When I was a kid—I loved watching nature shows—videos of the plains of Africa—particularly when it came to the Hunt—a pride of lions attacking a herd—a crocodile sneaking up on a zebra—it’s amazing the different ways that predators capture their prey. Some of them lie in wait and just ambush—some of them have a lure that draws them closer for the strike. Some watch and wait—pick the weakest, the youngest, the oldest, the boldest—the one who wanders out just a little to far from everyone else. Some just start chasing—running down the prey until they are so exhausted they can’t fight back or escape. Some predators work alone, some work in teams. There are so many different kinds of predators and different kinds of tactics—all with the same goal—capturing, killing and consuming the prey.
I’m always amazed at the herdsmen who operate around such predators.
The Life of a Shepherd is so often glamorized and softened.
Tending, Feeding, Guiding, Protecting
But there are many times when it is more like what David described to Saul before facing Goliath
1 Samuel 17:34-36a
“And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered [it] out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught [him] by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear:”
Those moments of facing down the lion and bear—knowing that God was with him and had his back—it was in those moments that David knew he could defeat Goliath.
So a predator like a lion is an enemy of the shepherd.
Then I turned to 1 Peter 5—Paul is giving instructions to the elders of the church to “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.—NIV” He then says in vs. 4—“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
It makes sense then that in v. 8—Peter brings up the subject of a lion. 1 Peter 5:8—“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
From that line of thinking, my mind went to another familiar story: the Parable of the Lost Sheep—Luke 15:3-7.
Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, `Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Matthew makes the point that the sheep wandered away, but Luke never gives us the reason. I want to focus on that element in the story because I believe it is significant.
I’ve always thought of it in terms of the poor little guy just wandered off and wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly he looks up and realizes that he’s all alone, or maybe he’s fallen down a ledge and can’t get back up. The Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes and lowers His hand or His staff and lifts the sheep to safety and carries the sheep home.
In the artist renditions of this, I’ve seen pictures of a smiling Jesus, casually carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders—looking like he’s having a conversation along the lines of:
“You silly little sheep! What were you thinking wandering off like that?” Kind of like this.
But what if the circumstances of why the sheep is missing is more like David’s experience as a shepherd?
Maybe the reason why the sheep is lost is because a lion or a bear. What if the reason that the sheep is lost is not because it is just wandering around not paying attention but instead because it is carried off by a hungry predator?
Does that change the mental image of this picture? It does for me. A predator was one of the greatest enemies of a shepherd. And once a predator began to see the flock as an easy meal—it would continue to pick them off until it is killed.
When we apply David’s description of the life of a shepherd we realize that to be a Good Shepherd sometimes means, to paraphrase the minister in The Patriot—“Fighting off the wolves”. Thieves will come to steal, kill and destroy. Predators will come and carry off the flock.
Applying that perspective to the story of the lost sheep changes its tone. In this scenario, the Good Shepherd is not just thinking, “the poor little guy has wandered off again” but instead sees signs that the sheep has been attacked and carried off. He picks up his staff and begins to follow the trail of blood, looking for footprints to let him know what He’s dealing with, hoping that He’ll find his sheep in time before the predator kills it.
This is not a casual moment. This is serious. Much like David—the Shepherd has to be ready for a fight—he’s not laughing, not joking around, not taking it easy—he’s running, he’s searching, he’s purposed. The shepherd’s body is charged with adrenaline and is now focusing on the endangered and probably injured sheep. His face is stern and ready for a fight.
Think of the difference in your tension level in regards to your children. Consider how you feel when you child is or was playing outside and when you check, he’s unaccounted for. You step outside, you call his name—you get a little irritated. You may be a little concerned, “where is he” but he’s probably close by—your tension level is a 5 or a 6—it may be higher depending on how many times you told your child not to wander off and disappear.
But then consider what would happen to your irritation, what would happen to your tension level if when you go outside, you see signs of a struggle—you see one of those vans with no windows just turning the corner—you find a ransom note on the porch.
Your tension level jumps up to a 10 real quick—all those irritations and frustrations toward your child that went through your head are quickly out the window.
Time is of the essence. You have to act and you have to act fast if you want to have the best chance of getting them back. There is urgency.
But what if you have 2 other kids in the house? Does it mean that you don’t love them if you jump in your car and start driving after the van? No, you call your neighbor or someone to get them and watch out for them—no one will blame you for going after your child.
That is the kind of urgency that Jesus has in going after the Lost—His children—we have been captured—Colossians 1
Colossians 1:13—“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
Jesus Values Every Sheep—that would be you and me—as well as the people who aren’t here—the undesireables, the ones who make you uncomfortable—He wants them here, hearing the Word—receiving the healing that that our Great Physician can bring.
When We are Missing, Jesus Notices—don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t care whether you are here or not.
Imagine your Youth minister leaving on a mission Trip with 20 leave 19 come back—“but hey, these are teenagers—19 out of 20 isn’t bad”! Would you have a problem with that?
He Searches until He finds—He will do whatever it takes to bring you back into the fold—chase you down, fight off the enemy—make you uncomfortable—wait until you are weakened.
With this perspective--When He finds the sheep, He first has to fight and kill the predator, a daunting task for a single shepherd with a staff and His bare hands—
Jesus Is Willing to Give His Life to Save Yours
He lays down His life for His Sheep—he will take on the worlds greatest predator to bring you home alive. He doesn’t guarantee you won’t be injured, but you’ll be alive.
So now, when I think of this parable and the description of the Good Shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders—I can’t just see it where Jesus has this casual, smiling face—it’s the stern face of someone who has just come out of a fight. There is blood on his hands and there is a dead lion a short distance behind Him.
That doesn’t mean he’s not rejoicing in His heart—it doesn’t mean He is not celebrating—He is rejoicing because He has rescued His sheep from certain death. But it was not easy—it was not a walk in the park—
I hope you realize the great lengths our Shepherd went to, to fight for your freedom and your return to His Flock—at some point—you were that person.
That may be you right now—just because you’ve been here a while, doesn’t mean you aren’t vulnerable to wandering off.
Wandering Off—Satan will help you Wander off--
Just need to sleep
Don’t like the music
Dragged off by the Enemy
Where are you? Do you feel like you have wandered away? Lost and alone, injured? Then Jesus is pursuing after you to bring you home.
Once again, we are rescued from the dominion of darkness by our Shepherd who is also a Warrior
When We’re Together—We’re Safer—Church Attendance—He leaves the 99 together--
Maybe it’s been a long time since you were brought back into the fold—our danger is to be harsh towards the one who has wandered off—towards those who are farther away from the fold—Why is the Shepherd spending so much time with them and not with us?
How Does your enemy the devil seek to isolate you?
If we’ve just casually wandered away—we’re treated differently—it’s more of a discipline issue—than if we are dragged off by a predator.