My husband is a recently retired pastor and we’ve been visiting different churches in our area. This past Sunday, at the church we attended, the readings, sermon and hymns all had to do with Jesus as our shepherd. I’ve always liked this image, and it’s probably the one that most influences the way I visualize and experience God “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” was the sermon hymn for the day. It’s based on the 23rd Psalm and it first appeared in print in the Scottish Psalter of 1650. I hadn’t heard it for a while, and I enjoyed singing it. Listen, and sing along if you like!
“I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold, my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way.”
When my children were teenagers, they were highly annoyed that I always wanted to know where they were, who they were with and what they were doing. I remember once our daughter, Kate, stayed after school for a club meeting without telling us. When she didn’t come home on the bus, I called the school; when there was no answer at the office, my husband drove there. Her name was announced over the intercom and she came to the office, embarrassed and irate. “Where did you think I would be?” she asked. “Well” we told her, “possibly abducted by a serial killer?” We explained that although in that moment she found our concern irritating, it also assured her that if she had car trouble, got lost or truly was abducted, her parents would not waste any time — we would be out looking for her and trying to make sure she was safe. Now, having become a mother herself, she understands.
Part of the Good News is that we all have a parent like that. Jesus is our good shepherd and here’s what He tells us in one of the Parables:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shouldersand goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7
Maybe you feel you’ve strayed too far; maybe you’re so lost you’re afraid you can’t find your way home; maybe you think nobody cares. That’s not true. No matter where you are, now matter what you’ve done, the Good Shepherd cares and He’s out looking for you. He loves you and so do I!
Years ago my husband gave a Via de Cristo retreat talk entitled Study. He spoke about the many ways we study without even realizing it, and one of those ways is through art. He said that when he was a boy there was a huge painting of Christ, the King on the church wall behind the altar. He gazed at that picture week after week during worship and it’s now deeply engrained in his mind. It has influenced the way he sees and thinks about Jesus.
I realized that he was not the only one to have that experience. My childhood church had the same sort of design, but the picture I saw every week was Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In it, Jesus carries a lamb, and there are other sheep around Him. I have come to believe this is why, for me, the image of the Good Shepherd has deeply colored my experience and understanding of Christ. When I imagine myself meeting Jesus, this is the image that comes to my mind.
Christ the King depicts Jesus in His glory, surrounded by clouds, a crown on His head, with upraised arms. This is Jesus as God. As the Good Shepherd, Christ appears to be very gentle and approachable. This is Jesus the man. One emphasizes power and holiness, the other love and compassion. Both are equally valid and parts of the same person, but each can influence our emotions and understanding of Jesus.
So, I’m interested. Readers and authors, what is your dominant image of our Lord? Is there a picture in your mind? Where does it come from?
This little book is considered something of a classic. I read it as a morning devotional for a while, one chapter at a time. In it, Keller relates his own experiences as a shepherd to the concepts in the 23rd Psalm. Many of us have grown up far from a farming or ranching life and know very little about animals, their habits, and what owners do to keep their flock or herd healthy. Original readers and hearers of this psalm would have had a wealth of background information that modern Christians have lost. For example, did you know:
Sheep are timid and easily frightened into stampeding by the smallest of animals (for example a jackrabbit jumping into their midst); they are also disturbed by infighting among the flock — nothing quiets down these anxieties and tensions down as much as the presence of the shepherd among them.
It is not unusual for a sheep to accidentally become turned over on its’ back and be unable to get up by itself. The old English term for this is “cast” or “cast down.” A “cast” sheep is helpless and dependent upon the shepherd to find and restore it.
When sheep are left to themselves they will destroy their grazing fields. They stay in the same location, follow the same paths, overgraze and pollute the area until it is ruined. They require the attention of a good shepherd to move the sheep continually so that they and they and the land are preserved.
Sheep are troubled by flies, gnats and other parasites during the summer months. To alleviate their discomfort, the shepherd will apply a remedy including linseed oil to their heads–he anoints them.
Throughout the book, Keller parallels our lives with God and the life of the sheep with a good shepherd. He says:
“… it is not mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep. Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.”
“When all is said and done the welfare of any flock is entirely dependent upon the management afforded them by their owner.”
VERDICT: 5 stars. I think most Christians will enjoy this book and develop a deeper insight into a Psalm we repeat so often that we seldom stop to meditate on the deeper meaning.