The Good Shepherd

The Lost Sheep, Painted by Alfred Usher Soord (1868-1915), Oil on canvas, Painted in 1898, © Alfred Usher Soord

My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It always reminds me of a painting that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at thirty years ago depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs. Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless. They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff. They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush. But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out. If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown. Sound familiar? It sure does to me. I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting things of the world. But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.

I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety. What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd. There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her. She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety. There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd. Just trust. This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her, and knows that He loves her.

I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into. You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to call out for help. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you. Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself. Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry. The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

Shaken and Stirred

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Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of the danger of spiritual relaxation.”  If every day as a Christian is an easy-breezy-peazy day, then we are in trouble. Following Jesus is not intended to be some blissful nirvana. It’s a climb, a race, a battle, a challenge. It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer trek over desert sand and rocky mountains and treacherous trails through hostile territory. That’s the life the Apostles experienced. That’s the life the martyrs endured. Their faith was tried and tested in the fires, and it came forth as gold. The Christians with the strongest, deepest faith are the ones who defy opposition, persecution, threats, and even death for the name of Jesus. The most dangerous state for a Christian is when all is right in their little world.
Jeremiah 48:11 points this out: “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another. So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.” In making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container. After forty days the wine is “shaken up” – poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed. If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled. The Lord said the same of Jerusalem, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs . . . (Zephaniah 1:12)”
Has your life – and your faith – been shaken lately? James says, “Count it all joy . . .” (James 1:2). God is sifting out the dregs, the dangerously sweet stuff that spoils you. He is making your life an offering worthy of Christ. Is it hard? You bet. Is it painful? Without a doubt. Is it worth it? Just ask the saints who endured. They’re the ones singing songs of joy and praise around the throne.