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The Sheep (05/06/2012)

From: T.M. Schoewe

Last week we wrote about the Shepherd in the stained glass window. Now let’s look at the sheep in the picture. This may have been an unintended significance, but the larger sheep closest to the Lord are ewes and this accords with the notion almost universally held in our culture that Christianity is something for women and children. We strong men do not need it. But this is only a misconception. And maybe that’s why to a child, the shepherd in the window appeared less like a man with very long hair and more like a lady with a beard.

Anyway, what we are concerned with in regard to this picture is the heresy that is apparent in the fact that these sheep are not really sheep but something humanlike, not only human but Godlike. There is about them a dignity, a poise, a purity, as we identify them with ourselves in a way that should be flattering to the Shepherd, whose good fortune it is to own such noble animals. This glamorization of the sheep is not accidental. Once you emasculate God in your heart, make Him less than He is, you can hardly avoid deifying man, making him more than he is.

So we would do well to do some radical rethinking about such symbols when scriptures clearly point out the God-man relationship. In both testaments the people of God are frequently described as His sheep. We who live in cities perhaps know nothing much about animal husbandry, and having our heads full of bad art that romantically glorifies who we really are, erroneously think we are being complimented when the psalmist or prophet calls us God’s sheep. But talk to an honest to god shepherd and you will get a different slant on the matter. He will tell you, pound for pound, the sheep is perhaps the stupidest animal there is. The most demanding intellectual exercise that a sheep is capable of is remembering whom it is following. And this propensity for following the leader sometimes leads to disaster! Slaughter houses employed goats they called “Judas goats” to lead whole flocks of sheep to the butchering block! But more often than not the effort to follow the leader even becomes too much for them and they go blundering off into the underbrush or onto rocky ledges. Once trapped, they have not the strength or stability or intelligence to find their way back to the flock. Shepherds will tell you no lost sheep ever comes home by itself. And when lost they thrash about fiercely and bawl at the top of their voices.

So you see the scriptural symbol of us as sheep is actually a deflating picture and something that makes it just as presumptuous of us to call ourselves the chief of sinners as it is to claim sainthood. Maybe we would get ten cents worth of credit for our pride since we cannot be lions of virtue we might be tigers of viciousness. But these options are not open to us. For our righteousness is as filthy rags and as for our most flagrant sins, He that sits in the heaven laughs at them.

So man to be in the right relationship with God must settle on just being a sheep, stupid, helpless, lost, unstable, weak, gone astray; not even able to do what he wants and hating what he does. But this becomes our tragic but beautiful story and rescue. We cannot find the shepherd, but the Good Shepherd finds us! Wow! And when we put our trust in this rough, bloody Shepherd who lays down His life for us, we become His sheep.

This is not a story book version about cuddly window sheep and their mild mannered shepherd! And this is certainly not a very heroic picture view of man, but neither is the sheep a very heroic animal. Yet, the real Good Shepherd loved us, His sheep, to death. And so deeply still loves us that in heaven the angels, when they praise Him, call Him by the name He prefers of all His royal titles: “The Lamb.” The Lamb that sits upon the throne!



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