In 2005 in eastern Turkey, some shepherds were quietly eating breakfast while “tending” sheep from their village. As they ate the sheep were grazing. One of the sheep wandered dangerously close to a cliff—and then fell to its death. Sheep, being sheep and therefore utterly lacking a sense of direction and utterly lacking, well, sense, began to follow this foolish sheep over the cliff. The first 400 or so sheep died when they hit the bottom. The remaining 1,100 sheep—yes, ELEVEN-HUNDRED—also went over the cliff but their fall was broken by the bodies of those who had gone before them. Many of the first sheep to go over the cliff died by being crushed by the weight of the sheep above them.
Sheep are very prone to follow the crowd. This is due to the fact that sheep are rather defenseless. They can kick and they can head-butt people or predators, but they lack any real defense. They are truly dependent on their shepherds for their very lives.
I find it a source of endless amusement that Scripture routinely refers to people as sheep. This is not a compliment. Just think of Psalm 23 in this light. The Lord is our shepherd. He’s the one who leads us to green pastures and still waters. Sheep need still water for if they fall into a fast-moving stream, they will drown. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have no need to fear for the Lord is with us. If he were not, every danger would be a life-threatening danger, for sheep are defenseless.
Understanding the context of sheep opens up the real meaning of many such passages. Consider John 10:30.
I and the Father are one.John 10:30 ESV
We recognize this for what it is: Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. This is how those who heard him understood it (see John 10:33). The context for this statement, however, has everything to do with sheep.
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 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. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”John 10:22–30 ESV
Earlier in the chapter Jesus declared he is the Good Shepherd. Unlike hired hands who run at the first hint of danger, he will never forsake his sheep but would lay down his life for them. Though he had demonstrated his divine nature through his teaching and his miracles on numerous occasions, on this particular day the Jewish people demanded that he speak plainly. If he is the long-promised Messiah, he should say so.
It is very interesting that he says they are not part of his flock. If they were his sheep, they would follow him and believe him. They are not part of his sheep. He’s indicating that he already knows every single person who will believe and follow him—he knows his sheep, and they are not among them.
Remember that sheep are utterly defenseless and are prone to wander into danger. Sheep are prone to follow whomever is in front of them, even if it means falling off a cliff to their death. Notice that Jesus says his sheep hear his voice and follow him—not other sheep! Following other sheep is dangerous! Each individual sheep will follow the voice of its shepherd. The problem in eastern Turkey was the shepherds were not paying attention. Jesus never gets distracted. Notice his promise: they will never perish. That is, Jesus will never be eating breakfast and forget to pay attention to his flock that is getting dangerously close to a cliff. They will never perish. He declares that no one will snatch them out of his hand. Earlier in John Jesus said,
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.John 6:37–39 ESV
Jesus promises to save every one of his sheep. In John 10 he declares that this is so because his sheep will know him and will recognize his voice and will follow him. He will never lose a single sheep along the way. Ever. When he says no one will snatch his sheep from his hand he means that the enemy, who fights against God at every turn, will not have victory over the people of God. Not a single one who belongs to the flock of Jesus will be lost. It’s not always the enemy of God, however. Sheep tend to follow other sheep, even down the wrong path. Because his promise is that his sheep will ultimately follow his voice, his sheep will remain safely within his flock, even as they sometimes try to wander away. This is because no one—not others and not even yourself—can snatch a single sheep from his hand. Notice what Jesus says next.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.John 10:29–30 ESV
The Son of God points the people to God the Father and declares he is greater than all others. Everyone there hearing these words would have acknowledged the absolute sovereignty and absolute power of God. Jesus says that the Father, with his sovereign power, will keep his sheep safe within his divine hands. No one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. It is at this point that he declares that he and his Father are one. His hands are as powerful as his Father’s hands, which means the hands of Jesus are infinitely powerful.
There is no danger you and I can face that Jesus cannot control. There is no disease or bodily ailment or mental ailment that can pluck us from his hand. There is no mortal danger—no matter how high the cliff—that can separate us from our Good Shepherd who knows each and every one of his sheep. If you are in Christ there is no one, not even yourself, who can pluck you from his divine, omnipotent, loving hands. Whatever you and I face in this life, we face with our Good Shepherd standing right there, calling out to us with his voice that we may know how to follow, using his rod and his staff to comfort us as he prote