He restores my soul . . . (Psalm 23:3)
Yesterday we attended Greenville, SC Highland Games. One of the events was a sheepdog demonstration. The dogs were amazing, but I watched the sheep with greater interest. Without any directing from the shepherd to the dogs, all those sheep wanted to do was fill their bellies. When they were being ‘herded’ they ran willy-nilly, perhaps terrified but certainly without thinking about what they were doing. If the shepherd left them alone, they chomped.
No wonder God says we are like sheep. Today’s verses point to how easily we wander, not thinking about what we are doing until we get lost or run out of food. The most obvious biblical illustration of this is the story Jesus told about the prodigal son . . .
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’
Most of us know the rest of the story. The father was waiting and welcomed him home, just as our heavenly Father is eager that we be restored from our wanderings. This earthly father said, “Let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11–24)
What makes a child of the Father want to squander God’s best gifts or waste his inheritance? Sin is the root of it, a sinful hunger that begins with “I want . . .” and cannot resist temptation’s lure. We are all guilty. God says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” just like those sheep at the games, wandering wherever the food is, there they are.
However, those sheep were without hope. They would always be silly sheep. Forgiveness for their wandering was not an issue either. They had no concern about a penalty for their wayward ways.
For us it is different. God is just and must punish sin, yet for His sheep, the punishment didn’t happen the way that seems just because “. . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) meaning that Jesus, the Lamb of God, bore sin’s awful penalty on the cross of Calvary.
Certainly God has different expectations of His sheep. He tells us to watch our appetites and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us. He says things like . . . “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” . . . and backs it up with a reason why . . . “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15–17)
Those sheep could not see beyond the end of their noses or their stomachs, but God gives us a glimpse of eternity. We know that there is more to life than this world and a greater satisfaction than any of it can provide. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s sheep are not herded but led. We make mistakes and sometimes give in to temptation, but His promises hold – and we have an eternal hope that goes much farther than merely placating those worldly I-wants.