This past spring when the sheep had their young, I noticed an infant sheep had gotten itself outside a fence of a field not far from our home. It was small enough with wobbly legs so I probably could have caught it quickly and placed it back over the fence. Since I was running late for a morning appointment, to my shame I chose to keep driving. I left the lamb there lost and confused. The rationalizing came quickly: I could get bit, these clothes will get filthy, I’m going to be really late.
Ironically, that morning, I was headed in to church for a meeting with some of “the 99.” In retrospect, I’m confident they would’ve been very understanding that “their shepherd went out to rescue the one.” It might’ve provided a unique teachable moment. Can I rewind this clock?
As I’ve reflected on my often unwilling heart, it has provided a timely pause for me as a pastor. Here is this opportunity presenting itself for a deeper compassion for people who, unlike sheep, possess an eternal soul. Yet the busyness of life and a myriad of ministry tasks for pastoral shepherds easily crowds out the real calling to care for people. I, and my fellow pastors, could benefit from periodic reflection on what it is that we’re called to do. And, in that reflection consider Jesus. This calling is more than to maintain nice looking church buildings and deliver polished sermons.
Instead of morbid introspection on our failures, we should reflect more often on how good Jesus is. There is no one like our good Shepherd Jesus. Yet, there is something more redemptive in what might’ve been lost in morbid introspection. To me, the good shepherd Jesus stands out as being more glorious. There is no one like him. He stands alone in his class. No other leader in the religious realm throughout history even comes close. For one, he is God. He alone can save. And, he is consummately loving.
These refreshed thoughts about Jesus have also given new dimension to sermons I’ve been doing lately in the Gospel of John. I’m more enamored of him and grateful. Jesus says in chapter 10:14-15: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus the good shepherd did not serve based upon personal convenience. There was no limit to what he did. Jesus willingly gave his very life on the cross to pay a debt for sin he did not owe. What sacrificial love!
Seeing how different Jesus’ giving heart is, contrasted to my too often narcissistic one, calls me up to both worship him and to emulate him. He leaves the 99 and goes out in search of the one. Point of fact: I was that one outside the fence, lost, endangered, fearful and confused. And, he had compassion.
The familiar but powerful twenty-third Psalm encourages us: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.…
Thank you, Lord, for this unfolding lesson in my life. In your sovereign grace, you use everything—even our negligence and sin—to further your redemptive mission in us and, by your unfathomable generosity, through us. Good shepherd, make our hearts like yours.
Curt Mudgett is the pastor Cedar Creek Church.