By J.R. Miller
SHEPHERD is a very rustic name for Christ, and yet as used in the Scriptures, it is wonderfully rich in its suggestiveness. In the Old Testament there are many allusions to God under this figure of a shepherd. The twenty-third psalm is a Bible classic. Perhaps no other portion of the Scriptures is so widely known, or had had such a ministry of blessing in the world, as this rustic little psalm. The ancient Christians found in the name "shepherd" a beautiful interpretation of the character and word of Christ. In the catacombs at Rome no other picture is so common, as that of the Good Shepherd.
The tenth chapter of John's gospel is so full of great teachings, that only a few leading suggestions can be pointed out. At the beginning of the chapter attention is called to the sheepfold. Applied in a spiritual sense, the fold is the shelter which our Good Shepherd provides for His sheep. The sheepfold is an enclosure surrounded by a wall into which in the evening, the shepherds lead their flocks, committing them for the night to the care of the under shepherd, who guards the door. In the morning the several shepherds come and knock, and the porter opens the door, and each shepherd calls his own sheep, which know his voice and come out to him. He then leads them out to the pasture for the day.
The fold is enclosed by a wall. A wall means defense and shelter. The Bible says much about God's keeping of His people. We are not told, however, that the Lord builds a refuge for them--but that He Himself is the refuge--the divine love and power being a wall of protection between His people and all danger. The safest place in all the world for the sheep of Christ--is in the place of confidence and obedience. We have but to obey our Shepherd, staying within the fold, to have His protection. We have only to do God's will, to go where the Good Shepherd leads, to abide where He puts us, in order to be sure of divine defense.
The shepherd's love and care are individual and personal. "He calls His own sheep by name." It is easy enough for us to understand how an Eastern shepherd may know each of his sheep by name. His flock is small, and he can readily know each one. But when we think of the millions who are in Christ's flock, it seems strange to us that He should know and call each one of all His by name. Yet the truth is made very clear in the Scriptures. It is as easy for our Good Shepherd to know each of His millions personally, as for any human mother to know the name of each one of her little family of children. There is great comfort in this teaching. We are not lost in the crowd. Love always individualizes its object. We cannot love a crowd--we may pity a city in distress, as after the horrors of an earthquake, and yet not know one person in it. But if we have a brother, a child, or a friend among the sufferers--we know the one. Our Good Shepherd loves each one of His own.
A little child of poverty, who had been adopted by a kind man, said he was glad to belong to somebody. It is pleasant for us to know that we belong to Christ. He speaks of His sheep as "His own." They are His own, because the Father gave them to Him. "Yours they were, and you gave them to me" (17:6). They are his own because He gave Himself for them. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). They are His own, further, because they have voluntarily given themselves to Him. It is very sweet to think of ourselves in this way belonging to Christ. The words suggest love, closeness of relation, tenderness of affection.
The Good Shepherd presents Himself also as the Guide of His flock. He "leads them out." "He goes before them, and the sheep follow him." He does not drive them--He leads them, and they follow Him. They love Him and also trust His guidance. They know that they are safe wherever He takes them. Sheep need to be led; they have no such instinct for finding their own way, as most other animals have. Set certain kinds of dogs down anywhere, miles from where they have been staying before, and they will find the way home by instinct. You cannot lose a dog. But a sheep cannot find its way anywhere. The same is true of human souls. They get lost very easily, and are willful and wayward. They need to be led, and without the divine guidance never could get home. But if Christ leads, we who are His sheep must obediently and cheerfully follow Him. The reason we have so many troubles in life, and get so often into difficulty and danger--is because we do not follow Him as we should.
Not only are we to follow Christ--but we are to follow Him only. "A stranger will they not follow--but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." This is always true of sheep. A stranger's voice frightens them, and even when he calls them by their right names, in imitation of their shepherd's voice; and they will flee from him, rather than come to him. They know His voice to be strange, and will not answer His calls. It ought to be so with Christ's sheep, too. They should know when the voice they hear--is not really their Shepherd's, and should not give heed to it.
Voices of strangers continually fall upon the ears of young Christians, especially of inexperienced Christians. There are many temptations which would lure them away from the fold, into paths of wandering, ending in ruin. There are false teachings which seek to dishonor Christ and make His believing ones love Him less and trust Him less confidently. There are solicitations of pleasure which lack the note of purity and truth--voices of the stranger. There are invitations to things that appear to offer gain, to promise reward--but which, in reality, have only loss and hurt and ruin to give. Everywhere the voices of strangers are heard, and, unfortunately, too many are willing to listen to these voices. Those who do--are lured away, often into peril and destruction. We need to be sure that the voices we hear are of the Shepherd, calling us only and always to things that are beautiful and true and good.
Not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd--but He is also the DOOR. "I am the door of the sheep." A door is a way of entrance--those who come though Christ are admitted into the blessedness of God. As many as receive Him, become children of God (see 1:12). This is a Door that is always open. We need never fear coming to it and fining it shut. In the representation of heaven as a city, in Revelation, there are twelve gates, three on each of the four sides. No matter from which way we approach, we shall always find a door of entrance.
When we enter the fold through Christ as the Door, we find provision with Him. "By me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The shepherd looks well to the feeding of his flock. He leads the sheep into green pastures. He searches everywhere to find food for them. When one spot is burnt up with the summer heat and has no more provision for his flock--the shepherd takes them elsewhere.
So does Christ. Wherever He leads us, we may always be sure that He is taking us to some good, some provision, some blessing. The Bible is Christ's pastureland, and the pasture there is always good. Wherever we open it, we find something to feed our hunger. Other books may have poisonous teachings--but every word in the Bible is wholesome food for our lives. The fields of providence are also Christ's fields. In all the common ways of life--we find food waiting for us. We may trust Christ absolutely, because we know that wherever He leads us, He is always taking care of us in the right way. When the shepherd led his flock through the dark valley, it was not to terrify them--but to get them to a place where they would find pasture. Sometimes Christ leads His people through dark ways of struggle, trial, loss--but it is always because these are the ways to some good which He has in waiting for them.
The Good Shepherd loves His sheep, loves them so much that He stops at no sacrifice in protecting them and saving them. "The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." The Eastern shepherd often has to fight battles for His flock. David tells of killing a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep. Sometimes the shepherd in defending his flock against wild animals--is himself wounded; sometimes he even loses his life in protecting them. Our Good Shepherd has wounds upon Him, and if we ask when He received them, His answer is, "In defending My sheep!"
At present Christ's sheep are widely dispersed. They are scattered over all the world. But at last there will be a great home-gathering, when all the flocks shall be brought together. "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring... and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd." One of the saddest things about the church as it is in the world today--is the separation of believers into different denominations. In heaven all shall be brought together, from the north, the south, the east and west--and all shall be found at last in the one flock with the one Shepherd.