This morning I was reading in the book of 1 Peter. Over the years I’ve experienced the truth that no matter how many times you read the same scripture, God’s Spirit always emphasizes something new. Today I was struck by verse 25, in chapter 2. If you’re not familiar with that passage, here’s what it says, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”
This is far from being the only time the Bible describes believers as sheep. Actually, if we were to do a word study on it, we would find that there are over 100 references in the Bible to God’s people being like sheep. That's a lot. So it’s a metaphor I’m familiar with, and have even taught on. But today when I read that passage, I took it a little more personally, because sheep are not really known as being the most intelligent animals on earth.
The more I pondered it, the more I thought it would have been much nicer if Jesus had compared us to something smarter - like maybe a dolphin, or even an ape. Both of those animals have proven that they are very intelligent beings, demonstrating that they can learn such complex tasks as reading symbols and understanding what they mean - which is the basis for learning to read.
But Jesus didn't compare us to dolphins. He compared us to sheep. And sheep are some of the stupidest animals on the planet. They are easily scared. They have no defense mechanisms to speak of. They can't run very fast. They are in constant need of care and attention. And they have a ridiculous tendency to follow each other, even when it's to their own detriment. It's actually been documented that if one sheep walks off a cliff, the others will follow it to their death.
So why on earth would Jesus compare us to these stupid animals? Well, unfortunately, it's because we are very much like them. We also are weak and in need of constant care. We also are easily frightened by the challenges of life. And we also have this horrible tendency to follow the herd, no matter where it's going, even when it's to our own detriment. Isaiah 53:6 says it like this, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.”
Generation after generation, we humans buy into the same lies, and fall into the same sins. Solomon was right, there truly is nothing new under the sun. One would think that by now we would have figured things out, and we wouldn't be falling into the same traps that Satan has been setting for us since the beginning of time. But we do. And it shows up in our “herd mentality” about how to deal with our finances, our relationships, our time, our sexual desires, and even about what's “cool” or “not cool” to wear. The world is a herd - going one direction, when Christ calls His followers to go a different way. But the unfortunate reality is, all too often we are like sheep, just blindly following everyone else.
So as I closed my Bible this morning, I was challenged by what to do about this reality. How do we keep from following the world over a cliff?
Well, the first thing we do is remember that Jesus came to be our Shepherd. And not just any ol' shepherd, but a Good Shepherd - One who's committed to caring for us. And then the second thing we need to do is humble ourselves and admit what dumb animals we can be - and admit how easily we can be influenced by the herd around us. And then finally, I think we need to make sure we stick close to our Shepherd, because if we do, then the herd will have less influence on us. They will have less ability to lead us astray because we will be able to hear His voice telling us the safe way in which we should go. And the closer we are to our Shepherd, the more we're going to move as He moves, and interact with the world around us in a way that pleases Him.
So today, pray with me that we will be sheep who seek to be close to our Shepherd, and follow His example in all we do. And let’s pray that in doing so, we will not only keep ourselves from harm, but will also show the sheep around us a better way for them to go.