Just recently, my wife and I were watching a movie, and we witnessed one of those scenes that was difficult to watch – and understand. No, it wasn’t because it was violent or gory – it was because what we saw was just so hard to believe.
The scene was about an incident on a sheep farm. During the night, the shepherd’s unruly sheep dog got into the sheep pen, purposely (and viciously) agitated the sheep, and caused them to panic and break through the bars of their pen. Then, the dog drove the sheep out into the field and toward the edge of the farm. The shepherd awakened at the sound of the disturbance, grabbed his firearm, and raced out to confront what he assumed was some sort of assailant attacking his sheep. Hearing the sheep dog and the sheep (in the distance) he began to run toward the sounds. You could see a look of terror and the shepherd’s face – but, at this point, you did not know why. In the next few moments, the action advanced to the edge of the farm, and you could see the reason for the shepherd’s horror. At the edge of the farm was a huge cliff and a tremendous drop-off. As the shepherd began to hurriedly approach the scene, he could see that the dog was driving the sheep toward the edge of that cliff! The shepherd was utterly helpless to prevent what occurred. One by one, the sheep approached the edge of the cliff and simply ran off – plunging to their deaths, upon the rocks far below. In a matter of mere moments, the shepherd’s entire herd (and his sole source of income) was gone. The shepherd’s emotions were vividly palpable. It was just one of those scenes that caused you to actually feel the depths of the sadness in that man’s heart.
Reflecting on the sheep’s actions, it was my wife that asked the question most of us would ask: “Why would they do that?”
The answer to that question is centered in sheep behavior.
Apparently, sheep have such a penchant for following the crowd, that they will follow their fellow sheep – even to their demise (especially when they feel they are in danger). Because their safety is defined by being in their herd, they live with a herd-mentality. It seems that if their herd is jumping off of a cliff, then they are all going over the cliff! This particular behavior has earned sheep the perceived reputation of being the stupidest creatures on the planet. Some animal experts have said things such as this: “They are an animal so apparently dim-witted that they have become a byword for stupidity and mindlessly following the crowd… They don’t figure things out – even things that should be routine. They find astonishingly stupid ways to injure and kill themselves.”
This is sad. Especially when you witness sheep-stupidity in action (like in the movie).
But it gets sadder still…
Throughout the Bible, God uses “sheep” to describe US. Apparently, when God looks at us, He tends to see… well… sheep. I guess that means that He sees a lot of similarity between us and some of the stupidest creatures He has made.
In a way, this makes perfect sense. People (especially in a “herd” setting) have a propensity for doing some pretty stupid things (whether it is from full-fledged panic; or because of “entertainment” purposes [as people who have lost their minds, while partying with friends, can testify!]). People, in the company of other people, tend to behave stupidly – not unlike sheep.
While people, who behave stupidly, tend to irritate and (often) frustrate us (see all the t-shirts about “stupid” people), God responds much differently. We would think that the Most Intelligent Being would be utterly perturbed with people – looking for the “nearest cliff” to send us all to our death.
But this is not the case at all. The Bible reveals that God looks upon us with compassion and tenderness and concern – even when we are doing our best “sheep” imitation. When Jesus showed up, to walk around among us, He was described like this: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Jesus (Who WAS “God with us”) arrived on the scene, looked upon the mess that we were, and felt nothing but love for us. He came, He saw, and He lovingly reached out to help us.
Why on earth would He do this?
Because the Heart of God is a Good Shepherd’s Heart. It is not His Heart to condemn, or vilify, or ridicule, or reject – His heart is to heal, restore, bind up the broken, and lead those, who will follow Him, to the best that He can offer them (see Psalm 23!). It is like He feels Personally responsible for all of His sheep (even though He certainly knows our true state!). His Shepherd’s Heart just yearns to care for (and meet the needs of) His sheep!
This is why it is said of Him: “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering… He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (from Isaiah 53:4-5)
Why would He do this for us? Because: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Jesus so connected with this whole idea of shepherding (and doing whatever is necessary to help the sheep), that He told us plainly: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) Jesus willingly offered Himself, to bear “the iniquity of us all,” so that we might be rescued from certain death and restored back to the Great Shepherd’s Fold. This is the Bible’s amazing message to each of us.
The story of humanity all comes down to this… Each of us, in our sheep-like stupidity, has turned away from the One Who loves us (with an everlasting and unquenchable love) – and we have all sought to do our own thing, seek our own path, trust in our own abilities and energies. We were all just like sheep heading toward the cliff of our own demise…
But we are never without hope. The Good Shepherd has come. And what He has done, has been done for every one of us “sheep.” IF we will but turn our hearts to the Shepherd, Who waits to draw us up into His loving arms, He has promised to shepherd us in His infinite ability and love…