"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith unto him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).
The call of the True Shepherd is once again being heard in the land, and there is a new sense of hope and anticipation arising in the hearts of God's sheep who have long been scattered upon the mountains, "as sheep having no shepherd..." or feeding in pastures that have long been barren and dry... or drinking from waters that have been polluted by the ecclesiastical debris that has been thrown into the pure stream of God's Word.
And yet, along with this new sense of hope and anticipation there is oftentimes intermingled a feeling of frustration and discouragement, and somewhat of a spirit of restlessness... as the vision of God's glory seems to recede, or as the fulfillment of it is prolonged. This is true as it relates to the sheep of God's pasture; and it is true as it relates to the shepherds. Thankful as we are for what God has done for His people, we cannot help but recognize that we are still a long ways from the fulness of the glory of God in the midst of His people, and those whose souls are hungering and thirsting after God know what we are talking about. May this hunger and thirst increase more and more, and may we do nothing to try to minimize our need for God, or seek to dispel the concern that exists among God's people, by giving them some kind of spiritual sedative that might alleviate the pain without removing the cause. God has always been concerned, greatly concerned, about the welfare of His people, and has longed to bring them into realms of glory such as Jesus Himself walked in when He was here on earth. In fact, the Lord Himself prayed to that end: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17:22, 23). And now for almost two thousand years He has been our advocate with the Father in the heavens, appointed to that office by the Father... not only to represent the Father in His just and holy will for His people, but also to bear upon His shoulders, like the High Priest of the Old Covenant, the responsibility for His people, and to present their cause before the throne of Grace.
How inadequate we feel as we seek to persuade God to move on our behalf, in our great distress and need. But Christ is there in the throne-room acting on our behalf, and interceding for His people who are indeed members of His very own Body. Therefore as we hear the Voice of the Shepherd in the land, declaring God's purpose for His people, and the certainty of its fulfillment in the earth... let us cast from our minds any thought of unbelief which may plague us because of the frailty of our human nature, and our proneness to failure and disobedience... and let us be assured once and for all that what God has declared and what God is doing in the earth is something that He is doing for His own Name's sake, and because of Him who reigns at His right hand, with all power and authority to do whatever God has commissioned Him to do. Regardless of how well or how long we might pray it still remains a fact that "we know not how to pray as we ought," and therefore the Spirit of God takes up our cause on our behalf in the earth, communicates our cause directly to the Son of God in heaven, and He bears our cause "upon His shoulders" before the very presence of God.
We are "not our own," for we have been "bought with a price." The Psalmist said, "We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture." We are God's inheritance. We may think our need is great... but if our need is great, God's need is even greater... for God's heart is pained with the pain of His people in a manner far beyond anything we can understand.
God says, "My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place" (Jer. 50:6). This wandering about of the sheep, then, is not always due to some inherent fault in them. very often it is the fault of the shepherds. God's sheep are not like hogs. They must have good clean pasture, and drink from pure refreshing streams, or it makes them sick. This is something the shepherds do not seem to understand. Why do the sheep become so restless? Why can they not just settle down where they are and work faithfully for their church, and be content with their lot? Many, of course, have done just that... not because they are really satisfied with present conditions, but because they can see no other way to go. Many have never caught the vision of the "glorious church" that God has promised to bring into being... with every member walking in the Spirit and vitally joined unto Christ in abiding fruitfulness; and many others who have seen the vision have grown weary along the way, and have succumbed to the temptation to just "go to church" and become active in some form of religious exercise, in the hope of satisfying that deep longing within to be truly a fruitful and contributing member in the Body of Christ.
Jesus promised us that the time would come when He would gather His scattered sheep into one fold, and that the sheep would "go in and out and find pasture." He has promised us that He would lead us by springs of living water, and satisfy our soul in drought. He has assured us that in the time of the gathering together of His sheep, there would be "ONE fold and ONE Shepherd." From the very beginning, God has desired for Himself a people who would come into intimate union and relationship with Himself... not only for their sake, but to satisfy the longing and the yearning of His own heart for true fellowship. This is what Redemption is all about; and this is what the Temple of God is all about. God wants to dwell with men, and be their God, and He wants His people to have a personal, intimate relationship with Himself.
Let Us Wait For The Lord
But invariably, in the history of God's people, the sheep of God's pasture have grown weary in pursuing this call unto fellowship with Him; and as the vision begins to dim they become impatient in spirit, and are willing to conform to patterns of life and conduct that they observe in others round about them. This is what happened in the early days of Israel, after they had become settled in the land of their inheritance. God had been their Lord and King from the time He called them out of bondage, and drew them apart into a special relationship with Himself. But now in the time of Samuel they began to grow weary of it all, and desired a king, like the nations round about them. This grieved the heart of God. All along, right from the beginning, their very existence as a nation was by reason of the fact that God longed for an inheritance of His own in a people that were separate from other people, and very much UNLIKE the nations. It wasn't simply their desire for a king that displeased the heart of God... but the fact that they wanted to conform to the pattern they observed in the nations round about them. God indeed had planned that His people would have a king in the fulness of time. But God's plan for them was a king who would make His people DIFFERENT from the nations, rather than LIKE them. God's king would be a man after His own heart... one who would cause the people to say, "God is our real King... you are not really our king, David... you are just the man that God chose to stand before Him, and to cause us to know Him who is King over all the earth." David therefore, was a true shepherd-king, a man after God's own heart, for he taught the people to sing:
"The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want..." (Psalm 23:1).
"We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture..." (Psalm 100:3).
"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:7, 8).
However the people were not ready for this kind of a king as yet... nor indeed was the king himself ready. True, they were in constant conflict with the Amalekites, and the Philistines, and the remnant of the nations that God had left in Canaan to try their hearts and to prove them. Oftentimes they came under great bondage to these nations, and they would cry unto God for deliverance. True, they wanted deliverance, but they were not ready yet for SEPARATION. They wanted, at one and the same time, to be delivered from the nations round about them, and to be LIKE them.
It sounds strange, but it was true... and it is true even in our day. We want the liberty of the Spirit of God in our midst... and we profess that we want Christ to have His Lordship in our lives... but at the same time we are quick to set up a pattern of church life and ritual very much like the old ways we were accustomed to in our former bondage. This seems to be the easy way out: "Make us a king," they said to Samuel, "someone to go out before us, and to fight our battles... " Pursuing the vision of God, and seeking out His will for our lives has become burdensome to many people. "Give us a leader," they are saying... "someone who will tell us what we are supposed to do." Too often leadership has become a very convenient form of escapism... an easy way to avoid the responsibilities that come to one who is dedicated to a personal walk with God.
The Call To Intimate Relationship
There is a lot of teaching in the earth today about the Body of Christ... how God has sent forth His gifts upon the people to bind them together in a common fellowship, and to endue them with power and anointing, that they might become vital members of the Glorious Body of Christ. And yet, sad to say, there seems to be very little evidence in our assemblies of the mighty, abiding presence of Christ, and of His Lordship in the lives of His people. I think the reason is quite evident. We want His blessings and His gifts and His miracle working power, and we cry out for more and more of these... but He answers back: "My desire is that you should come into total union with Myself, and walk in my Truth, in my Life, in my Holiness, in my Patience, in my Long-suffering, in my Kindness, in my Mercy, in my Love... I want you to be ONE WITH ME in all things." And you reply, "I am not interested in any of these strange doctrines... all I want is more power and more blessing and more of your gifts..." But God replies, "My son give me thine heart..." And so this abundant life in Christ is denied us, and will continue to be denied us, until we are willing to confess: "Yes, Lord, it is true... we wanted a king so we could be like other (denomi-) nations... we wanted a nice church system in our community, so we would no longer be a reproach to other churches... You told us what would happen, and so it has come to pass... You told us the king we chose would take our young men for servants to run before him, and to drive his chariots... You told us he would force us to plant his crops, and reap his harvest, and make his ammunition... You told us he would take our maids to be his cooks and confectioners... And even as your servant Samuel prophesied, so it has come to pass". (See 1 Samuel 8:10-18).
Is it not strange, that no sooner do a people who are led of the Lord into new ways of the Spirit, and begin to function in a corporate relationship as God intended... immediately there are voices arising and crying out for someone to be their king... someone who can make them like the other churches... someone who can organize well, and get everyone involved in some kind of church activity. They grew weary of the bondage and servitude in that realm, only to walk right back into it again under the guise of liberty.
We are not saying that there is no place for outreaches of various kinds. God has much work for His people to do... but first and foremost God is after YOU and ME. This is the Day of His Lordship... and because God wants to be your King to make you different, He refuses to give you your heart's desire if in doing so it will leave you inwardly the SAME. O perhaps for a season you might find a new sense of refreshing and renewal as living waters are released from the throne of Grace... and you may begin to feel confident that at long last you are ascending a little higher into areas of the Spirit that hitherto were closed to you. But sooner or later there is another test, another trial, another defeat, another attack by Amalek or the Philistines, ...and you begin to wonder what it is all about.
You cannot appease God by working for Him. You cannot become spiritual by keeping very active in some form of church activity, or the like. God's cry and longing throughout the ages of eternity has been for a HOME, a resting-place in a people made in His own image... and God will not allow you to find rest in your own works. God will not allow you to rest until you find that rest in UNION WITH HIMSELF ALONE. Then, of course, there will be activity... great activity... but in a far different realm. God's priests do not "sweat it out"... that is why the ancient priests in the temple were required to wear linen, rather than wool. They must serve God only in union with Him, clothed upon with the fine linen of His own righteousness... and of their own selves they can do nothing.
And so the Call of the Shepherd continues to go forth in the earth... calling the sheep of His pasture into this intimate union and relationship with Himself. And the sheep are responding, for they know the Shepherd's voice, and a stranger they will not follow. O perhaps for a season the sheep may seem to be a little uncertain as the call of the shepherds and the cry of the hirelings mingle together, but this is all part of the process the sheep must undergo as they seek to learn His voice, and understand what He is saying. Then all this perplexity gives way to positive assurance, as their spiritual senses become more and more exercised in the ways of the Lord, and they are able to "discern both good and evil..." And in discerning what is GOOD and what is EVIL they are able to find in Him sufficient grace to follow that which is GOOD and to abhor that which is EVIL. The line of demarcation between the two is clearly defined, and no longer do they call evil GOOD and GOOD evil. (See Hebrews 5:14; Isaiah 5:20).
We Must Come To Know The Voice
The real burden of the Spirit of God in the earth today is that men everywhere, who are seeking to come into the fulness of Christ, might have strong perception to hear and to know the Voice of the Shepherd as He speaks to His people. Sheep will readily follow... for sheep are prone to be followers. They have a nature that is inclined that way. How concerned the Lord is, therefore, that they come to know the VOICE. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches"... is the oft-repeated challenge of the Great Shepherd to the seven churches. Therefore God's controversy has been chiefly with the shepherds that caused the sheep to go astray:
"They are shepherds that cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his quarter" (Isaiah 56:11).
"Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel, And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and a howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard, for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture" (Jeremiah 25:34-36).
Therefore, because God has a Shepherd's heart, He is greatly concerned about the "sheep of His pasture" and in this hour He is sending forth the voice of the True Shepherd to lead His sheep back into the pastures of truth and righteousness.
"My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: as I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out... I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick..." (Ezekiel 34:6-16).
One cannot help but notice with what emphasis the Lord declares that HE ALONE is the True Shepherd, and that HE ALONE will take the responsibility for shepherding the flock of God in His ways. "I will, I will, I will..." is constantly repeated in this passage, and He has confirmed His intention with an oath: "As I live, saith the LORD..." True, He will use men to fulfill His purposes, as He has always done... but when we understand that GOD ALONE is the True Shepherd of the sheep, then we will come to understand that true shepherds here in the earth are only true shepherds in as far as they walk in the ways of the True Shepherd, and speak the words of the True Shepherd, and do the works of the True Shepherd. They are not true shepherds in their own right, in virtue of some office that has been conferred upon them by God or by man.