The relationship of Shepherd and sheep is one of the great pictures of God's care for us. It runs almost all the way through the Bible. Think of David watching the sheep and then writing Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd." Psalm 80 starts out "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel" and Psalm 100 celebrates that "we are His people and the sheep of His pasture."
The prophets also talk this way: Isaiah 40:11 says, "He will tend His flock like a shepherd ..." and Ezekiel 34 is all about God being the shepherd of His people. "I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. ... and gather them from the countries, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, ... I will feed them with good pasture ..." (Ezekiel 34:11-31) There are a lot more verses like this.
All through the Old Testament God claimed the right to care for and watch over His people like a shepherd watches over his sheep. It's a beautiful image. But there are hints of something else.
Sheep are not only cared for. They are also used for sacrifice. This is the other theme about sheep in the Old Testament. The two interweave one another and play off each other. It's kind of like a beautiful symphony, where you hear one theme in the music played over and over with variations. And then a second theme begins to play, just a few notes at first and then clearer and clearer, until it becomes all that the music is about.
So Abraham goes up the mountain with his son Isaac. And when Isaac asks about the sacrifice, Abraham says, "the Lord will provide the lamb for the sacrifice." (Genesis 22:8) God sends Moses to Egypt, and tells the Israelites, the night before the Exodus they are to sacrifice and eat the Passover Lamb, marking their doors with the blood of the lamb. (Exodus 12:1-23) Later Isaiah prophesies "like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) These are the hints and pictures of what was coming.
In the Old Testament God talks as clearly as He can about Himself being the Shepherd and we His sheep. From the Old Testament you hear the theme of the Lamb, but it does not come into clear focus until the New Testament. The story of salvation was waiting for John the Baptist to stand by the Jordan River and point at Jesus and say, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
It is fascinating how the Shepherd and Sheep themes blend and interplay. The Shepherd watches over His sheep. And He is going to be with the sheep. But what a way for the Shepherd to be with the sheep! He is Immanuel (God with us). He (the Word) "became flesh and dwelt among us". (John 1:14) And He promises to be with us to the end of the age.
He came to be with us. What Jesus meant by being "with us" is amazing:
- to share our flesh;
- to share our suffering;
- to share our need to walk by faith;
- to share our sin and condemnation;
- and even our death.
The Shepherd has become one of us. And not only one of us. He became the One standing in our place - "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) "The Shepherd" has become "The Lamb."
Like the theme in a symphony that starts out quietly and grows more and more powerful; the theme of Jesus the Lamb of God becomes the entire song by the end of the New Testament. While Jesus is called "the Lamb" four times in the rest of the New Testament; the book of Revelation calls Jesus "the Lamb" 28 times. What better theme to have as the theme for the song of eternity?
Lord Jesus, thank You for being my Shepherd and watching over my soul, teaching me the Gospel so I can have salvation in You. Thank You especially for being the only shepherd ever who became the Lamb, so that You could carry my sin and bring Your eternity to me. Amen.