Disturbing Facts About Sheep
“The sheep of his pasture” is how we are described in verse 3 of Psalm 100. I don’t like thinking of myself as a sheep. I doubt you do either. But it’s a common description of God’s people in scripture. Jesus often referred to himself as the shepherd and his disciples as the sheep. So, like it or not, we need to own up to it.
I’ve done a little research on sheep. Let me share with you what I’ve learned, and I’d like to start with a story.
A group of shepherds in Eastern Turkey was busy with breakfast one morning when 1500 of the sheep they tended walked off a cliff. They were following the lead sheep — oh yes, there are such things as lead sheep, or mutton-heads, as I like to call them, in both the animal and human worlds.
In fact, if you click on this link, you can see what these lead sheep can be like. I’ve encountered a few of these in my thirty-six years as a pastor or under-shepherd if you will.
Sheep need to be led, and they need to be led by good shepherds, and, of course, ultimately The Good Shepherd. Jesus lamented the lost sheep, who he described as “sheep without a shepherd.”
Sheep are wanderers. It’s their nature. Even in the best and safest of places, places that provide protection, water, and food, sheep are known to wander off, get lost, and sometimes eaten by predators.
And that’s another thing about sheep. Sheep are defenseless. Most domesticated animals have ways of defending themselves. The kick of a cow, horse, or mule can do real damage to predators. Have you ever been hissed at by a possum or perhaps a cat? That hiss along with those little claws is no laughing matter. But all sheep can do is sound forth a loud, “baaaa.” Pretty pitiful.
I was watching a documentary on one of the great heavy-weight boxers a few years ago. I can’t remember who it was, maybe Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Anyway whoever it was, he had grown up in a rough neighborhood. When he learned how to fight, he began to gain a confidence he’d never had. But his coach warned him that guns beat fists every time.
1 Peter 5:8 warns us saying, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” None of us stand a chance against the wiles and schemes of our enemy, the devil. The more aware of this we become, the less we will wander, and the safer we will be.
There are two other facts about sheep I want to share, and I’ve put them together: sheep are stubborn and sheep are smelly. That’s another way of saying they aren’t the most pleasant of creatures to be around. I’ve said it often, and I’ll continue to say it — the best thing about church is relationships, and the hardest thing about church is relationships. The same is true of life. Few, if any of us, are easy to be around. The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is just another way of saying that the closer we get to others, the more challenges we will face in our relationships.
All these facts point to our need for The Good Shepherd. In spite of the wandering, defenseless, stubborn, smelly things we are, Jesus embraced us all through his cross. He died because of us, and he died for us.
The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)