But The Sheep Sermon hadn’t changed a whole lot over the years. It even still had the part about the broken leg.
You may have heard some version of it, but this version started with Isaiah 53:6.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way,
And the Lord has laid on Him
The iniquity of us all.
I noticed that the preacher assumed that the “we” referred to us Christians, right now. He also assumed that the “have gone” means presently, right now.
Then he proceeded to spend a very long time telling us what sheep are like, the essence of which boiled down to his three points:
- Sheep are dumb.
- Sheep are defenseless.
- Sheep are directionless.
Because his description was at times even disgusting, I was thinking maybe there should have been a fourth point:
- Sheep are disgusting. (That had to do with how filthy they can be, and I won’t go into it.)
But he didn’t add that one.
He then applied his points to us, the Christians sitting under him right at that time, and told us:
- We are dumb.
- We are directionless.
- We are defenseless.
Then he told us that God would take care of us by being a Provider, a Protector, and another P word that I can’t remember. (Maybe you’ve heard The Sheep Sermon too so you can let me know what it was.)
What’s the part about the broken leg, you may ask if you haven’t been initiated into The Sheep Sermon.
I think it went under the “directionless” part. He said just like a shepherd might have to break the leg of a wandering sheep, so the Great Shepherd, God, might have to break our legs (bring bad things into our lives) in order to get us to obey Him and follow Him. The implication was that this made the sheep useless, at least for a time. (No worries that it’s not in the Bible.)
As it turned out, he didn’t really mention Jesus and how He took the iniquity of us all, I guess because he just ran out of time spending so long telling us all the disgusting details about sheep and that long story about a man getting a traffic ticket (the point of which we never did quite get).
So . . . .
For anyone who has ever heard The Sheep Sermon, which was probably more or less like that one (except for maybe the part about the traffic ticket), I’d like to talk about sheep for a minute. And shepherds. And who Christians really are.
First of all, consider the context of Isaiah 53, the chapter from which that verse was taken. The entire chapter is about Jesus. He is the one who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He is the one who went to the slaughter like a silent lamb, for “us all” (which can refer to either the people of God or all mankind, but I won’t get into that now).
And in the middle of this description of our suffering Savior, Isaiah refers to the ones for whom Jesus died:
All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.
This is a description of sheep without a shepherd.
Christians, those who are in Christ, who have trusted in Jesus Christ for their full righteousness, those who partake fully of the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ, count this as part of their past, not their present.
The way sheep are described in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, let’s just see how negative it is. . . .
Luke 12:32 “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Luke 15 Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep that the faithful shepherd went to find. (No broken legs included!)
John 10 Jesus told how He is the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. He calls His sheep by name and leads them out and they follow Him, because they know His voice. He told how they won’t listen to the voice of a stranger or a thief. He told how He would lay down his life for his sheep, not like the robber, who would only steal, kill, and destroy.He emphasized that He and His sheep know each other.
Matt 10:16 Jesus sent the disciples out like sheep in the midst of wolves and told them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
I Peter 2:25 “For you [the Christians Peter was writing to] were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
I Peter 5:2-3 tells church elders, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
These are truly beautiful descriptions, especially the description in John chapter 10. Jesus makes it really clear that:
- His sheep are not dumb. They know his voice. They’re able to distinguish his voice from that of a stranger.
- His sheep are not directionless. They follow the Good Shepherd.
- His sheep are not defenseless. Jesus is “the door of the sheep,” which means any predator wanting to attack the sheep would have to go through Jesus first.
And furthermore, I just have to add:
- 4. His sheep are not disgusting. We are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and given a white robe of righteousness.
There are plenty of other metaphors in the New Testament for the New Covenant people of God. Christian believers are called the temple (I Corinthians 6:19), priests (I Peter 2:5), children and heirs of God (Galatians 3:29), the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27), soldiers of God (Ephesians 6:1-14), jars of clay holding precious treasure (II Corinthians 4:7), fountains of living water (John 7:36-37), and many other things. Each image is designed to communicate an important truth.
The important truth about being a New Covenant sheep is that His sheep are His beloved flock. We follow Him. We are not directionless.
And not only are the people of Christ not dumb (because they know His voice), but when you look at other parts of the New Covenant, you see, for example, that Jesus Christ is made unto us wisdom (and righteousness and sanctification and redemption) in I Corinthians 1:20. James tells us if we lack wisdom we can seek it from God and expect Him to give it to us. James 3 expects wise and understanding Christians to be in the church.
God’s people have everything they need at their disposal to be the opposite of dumb.
And not only are the flock of Christ not defenseless (because He is the door of the sheep), but in Ephesians 6 when we’re told to take all the armor of God, we’re given the means of protection against all the fiery darts of the enemy. And not only that, but we’re given two offensive weapons, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and the weapon of all-prayer, by which we go forward in the power of the Holy Spirit against the enemy. No, we are not defenseless.
The preacher I heard was describing sheep without a shepherd. But that is not who we are. In fact, in Matthew 9:36 when Jesus looked on people and felt compassion for them because He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, it was the people who didn’t know Him.
Why is it important to understand what’s wrong with The Sheep Sermon?
Because here’s the joy for the people of God: you don’t have to live your life under the dark cloud of thinking you’re dumb, directionless, and defenseless like a flock of disgusting sheep (who are so stubborn in their straying that they’ll probably need to get their legs broken). Instead, if you are in Christ . . .
- You are part of the precious flock of Jesus, and you recognize His voice.
- You follow Him where He leads.
- You are the valiant soldiers of God, and you are equipped to be protected and even to fight in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the joy for those who have trusted in Christ: We don’t have to take The Sheep Sermon as true of us just because it’s true of sheep without a shepherd.
We not only have the perfect Shepherd; we also have the perfect armor: the armor of God. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in these jars of clay, springing out of these fountains, as we continually come to Jesus Christ.
We are not stupid. We are not disgusting. We are not useless or directionless or defenseless.
We have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ, we know Him and can follow Him, and even more, we can be confident that by the Spirit of the living God we can be filled with power and authority against the enemy.
Not only is there much to be grateful for. There is also much life to be lived.