Sheep of Christ

Sheep of Christ

If you're like me, you know almost nothing about sheep. You may have stroked one at a petting zoo or State Fair, but aside from your cable-knit sweater from L.L. Bean, you and sheep don't have much in common. The closest I've come to sheep is a card game called sheepshead, a favorite with my Milwaukee golf friends.

A Sheep Wool Sweater

Yet, the Bible has a habit of calling followers of God, sheep. Why?

I've been rereading the classic, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller. As a man who shepherded sheep for many years, Keller provides unique perspective on the parallels between sheep and followers of Jesus. Here are a few things about sheep I didn't know:

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
  • Since sheep require meticulous attention and care, they must be owned by a Shepherd. They cannot survive on their own.
  • And since they're owned, they must be earmarked. A painful identity-marker is carved into their ears, as branding-proof they belong to a particular shepherd.  (Exodus 21:5-6)
  • The welfare of sheep is completely dependent upon the Shepherd, not the sheep.
  • Sheep follow the crowd, mindlessly.
I was walking up this trail to check out some of the views around the town of Putre, Chile, and was surprised to find a big herd of sheep coming at me. So I sat by the side of the trail and waited for them to pass, and took a few pictures in the process.
Following The Crowd
  • Sheep are timid and easily frightened.
  • Sheep can be stubborn and stupid.
  • Sheep won't settle down without four freedoms – Freedom from fear. Freedom from flock tension. Freedom from pests. Freedom from hunger.
  • Sheep have no means of self-defense and are therefore reassured by the Shepherd's presence.
  • Sheep compete for higher status in the flock through butting competitions – though they'll stop in the presence of their Shepherd.
  • The smallest flies unhinge them.
Pests Aggravate Sheep
  • Sheep can survive for months on the early dew on the grass – if they feed on it (like God's Word).
  • Sheep can be cast down – rolling over on their backs – like a turtle that can't right itself. If a sheep remains on its back too long, it's easy prey for predators.
  • A Shepherd will spend hours searching for one lost sheep. Without his effort, a lost sheep is doomed.
  • When sheep grow too much wool (possessions), they're likely to recline and tip over into a cast state.
Too Much Wool
  • Though being sheared is painful and uncomfortable, it produces great freedom and joy afterward.
  • Sheep must remain on the move – to new trails and pastures – or they'll over-graze a field and ruin its long term sustenance.
  • Sheep travel through valleys. Why? Because valleys (carved by streams) provide water, lush grass, and the safest route up mountains.
  • In dark valleys, sheep draw strength from the Shepherd's presence.
  • Sometimes a Shepherd lays his staff upon a sheep as they walk jointly on their journey.

I'm sure, if you're like me, you see parallels between sheep and yourself.  For example, do I follow the crowd? Do I butt heads with others to improve my status in my community? Do I accumulate too much "wool," endangering myself? Am I reluctant to stay on the move with my Shepherd, preferring the comfort of the known? Do I regularly wander off, seeking life away from my Shepherd?

Beyond these parallels, the Scriptures are replete with comparisons of Christians to sheep:

Flock of Sheep Southland New Zealand
  1. "Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." (Psalm 100:3)
  2. "All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)
  3. "I have strayed like a lost sheep..." (Ps 119:176)
  4. "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:25)
  5. "When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)
  6. "The sheep listen to the [Shepherd's] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ... he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3-4)
  7. "I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ... I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd." (John 10:14-16)

Finally, it's significant that the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, actually became a sheep at the most critical moment in history. While remaining fully Shepherd, he became a sheep when sacrificed on the cross for our sin.

Stained glass sheep
"I saw a Lamb as though slain, standing in the center of the throne ..." Revelation 5:6
  • "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," said John the Baptist. (John 1:29)
  • "He was led like a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7)
  • "...Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:7)
  • "You were redeemed ... with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:19)
  • "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5:12)

The Shepherd became the Sheep – the Lamb sacrificed in our place. What a Savior!