in a dark valley before.  As a christian it is a fact of life.  We have lots of pain and trouble in this world.  On our journey to higher ground, we go through dark twists and turns.  It is in these dark places when the shepherd is with us all the more intimately.  He does not leave our side.  The water in the valley is fresh and plentiful.  Jesus, the Living Water, quenches our thirst and draws us closer to him.  I can say that for myself, the dark times in my life have brought me closer to the Savior.  As gut wrenching as they were, I kept my eyes fixed on Jesus.  If not, I would not have made it.  The predators lurked and barked, but my Savior surrounded me.  The weather raged, yet the Savior told the wind to be still.  Amazingly enough, being in those valleys really brought me to higher ground.  Without those valleys, I’d still be in the same old meadow.  I’d be eating the same old grass.  But, after the valleys, I was sitting on top of a mountain.  How sweet it is to be on higher ground with the Most High.

These are just some of the truths I learned about sheep.  I never knew how much I had in common with them.

On April 19 at twilight, Jewish families and Christians will celebrate the Passover Seder dinner.  This dinner will celebrate the amazing miracle God performed when he rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  The Ten Plagues had ravaged the land of Egypt because Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go.  The tenth plague was the worst because all the first-born of Egypt died.  But the Hebrews were spared this awful plague.  Why?  Because they were told by God to place the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb ( a sheep) on their doorposts.   They would slay a lamb at the threshold of their door, place the blood on the doorposts, and then roast the lamb for all to see and smell.  Later, they would take this roasted lamb, along with bitter herbs, and eat it inside their home, with the door sealed.   When the angel of death saw the blood on their door, it would literally pass over them.  The blood of that lamb shielded them from death.   Each year, when families participate in the Seder dinner, they re-enact this story that God told them to remember forever.

As sheep of the good shepherd, we too are part of this grand story.  Jesus himself became the Passover lamb on the very day of the Passover celebration.  He was placed on the cross at the 3rd hour- the exact time the Passover lambs were being prepared for slaughter.  He died on the cross at the 9th hour- the exact time the Passover lambs were being killed.  A trumpet was sounded from the Pinnacle Tower of the Temple, letting everyone know the lambs were being slaughtered at this time.   What’s interesting about the trumpet being sounded  is that we know Jesus says he will return at the sound of the trumpet.   This will alert the entire world of his presence.  Jesus, who represents the Passover lamb, will return to set the captives free from the world.  God set Israel free from Pharaoh.  Jesus set us free from sin.   One day, Jesus will set his people free from the world’s system.

The Jewish people had been celebrating the Passover for 1500 years at the same appointed time each year.  Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the feast down to the day and the hour.  At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.”  He was saying to remember his death and resurrection at the time of Passover.  They were to always remember his blood was spilled as the Passover sacrifice.

Because Jesus became the Passover lamb and his sacrifice was complete, we can have great confidence that our sins are covered and forgiven.  We can have confidence that as a member of his flock, he will take great care of us.

lamb with name
This is my stuffed lamb with my family name around its neck

During Passover in biblical times, each family brought their own lamb to the Temple to sacrifice.  They took care of their lamb from the 10th of Nisan to the 14th of Nissan.  When the time came to bring the lamb to the Temple on Passover, they would put their family name around the neck of the lamb.  This ensured there would be no mix-ups, and they would get their own lamb back to use for the Passover meal later that evening.  This paints a marvelous picture for us as believers.  Our names are written on the heart of Jesus.  He knows us by name and his sacrifice is specifically for us.   We are his sheep whom he knows by name.  He is the Good Shepherd who was also the lamb that was slain for us.  Our names are written in the Book of Life once we receive Jesus perfect sacrifice as the Lamb Who Was Slain For the World.

The Passover lamb was considered a peace offering.  In the Bible we read about God requiring different types of sacrifices at the Tabernacle and Temple.  There were sin offerings, trespass offerings, guilt offerings and peace offerings.   The peace offering was meant to bring peace between God and the person who made the offering.  In biblical times if you were at peace with someone, it meant you could eat at the table with that person.  You could fellowship with that person.   The Passover lamb not only covered our sin, it allowed us to finally fellowship with God freely through his perfect lamb, Jesus.  We must simply receive Jesus as our Savior, and receive his gift to us.  We must believe he died for us on the cross and ask him to forgive our sins.

No longer did a veil stand between us and God.  The veil was torn, and now we could eat at the table with our Savior.  We could eat in his fields.  We could drink from his streams.  We could travel to the higher ground with him.  The Hebrew word for peace is SHALOM.  This word means completeness, or wholeness.  We can be assured that Jesus’ sacrifice as the Passover lamb is perfect and complete.  It is finished!  All we have to do is receive it in fullness and in SHALOM.  We have peace knowing the Prince of Peace has conquered the world.  In him, we too, are more than conquerors.

Have a blessed Resurrection Day!  Shalom!

 

Below is a beautiful story called The Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado.  It’s a beautiful story about how Jesus cares for all his lambs, especially those who are cast down, or have broken hearts.

the crippled lamb