THE HEART OF A TRUE SHEPHERD
"'The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and they know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep.'" John 10:12-15 NIV.
Another indictment against the false shepherds of Israel! Once again the difference between the shepherd and the hireling is -- money. The hired hand does not stake his life on the safety of the sheep. When danger threatens, he takes off to save his own skin, leaving the sheep to face the predators alone. The shepherd stands between the sheep and those who would devour them and defends them with his life.
Two men stand out in Scripture -- apart from Jesus who literally gave His life for His sheep -- who refused to abandon their flock but offered themselves in place of their people when unbelief and disobedience brought the judgment of God down on them.
Moses stood between the Israelites and God in the desert, pleading with God to remove his name from the book of life rather than destroy his people who had sinned grievously by worshipping a golden calf while he was up the mountain with God.
"So Moses went back to the Lord and said, 'Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.' But now, please forgive their sin -- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.'" Exodus 32:31, 32 NIV.
God would not accept his sacrifice but He heard Moses' plea for mercy and did not carry out His intention to wipe Israel out and start again with Moses. (Exodus 32:10, 14).
The other man who would willingly have given himself for his people was the Apostle Paul. "I speak the truth in Christ -- I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit -- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself was cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, these of my own race, the people of Israel." Romans 9:1-4a NIV.
How different from the Pharisee, Saul, who willingly arrested the same people and had them tried and put to death for believing in Jesus, now putting his life on the line for the same people he once tried to destroy! What changed his heart? It was the resurrected Jesus who appeared to him and captivated his heart, turning him into a passionate shepherd of his people.
After Peter's denial of his Master, Jesus gave him the opportunity to be restored to his former commitment and loyalty to Him on the shore of Lake Galilee. He received a commission that carried him through his life to its end on a Roman cross. "Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep." He caught the vision that never left him and that he passed on to those who came after him.
"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." 1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV.
Peter had witnessed the fulfilment of Jesus' words -- "The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." He had been commissioned to wear his Rabbi's yoke. It was therefore his responsibility to follow Him in everything He modelled as a faithful disciple and shepherd of His flock.
It saddens me that God's shepherds are so quick to flee the flock and find another one elsewhere when the going gets tough. Instead of staying with the people through thick and thin and seeing them through difficult times, many pastors and ministers easily accept a "call" elsewhere, either because they are offered a better to deal or because they want to escape from difficult people.
I salute the ones who stay with the flock and are willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. They have the heart of a true shepherd.
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