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SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
ST. JOHN x. 11.
I am the good Shepherd : the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
THESE beautiful words are taken from the Gospel for this Sunday. They contain our Lord's own description of His office towards man of the love and care He has for us-love and care that stopped at no sacrifice, that made Him ready even to die on our behalf–1 am the good Shepherd : the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
The good Shepherd-that is the figure chosen by Christ to convey to us some just notion of what He is to usward.
The more we dwell upon it, the more we shall be struck with its peculiar fitness to our Lord.
For what was the shepherd's work in that country of Palestine in which He lived while on earth ?
It was hard work, anxious work, constant work. The man who was a shepherd there, had to be always on the alert. Neither by night nor by day could he take any long rest. For the country was an open, unenclosed
country-not divided into fields by hedges and fences, as with us-neither was it like our wide smooth downs but it was a rocky, steep country, full of pitfalls and precipices—barren too, and dry—with only here and there a solitary well, out of which the shepherds had, with much labour, to draw water for their flocks.
Then, besides, there were dangers attending the care of sheep in Palestine, of which our shepherds know nothing-dangers from thieves, from armed plunderers, who, if not guarded against, would carry off whole flocks -dangers from wild beasts, from the wolf, the lion, and the bear, which haunted those rocky hills, laying down in their dens by day, and sallying forth at night, seeking whom they might devour.
You will see from this, what anxious, harassing work, keeping sheep must have been in that land in which our Lord lived. You will see that it was a work, for which special qualifications were needed. You will surely think that not every one, but rather a very few, would be likely to make good shepherds.
A hireling-a man engaged for money to tend the sheep-could hardly be expected to imperil his life, or even risk his limbs, on behalf of the flock: seeing the wolf coming, he would run and save himself, while the wolf caught and tore the sheep.
A man afraid of hard work, of a delicate frame that shrank from exposure to the weather, he would not do for the office
for the shepherd had to bear the extremes of heat and cold—as Jacob urged in his remonstrance with Laban—the drought consumed him by day, and the frost by night.
Again, a man who wanted patience, who was soon put out and made angry, would not make a good shepherd for the flocks often strayed long distances, and had to be sought, whole days together, in that rugged country.
Neither would he be a good shepherd who was hard and cruel—for the sheep are tender things, and require to be gently handled. In cases of accident, as when they had fallen down a crag, or had been bitten by the wolf, and yet life remained in them, it would make the greatest difference in their recovery whether they came under the care of a feeling or unfeeling shepherd.
Now, observe from this, the force of the words before us when applied to our Lord—Jesus said unto them, I am the good Shepherd. Is there not every quality which we have seen to be necessary to the making of a good shepherd, combined in Him?
For, first of all—Jesus is no hireling. The flock He feeds, He feeds not by constraint,-it is His own flock, purchased by His own Blood! Not one is there of all the number in whom He is not interested, and for whom He does not care. Every sheep is precious in His sight —not one can be in danger, but He hastens to its rescue —not one can be gone astray, but He instantly misses it, and takes steps to recover it-goes after it Himself, and tracks it in all its wanderings, till He finds it. And when He hath found it-when the great love of Christ has sought out the erring one-how does He deal with it? Most tenderly, most lovingly–He lays it on His shoulder rejoicing, and bears it back to the place from whence it had roamed.
Again. The good shepherd, we have seen, must be
courageous, regardless of personal risk to himself-ready to hazard life and limb for his flock. And who so courageous, who so forgetful of self, who so indifferent to danger as the Lord Jesus Christ ? Did He ever spare Himself? Did He ever shrink from any peril in defence of His people ? Did He not, on our behalf, encounter the great enemy of our salvation, and overcome him? Did He not, in that great combat, shed His own life's blood-yea, pour out His soul unto death-that by dying He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil ?
Again. Watchfulness is another characteristic of the good shepherd. And who so wakeful as our Keeper ? whose eyes are so unsleepless as the eyes of our God ? Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
Yes, brethren, we are watched and guarded in all our life, by a most wakeful and good Shepherd. We see Him not, but He sees us, and keeps off evil from us on all sides. We are weak, but He is strong. Secure in His defence, we need not fear. Putting our trust in Him, we lie down and rise up again, for the Lord it is, who maketh us to dwell in safety.
Again, the good shepherd must not be hard or rough, but gentle and patient. And here too the Lord's likeness is plainly to be recognized. It was written of Him before He came-He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Gentleness and tenderness--as all know who have read the Gospel-gentleness and tenderness were the most marked features in the mind of Christ.
Gentle and tender did He shew Himself to the young. -For He took them up in His arms, put His hand upon them, and blessed them; and bade grown men beware, how they said or did ought, by which their innocence might be wronged. Gentle and tender did He shew Himself to the sinner-going to his house, sitting at meat with him, promising him forgiveness, making it clear to him in manifold ways, that God did not desire his death, but that he should be converted and live.
Then, again, the good shepherd would study His sheep -see what each wanted—where each was weak-so that He might apply the proper medicine, and heal that which had need of healing.
And this, also, we see to be in Jesus.--I am the good Shepherd and know My sheep !
Mark the words—He knows His sheep. He knows, not only, who are His, but what they are-all about them-their peculiar dispositions-both the things in which they resemble, and the things in which they differ from one another—their own sorrows—their own temptations--their own infirmities.
Think of it, brethren, and of the comfort which it carries with it.
We, if we have lived long with any person imagine we know something of him. We have watched his ways; we have seen how things affect him, and at length we think we understand him. But often it is not so. Often even after much intercourse, we are sadly ignorant of one another. Often our knowledge, even of those, with whom we are most in company, is merely superficial. It does not declare to us what they really are.