Jesus was Deeply Moved for the Sheep without a Shepherd

Jesus was Deeply Moved for the Sheep without a Shepherd

Jesus was Deeply Moved for the Sheep without a Shepherd. 

“Then Jesus went and visited all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion (splagchnizomai) for them, because they were weary, harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36; Also refer to Mark 6:34, when Jesus was likewise “moved with compassion” – with the same Greek word – for the multitude who were “sheep without a shepherd).

splagchnizomai  (splawnk – NITZ – oh – mi). Don’t let that strange Greek word put you off. It turns out to be one of the most meaningful ideas in the gospels, and it describes Jesus to a T. Most Bible versions translate this word to mean “moved with compassion.” But somehow that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. One might even say it doesn’t go deep enough. The literal meaning of this word is “to have one’s bowels yearn,” which makes sense since the root word for it is “intestines.” Since the innermost organs were considered at that time to be the seat of human emotions, and since love is the emotion being implied, splagchnzomai could be understood as an experience in which true compassion has its beginnings from down deep in the gut. This word points to an intense emotional experience that is felt in the pit of one’s stomach. This profound compassion is not superficial by any means, not casual, not distant. This compassion is immediate and so deeply felt that it demands action. This compassion is so visceral that it must find an outlet, a target, in doing something physical and helpful.

As we deepen our union with Christ, as we live into His reality and character, we also live into His compassion, into being deeply moved to our very innards. As theologian Jeff McSwain once said, “If we truly are ‘in Christ,’ then just as we’ve been given the mind of Christ, we’ve also been given the ‘gut’ of Christ.” Every Christian, being a little Christ, will live into the possession of the sensitive gut of Jesus.

Jesus clearly embraced the role of shepherd for all these wandering sheep in Israel. He remained deeply moved when he saw how helpless and scattered the people were. He concluded that they didn’t have the benefit of godly leadership, and He knew he was sent to do something about it. He felt the plight of the weary sheep to His bones, to His innards. There was no question that he rightly saw Himself as the fulfillment of those shepherd passages in the Hebrew Bible. He presented Himself to the people as the embodiment of “YAHWEH-MY-SHEPHERD,” an important name of God begins Psalm 23.

This deep concern for the lost is reflected in His little parable about the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-7. Facing off with some of those ungodly leaders prophesied in Ezekiel 34, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd with a flock of one hundred sheep. One of them wanders away, and the shepherd did what a good, responsible shepherd does, he searched everywhere until he found it. The shepherd joyfully put the sheep on his shoulders and carried it home to the flock. Jesus then closed the story with the revelation that there is a glorious celebration in heaven every time one lost sinner repents and comes home. The burden Jesus felt was certainly made clear when He said to Zacchaeus in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

When Jesus declared He was “the Good Shepherd” in John 10, He was speaking directly to all these wandering sheep who are without a shepherd. He offered hope to all those who felt like they were spiritually lost. The Greek word for “good” here is kalos, which also means virtuous, beautiful, and especially in this context, excellent in performance of duty. Ezekiel 34:11-16 helps us to see how Yahweh is a good shepherd: “Sovereign Yahweh says,  And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost. I’ll collect the strays. I’ll doctor the injured. I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.” (Message)Another picture of Yahweh being the good shepherd offering tender care is Isaiah 40:11“Behold, Yahweh God shall come with a strong hand. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those who are with young.” In other words, Yahweh-Shepherd is excellent at what He does. The good shepherd considers the sheep his own. He is ready to defend the flock with his own life if necessary. He faithfully tends his flock, protects, heals, guides, and provides whatever is needed for the sheep to flourish. When Jesus claims to be the good shepherd, all the Scripture-savvy listeners would know He is directly referring to these passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah, which in picturesque language describe the ministry of the coming Messiah.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, leaders were commonly called shepherds, from Moses to David to Yahweh Himself. Many leaders, though, were not as excellent as them at their job, and Yahweh has no patience with those bad shepherds. We need look no further than Ezekiel 34 again to see the bad shepherds described: “Prophecy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Tell them Sovereign LORD says, ‘Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed the sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd. Watch out! I’m coming down on the shepherds and taking my sheep back! (vs. 1-10, Message). We have all seen leaders like that, unfortunately. Jesus saw them in Israel and the tragic results. He declared that in the Spirit of Yahweh, He will be the polar opposite of the bad shepherd. He is asking us to trust in His shepherding skills.

The good shepherd, says Jesus, knows his sheep more like a friend-leader than some distant despot. And the sheep know him as well. The sheep trust their shepherd when he calls them by name. The sheep are familiar with his voice, they recognize his voice when he guides and talks to them. The sheep may be rather stupid, but even they know better than to follow a strange voice. “Know’ is a relationship word in Scripture. To know someone, like the good shepherd knows his sheep, is deeply personal, is intimate. Knowing is not merely an intellectual process. Knowing involves learning by personal experience, through intimate involvement. To know something is to care for it, to give oneself over to it, to be responsible for whatever is known. To know something is to have a committed understanding of the thing known. Something isn’t truly known unless it has changed the knower in some way.  To know is to have a heartfelt focus on something. Jesus truly knows His followers, and His followers grow in knowing Him.

Jesus couldn’t have made this any clearer. He is claiming to be Messiah by embracing His fulfillment of the shepherd passages in the Hebrew Bible. There is no question He is claiming to be “Yahweh-my-shepherd” that David wrote about so beautifully. Further fulfillment of the shepherd passages were confirmed on the Cross, when He followed through on His compassion coming so deeply from His gut. Jesus said He is willing and able to lay down His life for the sheep. On the Cross, He did just that. Let’s hope the listeners during his Good Shepherd teaching in John 10 remembered this aspect of the discussion after the Resurrection. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep. Oh, that all the sheep that are lost, who have wandered away, would recognize the voice of Jesus, “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:7). the Messiah who will be “a shepherd after Yahweh’s heart, guiding us to pasture with wisdom and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).