Apart from Christmas, we don’t give much thought to shepherds. And that’s understandable. They’re not a presence in our culture. At best, we can relate to a distant connection with farmers and ranchers, whose lives are dedicated to agriculture and cattle, but even there, few have any real experience with all that entails.
It’s unlikely that any of us truly grasp the life of a shepherd, especially a shepherd of Old Testament times. They were not esteemed in their communities. Even so they faithfully watched their flocks, guarding them from danger and guiding them to pastures of safety. Though the Bible frequently references them, without experience, it’s hard to connect. So when one who labored as such speaks of a shepherd’s purpose, we benefit. David was just such a man. The shepherd who became a king understood first hand the great value of faithfulness to his charge. The wisdom that guided his life is reflected in the 23rd Psalm and elevates the meaning of a good shepherd to its highest ideal.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” NKJV
Having watched his father’s flocks as a boy, David understood the rigors and responsibilities; the places of quiet rest and the fury of predatory threats. He knew what it meant to have commitment to the flock in his care, courage in the face of the enemy and resolve to stand. But such character was born from something greater than himself ~ he understood the Source. Called a man after God’s own heart, David’s psalm honors the purpose of faithfulness to the work we are entrusted with by connecting it to the humble example of the true Shepherd King.
The announcement of this King was delivered to those deemed ordinary. The angels weren’t dispatched to nobility, but to shepherds that watched and led and lived among their flocks. They were the first to hear the proclamation of unparalleled hope ~ the Savior was among them. While others may have pondered such news, the shepherds did no such thing. Without hesitation they embraced it and ran to find the place of Jesus’ birth. They took no offense at His humble surroundings for it was commonplace to them. And in that lowly estate, they beheld God with us.
As we enter this wonderful season of Christmas, what significance does their story have for us today? Has the passing of time and change of lifestyle dulled our understanding of this supernatural event? To some it remains familiar and revered; to others it is foreign and rejected. Many claim it has no relevance at all. But nothing could be further from the truth. And just as God revealed Himself to the humble in that day, so He reveals Himself to the humble of heart in our day. His message is not only relevant, it is essential; for time here is not an endless commodity. The hour is coming when the life we know will be eternally changed and whether we find ourselves in green pastures or a dark pit will be determined by whose leading we chose to follow.
The truth is we have a lot of sheep characteristics. We run from the care intended to bless us and wander to the places that threaten to harm us. The 23rd Psalm is a reminder that we have a Good Shepherd who has gone to extraordinary lengths to rescue us. We can willingly trust His leading or stubbornly go our own way.
Trust is rooted in the knowledge of His faithfulness to supply our needs and filter our wants. He is the source of peace and assurance that we will pass from death to life. He is our defender in the face of evil and the King who will honor us in the very presence of those who sought to destroy His flock. He anoints us as His own and promises an eternity in His presence. He is the Shepherd worth following.
Foretold by prophets and announced by angels, the message of the Savior is Good News to willing hearts. The One whose cradle was overshadowed by a cross and whose tomb was emptied of it’s grip, arose in unequaled power to save lost and wandering people. His Name is Jesus ~ the Good Shepherd who is truly the King above all kings. In the clamor of many voices, He has come to call the people of this world into the safety of His fold.
His own hear His voice and joyfully follow.