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Psalm 100 says, “Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.”
Familiar words—and comforting—yet harsh at the same time. Having the Lord as your Shepherd and being the sheep of His pasture is great news. And yet, the psalm is comparing us to sheep, an animal that’s as foolish as it is filthy.
It’s a fitting comparison. But in your pride, you’ve forgotten how filthy and foolish you are. You’ve lost sight of how desperately you need the Good Shepherd’s washing, feeding, and guidance.
You’ve become so accustomed to the filth that’s within and around you that you’d rather be dirty than clean.
You’ve feasted on the perishable things of this world and so have lost your appetite for the Word of Christ.
Though you’re but an infant in your knowledge of His Word, you haven’t been eager for His correction and guidance, vainly imagining that God’s will is in perfect harmony with yours.
When Scripture describes you as sheep, this isn’t a compliment. This is reminiscent of the time our Lord compared the Canaanite woman to a dog. To be compared to such a filthy, foolish animal is incredibly offensive to the sinful flesh. It’s supposed to be. Repent.
This is why Christ had compassion on the crowds—not because they were sanctified, smart and successful, but because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. But they were this way through no fault of the Shepherd—He has made every effort to keep you close, but still you wander.
What could be more foolish than for sheep to stray from their Shepherd? Yet that comes so naturally to us that it often seems like a good idea. The flesh is foolish and filthy, yet vainly imagines it’s sensible and sanctified. As the apostle says, “I know nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
The flesh cannot be cleansed; it’s rotten to the core. The only thing to do with the flesh is to put it to death through daily contrition and repentance, and to keep on doing this until it’s finally put to death once and for all. All it does is cause you, like sheep, to go astray.
This is why Christ compares the Canaanite woman to a dog and Psalm 100 compares us to sheep. Astonishingly, the Canaanite woman agrees with Jesus and even begs for the privilege of receiving His crumbs like a dog, and Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving.
Like the Canaanite woman, the psalmist accepts God’s evaluation, difficult though it is to hear. And he does this for two reasons. One, because it’s what his Lord says, and two (which is related to the first point), it’s the truth. The doctor does the cancer patient no favors when he soft-sells the diagnosis, nor does it do any good to live in denial.
But still we can join together with the psalmist and the Canaanite woman in giving thanks to Christ, our Good Shepherd, because He welcomes even the filthiest and most foolish sheep into His fold. As St. Paul says,
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:26–29).
This is why we praise God in Psalm 100. He reminds us again and again that we’re foolish sheep, no matter how much our flesh hates the reminder. Christ loves you too much to leave you alone, so He pays you this intolerable compliment. Being a sheep means you belong to the Good Shepherd.
But you won’t appreciate what it means to have a Good Shepherd until you come to terms with the poverty of life without Him. That shouldn’t be too hard to imagine: just think of a typical day, the usual stresses or fears you live with, all the result of your constant straying from Christ.
Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you can’t wander away from the Good Shepherd just because you’re a Christian. You can, and you have. Repent.
God laments the disobedience of His people by comparing them to a vineyard. What more could He have done for it? He prepared the land, planted only the best vines, and made sure it was appropriately guarded.
This is why God has given you His Commandments. He intended them as a fence to keep you close to Him and safe from the danger of your own sin.
But instead of rejoice in this fence, you’ve regarded it as a prison and tried to break out at every opportunity, only to realize that the “prison” was, in fact, a sanctuary, and the freedom you’ve so desperately longed for are the real chains. Freedom from Christ is slavery to sin. If only we lived within the boundaries of His Commandments, how much better life would be! But like curious sheep, we’re prone to wander—to our own detriment.
We’re like Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Mowgli was a boy who wanted to live in the jungle. Even the other animals knew the jungle was no place for a boy, but Mowgli was determined to stay. It didn’t go well for him. Twice he was hypnotized by a snake. He was kidnapped by a gang of monkeys and almost became dinner for a man-eating tiger.
Straying from God’s Word is even more dangerous than leaving a boy to fend for himself in the jungle. But Christ doesn’t sit idly by while you stray from His flock, despite His repeated warnings about the dangers of doing so. Any other shepherd would have said, “Forget this!” and put in for a career change long ago, but not Jesus.
The further you wandered, the more He did to bring you back. Instead of retreat into heaven, He entered into this wilderness in order to bring you back into His fold. This Shepherd even made Himself one of the flock, taking on the very flesh and blood of His sheep.
The Shepherd became so fully Man that even His own people had a hard time distinguishing Him from the rest of the flock. In Nazareth, the crowds said,
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.”
Christ was so fully a member of the flock that His own flock put Him to death for the simple fact that He was also their Shepherd. And while it looked like the flock had risen up and overthrown their Shepherd, this was, in fact, the Shepherd’s plan all along—to seek out His scattered sheep on the day of deepest darkness by allowing Satan to devour Him instead.
By His wounds you have been healed. Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the filth and the folly of His flock. In Christ, God regards you as a lamb without spot or blemish. He has washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. He shelters you with His presence, and He invites you to His Table that you may never hunger or thirst. And on the Last Day, He will raise up your body. That which was sown perishable will be raised imperishable and the mortal body will put on immortality.
For you were straying like sheep, but now, by the grace of God, have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria