by Brenda L. Agee
I was in the Primary Sunday School class, three years old and just out of the nursery, when I first heard the parable Jesus told about the shepherd who left his 99 sheep in search of one that was missing. At least that's the first time I remember having heard it. Over the years I've heard it often, that parable. It's a perfect illustration of how much Jesus loves each of us and all of us. However, back then, I thought more about the sheep than the shepherd.
Teachers continued giving their lessons of the shepherd over the years, yet all the while I crawled inside my thoughts and tried to grasp how the sheep could have gotten lost in the first place. My young mind came up with several possibilities but none was satisfying. I wondered if the sheep had followed a butterfly but then I wondered if there were butterflies in Bible times. And oh! What did the butterflies look like? I missed the lesson. Another thought was that maybe the sheep was looking at its' reflection in the water, saw a fish, and followed the fish downstream. I missed the lesson again!
My child's imagination was always quite vivid so I came up with many, many thoughts, ideas, and dreams about the lost sheep and each one carried me as far away from the true lesson as the sheep was away from the shepherd. It took a long time for me to stop thinking about the sheep's wanderings and to start realizing it was all about how the shepherd would have done anything to find the sheep that he loved.
Isn't it interesting how we can learn something, know it and believe it and yet, God will use one event or a single memory to give us a greater understanding of what we thought we already knew?
A couple of months ago, my ten year old grandson told me that he and two of his friends had planned a trip to Texas. He was in the same class from kindergarten through fourth grade with three other children and they were quite a close group. Missing the last two days of school due to illness, he was devastated when he found out later that one of the friends had moved to Texas a couple of days after the end of school. He hadn't been able to say good-by and they all wanted to see their friend one more time. Hence the trip.
My grandson said they had planned it carefully. One was to take money, one was to get a map to Texas, and one was to take water and food. They all had backpacks and a change of clothes. They were confident in their plans and equally confident they should not tell their parents.
He didn't go into as much detail when telling me how the trip got cancelled. He did, however, casually mention that his mother (my daughter) was involved in the cancellation and that he couldn't figure out how she knew.
Hmmph! That's a mother for you!
It reminded me of a one-day picnic I went on with eight other neighborhood children. No adults, just children. And, to give you a mental picture, from my family was my baby sister who was two, my brother who was three, myself at the age of five and a half, and my older brother, who had just turned eight; from the family a half a block east of our house there was a three year old boy and a seven year old boy; from two houses south, there was a boy my age and a boy my older brother's age; the last one was also my older brother's age and he lived with his grandma, two houses west of us.
It was a late summer Saturday. Daddy had taken Mama to get groceries and we had a babysitter, who promptly fell asleep on the sofa after their departure. Our yard was the largest so everyone came to our house to play. It was the spur of the moment idea of the older boys so they got wagons and "supplies" from each house. I remember walking while the younger three were in wagons pulled by the older boys.
I could show you right now exactly where we went. Today, however, there is an apartment complex in the location. Back then, mid 1950's, after walking five blocks north of my house, we came to a T-intersection, crossed our last street and went down a slope into a dry creek bed that was filled with wood and dirt. Dirt, dust, and more dry, dusty dirt. I certainly remember that!
The boys had grabbed hot dogs, bologna, bread, mustard, potato chips, pickles, and other "stuff" in jars that I didn't recognize but ate anyway. They brought cups for water, but they didn't bring water. Oh, no! Instead of bringing water, they said it was my job to get the water. They gave me a metal bucket and showed me where to get it. I had to crawl through a fence, walk across a pasture, and get the water from a pond.
I got the first bucket of water but when I started walking back to our picnic spot, a huge horse came trotting up behind me and just slowly walked with me back to the fence. That's all it did. It just walked with me but I was scared to death! I cried and refused to cross the pasture again so the little boy who was my age had to get the water the rest of the day.
The older boys built a fire to cook hot dogs and we all drank the pond water. Yes, we ALL drank the pond water. The little ones took naps: I probably took a nap. We played and then we ate some more. When it started to get dark, we packed everyone and everything into the wagons and walked home.
It was dusk when we walked the last block to our house. Parked in front were a couple of police cars and the front yard was filled with police and parents. We younger ones were so scared we started crying and that is when the adults saw us. We stood there, afraid, and suddenly everyone came running toward us. We were scooped up by the strong, loving arms of our parents who were crying and at the same time, wiping the tears from our little cheeks.
None of us knew what was wrong. None of us knew we were the cause of all of the commotion. It was only when I was much older that I realized the fear we had put our parents through. As mama told me more and more about their day I also realized what great measures they would have taken to find us.
In Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV) Jesus said, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."
I no longer think about how or why the sheep left the flock, causing the shepherd to look for it, because I know that I have often been that sheep. Oh! But, haven't we all been that sheep at one time or another? The truth is that there are times when we are not where God wants us to be . . . we've wandered away from our Shepherd. God is merciful and He calls for us, He beckons us to come back to Him. Some wait a long time before going back to Him and yet others return quickly.
Just as I learned that my parents would have done anything to find us when we went on our picnic that Saturday; just as my daughter stopped her 10 year old from going to Texas; just as I wanted and tried to protect my own children from tragedy or sadness or any harm, God does the same for us. The great difference is that He does far more than we know and far more than we can imagine to keep us close and to draw us back when we stray.
He is our Shepherd. We are His sheep.
John 10:25-28 reads: "Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. " (New King James Version)
In the book, "Manners and Customs in Bible Lands", author Fred H. Wight (public domain; no copyright) gives several illustrations of the modern day shepherd and his sheep. He explains how the modern day shepherd still tends the flock much like the shepherd in the times of the Bible.
One of his illustrations was about how several Shepherds would often come together and their sheep would mingle while grazing or resting. When it was time for them to go their separate ways, the shepherds would stand away from each other and all at the same time, start calling their sheep. The sheep would go immediately go to its' own Shepherd. There was no confusion: the sheep knew their own shepherd and the shepherds would then go their way with their own sheep.
I found a video on YouTube in which three young children were given separate opportunities to call a flock of sheep. During each turn they tried calling the sheep but the sheep never responded. Then the farmer (or shepherd) stepped up to the fence and called the sheep. The sheep immediately started bleating in response to the farmer, then turned and ran to him.
For me, it was more than a fascinating demonstration of what Jesus said. It gave me a marvelous visual understanding of what He meant and and how we, His Sheep, know His voice when He calls . . . and I cried with the wonder of Jesus' being my Shepherd!
I do hope you will please take the time to watch this short two minute video by clicking on the link below. You will be amazed and so very glad that you did! God bless you!
"Do Sheep Only Obey Their Master's Voice" (on YouTube.com)
Filmed in Harestua, Norway, by Ovvind Kleiveland.
Copyright: WayMuch Production 2013*************************************************
Father God, Thank You that you love us and that we are the sheep of Your pasture. Thank You for watching over us when we are nothing more than wandering sheep. Thank You that You have opened our hearts to Your voice that we might know You more. In Jesus' Name, Amen
"Jesus and the Lamb"
by Katherine Brown