I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. – Jesus
Jesus loves His sheep so much that he laid down His life for them, willingly. He owns and loves these sheep in such a way that they know, trust, and follow Him alone. The imagery here is a beautiful comfort. The fold is secure — the only way in is through the gate and only the sheep are welcome. Jesus warns that anyone coming in a different way other than himself is a robber — an impostor — a threat. (John 10:7)
I’ve heard many a pastor refer to sheep as dumb animals. Never once have I heard Jesus speak of his beloved sheep that way — what I hear Jesus saying is that sheep are precious to him, they are loyal to him, and they are vulnerable. Nowhere in the parable is Jesus harsh with His sheep for being scattered. He never once breaks their legs to keep them near (that’s a big lie by the way- told by crazy pastors who want to break your legs to keep control of you. Google it.) Jesus doesn’t have to coerce them or yell at them to be sheep. As a friend of mine always says, “sheep are sheep so they do sheep things”. What is the number one thing sheep do? Jesus says, they follow after the Shepherd.
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (v3-5)
I’m a sheep and I’m friends with a lot of sheep. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of sheep who have fled from the voice of strangers. I meet new sheep regularly who have ceased hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd in their local institution. Instead they have been offered ways to look like sheep that don’t have anything to do with entering through the gate and following the Shepherd. Instead, they (and I) have been offered ways to get in and stay in the fold by means other than the gate. We’ve been told if we could just do some sheep exercises, we can leap better and jump higher over the fence. Needless to say, the sheep are beat up, exhausted, and broken.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 12-13
Whether the institution wants to admit it or not, by and large, the voice of the Shepherd is hard to hear and in many places, non-existent. Many wolves have been allowed to come into the fold and do unspeakable damage to the flock. As a result, we have fled. We have run as fast as our little sheep legs can carry us away from the danger. We are scattered.
Many are angry that we have fled and scattered. Sadly, the ones getting the brunt of this anger are the already wounded sheep. We have been told to just go back to the institutions, to make the best of it. It’s based out of a misunderstanding of who sheep are and what we do. But this post isn’t for those who would be angry with us for being sheep-like. We have tried to explain it to no avail. The sheep are frankly tired of explaining themselves. This sheep is tired of explaining herself. So this post is not to those.
This post is to the scattered.
To those sheep who are tired of being yelled at for running away from wolves. Will you go and read John 10? Will you hear your Shepherd say he’s not angry at you for being scattered? He’s not angry with you for fleeing the voice of strangers. You have run from the danger and you have followed His Voice. You did what you were supposed to do, weary sheep. Continue to follow his voice. Don’t go where you don’t hear him. Don’t go where it’s dangerous. Don’t listen to those who would ask you to enter in any other way but Jesus himself. He alone is the gate, your means of grace. He alone laid down his life for you and He alone owns you. No one else.
Hired hands will want to put a time-stamp on how long it’s “okay” to be scattered. Your Shepherd does not. He sees. He knows. He is near. He loves you. You are safe. When you’re heart breaks in two all over again because someone else is heaping judgment on you for leaving the institution — that promised you gospel safety — and instead gave you anything but the gospel- remember that you followed the Voice of your Shepherd. He led you out. If anyone has a problem with that, precious sheep- tell them to take it up with your Shepherd. Don’t lose heart. Don’t be discouraged. He knows how you hate being scattered.
A good friend of mine, Lauren Larkin, and I had this very conversation about the institution and what sheep should do if they cannot find the Good Word locally. What she had to say was so true and so profound:
“When the church forfeits its message the people are free to forfeit the church.”
I feel like the scattered sheep need to hear that because hardly anyone is willing to tell you this publicly. So few are willing to say “it’s okay that you left the institution calling herself a church because the institution calling herself a church has left the gospel!”
We need to redefine church. We are the bride. We are the church. If you can’t find a place locally to go and hear the gospel preached to you- pure and undefiled — and all you are handed is cheap law? Then go listen to the Good Word on a podcast and meet with the scattered. Jesus brings His sheep together because they need each other. Don’t fret. He’ll provide them for you — you won’t even really have to go looking! Don’t allow anyone to manipulate or guilt you into thinking that this means forsaking the assembly, friends. That is not what you have done. The only thing you have done is follow the Voice you know.
It’s safe now, you can lie down in those green pastures.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10: 27-28