“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. 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.” – John 10:11-15ESV
If you live in the parts of America where wolves are being reintroduced after they were wiped out by humans, then you know wolves and ranchers are always in contention. On the one hand, you have a species we drove to extinction in parts of the world that we’re now trying to do right by. The loss of the animal in the ecosystem, particularly in places like Colorado, has led to elk overpopulation and disease and a strained ecosystem not designed to support so many large, grazing mammals. On the other hand, you have ranchers, worried about the threat to their livestock represented by the reintroduction of wolves. Their livelihood is balanced on the well-being of their animals. It’s hard to ignore the concerns of a man who represents a threatened way of life in a country dependent on farming and ranching to survive.
This same dynamic of wolf, and in this case shepherd, played out in the ancient world. But shepherds didn’t have rifles and shotguns and big barns to protect their sheep. There was just the shepherd, with his staff and maybe a sling, standing between an entire herd of sheep and the wolves. And wolves are not mindless killers. They’re crafty, they’re intelligent, they’ve honed hunting down to an art in order to survive. They wait for a moment of inattention or distraction to find the weaker animal: one injured or sick or very old or very young. And they harass it, frighten it to run, to isolate itself from the rest of the flock and the protection of the shepherd. Then…the whole pack descends to bring it down.
Is this not a picture of what it is like to experience hardship in our lives? Trouble seems to pile on trouble. Conflict upon conflict. Disaster upon disaster. Your spouse gets sick, then they lose their job because they can’t work, then they lose their insurance, then the bills start to pile up, you can’t make payments and the creditors start calling, then your son or daughter starts struggling in school, then your car breaks down, then the IRS comes calling for an audit, then you start to get in trouble with your boss at work… You’re a wreck, but you don’t want anyone to know. You can’t afford counseling, even if you wanted to go. You withdraw from your friends. You’re drowning… and in the middle of it all, a traitorous voice in your head whispers:
“Where is God?”
“Why won’t He help me?”
“Surely if He’s so loving, He would do something.”
“Is this my fault? Is God punishing me?”
“If God were really there, He wouldn’t let this happen…”
“How dare He leave me like this…”
Because the wolves we face aren’t wild animals just trying to survive. The wolves who hunt us aren’t providing for their pack…they’re out to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10ESV). The wolves who hunt us are Satan and his demons, and they will do whatever they have to to separate you from the very One who can save your life: the Good Shepherd.
But our Good Shepherd is not a mortal man with a stick peering desperately into the darkness. Our Good Shepherd is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12ESV), the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6ESV), the “Strong Tower Against the Enemy” (Psalm 61:3ESV) and “God With Us” (Matthew 1:23ESV “Immanuel”). He does not become distracted, turning His eyes and attention to other things. We are the center of His focus. He lives within us, walks beside us, and carries us through every breath of our lives. He is the “Good Shepherd” whom the wolves themselves dragged down and murdered on the cross at Calvary…but they could not keep Him. Instead, He went into the den of the wolves (Hell) to announce His victory before raising from the dead so you, in all the brokenness you would know in your life, could know this one incredible truth: Jesus is ALIVE. The wolves of your life may harass you, but they cannot defeat the One who guards your eternity: Jesus.