The Lamb and the Shepherd

Isaiah 52:13–53 and John 10:1–3.

By Published on December 7, 2022

I remember visiting my son’s preschool class on the same day they were expecting a special visitor: a farmer who brought a lamb from her local farm. The sight of my son and his little classmates enjoying the presence of a baby animal was precious. This sweet, innocent little creature was surprisingly trusting.

Let’s Talk About Sheep

Sheep are vulnerable animals. With no way to defend themselves, they live in a perpetual state of alertness, using their herd to help them detect danger. The problem with this setup is that sheep scare easily. When one scares, they all seem to scare. Another major handicap that sheep face is their poor depth perception. They can see all the way around themselves, but they can’t distinguish objects that are far away, and they can’t judge the distance between themselves and the perceived danger. Therefore, the sheep’s philosophy is to assume that everything is dangerous, just to be safe.

Thank you, Jesus, for showing us how much you understand what it is like to feel alone and afraid!

Sheep are also emotional creatures. They seek connection and develop friendships within their herd. Much like dogs, sheep recognize and distinguish voices and mannerisms among people. Sheep also develop trust and connection with their shepherd if he or she spends enough time with them. Each sheep has its unique personality, and they are just as diverse as human personalities. Living in a herd is not an indication of stupidity; it’s a necessity for their survival. They need each other.

Jesus: Not Just Any Lamb

Our almighty God came to earth in the metaphor of a lamb in Isaiah 53:7: “He was brought like a gentle lamb to be slaughtered” (TPT). And not just any lamb, but one that would be despised, rejected, unattractive, and familiar with suffering and pain. He would be someone that even his herd would reject. What a terrifying concept for a little lamb in a flock!

We know from the story in the New Testament that Jesus did come to earth, just as Isaiah prophesied. And his life unfolded as Isaiah predicted. Jesus chose to be defenseless and vulnerable, and in return, he was hated, rejected, unloved by many, convicted of crimes he didn’t commit, and eventually murdered. Because of his decision to take on this vulnerable role as a little lamb, he now has the power as our Shepherd to understand what it’s like to be in our herd and be vulnerable and scared. The night before he was arrested and later crucified, Jesus openly displayed fear and cried out to his Father. Thank you, Jesus, for showing us how much you understand what it is like to feel alone and afraid!

The Shepherd Guardian

Isaiah described Jesus as the innocent and vulnerable lamb, and Jesus described himself as the “good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Further, Jesus defined a good shepherd: the good Shepherd calls his sheep by their individual names, leads them, defends them from predators, emotionally cares about them, and is willing to die for them. He knows what it means to be part of the flock, so he truly is the best kind of shepherd.

Sheep require constant protection, which meant that shepherds watched their flocks day and night. Without a guardian, the animals were simply unsafe. Herds grazed far from villages in biblical times, which meant that shepherds had to be alert and on guard against lions, bears, and jackals. For this reason, shepherds often carried two weapons: a club (called a rod) and a sling shot. The rod allowed shepherds to defend their sheep at close range, and the sling shot could be used against predators at a distance. The sling shot could also be used to get the attention of any wandering sheep. Shepherds carried staffs, which were not used as weapons but tools to track and guide sheep through narrow passages. If one sheep strayed too far, the shepherd beckoned it to come back.

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At night, shepherds were responsible for bringing the sheep someplace safe, where they would be protected from predators or thieves. Naturally, the most vulnerable members among the flock were the little lambs. Every morning, a shepherd counted the entire flock as they left their safe place, and he recounted when they returned to safety each night. If any member went missing, then the shepherd searched for it; even one missing sheep meant the shepherd could be held liable to the herd’s owner.

Another disadvantage that sheep must contend with is their generally weak immunity. They get sick easily, and when they do, they tend to hide their symptoms, knowing that weakness makes them vulnerable. This meant that shepherds had to be observant, watching each one carefully and carrying any member of the flock who was unable to keep up. Because of the demands of the job, the shepherd spent an incredible amount of time with the flock and truly got to know them as individuals.

We Are Like Sheep

What an incredible calling to be the guardian and protector of one of the most vulnerable animals in the world, and not just any animal but one acutely aware of its inability to protect itself and is therefore skittish. I relate easily to the metaphor of sheep. I tend to panic first and ask questions later. When I sense danger, it is difficult to stop fear from soaking into my heart and leaving me in a state of panic. My heart seems to have poor depth perception. That is, I can’t anticipate the future, and that terrifies me.

If you are anxious and fear the unknown, then I want you to be able to hear your good Shepherd calling you by name, holding your hand as he guides you through times of uncertainty or danger, trusting that he defends your soul from Satan, believing that he intimately understands your pain — all the while knowing that he died in order to lead you. Even if you stray, he is committed to finding you and will search for you.

Like sheep, we may be tempted to hide our weaknesses and illnesses, but he sees them and wants to be our caregiver. When you feel you cannot go on, he will tenderly carry you. And if you feel forgotten, unwelcome, or rejected by the flock, he understands. The Great Shepherd closely watches the ones who are most vulnerable, keeping his weapons near to defend his flock against the enemy. He is more than capable of fighting off predators and will not allow the great thief to steal you from him.

Meditate on the times in your past when you felt scared and your Shepherd led you through the danger. Even though you were afraid, he called you by name and guided you. Draw near to him. He keeps watch over you.

 

Excerpt from The Healing Names of Jesus: Find Freedom from Depression and Anxiety. Copyright © 2021 by Jenita Pace. Published by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.

Jenita Pace is a pastor’s wife and licensed professional counselor (LPC) in the state of Minnesota, and a member of the National Board of Certified Counselors helping people who battle depression after overcoming her own battle, and now runs a private practice in Minnesota. She is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. Find her on Twitter @threeriverspace, on Instagram @jenitapace, and visit her website at threeriversmn.com.

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