“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
Most of us did not grow up on a farm and have little to no experience with sheep and shepherds. And yet, the thought that God in Christ is our Great Shepherd brings wondrous comfort and hope in this life. We can relate to the helpless sheep, wholly reliant upon the care and leading of the shepherd. And we understand what it means to say, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”
Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Thus, the only way to understand God as shepherd in the Old Testament is to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is indeed a good Shepherd. He tends his flock — he cares for it, watches over it and protects it. He gathers the little lambs in his strong, loving arms and carries them close to his heart. And even when he leads us, he does so gently, not forcefully or aggressively. He is a gentle, tender, loving Shepherd who laid down his life for us, his sheep.
So God reveals himself to Isaiah as one “like a shepherd.” Again, we love the imagery of being gathered in his arms, carried in his bosom, and his gently leading us. But God would reveal an even starker image about us as sheep and God as our Shepherd. In Isaiah 53 we read:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
This is the image Jesus has in mind when he tells us he is the good shepherd, for he will lay down his life for the sheep. Yes, we are sheep, but we are straying sheep who are in need of a gentle shepherd to lead us back home. We have turned to our own ways; we have done things our way, disregarded God’s counsel, and even told God we didn’t want him in our lives anymore. But this shepherd not only tends and cares for us, but he pursues us and brings to himself by dying a death we deserve and giving us new life in him.
No matter what you’ve done or haven’t done (or are even doing right now), thanks to Jesus’ work on the cross — where our Shepherd willingly laid down his life for us — there is nothing standing between us and God. Like the verse in Isaiah 53 says, God laid our iniquity on Jesus. And then Jesus painfully paid for that iniquity.
Why would he willingly do that? Because he loves his sheep. He loves us. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, he is the one “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb. 12:2). The joy set before him was redeeming a people for himself, to have for all of eternity. That is the depth of love that God has for us.
So we all need to ask ourselves, “Am I a part of Jesus’ flock? Am I a little lamb in the arms of the Good Shepherd? Jesus graciously reminds us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Let us run to Jesus in repentance and faith today.
Then we can sing that wondrous hymn together…
I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need, and well provides me,
Love me every day the same, even calls me by my name.
Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended, by his angel host attended,
He shall fold me to his breast, there within his arms to rest.
Blessings to you all,