The SituationHere is a recent news item:
"Police this week reported that they are investigating a further three sheep rustling incidents in Powys where nearly 100 sheep have gone missing. The sheep are a mixture of speckle faced, badger faced and black mules with a value of 40 pounds each. They have a punch hole in the left ear, a square notch in the right ear, orange ear tags with the flock number UK700438, a blue HP on the left side and a black P on the rump. Police have appealed for anyone with information about any of these thefts to contact them at their local police station."
Sheep rustling incidents have also been reported in recent years in Scotland and Cumbria. You might be wondering where the shepherd was on these occasions and of course the days in this country when shepherds watched their flocks by night have long gone. I had to go as far afield as New Zealand to find a job vacancy for a shepherd.
The Shepherd PositionMeadowbank Station - Blenheim - a 2900 hectare hill country breeding and finishing property , Meadowbank is undergoing continuing development to both increase carrying capacity and per head performance.
Currently running 11000 Sheep Units consisting of: "Superfine merinos", Corriedale & Corrie cross ewe flock, breeding own replacements & finishing.
The property is a member of the "Sheep for Profit" programme which involves monitoring and recording all facets of the farm business to identify areas for improvement.
The applicant should have some farming experience. The job will involve everyday farming tasks including mustering, animal husbandry and feed budgeting/grazing management.
Given that the rustling suggests we need a good shepherd, what does the role consist of; especially from the sheep's perspective? Can we build up a profile of the ideal applicant?
The sheep come in several varieties, so we don't want a shepherd who can only deal with one type.
- We need a shepherd who is good at mustering, which is to say, rounding up the sheep and keeping them together.
- We need someone who is adept at animal husbandry, in other words looking after the welfare of the sheep. This would include treating them for injury and ailment.
- The ideal shepherd would also be experienced in Feed Budgeting - making sure that the sheep are adequately fed and nourished with the right sort of food.
- The ideal shepherd would be able to identify areas for improvement - this would include the quality of the sheep.
- Through his work the shepherd will be actively working to increase carrying capacity - which means bringing more sheep into the fold.
The ApplicantIn his parables and analogies recorded in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is laying out his credentials and applying for the job as our shepherd.
Does Jesus have any previous job experience? Well he was already looking after a small flock of disciples and some of his ancestors were shepherds, most notably David.
Would Jesus be able to care for different varieties of sheep? Jesus says:
16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.Jesus will care for the Jewish sheep and Gentile sheep equally.
It is unlikely that the New Zealand shepherd would be able to think of 11,000 names for the flock of sheep in their care, let alone remember them. Yet of Jesus, with a flock that probably numbers millions the scripture says:
3 and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.We know that Jesus subscribes to an Equal Opportunities philosophy, regardless of race, colour or gender, so we know he will be able to care for the different varieties of sheep in the fold.
4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice
Would Jesus be adept at mustering or rounding up the sheep?
It is worth at this point remembering the parable of the lost sheep and how the shepherd left the 99 safe and went to look for the one to bring them back. I should know because I was once a lost sheep.
I remember singing at school - "The Lord is my Shepherd, I'll not want" without any real comprehension. Why was I singing about a Lord I didn't want? Then I grew up and was baptised. Things were OK until I went to college and gradually the things of this life began to take precedence over my faith. Eventually I started searching for what was missing in my life, totally unaware that at the same time, Jesus was searching for me, to bring me into the fold.
I guess that if Jesus can round up a stubborn sheep like me, then he can bring anyone into the fold.
Will Jesus ensure that the sheep are adequately fed and watered?
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,The Good Shepherd will make his sheep "lie down in green pastures" and lead them "beside quiet waters," preparing a table in the presence of their enemies (Ps 23:2, 3, 5).
Through Jesus they receive their "daily bread" (Mt 6:11; Lk 11:3), that which is needed for life with God, for he offers the bread of life (Jn 6:35-58) and living water (7:38). Jesus has spoken repeatedly of the provision of life as the purpose of his coming, and now he focuses this key theme when he says, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (10:10).
Jesus has brought his sheep to the water's edge. It is up to the sheep to drink that water of life. There is plenty of food on offer. It is up to each sheep to ensure they are sufficiently nourished.
Will Jesus be perceptive regarding areas that need improvement?
Jesus said in verse 14 "I know My sheep". He knows each and every one of us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. Of ourselves, we can do nothing. We know that we fall far short of the glory of God, which is why Jesus' role as mediator is so vital to us. He makes intercession and covers up our inadequacies, so that we are made acceptable to his Father. Also, we can be sure that whatever trials are sent to us in this life are aimed at strengthening us and perfecting us, preparing us for the work Jesus has planned for us in the Kingdom.
Will Jesus be able to build up the flock and add to their numbers?
It is worth remembering that although our visible numbers are steadily falling, our total number is growing and one day soon, we pray that the number of the elect will be made up and Christ our shepherd will return.
In Israel it is said, a shepherd selects about a dozen sheep from the previous year's flock to be the lead sheep for the following year. They wear bells around their necks. By experience, these lead sheep respond first to the shepherd as he speaks to them. The rest of the flock follow the lead sheep.
This is a shadow of our responsibility to lead new sheep to Jesus and those who are more mature in the Truth to be an example to those who are new to the flock.
Would Jesus be able to look after the welfare of the sheep?
The role advertised in New Zealand is very much that of a hireling. However diligent they might be, they have no share in the sheep. Sheep have no natural predators in New Zealand other perhaps than a stray dog. In this country, although a fox may carry off a lamb, an adult sheep has no enemy apart from the thief or rustler.
Jesus is different from any hireling. Jesus owns his sheep, each and every one.
13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
Do we have predators?
Yes, there are wolves who would steal us away with false doctrines; there are thieves who would carry us off to the world, but the greatest predator of all is sin: "sin lies at the door. And its desire [is] for you" (Genesis 4:7 ) but Jesus has laid down his life for his sheep.
Jesus our shepherd was of our nature so that:
"through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14)He has conquered death as it states in the prophetic words of Hosea
Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction:Further, Jesus acts as the door of the fold. He is both the way by which access can be gained to the fold, but also a human or more than human shield, like the cherubim with the flaming swords guarding Eden, blocking the way for those who will not be allowed to enter.
With these credentials, It is amazing to think that so many first Century Jews turned down Jesus' application for the job of shepherd.
We thank God that we have been given the opportunity to accept Jesus as our Saviour, Messiah, Mediator and Shepherd. We are now in that fold, that state of Grace. We can come out of the fold of our own free will but no-one or nothing will be allowed to take us.
27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.Yes, that is the wonderful assurance we have - No-one can snatch the sheep out of Jesus' hand! That is the one point that anyone who is finding the going hard can hang onto like a rock in the storm; Jesus will not let anyone snatch us, that is you and I out of his hand.
Does anyone have any other applicants for the job that they would like to consider?
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The Dawn Christadelphians