This fall, we have surveyed several New Testament metaphors for the church: the Household, the Temple, the Light, and the Field. This week, we’ll see that Scripture also refers to the church as sheep.
God’s covenant people have been referred to as sheep for a long time, beginning with the nation of Israel. The Jews were known as the sheep of God’s pasture. Psalm 100:3 reads, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” The people of Israel were placed in the care of their priests, who taught them how to come into right relationship with the Lord. These priests were “shepherds” of their people, but often led them astray from God rather than closer to Him. Jeremiah and the other prophets are often condemning of these shepherd priests, crying out, ““My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.” (Jer. 50:6).
Because His sheep are abandoned to lead themselves, the Lord promises, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down…” (Ezek. 34:15).
In the Gospel of John, written over 600 years after, Jesus proclaimed that He would forever be the Good Shepherd of his followers (John 10:1-21). Jesus promises to watch over the sheep, guard them, guide them, and to lay down his life for them as the Lamb of God (John 10:14-15; 1:29). The church, then, became the sheep of God’s flock.
When Jesus ascended after the resurrection, He left his church as sheep under the guidance and care of the Holy Spirit. He also designed the church to be shepherds for one another, calling men and women to intentionally invest in “feeding [his] sheep” (John 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). All of the church, though, is called to echo the voice of their Shepherd, calling Christians at the margins back to the fold and sharing the good news of Christ with their neighbors who may not yet know the Shepherd.
Read through Luke 15:1-7 and John 10:14-16 to prepare for this week’s message and to become familiar with Jesus’s call for his sheep.
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Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.