It is important to follow after the right shepherd.
The shepherds we choose to follow will have a huge impact on the quality of life we might or might not enjoy. In addition, when we find ourselves in our own position of influence or instruction for another, it is vital that we do our best to be a good shepherd for them.
While there is only one truly Good Shepherd, we often find ourselves with the responsibility to be in that role for someone else. It may be in raising up a child, teaching someone to read, helping a friend to get clean and sober, or assisting someone in acquiring the job skills they need to enjoy a better, more fulfilling life.
The priests of Judah and Israel in the days of the kings had a very poor track record in helping people to follow after the Lord. Their primary job was to help lead their “flocks” towards God and away from false gods and idols, but their immoral actions only caused the opposite to happen. The result was a violent and hurtful society, hardened against God and each other. Both the priests and their sheep were more and more resistant to pleas to repent from the prophets the Lord kept sending them. Ultimately, for their own preservation, God was forced to take drastic action. Using Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, as an instrument of judgement, He removed them from their land before it was too late. This provided a dramatic awakening for the exiles, who were then able to finally recognize the error of their ways and to make significant adjustments in their lives.
God had a special message for the spiritual leaders, delivered through their perceived opponent, the prophet Jeremiah.
1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 23:1-4 NIV
The people of Judah and Israel who had been uprooted and taken into exile were preserved, so as to be returned later into their good land. They would then then be instructed and guided by good shepherds, spiritual leaders who would help them to succeed, not fail, in fulfilling the holy mission given to them by God.
Centuries later, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, came to earth from heaven, being born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. As an adult, He clearly identified who He was and what He came to do for His people, Israel, and for the entire world.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:11-12, 14 NIV
Jesus would indeed lay down His life on the cross for all His sheep, those throughout the world who would follow after Him when He calls their name. He calls to us in many different ways, often through the spoken or written word in combination with some other surrounding circumstance, or perhaps even through a miraculous message, dream, or vision. If our heart is open and tender towards God, we will hear His call when it comes, and will respond positively to His expression of love for us.
Jesus wants all of His sheep to be safe in His presence. He confirmed this when telling the parable of the Lost Sheep.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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. Luke 15:3-7 NIV
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, always watching over each and every one of us with love and desiring us to draw closer to Him. This is always for our own good. He is right there with us, whether we are currently enjoying the good blessings of life or suffering through a time of great trial. He is even there if we are going through our own season of exile, perhaps incarcerated, or being punished in some other way due to poor choices we have made in the past. As long as we have the breath of life, it is never too late to turn to Him. He will bring healing and will never leave us nor forsake us if we do.
Which shepherds are you following after today? Would both you and God classify them as good?
Good Shepherd Jesus, lead me in paths of righteousness and deliverance today. Be my Great Physician and the Healer of my body and my soul. Show me the way to live a better life that bears much spiritual fruit for You and Your kingdom. In Your name we pray, Amen.