“The Lord is my shepherd…” Psalm 23:1
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…
I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me.” John 10:11, 14
Shepherd is one of the titles that Jesus claimed for Himself while He walked on the earth, but the meaning of that may be lost on us living in this age and culture. These passages are so familiar to us that we miss some of their depth. David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd” with a full understanding of what that meant, but we often picture a serene scene of sheep grazing under the watchful eye of their caretaker. Then Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd and again we envision an idyllic scene of green pastures, quiet streams, and sheep resting without care or fear because of their shepherd.
What we might forget is that being a shepherd in Bible times was not a noble calling. Shepherds were pretty much the dregs of society. They weren’t respected. They weren’t educated. They weren’t the ones sitting in the public square or by the gates of the city. Their opinions were never sought. In fact, they had very little human contact at all. They lived in isolation with a group of ornery, smelly, often stupid sheep. Their lives were spent outdoors in the weather day and night. They had to find pasture and water for the sheep and guide them there. They had to tend the ones who were injured or sick. They had to search for that stubborn one that kept wandering off, again and again. They had to protect them from predators that could strike at any time.
It was honest work, but nothing that most would aspire to. Yet, Jesus, the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of every single thing, called Himself a shepherd. It is already beyond our understanding that He, as God, became flesh and blood and was born as a baby. It seems unthinkable that He stooped to that existence and then grew up from a baby to a grown man. It would be only reasonable, given that truth, that He would then be a man of great power and influence; the Messiah king that Israel was waiting for.
But He was willing to identify Himself as the lowest member of society, a shepherd, so that people could dare to know Him, to come to Him, to trust Him. Had He displayed His power and majesty as He could have, they may have given their full allegiance to Him, but they would not have been able to come with their broken hearts and sinful lives to receive His forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace.
Now, as then, we are often far too broken to approach a king. He is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but He gives Himself to us as our shepherd. He invites us to come to Him and place ourselves under His guardianship. He watches over our every need, knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and still comes after us when we wander. He never sleeps or takes a day off. He is never surprised by what we encounter, but is faithful to lead us through if we will follow. He will teach us to follow Him, sometimes sternly, but always with greatest care. We need never worry, for He holds everything in His hands.
We can bring our broken, sinful, hurting lives to His tender care. He knows the struggles we face. He knows the fear that runs deep on our worst days. He knows the false front we project to make a good impression and find acceptance. He knows that nothing on this earth will ever satisfy us and make us whole, no matter how hard we chase that goal. He, alone, is able to make us new and be the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. In that relationship we find that we know His voice and His care for us is individual and personal.
We may be the ornery, the smelly, the often stupid sheep, but we have a Shepherd who loves us and has already laid down His life for us. He will forgive us, cleanse us, give us new hearts, and fill us with Himself as we submit to His leading and follow Him.
Psalm 23; John 10:1-18; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 John 1:9; Ephesians 3:14-19