Beasts and Sheep from 2.12.16
As Jesus’ last commission to the founding apostle, Peter, was to “feed my lambs/sheep”, and Christian leaders are by nature shepherds, we should expect the Body of Christ to lead an essentially sheep-shaped life (John 20:17-21; Acts 20:28; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 5:2). Throughout the Bible to be a sheep/lamb is to belong to the people of God (Ezek 34:11ff; Ps 100:3; Luke 10:3 etc.). Since sheep spend most of their time as a flock seeking and eating grass we should find groups of Christians avidly looking for good food wherever it can be found. With a drastic decline in Bible reading and the collapse of serious discipleship amongst us this is certainly not happening in our day. How can we follow the Good Shepherd “wherever he goes” in such a way that we are truly “lamb-ified/sheep-ified” (John 10:27; Rev 14:4)? The simple answer is to stop living like beasts. This is a story we do not want to hear and one that goes back to the tragedy in Eden.
Livestock and Beasts
God created two sorts of land animals, “livestock” and “beasts of the field” (Gen 1:24-26; 2:20). The former, like sheep, are dependent on humans for their well being, and were likely residents of the Garden tended by and naturally submissive to Adam and Eve (Gen 2:15; 4:2). The “beasts of the field” were outside of Eden and possessed of native smarts to guide them. The “serpent” was simply “more crafty” than any of these beasts (Gen 4:1). His temptation to Eve to “be like God” is a beastly enticement for her to look after herself, as he seemed to be able to do, to roam freely without the constraints of submission. Like many popular teachers today the snake was a “lifestyle expert” upholding the beastly virtue of ruling rather than being ruled. When Eve and Adam sinned they took of the tree in the likeness of beasts, unsubmissive to the prohibiting Word of the Lord (Gen 2:17; 3:6). Having failed the test of ruling in the Garden the first couple forfeited any possibility of godly dominion in the fields of this world. Cast out of paradise humanity is forever prey to “wild beasts” (Ezek 5:17); who does not fear the rise of the microbiological “super bug”. Fallen humanity has long idolised powerful creatures, like lions, tigers, eagles and bears, but in rejecting our true status as sheep I cannot think of any pagan culture making a “sheep idol” (Rom 1:23). God however is faithful, and he would never allow Israel to forget he was their Shepherd and they were his vulnerable lambs (Gen 48:15; Ps 23:1; Isa 40:11 etc.).
The Spirit of the Shepherd
In endearing terms the Lord speaks to his straying fold; “in his love and in his pity…he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he…himself fought against them…. Then he remembered the days of old. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit,” (Isa 63:9-11). The intimacy of being shepherded by God is so intense that the only other reference to “Holy Spirit” in the Old Testament comes from the shepherd-king David who prays after his sin with Bathsheba, “take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Ps 51:11). Few seem to have known the Lord as their Shepherd as David did (Ps 23). Throughout her history Israel is handed over by her heavenly Pastor to an array of beastly powers in order to drive her back into his loving arms. This cycle climaxes in the vision of the four world beasts in Daniel 7. The fourth beast comes in the time of the End and “made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Dan 7:21). Finally however the people of God triumph because a Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven and receives an eternal kingdom from God which he shares with the saints (Dan 7:13-14, 18, 27). This is a prophecy about Jesus and his “little flock” (Luke 12:32).
A Sheep Forsaken
Jesus is both “the Good Shepherd” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; 10:11). This sheep’s intimacy with God is so intense that references to his being tended by the “Holy Spirit” saturate his life and ministry, even when he is amongst “the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13; Luke 3:22; 4:1; 10:21 etc.). From the beginning Christ knew however that he must fulfil the dreadful prophecy, ““Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” (Zech 13:7). The manner in which this word if fulfilled is unbearably dreadful (Mark 14:27). Surrounded by the Sanhedrin, who in accusing him of blasphemy themselves blaspheme the Holy Spirit, Jesus declares he is God’s glorious Son of Man who will “come on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 14:63). Acting the part of the beasts in Daniel 7 the apostate rulers of Israel are false shepherds who hand their Good Shepherd over to the ultimate beast of that day, the power of Rome. The cry of dereliction, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) tells us that on the cross Jesus must die for beastly humanity as a beast. De-lambed and beast-ified Christ dies surrounded by men acting like “wild bulls and oxen”, “lions” and “dogs”, becoming in our place like one “brutish and ignorant…like a beast toward you.” (Ps 22:12-13, 16, 20-21; 73:22). Yet he was never unsubmissive to the Father but always the true Lamb of God (Ps 22:24; 72:23). Therefore the Holy Spirit raises him from the dead and bestows on him as Great Shepherd and Lamb of God dominion over all (Rom 1:4; Col 2:15; Heb 13:20; Rev 5:6). God’s glorious destiny for every one of his sheep has been realised in Christ.
Beasts in the Church
Jesus warned us of wolves “in sheep’s clothing” and Paul prophesied “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29). These are “brute beasts….shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 10, 12 cf. 2 Pet 2:12). Like beasts they love to lord it over the flock rather than delighting in the submission of sonship (1 Pet 5:2-3). These men and women are “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). Of course most church pastors are not like these folk, but many do teach as “lifestyle experts” emphasising a mastery over life’s circumstances far more than the virtue of living like a sacrificial lamb. The sheep are not foraging for good food in the Word and prayer because the lives of their leaders give insufficient evidence that this is where you find “green pastures and still waters” (Ps 23:1).
The greatest scandal in our Church is not that it’s sheep are unfed, but that an outside observer looking at the spiritually scrawny state of the people of God might ask; “What sort of a Father would not feed his children properly?” (Matt 7:7-11; Luke 11:11-13). The answer of is of course a “beastly father”. But we confess that the Father by his Spirit has properly nourished and nurtured the Lamb we follow, our Lord Jesus Christ. A rich revelation of the love of the Father as the Shepherd of the Son in his life, death, resurrection to glory and rule over the beasts of the earth will liberate the people of God to feed on the food that Christ offers. His charge to Peter remains before us all, “feed my lambs/sheep” (John 20:17-21). Do you hear Christ’s Spirit calling us to lambhood and shepherding today (Rom 15:13)?