It is a pleasant sight when you are on a hill, and into plain view comes a small flock of grazing sheep with their playful and carefree lambs gambolling beside their mother with not a care in the world. Sheep are not the wisest animals, and you could say they are stupid. They get lost easily if the fence has a gap. They get into danger when they stray beyond safe limits. They are easy prey to wild dogs, and humans with slaughter on their minds. Left to their own devices, sheep and lambs will wander in complete trust of their safety, and without knowing where they are going or if great danger is lurking nearby. They don’t know who to trust, or who will look after them.
Their safety is provided by the care and welfare of the shepherd. Their shepherd. The relationship is special and unique, so much so that in some eastern countries the shepherd will lead their flock, instead of driving them from behind with a dog. The comparison of the leading Shepherd of the sheep, to the local Pastor in your church is as obvious as it is important, after all it is no coincidence that the root meaning of the word ‘Pastor’ is ‘Shepherd’.
When we read the old favourite Psalm 23 in this light, we find that:
> The sheep and lambs are never in need while their Pastor is leading.
> The Pastor always takes his flock where the feeding is good.
> The Pastor always keeps his lambs on the safe paths, no matter how dark.
> The Pastor will not hesitate to protect his flock against any animal that could do harm.
> The Good Shepherd shows the end of our earthly journey, where we are loved, anointed, given an overflowing cup, seated at a well prepared table where we will be for eternity.
Are all earthly Shepherds good? Sadly no, but we are warned about them so that we, His sheep and lambs, could recognise the ones that would harm us. Jesus forewarned and forearmed his disciples with these words in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” The message is clear. Bad shepherds are dressed up to look like the good ones, but their hearts are deceptively cruel. The worst thing for my part, is that they know what they are doing. Deep down, they know fully. That’s why Jesus warned the disciples then, and He warns us again today, so that we can tell the difference and only follow the Good Shepherd. We must take care as we choose, after all Jesus tells us that the false shepherd will look and sound convincing. Don’t we love the Psalm beginning, “The Lord is MY Shepherd?” That says it all!