Just as there are good and bad shepherds, there are also good and bad sheep. Sheep that stray away from the flock do so because they make their own choices. Unfortunately, some sheep place their total trust in their shepherds and don’t have the ability or take the time to reason for themselves when danger lurks.
As the Bible draws the comparison between humans and sheep, it is insightful to examine some of the characteristics of sheep in order to understand human nature. This will even provide insight as to why professing Christians behave the way they often do.
According to a brochure titled Sheep 201: A Beginners Guide to Raising Sheep, four characteristics of sheep are listed:
Follow the Leader: When one sheep moves, the rest will follow, even if it is not a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of sheep is so strong that it caused the death of 400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep plunged to their deaths after one of the sheep tried to cross a 15-meter deep ravine, and the rest of the flock followed.
Sheep Senses: Senses are the tools that animals use to interact with their environment. Sheep and other animals share five basic senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As a prey animal, sheep must have excellent senses to ensure their survival.
Normal Sheep Behavior: Changes in normal behavior can be an early sign of illness in sheep. The most obvious example of this relates to the sheep’s most natural behavioral instinct, their flocking instinct. A sheep or lamb that is isolated from the rest of the flock is likely showing early signs of illness (unless it is lost). Even the last sheep through the gate should be suspected of not feeling well, especially if it is usually one of the first.
Social: Sheep are a very social animal. In a grazing situation, they need to see other sheep. In fact, ensuring that sheep always have visual contact with other sheep will prevent excess stress when moving or handling them. According to animal behaviorists, a group of five sheep is usually necessary for sheep to display their normal flocking behavior. A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the rest of the flock.1
Examining these four characteristics found in the Sheep 201 brochure provides a glimpse to understanding sheep behavior and therefore a comparison to human behavior in light of the Bible. Sheep have a mind of their own and can often be stubborn and difficult to lead. Sheep follow leaders, sometimes dangerous leaders to their own demise. While they have senses to help them discern when danger lurks, they do not always heed or use these God-given senses, thus jeopardizing their survival. Sheep that isolate themselves from the flock may show signs of weakness and may even influence others to follow them. Because sheep are sheep, they depend on a trustworthy shepherd to oversee them to provide care, security, and guidance.
Abide in Him
While Jesus identified himself as the “good shepherd” in John 10, He strongly encouraged those who acknowledged Him to follow Him closely and remain safely in His fold by being familiar with His Word. Consider His words to the Jewish believers in the eighth chapter of John:
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)
In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus added:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. . . . If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4, 6)
Following Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is directly related to knowing and believing His Word. While a large percentage of the world’s population may consider themselves members of Christianity, they do not comprehend what it means to abide in His Word, believe in Him as Lord and Savior, and follow Him in obedience. In reality, they are like sheep without a shepherd. They wander aimlessly and dangerously without any discernment, following men and their ideas, dogmas, and traditions and are thus led astray.
So they presume they have biblical faith while, in reality, they are deceived. The result is devastating and a sober reminder of the consequences. If only they had placed their trust in Christ alone, who paid the penalty for our sins fully and completely, and allowed Him to be Lord over their lives as the Good Shepherd!
Knowing More About the Identity of the Good Shepherd
The Scriptures have already identified Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, but further study of the Bible helps us to appreciate that placing our hand in His and following Him is a very wise decision. Paul, writing to the Colossians, explained clearly some of the credentials of the Good Shepherd. He stated:
. . . who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:13-18)
Think of the significance! The One who made everything that exists in the universe is our Good Shepherd. He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He is God almighty! More so, He is the one who has provided our only way to salvation. To follow anyone or anything else is blasphemous when we are faced with this fact. Following Jesus Christ alone is of utmost significance. Christians, to qualify to be one of His followers, we must follow Him and Him alone.
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)