I love the way Scripture describes the People of God: we are living rocks (1 Peter 2:5)…that explains a lot, a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:22), we are the resurrected body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), we are the branches of the vine that bear fruit (John 15:5ff). These are but a few of the images that describe the relationship between God and His People. Perhaps the most challenging images that describes the People of God is a flock of sheep (John 10:16).
To be called a sheep, is an insult in today’s culture; after all, don’t we strive to be self-sufficient and an independent people? To be called a sheep is countercultural and it is not a very glamorous image to describe the people of God. Sheep are passive and defenseless and will be an easy meal in a proud and self-serving world. To be known as a people of God, we must accept the challenge of being flock of sheep.
The challenge of being a flock of sheep is to relinquish self-sufficiency and become totally dependent upon someone else. Sheep are totally dependent on the care of a shepherd. When the sheep get hungry, the shepherd provides the food. When the sheep are threatened by a predator, the shepherd protects the flock. In fact, the Good Shepherd warned that the wolves would be so close to the flock that they would appear as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). Think of it, the people of God would see the threat up close and personal, but they would also see the Good Shepherd protecting the them from inhalation. The sheep are protected because they are with the Shepherd. The Shepherd calls the sheep and guides them past the valley of the shadow of death and into a pasture where they feel the warmth of the sun and experience a lush green pasture and water. A flock of sheep is a very powerful image because it points beyond self and reveals a Shepherd that is able to protect and nurture life to those under His care.
Like a shepherd he takes care of his flock, He gathers the lambs in his arms. He carries them in his arms. He gently helps the sheep and their lambs (Isaiah 40:11)
When the People of God are described as a flock of sheep it reveals our reality, we are mixed in with other sheep, but we respond to His voice. We may have wondered off, lost our way, and are alone in the valleys and mountaintops, and as a sheep, have no hope without outside intervention. Praise be to God, that the sheep have a shepherd that will search mountain tops and the valley lows calling out to His sheep and He will even lay down His own life for the life of a sheep. The Shepherd does not run away; He stays to be a ransom for the flock to accomplish what had promised in Ezekiel:
I will promise them peace. I will remove the wild animals from the land so that the sheep can live safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods… they will no longer be prey to the nations, and the wild animals will no longer eat them. They will live safely, and no one will frighten them. I will give them a place that is known for its good crops. They will no longer experience hunger in the land, and they will no longer suffer the insults of other nations. Then they will know that I, The One Who Is their Most Powerful God, am with them and that they, the people of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. You, my sheep, are the sheep in my pasture. You are mortal, and I am your Most Powerful God, declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 34:25, 28-31).
The book of Revelation captures this image, the shepherd became like a lamb and was slain. He is seated on the throne of heaven, “the lamb who looked like he had been slaughtered” (Revelation 5:6) and every creature on heaven and on earth will sing a song “To the one who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise, honor, glory, and power forever and ever.” The flock will sing because God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). May we always be a flock of sheep in relationship to a Good Shepherd.