When Sheep Die

Jesus compared his own to sheep. In John 10 He taught that His sheep know His voice and do not follow another. In Luke 15, He spoke of searching for the lost sheep and bringing it home.

Sheep are sheep. Not too smart. My neighbor has four. They have a nice pasture with a little stream amid some tall spindly trees. There’s a wooden fence to keep them in and a shed to shelter them and house their feed.

These sheep are quiet and serene. You don’t see the sheep parading around with a shepherd’s staff leading the flock. They don’t make commotions. They rarely run. They do not chase wolves or even the stray dog. They make no plans. They eat, they enjoy their pasture, eventually they are sheared of their wool, and they have lambs, making more sheep. They exist in a world all provided them—a world directed by the shepherd.

Sometimes the sheep graze on a poisonous weed and they die. This happened to friends’ sheep this summer. At first it was a mystery. The pasture looked fine, but then they found the weed, rising up out of the grass. It must have looked good to the sheep.

Other gospels always look enticing. It sounds good to have all sickness healed; all financial troubles wiped away, all suffering cease. But it is a false gospel that kills.

Last month, a church plant I once loved was closed. They say it was finances, but behind the scene was sin, that refused to come to the cross, and a gospel that focused on power, hope, and healing, but failed to press discipleship.

Paul resolved to know nothing but the cross and Christ crucified. The cross is foolishness to many, he wrote in 1 Corinthians, but to those who are being saved by it, it is the power of God. People like the power of God, but not the cross. We want victory without death.

The agony of victory is the cross. There can be no new life without death of the old, no flowering plant without burial of the seed. There is no other way than to put away the old ways, to conquer sin, to take captive our thoughts, to die to what we once were and be made new. God’s grace is there to equip us, but the renewing of our minds and our ways also requires great obedience on our part, and it is continuous.

Hardship and brokenness are convincing bedfellows. Go through enough and eventually you realize that you need help—from God and God alone. You may “experience” the love of God in listening to well-staged worship, but you won’t know it until you realize the depravity of your sin and the endless enslavement you’ve made in serving yourself.

Then you will know the love of God who sent this Jesus to hunt the lost sheep. The narrow path leads to the cross and your freedom.

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