Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may it more abundantly. John 10:7-10
What are sheep, and what is the significance of them in the Bible?
Most people will read their Bibles and rarely consider the importance of the reason Jesus uses this metaphor to describe believers. The majority of us live in urban areas and the most we think of sheep is when we see a mattress commercial showing us the imagery of counting sheep. It’s just not something we think much about.
In our modern society being compared to sheep is very insulting, as we think sheep are stupid, they are followers, and are most often led to slaughter. Everyone wants to be a leader; nobody wants to be a follower. We want to be strong-willed, independent and self sufficient. This is the American way. To be otherwise is weak and needy.
On our recent trip to Israel, for the first time in my life, I saw sheep grazing on the hillsides and actual shepherds walking with them. It was quite an incredible scene. The shepherds are a group called Bedouins and they are nomadic Arabs, they live a very simplistic life in the hills surrounding Jerusalem.
Sheep are very needy and this is one of the reasons most people have no interest in being associated with this idea of being one. Sheep would not last long if left to their own devices; they are easy targets for predators having very little natural defenses. This is why sheep flock together, which provides protection. Those that act independently are an easy target for predators.
Sheep need lots of personal attention and care; they often wander off and when left on their own will not live long. A small cut can lead to infection that will quickly kill them, and because they are easily preyed upon sheep naturally hide their weaknesses and illness. Sheep are very susceptible to external parasites, such as bot flies that will lay their larvae into the flesh and it will eventually cause death if left untreated. A shepherd must be diligent to inspect the condition of his flocks.
Despite what most people believe, sheep are not stupid, although they behave “stupidly” and not generally for their own benefit. They have the ability to understand human voices and even know their names. They will follow their shepherd and not another, but instead flee.
“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of stranger.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. John 10:3-6.
How many people really understand this illustration? Isn’t this still true today? Do you really want to think of yourself in this way? This may be a good barometer of your spiritual health. Are you independent of the church and mostly do your own thing, or do you desire to be led as though you realize you need shepherding.
Sheep don’t think about the fact they need a shepherd, it’s just a reality that they do.
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38
Next time we will take a look at the role of the shepherd and Christ being the Chief Shepherd.