“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10: 14,15
What distinguishes a Christian from other people? And we all have our own picture of what the Christian should look like in our minds. The picture that relates best to me is that described by the Apostle John. In the tenth chapter of his Gospel he paints a pastoral picture, a sheepfold with a gate. He talks about the shepherd, about sheep, thieves, robbers and the gatekeeper. Here then, are the first two verses,
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” – John 10:1,2 NIV.
It is a simple picture, a pastoral scene – the picture of a rather quiet countryside, a low fence yet high enough so that the sheep cannot get over it. The time of day . . .? Let’s say early in the morning, sunrise! Somewhere along the enclosure is a lamb, a gate, lots of sheep and a shepherd keeping watch over his sheep. But wait a minute. There is someone in the shadows. What’s he doing there? John clearly states that he is not an innocent by-stander but a thief and a robber. Look at the picture again. Can you see yourself there? No? Do you remember Psalm 23? Of course, it says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Metaphorically then, you and I are represented in one of the sheep in the picture. Christians are sheep under the loving care of Jesus our Shepherd. How can any Christian forget Psalm 23 or John 3:16! It is about the Shepherd and His love for His sheep – us Christians! David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul . . .”
In sheep’s clothing:
The use of the word soul in “he refreshes my soul” is a direct reference to the creation of man not sheep “ . . . the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7 NIV. The King James Bible says, “and the man became a living soul.” Here’s what Watchman Nee has to say about the soul. “Man is composed of two independent kinds of material: spirit and body. When the spirit entered the body of dust the soul was produced.” So there are two elements in Man, the physical and the spiritual. So, when the Shepherd leads you to green pastures beside the quiet waters He meets all your physical needs. He meets your spiritual needs when he refreshes your soul. “The Lord is my Shepherd,” is a hymn King David wrote for his God but it has inspired Christians in all generations. Among them was Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836 – 1887) the daughter of a Church of Scotland parish minister who served at Crimond in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She composed “Crimond” the tune to David’s Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd”. It is a great picture of Psalm 23 painted not with the colors from the painter’s brush but sounds from the voice and musical instruments.
As I write about “The Lord is my Shepherd,” Handel’s alto airs from Handel’s great work the “Messiah” simply keep sneaking into my mind. It was Charles Jennens who assembled the scriptures from the Bible for Handel’s great oratorio, the “Messiah.” One of the most beautiful airs (songs) in the oratorio explains the picture in David’s Psalm 23. Handel brought in the two lovely airs sung by an alto and a soprano voice (unless of course you were Barbara Bonney who took on both airs singlehandedly). For me the words from prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist, when placed side-by-side, or together present to us a great picture of our Shepherd. Here are the words of Isaiah followed by the words of the apostle Matthew:
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11 KJV
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Matt 11:28,29 KJV.
Whether it is John 10 or Psalm 23 or Isaiah 40, it is all about the Good Shepherd who makes us to lie down in green pastures who leads us beside quiet waters, who restores our soul, who feed us like a shepherd, who gather us with his arm, and carry us in his bosom and ye shall find rest unto your souls. What beautiful expressions of God’s tender and loving care for us – always keeping watch over us His sheep.
Here’s another curious thought! Jennens not only chose the words from the Isaiah 40 but also inserted Isaiah 35 in his recitative that introduced the two alto airs (songs) – “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. “ – Isaiah 35:5,6.
Here’s an interesting question, “What has the words, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened . . .” in the recitative to do with, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd . . .” in the two arias or airs following? Remember that we started this exhortation with John 10 and it was about the Good Shepherd. It’s like asking what has John 9 to do with John 10. You see John 9 is about a man born blind. He received healing from Jesus. The apostle John writes, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.” – John 9:32 NIV. The following chapter, John 10 is about something else. It is about “The Good Shepherd.” There seems to be a serious disconnect. This is the exact same sequence adopted by Handel-Jennings. His recitative is about the blind made to see – “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened . . .” (as in Isaiah 35) is followed by the Shepherd – – “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd . . .” (as in Isaiah 40). So, is there a connection between the blind and the shepherd?
Let us return to John 9. Jesus heard that they had thrown him (the blind man) out. But Jesus found him. The Good Shepherd found the blind man. The blind man would never have recognized Jesus because he could not see the man who had healed him before he received his sight from Jesus. But then Jesus took the trouble to look for him as a shepherd would look for his lost sheep. Then, he (Jesus) said (to the blind man), “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The blind man could not recognize Jesus by sight. But the blind man recognized Jesus’ voice, ‘My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’ – John 10:27 NIV. Here is that conversation between the man born blind and Jesus:
36 “Who is he (the Son of Man, the Healer), sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. – John 9:35-38 NIV.
Question, “Who is He?” “Do you recognize your Shepherd so that you may believe in Him? King David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He is the one who brings healing, who restores your soul, and guides you along the right paths for His name’s sake. He is the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13,14), the one given dominion and glory and a kingdom. He is the son of David (Matt 21:9), the fulfillment of the prophecy of the seed of David, the son of God (Psalm 2:7), the promised Messiah. That’s who He is. Praise the Lord God Almighty!