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April 14, 2024

Why Sheep?

Passage: 1 Peter 2:21-25

Since hearing the wonderful news that my wife and I are expecting a baby girl, my wife has taken it upon herself to demonstrate her love and thankfulness to God as she prepares the nursery in various ways. One way was through a series of paintings depicting certain blessings sung about in the hymn, “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” In this painting, she has a figure of a pink sheep staring up at her Shepherd. I find it magnificent, and I find it even more so magnificent that my daughter is not the only lamb. I am so blessed to be given the charge to take care of multiple lambs beyond my wife and daughter. This morning I look out upon multiple sheep of God’s flock, sheep who have been turned back from sin and taken into the flock owned by the shepherd and overseer of our souls.

Yes, we are all Jesus’ little lambs. But have you ever wondered “why sheep?” Why are we compared to these creatures. Well, I can think of two reasons, one: lambs are helpless on their own, and two: well-treated lambs have a good shepherd. Upon these two points we will dwell as we answer our thematic question for this morning, “Why Sheep?”

(we pray…)

So, yes, Scripture often compares us, God’s people, to sheep. But of all the animals which God made on the sixth day of creation, why are we so often compared to sheep?

If you want to know the real reason, then you better be prepared to be humbled. I found several reasons as to why we are compared to sheep.  First of all, many people say sheep have a poor sense of direction. In fact, they will follow whoever is leading them, even if it leads them off a cliff. Remember the question, “If your friend jumps off a cliff, would you do it too?” Well, sheep would. In Eastern Turkey, about 1,500 unattended sheep fell off a cliff while the shepherds ate breakfast far away from the flock. The first 400 fell to their death in a ravine, but the remaining 1100 were saved because the first 400 broke the fall. Apparently, this is what happened: the sheep in the back couldn’t see past the sheep in front, so they were unaware of what was ahead. The sheep in front couldn’t stop because the sheep in the back were pushing them forward. I’m not going to lie; we are all prone to doing this as well. How many of us just follow others blindly? We often fail to practice Scriptural discernment when making decisions in our life. We should be listening to the voice of our Shepherd, Jesus, in His Word, but we often don’t. And if we aren’t following His Word, then what are we following, and where is it taking us? Of a cliff?!

Another reason for the comparison: Sheep have hardly no natural defenses. Perhaps their only defense mechanism is that they stick together in groups. But when they are dispersed, they are helpless. Ezekiel comments on this in our Old Testament reading by describing the devastating state of a sheep lost in a thunderstorm, and Jesus also in our Gospel reading describes what happens to sheep when careless hirelings are in charge. Sheep need a good shepherd in order that He may keep them together and safe from danger. We have no way of defending ourselves from predatory creatures: false teachers, the world, the devil himself. If we are scattered, failing to come to church while having no good excuse, refusing to go out of anger, refusing to talk to fellow Christians, then what are we exposed to? Wolves, a dangerous world, and the lion himself, the devil.

Thirdly, sheep can’t get up without help. Sometimes, when a sheep’s wool gets too long, sheep will turn over on their back with their legs flailing in the air, not able to get up. There is an old English shepherd’s term for this. It is called “cast down.” A cast down sheep is a very pitiful sight. It will die if the shepherd does not lift it and put it back on its feet. When in this position, it is completely helpless to the prey around it. Furthermore, it could get left behind when the flock moves on. Couldn’t this describe us when we fall into sin? If it were up to us to pull ourselves together, good luck turning over. There is nothing we can do to make things right with God. We cannot trust our works. We cannot trust anyone or anything else to save us except Jesus.

To keep the list of comparisons going, sheep will settle for less. When sheep are thirsty, they are inclined to stop at a dirty puddle right before them instead of going for the clean, still water twenty feet ahead of them. Sadly, sheep are content with filth so long as it satisfies them at the momentFurthermore, they will stink and never even know it. Truthfully, they lack discernment and judgment and, frankly, don’t know what is good for them. I find we are not much different. Many times, we see a dirty puddle (sin) in front of us and go straight for it because we think that is all there is in life. We believe we are satiated when, in reality, we are poisoned and stink. Perhaps it (sin) even looks enticing at the time because, after all, it is “water.”  We often know it will harm us, yet we still do it because we are stubborn, blinded from the truth, or lack judgment. God compares us to sheep in the Bible because we don’t always know what is good for us.

And finally, sheep cannot care for themselves. When sheep get a wound or a bite, they can’t care for themselves. Other animals lick a wound until it heals, but not sheep. They need a shepherd to tend to their injuries. Many times, there would be a salve that needed to be put on their leg and possibly binding of the wounds. A good shepherd would look after the wound constantly until it was healed completely. If the sheep is left alone with a wound, they could become septic and die. When we are hurt mentally or spiritually, aren’t we capable of the same? Choosing to cling to our bitterness rather than letting Jesus deal with it is a fatal mistake.

Everything expounded on thus far is why we are compared to sheep. It’s not meant to be a compliment, but rather to serve as a reality check for our sinful condition, our helplessness, and desperate need.

But there are other reasons we are compared to sheep. Sheep, if properly cared for, travel in flocks guided by a Good Shepherd. If this is done properly, the sheep will have proper guidance, someone to defend them, someone to turn them over when they are stuck on their backs, someone to guide them to better water and better pasture, and someone to take care of them when they are hurt. We, sheep of God’s flock, have this Good Shepherd in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who fills all these needs.

Coming back to our points of comparison, let us see how Jesus fills our needs. First of all, Jesus gives us proper guidance in His Holy Word. In a world filled with moral gray areas, where it is so hard to tell up from down, left from right; Jesus provides for us solid direction in His Word. In the voice of our Shepherd, we know who it is who is calling to us. We know that our Savior who will never hurt us but always save us is the one calling to us when He preaches and teaches His Word to us. He guides us through the Bible to turn away from the cliffs of despair.  He through Scripture exposes the wolves dressed like sheep who would like to eat us. He guides you by showing you in His Word that you cannot trust in mankind, that you are a sinner, and that you have been saved from yourself by Him. He tells you all this in His loving Word, showing to you that His cross and empty grave are the path, the direction, that lead to happiness and joy from now into eternity.

Jesus also gives us defenses. He protects you from all kinds of dangers, physical and spiritual, and all intensities of danger from small to large. If Jesus crushed Satan’s head on the cross, overcame the world in His life, and swallowed up death in His resurrection; in other words, if He in such a final and climactic way destroyed all our enemies, will not the shepherd of your souls also guide away from all dangers of a lesser magnitude or weight? On top of this, He, the Good Shepherd, keeps you together as a flock so that you may strengthen one another by encouraging each other with the same Word of your Good Shepherd, so that whenever danger and sorrow are knocking on your door, you can run to each other to encourage each other with the Word of Jesus, you can run to your pastor so that He may announce to you the comforts of Jesus’ love, and most importantly, you can go directly to your Good Shepherd in prayer and here Him by reading His Word so that you may comforted to know that all evil has been taken care of by Jesus.

Jesus also helps get you back up, cleaning you of sin and guilt. When we are mired in sin and mistakes, we can’t turn ourselves over. To think so would be foolishness. All we can do is shout, “I’m sorry!” And does Jesus leave you with an empty, “get yourself up!” No. Does He leave you with a “only if you believe in me hard enough will I get you up!” No, He gets you up immediately. He has forgiven you and puts you right back on your feet. And can such a fact be true? Is our tremendous guilt really that simple to overcome? Only in Jesus Christ is it this way. As our text puts it, Jesus took upon His body on the tree of the cross all our sin. Jesus, in your place, let Himself, the lamb of God, be cast down on His back so that He could endure all the punishment your sins deserved. Jesus truly did forgive you. And if you still struggle to see that sometimes, then hear this, “peace be with you.” Remember that from the upper room? Remember that that was spoken by the Risen Lord Jesus. Your Shepherd died and rose again all so that when He turns you over, He really does turn you over in forgiveness, taking you out of despair and giving you a new sense of meaning in life, namely that you are a child of God following the example of your Savior.

Speaking of which, the example of our Savior, our Good Shepherd, also provides you with the motivation to follow in His footsteps. Through His Word He tells you have been remade and now have the capacity by His grace alone to go beyond the filthy mud puddle of sin to rather drink from what is God pleasing. In your baptism, Jesus drowns out your sinful, settle-for-less Old Adam and brings forth a New Man that wants to run to the clear stream for real refreshment. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus seals to you certain forgiveness, as certain as the fact that there is a sun in the sky; and He through this gift also strengthens your faith in Him to walk in His ways and trust that He wants more for you than the dirty mud puddle of sin, giving you the strength to endure to the cleaner stream of righteous living just over the hill. All this Jesus proclaims to you in His Word and Sacraments, the very things that demonstrate to you that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you have died to sin and now live for righteousness. On the cross your sins were destroyed and your sinful flesh is now pinned, slowly losing its influence until the day its gone for good; and in the empty grave you see that your living Savior has brought you to new life, a life in which you can actually do what He asks, not out of fear, but out of a thankful heart for your living Lord. He even gives you the strength to run to the stream when the going gets tough. For if you think that you couldn’t hold your tongue and not threaten or abuse those who make you suffer, you’d be surprised what Jesus through His grace can cause to grow out of your faith in Him. After all, Jesus made the author of our sermon text, Peter, go from denying Him in the garden to dying a martyr’s death while never denying again the name of His Lord Jesus.

And finally, in walking with your Shepherd Jesus, you will no doubt get hurt in the process. Your Shepherd told you that this would happen, for its part of the Christian life— “take up your cross and follow Me.” You will have wounds self-inflicted, inflicted by foes, and inflicted by friends even. And what are we to do with these? Grow bitter until we lose our life, our soul, our faith? No. We have Jesus to heal us from these wounds. By Jesus’ stripes we are healed. Jesus took the worst pain of all on the cross to give you a place to cast your burdens on. Jesus rose from the dead all to tell you that there is peace for your pains. Jesus, your Shepherd, tends to your wounds however He sees fit. Know then that your wounds will be healed in whatever way and timing Your Shepherd decides. And know that all your wounds, scars and all, will one day be fully treated by your Shepherd as He leads you to a place where there will be no muddy water, no more falling over, no more predators, no more poor decisions, and no more wounds—the pasture and river of eternal life in Heaven.

Yes, we are like sheep who have gone astray, but we have been returned to Jesus, the Sheperd and Overseer of your souls.