He protects his flock like a shepherd;
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them in the fold of his garment.
He gently leads those that are nursing.
Isaiah 40:11 (CSB)
The first time I remember hearing these tender words I was with three young moms in a church nursery, located near our newlywed home in an outer ring suburb of Chicago. I did not yet have kids of my own, but the Sunday school classroom adjacent to our meeting space was alive with the screeches of little ones belonging to my friends. Mostly the squeals of little girls—the Bullmores, the Moores, and the other Andersons all starting their families with ruffles and hair-bows. Quite possibly there was at least one infant nestled against the breast of her nursing mama.
It was Bev who’d read the poetic verse to us, and it has remained in my memory all this time. It would be another year, give or take, before the first of my tribe of boys would arrive on the scene. For now I was the youngest sister welcomed into these weekly gatherings, and I clung to the counsel of my wiser mentors whose love for Jesus surpassed obvious devotion to their own tiny lambs.
My flock is grown now, and recently I’ve been driving back to my old neighborhood in Andover, Minnesota, on Monday evenings—the neighborhood where we raised our sons. A dozen or so of my Orchid Street friends still meet regularly to study the Bible, and they’ve welcomed me back, honorary neighbor and author of the book they themselves inspired me to publish. Together we’re reading The Covenant Story—a review for several who already possess dusty manuscripts in 3-ring binders. And last week’s study included a timely conversation about shepherds…
We talked initially about the Christmas announcement, it being that “most wonderful” time of year. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8) Through angels, God delivered the best of news to a most humble audience.
Euangelion. The word in Greek means “good news” or “good telling.” It was a royal proclamation, announcing a king’s arrival. The shepherds would have known what it meant. These were ordinary men (and likely women) who lived on the margins, who got dirty, who smelled like sheep. But they didn’t need to be raised in palaces to understand the significance of such an announcement…
We discussed, too, the many times shepherds are key players in the Bible’s story. How often God chose people from this humble vocation to play a role in his bigger story. Consider Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons, including Joseph. Moses and David.
But not every shepherd turned out to be worthy…
God saw his sheep—sick, wandering, confused, and misled. And he saw the shepherds—neglecting, leading astray. “Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” (Ezekiel 34:2)
God’s anger burned against the apathetic shepherds. His love burned for the scattered sheep. Through his prophet, God made promises. And the promises included both a shepherd and a covenant. “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered…” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
Of course we know it was Jesus who would become the ultimate Shepherd. The One who would come to the rescue of his lost and neglected sheep. Jesus—the Good Shepherd. Jesus, the one who would willingly lay down his life for His sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:14–16)
Most of my neighbor-friends are by now moms of adult children, offspring starting flocks of their own. The infants we once swaddled near maternal breasts are seeking their own pastures. They are, in a sense, scattered. No longer within eyeshot of us mamas, but certainly watched over by our Very Good Shepherd. Whatever would we do without this assurance?
This week I received text messages from my Andover friends, sharing requests for prayer. A daughter’s sick baby. A son who lost a friend. A mom who’s daughter is moving across country. An elderly mama, leaving her home.
Together we trust a Shepherd who searches high and low for one lost sheep out of His fold of 100. That sheep is you. That sheep is me. That sheep is each of our loved ones. He protects his flock like a shepherd and he gathers us lambs in his arms.
The shepherds went with haste, which is to say they took off tearing. Sprinting. Adrenaline of terror and joy, dodging this way and that, dark night hunt for a cryptic manger, bent on finding this swaddled king. Breathing heavy, unsteady, bended knee. To see
Note: Italicized text is taken from Chapter 20 of the The Covenant Story—Shepherds: Covenant Good News