Nothing like The Sheep Sermon to make you feel stupid, disgusting, and useless

Not long ago I visited a church where I got to hear The Sheep Sermon again. It had been quite a while, years I guess.

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:

  1. Sheep are dumb.
  2. Sheep are defenseless.
  3. Sheep are directionless.

Because his description was at times even disgusting, I was thinking maybe there should have been a fourth point:

  1. 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:

  1. We are dumb.
  2. We are directionless.
  3. 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:

  1. His sheep are not dumb. They know his voice. They’re able to distinguish his voice from that of a stranger.
  2. His sheep are not directionless. They follow the Good Shepherd.
  3. 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.

17 thoughts on “Nothing like The Sheep Sermon to make you feel stupid, disgusting, and useless

  1. Thank you! This is so good.

    I had heard the ‘leg breaking’ story a few times, and it was supposed to be comforting… about how that little lamb then was so attached to the Shepherd and that’s why he chose to break its leg …
    (Actually, that method may well have been used by some shepherds, in some nomadic cultures, but it’s cruel nonetheless and does not make it right. It’s by no means an expression of our Father or the Good Shepherd.

    Another addition that I’ve heard about sheep – ‘they need shearing’, aka it’s ok to exploit the flock financially in order to get rid of the ‘extra weight’ !

  2. This is full of scripture, it’s really not a quick and breezy read. That only speaks well of it. I think you have the bravery to speak the truth when it’s not cool to do so in most BJ-type circles. You’ve proven you do. Let me extrapolate or add another facet of what you discussed here. A Christian lacks nothing from A to Z that he needs to follow Christ and glorify Him. When I as a Christian stand in Christ there is nothing missing. I do not need a special degree from a special school to teach me all things. My God will teach me.

    At Bob Jones, Dr. Charles Smith once said “The only difference between Baptists and Roman Catholics is that Baptists have a lot more popes.”

    These churches try to degrade members to some subservient status. They have succeeded. There is the “Pastor” who is perfection and then you…sheeple.

    Outside Chicago in a nice suburb was a Bob Jones approved, BJU-feeding church, pastor was on BJU Board. I went to part of high school there. Then off to BJU, then Med school, then back to Chicago for four more years to specialize as a physician. While I was in the hospitals 130 hours a week-I kept my family out in the suburb, and my children went to school at this church.

    The pastor retired. The shiny newly-minted BJU “PhD” pastor who replaced him instantly set red flags off. When I was able to attend church it was chilling. I was told I could be an usher because “It’d be a great way to serve the pastor.” Chills. I would walk out after a service, make the fair-haired wonder boy shake my hand-hold his hand and look him in the eyes and say, “You do understand this is about God-and not you, don’t you?” I wasn’t popular. When my schedule allowed me to attend more, the weight of the sin hit me. There were issues of impropriety of the pastor and a deacon’s wife…on and on. There was child sexual abuse by a deacon and daughters. There ended up the youth pastor molested one of the deacon’s daughters (sometimes on mission trips-so, hey, kind of a wash, right?).

    Most members just simply parroted “Well that’s our pastor just follow him.” It was surreal.

    So one Sunday they thought they were going to silence critics. Guess who they brought in to speak? “Dr. Ed Nelson” the famous BJU pastor from Colorado. That day I was with my family in church.

    Dr. Ed Nelson began to speak…and cackled a bit…trying to control his laughter. He went on to say the following: “Oh yeah, I’m hearing that some of you sheep are bleating-well…that’s just what sheep do…you don’t think everything is being done right…well you know what? It’s not up to sheep to decide…”

    He then brought it home: “You sheep just need to do what your pastor says, and if he’s wrong-he will answer for it one day.”

    At that moment my wife and I stood with our children in the pew and I said “This is wrong. We’re leaving.” I sit near the front in classes and church, so it was noticeable.
    Didn’t make me popular, to this day-and some reading will have been there. Try to say it didn’t happen.

    I stand totally adorned and equipped in Christ to avail myself of all the promises He has made to me.

    As if I am going to allow some self-imposed ruler over me to in any way step between me and my God?

    I am God’s follower, He is my God and my shepherd.

    All the rest are brethren.

    When God’s word is twisted and wrested to suit some nefarious purpose-that is the perfect setting for sin to abound.

    You stand firm in Christ. Yes. You stand firm. And you stand the most firm when you do not allow anyone for one moment to usurp what you are and what you have in Christ. You are unique and loved by the one true God of this universe. He’s loved you-specifically you-forever and always will. Bask in this position, enjoy it, live it. It’s yours!

    • This is another–and very powerful–example of the ways The Sheep Sermon can be manipulated to guilt and shame people and keep them under control. The preacher I heard didn’t carry it that far, but I know many do.

    • This is an amazing article, and an amazing follow up. I left a Oneness Pentecostal church this year, after 15 years of servitude and this is one of the most succinct and direct descriptors of those styles of churches. In Pentecost (my experience) the pastor is literally the only one with wisdom, he controls who you date, marry, where you work, live, how long your hair can/cannot be, clothing styles, etc.

      We heard lots about the Sheep and how the pastor was our shepherd in Christ’ stead.

      You say, “These churches try to degrade members to some subservient status. They have succeeded. There is the “Pastor” who is perfection and then you…sheeple.”

      Spot on.I was wowed out by this line.

      In my old church, the pastor created a group of Cadets, which were servants. They got him food, water when he was preaching, lugged his Bible and jacket around, delivered messages, went to the store, etc, etc.

      These were ‘sheep’ that were supposedly in training for ministry, but they weren’t even slaves, because slaves were fed. These poor cadets were duped into thinking their service was for God. Sheeple.

      • That is a heart-breaking story. And such an apt example of how those who are supposed to be “undershepherds” pointing us to Christ can sometimes actually be false shepherds of the Ezekiel 34 variety.

  3. I had to skim this article due to time restraints. I couldn’t help but sigh as it brought back many memories. I still am without a church home but the Lord has been so gracious to provide sound Biblical teaching and ‘true friendships’ via the internet.
    Thank you for this post and to the commenters for sharing their hearts.
    I really needed to hear the positive aspect of not being a mere dumb sheep. My Saviour has redeemed me and I am so very, very grateful.
    >>”Not only is there much to be grateful for. There is also much life to be lived.”<< YES!

  4. Very good. And according to Christ in John 10, if a person does not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and insists on following a false shepherd, that person is not a member of Christ’s flock. In other words, they aren’t saved. The fact is that a church full of people who are brainwashed into seeing themselves as rebellious dumb sheep are a whole lot easier for the false shepherds to control. “You are just a dumb, ornery critter. Do what I say or else.”

  5. I remember at least once sitting in junior church or sunday school as a young child and hearing a lesson of the shepherd going after the sheep and rescuing it and bringing it back and breaking its leg. I’ve hardly thought of that since. Never stopped to check scripture to find that it was not ever part of the story. It was upsetting to me then, and it still is. A lot of incorrect teaching can lead to very bad theology that affects our living. .. . so I want to really be sure something is taught clearly in scripture before I make some statements too brashly.

  6. Excellent thots, Rebecca, including “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.)

    I think the third P was Pain-in-the-*ss

I welcome your thoughts