The Shepherd of the Sheep

The Shepherd of the Sheep

J. Boyd Nicholson

The driver on the footplate, the captain at the nerve centre of the mighty ship, the pilot at the controls of the aircraft, each enjoys a place of honour in the eyes of ordinary folk. Because of the complexity of the mighty machines they control, they earn this place in the respect of those whose safety depends so largely on their skill.

There is also another person who is often a source of wonder to the onlooker. See him as he stands, his restless eyes sweeping the panorama before him; now peering into the dark shadows; now shielding his eyes from the brilliant sunshine. As we look at him, we cannot help but realize that he feels a great responsibility and a deep affection for those in his charge. He is a shepherd, covering his flock with the mantle of ceaseless vigil, listening for the slightest cry of pain or alarm from his beloved sheep.

Let us elevate our thoughts to the right hand of the Majesty on High, to the Blessed Person who fills all Heaven with His glory and beauty, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. How complex are the needs of His flock, how vastly different their experiences, their desires and their capabilities, yet there is not one sheep or lamb that can raise a cry the Shepherd will not hear.

Such a cry as this went up long ago from one who longed for a closer walk with the Shepherd. This one was lonely, her very own flesh and blood had turned against her and in the anguish of her heart she turns for comfort and help to the One whom she loves above all others. Listen to her cry; “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” (Song of Solomon 1:7). In this cry she reveals the character of her love for the Shepherd; it is personal and individual, “… my soul…” It is no fleeting fancy, but a profound affection, the love of the soul, and it is a present affection, “whom my soul loveth.” In her cry she also reveals a knowledge of the character of the Shepherd Himself.

The very fact that she directs her cry as a lonely, needy sheep to Him, reveals that she knew HIS OCCUPATION; He is a shepherd. O weary soul, discouraged, lonely, the butt of unkind words, lift your feeble cry to this One; He is no cruel, angry overlord, but a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd in John 10:11, giving His life for the sheep. He is the Great Shepherd in Heb. 13:20, imparting His life to the sheep. He is the Chief Shepherd in 1 Pet. 5:4, reviewing the life of the sheep.

Furthermore, we see in her cry that she knew HIS POSSESSION. He has, not many flocks, but only one. There are other folds in that flock (John 10:16), but all the sheep of the flock are recognized by the fact that they know Him and they follow Him (John 10:27). How apt we are to forget the blessed truth that, though the wolf has scattered the sheep and they are to be found in many places, since they truly know Him, they are His.

Still more can be seen in her cry; she knew HIS PROVISION for He feeds them. What volumes have been, and could yet be penned on the provision of the Shepherd for His flock. Israel’s shepherd has given us a glimpse of this provision in the sparkling language of Psalm 23. In verse 2 of the Psalm we find the Shepherd supplies proper food, suitable to the nature of the sheep. In verse 5 it is prepared by the Shepherd Himself. What a blessed thought! Moreover, it is not only proper food, well prepared, but the supply is ample. In verse 5 we notice there is plenty of food, it is running over. O the bounty of His provision! Well might the wandering sheep cry out, “Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?”

Yet another characteristic of the Shepherd is intimated by her cry, HIS CONSIDERATION. He makes them to rest. How often in the rush of life when, like the disciples in Mark 6:31, we have hardly time to eat, the Shepherd gently but firmly “maketh” us to lie down. That unexpected illness, that has caused the hot questions to flash to the mind, may be but the gentle consideration of the Shepherd for His sheep who does not seem to have either the opportunity or the sense to rest. So when the sun is high, the heat greatest, and the fever of life at a pitch ,”He maketh… to lie down.”

Not only does she know there is consideration for the sheep, but she knows there is HIS CHOICE LOCATION where His sheep can rest, and this place she wants to find. In Psalm 23:2 we see He has a place of sweetness, the pastures of tender grass for restoration; a place of stillness beside the waters of quietness for meditation; and in Mark 6:31, He has a place of sparseness, a desert place, for separation to Himself from the rush and confusion of life. This is the place where Moses learned the mind of God for Israel (Exod. 3:1), the place where the disciples learned the compassion of Christ for the lost (Mark 6:34), and the place where Paul learned the mind of God for himself (Gal. 1:17). Whatever the need may be, the Shepherd has a place to which His weary sheep can repair:

“There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place, than all beside more sweet,
It is the blood-stained Mercy-seat.”

Not only does she manifest a knowledge of the person and work of her Shepherd, but she recognizes that HE HAS COMPANIONS. Companions? Yet they do not keep Him company. They are under-shepherds, but they do not seem to be subject to His directions. Leaders they are, yet they do not lead her to their Master. They do not follow Him, since to be with them she would have to turn aside, nor are they united, for they have many flocks. Let us be wary of such professed companions, who attract to themselves rather than to the Shepherd.

The poor, needy sheep has raised her plaintive cry; will her Shepherd hear? Indeed He will. Will He heed? Immediately! Ah, how tenderly He thinks of her. Listen to HIS DESCRIPTION OF HER. “O thou fairest among women.” “Can it be,” she may ask, “that He sees some beauty in me, burned black with the sun?” Yea, He sees great beauty in her and calls her the fairest among women. Should not this cause our hearts to well up in gratitude and wonder, that in the eye of our loving Shepherd there is imprinted a beauty upon our souls, a beauty excelling all others, the very beauty of Christ.

He does not only encourage her but He also exhorts her. Hear HIS DIRECTION. “Go… by the footsteps of the flock.” The first part of His direction to her demands action, “Go… go… and keep on going.” No relaxing of spiritual exercise will do, tomorrow’s progress cannot be made by today’s exercise. If “go” demands action, then “by the footsteps of the flock” demands selection of the path. It may be narrow, it may be contrary to reason and nature, but go we must. Then, let us select the path that is well trodden down by the feet of the countless followers of the Shepherd. This is no uncharted route, for the way is measured by the footsteps of the Good Shepherd and by those that have followed Him down through the years. Walking this path, we can sing:

“Sometimes ‘mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, o’er troubled sea, Still ‘tis His hand that leadeth me.”

We could well imagine the narrative now at an end. She has cried, He has heard, heeded, and answered her, and sent her back into the way.

However, in the heart of the Shepherd there is still HIS DESIRE FOR HER; that she should feed her lambs beside the shepherd’s tents. The lambs must be looked after. Yes, but more than that, His desire is to develop in her the shepherd character, so that she will in degree reflect not only His beauty to His own eye, but also His love to those around her until the day when there shall be one fold and one Shepherd.

In view of that day then, let us take heart from this precious scripture, and lift our feeble cry to Him, our Shepherd. Let us forget the eloquence, the phraseology and the refinements of theological expression, and simply cry out our need to Him, like lonely David’s “Help, Lord,” or sinking Peter’s “Lord, save me,” and we may be assured of this:

“His sleepless eye guards over thee,
His listening ear doth hear,
His mighty hand enfolds thee,
Then thou hast nought to fear.”