Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Lamb of God

Thinking this past week about Easter and the ultimate sacrifice made for us, one of the passages I recalled was from the book of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
Isaiah 53:6-7 NKJV

This of course led me to begin to think about all the times the Bible uses the illustrations of sheep, and the lessons I have learned from them. Probably my earliest memory would be receiving the picture above, The Lost Sheep by Alfred Soord, as a reward for learning my memory verse correctly in Sunday School. I'm sure I am not the only one who has memories of the stories about sheep in the Bible, or the things learned along the way. So I spent most of this week thinking about sheep, (yes, many would think that strange) and wondered why God would use them to teach us so many lessons.

Now my conclusions on the nature of sheep might not be entirely accurate, as I have never owned or been around too many sheep. We do, however, have quite a large population raised in the valley where I live, so I have had occasion to observe. One of the first things I have noticed is that sheep seem to have a pretty passive personality. You can walk right up to them and pet them or feed them and they really don't seem to be easily alarmed by anything. I guess "trusting" would be a good way to describe them. Of course, once you make friends with them by scratching their ears, they will begin to follow you everywhere like you have become their best friend. They also appear to be rather quiet while going about their business. Having worked on a ranch with many different kinds of stock, I can tell you each makes considerable noise when they want to. Yet a herd of sheep in a pasture tend to be the quietest group of animals around. We used to have a "processing" plant here in town, and although when brought there for the inevitable end and placed in the yards, they just meekly walked through the doors without making a sound.

Thinking of these things, and looking at Isaiah's passage about Jesus being tried and put to death, really made me consider how like a sheep Jesus was when facing His accusers. He refused to argue, make a fuss, or resist, and went along with them all the way to the cross. And why? Because, according to Isaiah, all of us have "gone astray". Jesus had to die because we, as sheep do, followed another in a direction we were not supposed to go.

In the book of John, we are told that Jesus was teaching in the temple and debating with the Pharisees. One of the stories He tells uses an illustration about sheep, and has become known as the discourse on The Good Shepherd. There are at least four promises I see in this story that I want to share with you today.

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
John 10:3 NKJV

Promise number one is that when we become believers, we know His voice. We can distinguish between the voice of God, and voices of darkness that would try to take us in another direction. God's voice is different, and this removes any thought we might have about confusion or ambiguity in what we are expected to do. If we truly listen for God's voice, we will recognize it.

And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:4 NKJV

The second promise is that God will lead us. We don't make a decision to follow Christ, then get turned out to "pasture" and be left to our own devices. He will lead us in the direction He wants us to go. Our responsibility is to "look" for Him, and then follow where He leads. How often do we go astray by going where "we" think we are to go, rather than looking to God to see where He wants to lead? He will always be there if we but look for Him and follow.

Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who [ever] came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:7-9 NKJV

The third promise is to protect us from all harm. Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you, or is busy on the other side of the pasture while you are struggling? Not a chance. No matter what may come, God promises to protect us and deliver us from all harm. Certainly we will have troubles, this too is promised, but we also have the assurance that God has promised to protect us.

I am the good shepherd; and I know My [sheep], and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
John 10:14-15 NKJV

The last promise is also the greatest for we are saved because He has died for us. Ever been jealous of sheep in the field because it appears they have no worries? Anything they need is given to them by the shepherd, so they want for nothing. Here Jesus tells us that He will (and has) given His very own life for His sheep. We were bought with a price, and now we have no reason for worry because all we need has been provided by His sacrifice.

Maybe this sounds too much like a Sunday School lesson for kids, but I think all too often we try and make the simple lessons more complex than God intended. After all, this is the story Jesus taught to the Pharisees, his followers, and His disciples. So take what we have discussed here and do one more thing; read the following passage that I'm sure all of us are familiar with and see if you can find these four promises from God.

A Psalm of David.
The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You [are] with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Psalm 23 NKJV

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