When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:4-5)
The newborn King will go and has gone ahead of us– into our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our City, our world, like a shepherd who leads the way for her sheep, ensuring that the path is safe; directing her flock to green pastures, beside still waters.
Sometimes however finding good pasture is not so easy, as Matthew’s original listeners would have known and experienced. Sometimes a shepherd had to lead her reluctant flock long distances, over rough ground or across rushing streams. If, despite her encouragement, the sheep refused to follow, a shepherd would take a little lamb upon her shoulders and carry it over the difficult terrain or across the river. Then the mother ewe seeing her baby on the other side would forge through the water and the rest of the flock would follow behind her. Isaiah 40:10a-11:
See, the Lord God comes… He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them close to his heart, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Another tactic, a shepherd would use at dusk for example, when it was time to head for the shelter of the fold but the sheep did not want to stop feeding, would be leave to without them and hide a short distance away. We used to play this game with our daughters to keep them walking on our mountain hikes when they were little. Before long the sheep would realize that they did not know where their shepherd was and start bleating. Then she would respond with a whistle and show herself, and they would run to follow her.
Could the one the Magi are seeking, be a ruler who would lead like a shepherd? … going on ahead, knowing the way, always in the offing- Carrying us when we are struggling or timid; directing us back to safety, when we stray; and when we fall behind, waiting for us to notice and then getting us back on track… AND calling and equipping us His lead followers to do the same?
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out (Ezek.34:11)…I will feed them with good pasture(14)…I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak (15)…
Are you hearing echoes of the life, teaching and ministry of Jesus? Matthew seems to be saying, that this precious little one whose star the Magi understood, IS the descendent of David who will shepherd God’s sheep as promised by the prophets and portrayed in the Psalms.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David and He shall feed them…and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23).
Unlike the bogus shepherds currently in control about whom the prophets had also spoken…
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, says the Lord (Jer.23:1).
Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat; you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep! (Ezek.34:2).
Matthew is creating a contrast between the way things are and the way things will be when Jesus becomes King. Under God’s rule, it’s the kingdom of the humble shepherd that triumphs, not the kingdoms of overbearing tyrants or selfish dictators or pompous religious politic’ers….
We, who live on the other side of, not only his birth but his life, death and resurrection, get it! And can share it, demonstrate it, model it – live it! Jesus is Shepherd King who laid down His life for the sheep that we may have life and have it abundantly (John10:10-11)! And He has bestowed upon those who know His voice and follow Him, that same mantra: to take up the posture and practices of the good shepherd….leading from among… knowing and calling by name…caring so much for the sheep that we are willing to lay down our lives. I wonder what that looks like for missional leaders today. Perhaps it starts with making time to be present and attentive to those who live right next door. Perhaps it requires that we re-examine and re-imagine what it means to enter into the lives, the everyday houses of those around us as the vulnerable ones.
Just as in days of old, there seems to often be a discrepancy between the shepherding God models and seeks, and the shepherding those in leadership exercise. Unfortunately history records how the church more often than we like to admit, has taken positions of political, religious and economic superiority, power and muscle that have not reflected the rule of her shepherd, the suffering Servant who lived among not above, who walked beside not in advance, and called by name: Matthew, Peter, Martha, Mary, Zacchaeus; who listened and told stories … who welcomed the unclean, the sinner, ALL at HIS banqueting table, the FEAST of the KING…
I confess that I have not always taken the posture of a shepherd in the midst of those who need to hear the Lord call them by name. I have tried to poke and prod, argue and convict. I have judged, ignored and denied.…. I wonder, Have I ever use others to my own ends? As numbers…. rather than names… as objects rather than subjects made in the Image of the One I love …my Shepherd… And then I have to ask myself, Do I really know and listen to His voice (John 10:4)? In the midst of so many persistent noisy voices seeking to rule my life… SOCIETY’s voice demanding tolerance: ‘let everyone go their own way’. The voice of INDIVIDUALISM: “make your own rules”. The cry of POP Psychology: “do whatever’s right for you”. Then there is the CONSUMER – or should I say all CONSUMING voice, telling me that my identity comes from what I consume; and the MATERIALISTIC voice assuring me that I can find the way with more and better, bigger, faster and sleeker stuff NO MATTER THE COST to my sisters and brothers, to creation. And what of the voice of the latest spirituality claiming that they know the way to serenity and health and prosperity now. Am I, have we, the church, been intimidated by the voices of these ‘strangers’?
But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:5)
In the sheepfolds of old, a stranger’s voice sent alarm through the flock. Initially the woolly beasts would freeze with fright. If the stranger called again, they would panic and run every which way causing confusion and chaos in the flock. But the voice of the shepherd brought comfort and calm.
Dear people whom Jesus loves, are we listening to His voice despite the chaos, confusion and alarm around us? Because all other voices are thieves and robbers (John 10:1)! Micah assures us, the true King of the Jews rules, “in the strength of the Lord” (5:4) and, “in forgiveness and mercy” (7:18). Indeed, the shepherd king is “our peace” (5:5). He has proven Himself to be trustworthy, full of grace and truth…and love enough to lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11,15,17).
Matthew 2 asserts that truly wise people (like the Magi) know which king is worthy of our worship, our followership and our imitation through the power of the Spirit within. May this Christmas season prompt us not only to worship and thank the Infant King anew for the wonder of His rule but to also lead others in the Shepherd’s way. The Risen Jesus commissioned Peter to tend [his] lambs and feed [his] sheep (John 21). Those who worship the One born to shepherd His people, ARE that shepherd to those around them…. not by the positions they hold, nor by lording it over, but by leading from among… And not alone but with others who are shepherds from the back for those still coming and sheep from the front, behind the Incarnate One they follow. So there will be one flock, a great multitude from every nation, robed in white linen … and the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life (Rev.7:17)… 1 Peter 5:4- And when the chief shepherd appears, [they] will receive the crown of glory that never fades away! Glory, said the angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night… May we see and know and SHARE HIS GLORY – full of grace and truth, John 1:14.
When the magi saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him – THE Shepherd King… Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, for His royalty, and frankincense, for His priesthood and myrrh, for His sacrifice (Matthew 2:10-12).
Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us [Todd Agnew]
Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Your tender care
In Your pleasant pastures feed us
For our sins, Your folds prepare
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus
You have bought us, Yours we are
We are Yours, please befriend us
Be the Guardian of our way
Keep Your flock, from sin defend us
Seek us when we go astray
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus
Hear, O hear us when we pray
You have promised to receive us
Poor and sinful though we are
You have mercy to relieve us
Grace to cleanse and power to free
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus
You have loved us, love us still