“The God of peace…brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20). The eternal Son of God is given many titles throughout the Bible, but the one that gives us great assurance is that He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. As shepherd, He is the bishop, or overseer, of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). His great love moves Him to guide us through to our eternal home.
In Ezekiel 34:11-16, God’s love for His people shines forth as He promises more than ten times that He will fully provide for them. He promises to search them out, bring them back, feed them, and cause them to lie down. Furthermore, He will bind up and strengthen the sick. Although His people let Him down at times, He continues to search out the gold among the dross and to fan the glowing embers back to life. That is the Great Shepherd we serve.
David knew God as the Shepherd. In addition to the beloved Shepherd Psalm, he prayed, “O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth” (Ps. 80:1). Jesus revealed that “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). We have become so used to these terms that we may have lost the marvel of them.
Think of the infinite, all-powerful Creator. Having made this marvelous universe, He put man, a minute speck, in it to dress it, enjoy it, and thereby to worship Him. Then when man fell, God would have been fully justified to destroy him. The plan was for His creation to worship, love, and serve Him out of free will. But man chose to rebel and serve himself.
Rather than reject and abandon His fallen creation, God, through His only begotten Son and with great patience and mercy, served His fallen children by making the ultimate sacrifice of death on the cross to atone for their rebellion. Then through the ages, He has beckoned, revived, forgiven, and received any who would return to Him. Those who returned, He taught, strengthened, and, in every way, nurtured to the degree they would allow Him to do so. What a loving God! What a Shepherd!
Jesus astonished His followers by saying, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:43-44). He bent down to wash their feet and, in many other ways, demonstrated just what He meant by the words, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Peter said that Jesus left us an example “that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). His example shows what pure love will do. Godly love is synonymous with humility. When love fills our hearts, selfishness changes to service. Resentment, defensiveness, and offense are replaced by forgiveness and acceptance of others’ weaknesses. Instead of being critical of the erring, those who are filled with a shepherd’s love will long for their improvement.
These virtues were missing in the shepherds of Israel that God rebuked through Ezekiel. In the first ten verses of the same chapter 34 of his book, the prophet pitifully laments and reproves the shepherds of Israel. They were living selfishly, feeding themselves and not the flock. His people so sorely needed teachers who would show them the ways of truth. Ruin loomed, the shepherds indulged themselves, and God grieved.
A true shepherd loves the truth. He loves Jesus, who is the way, truth, and life. He has experienced that truth sets him free, and he cannot betray it. Out of this faith, the shepherd will teach the undiluted truth. Because he believes that truth will set men free, he will risk himself. He is willing to admonish in the Gospel way. Popularity and goodwill are laid on the line in favor of speaking the truth for the eternal good of those in need. Love of truth gives wisdom to take the long look, surrendering present ease and the temptation to neglect for the hope of improvement.
One of the Christian worker’s perils is to take possession of the truth. Because he fervently believes in it, he no longer sees himself as only a caretaker and servant of God and His sheep. Instead, he begins to press others to conform to his own pattern. Rather than directing the erring and weak to the great Shepherd of the sheep, he can become jealous that they do not do as he does. In a sense, he makes the sheep his own. This happens when one thinks too highly of his own understanding and abilities. He loses his sense of dependence on the Lord, and, in effect, he loses faith in God’s ability to care for His sheep. Only the great Shepherd of the sheep can satisfy the cry of the soul. When an undershepherd usurps His place, the sheep are not satisfied and will begin to resist and flee. We are only laborers together with God, but God is the owner of the sheep.
May we all be humble servants of the Great Shepherd. But even if we fail at times, He will not fail. Every sincere believer can know that he will never be abandoned in the wilderness of this world. We are secure in His care. “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick” (Ezek. 34:15-16).
Messenger of Truth, 2017, No. 15