Caring for His Lambs
- Tell how the good shepherd loved and cared for his sheep.
- Trust that Jesus, our good shepherd, loves and cares for us.
- Praise and thank Jesus for being our good shepherd.
What better way to end this year, and this segment of Dwell, than with this picture of Jesus as the good shepherd who cares for his lambs. In this lesson we bring together two ways in which Jesus spoke of himself as the shepherd. The first is in the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.
Luke provides the crucial background for the unforgettable parables of chapter 15. The Jewish leaders were upset that Jesus was spending time with sinners and religious outcasts. Jewish religion in Jesus' day was all about religious purity and keeping the law of Moses. Hanging around with obvious sinners might sully one's own commitment (see Psalm 1) and give the sinners the idea they were okay after all. So stay away; keep pure!
In this simple story Jesus makes an analogy between shepherding and himself. That in itself is surprising, since shepherds were considered rough and tough outsiders even in that society. Jesus was saying, "Watch the shepherd in this story, and you'll begin to understand why I hang around with sinners."
In Jesus' day, one hundred sheep were actually quite a large flock. They likely were the joint flock of several neighbors who took turns tending the sheep. This, perhaps, makes it even clearer why the shepherd is so concerned. These sheep aren't just his own, but also his neighbors'. They belong to the community.
Still, it seems strange that the shepherd would leave the 99 out there, vulnerable "in the open country," to go after the lost one. Perhaps he got another shepherd to fill in while he was gone. But that shouldn't sidetrack us. The main point is that the lost sheep becomes the shepherd's passionate focus.
And finding the lost sheep prompts a celebration in the village, especially understandable remembering the communal nature of caring for such a large flock.
In this case (but not always), Jesus makes the analogy of the story starkly clear: "In the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
Ouch! What did that sound like to these religious leaders complaining about Jesus hanging around with sinners?
As we turn to the gospel of John, we find ourselves in different territory. In this gospel Jesus doesn't tell a story about shepherding. Rather, he tells us that he is the good shepherd. And then he points to several ways in which this analogy is true of him. For one thing, like the shepherds of that day, he knows his sheep individually, by name; the sheep also know his voice and follow when they hear it. There's an intimate relationship, a deep identification between Jesus and his lambs. In fact, it's so deep and personal that Jesus likens it to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Most important, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Though in the parable Jesus spares no effort to find the lost, here he lays down his life on their behalf. Our deepest comfort is that Jesus has laid down his life for us---there is indeed "no greater love" than this (John 15:13).
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