The difference was ownership.
Keepers of sheep did not always own or love the sheep. If there was no relationship between the attendant and the sheep, something essential was lost. At that point, the keeper became only a hireling—a person doing a job for money.
Sheep may not have been the brightest of God’s creatures but they had immense value to their owners. There were four levels of worth attributed to the sheep owned by a family in Israel:
- They presented a renewable resource—their wool—available regularly without costing the life of the sheep.
- They were in the habit of creating more sheep, thus adding to the wealth of the family.
- The flock provided perfect lambs for worship.
- They were also edible.
All of this added to the value of the flock and the status and influence of the family.
Good help is hard to find.
This old adage was as true in Jesus’ day as it has been through the ages. The keeping of the flocks was a profession, perhaps not at the top of the economic heap, but an important one with no shame attached. Because sheep were important, good shepherds were important. It was inevitable that unworthy men would take their turns at this profession, caring nothing for the sheep or the owner or his family. It was to these scoundrels that Jesus compared the wicked leaders in Jerusalem. It was a metaphor with much still to teach.
The Good Shepherd
Jesus claimed the skilled, compassionate shepherd as the illustration of Messiah, of Himself.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The commitment of the Good Shepherd was without peer. It was not a matter of giving His life for the sheep if necessary. It was necessary and it would happen. Giving His life for the sheep was not a possibility; it was a plan.
The world in which the sheep grazed was a dangerous place. A terrible, hungry wolf ruled the darkness. The hired hand was more afraid of the wolf than the sheep were. He had no courage or skill to defend the flock.
“But a hireling…sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he … does not care about the sheep.”
The Good Shepherd will not only give His life for the sheep, He will shackle and disarm the wolf in the process. The power of His love is greater than the darkness or the terror or the dangers in the world. It is the power of a new life, one given by the Spirit and shared with the sheep. He speaks with a voice instantly recognized by even the least of the sheep.
As Jesus spoke of these things in this beautiful imagery, division arose as some understood and others did not. Some called Him demonic and others deemed Him mad. Believers saw the impossibility of the Good Shepherd being evil.
A Pastor is a Shepherd
Later in John’s Story, Jesus will rededicate a repentant Peter by a repeated call to “Feed My Sheep.” Today we think of pastors as executives or managers or dynamic personalities and these things they may be. Underneath the contemporary duties, a true pastor is a shepherd, an under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd, Jesus. Pastors are important because people are important.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
John 21:15-18 NKJV
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Lord Jesus, I am honored to be a member of the flock in Your care. I know Your voice and I trust Your wisdom and care. I have encountered the wolf for he has planned to have me, to ruin my life. You reveal to me all his devices and protect me with holy armor: A helmet of Salvation, shoes carefully prepared with the Gospel, a breastplate of goodness, and a belt of truth. You arm me with the Sword of the Spirit and shield of faith. In You I have nothing to fear from the wolf, the roaring lion or the lying devil. You are my Shepherd and I am in Your flock! Thank You, Lord.
Words and Music: Paul Rader
1. Fear not, little flock, from the cross to the throne,
From death into life He went for His own;
All power in earth, all power above,
Is given to Him for the flock of His love.
Only believe, only believe;
All things are possible, only believe;
Only believe, only believe;
All things are possible, only believe.
2. Fear not, little flock, He goeth ahead,
Your Shepherd selecteth the path you must tread;
The waters of Marah He’ll sweeten for thee,
He drank all the bitter in Gethsemane.
3. Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,
He enters all rooms, “the doors being shut,”
He never forsakes; He never is gone,
So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.