16th September 2013

Letter from the Pastor

‘our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep’

Hebrews 13:10

I must confess to being a Red Rose man opposed to being a White Rose one. This is partly due to my much loved grandparents living in Lancashire and the many happy memories I have of spending time with them. I find that even after I became an adult, I still gravitate towards the rugged beauties of the West Lancashire countryside. So, this year, as we booked a cottage for a short break in Middleham, Yorkshire, this was a definite break with tradition!

One the highlights of the 5 days we spent there was to discover a book of Dales walks, one of which started within a few feet from the front door of the cottage, a 5 mile walk which Kyu and I did a number of times. It took the rambler down through beautiful Coverdale, over the river Cover and then into various fields in which the sheep were peacefully grazing – a sight most familiar with us all in Wales – very much the land of sheep. It was as I was able to get up quite close to these creatures that I found my mind being taken to the various statements made in the Bible about sheep, shepherds and the like: as I thought of the truths of how we are like sheep; how the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was led as a sheep before its shearers and was dumb; and of how He is the Good Shepherd – indeed that Great Shepherd of the sheep.

There is much that is very simple yet profound in such a meditation: the sheep we passed were so calm and peaceful – lying down at rest, without a care to trouble them, just slowly chewing on the grass they had taken. But, a signpost, as the field was entered, reminded us that this idyllic scene could soon change: ‘any dogs not on leads may be shot’ – because a dog or some other dangerous animal let loose among the flock would soon wreak havoc, with the poor, helpless sheep fleeing in terror, for sheep are most vulnerable beasts, unable to defend themselves from predators.

The parallels with us as Christians are clear and obvious, and yet blessed. The Lord, the Good Shepherd, would have His sheep, for whom He died, at peace: at rest in Him; in a contented and Christ-satisfied state. He would have them untroubled and calm, free from fear and worry, for it is in this condition they are best able to graze; their focus is able to be on feeding, undisturbed by anything else. In this we are reminded of how vital is our nourishment on the spiritual food of the Word of God, and how in times of relative peace and quiet in our lives these are not to be times of slacking off from spiritual duties, but, rather, they are to be times of much intake and input from the Scriptures, both in private devotion and public preaching. Like Joseph in Egypt, the Christian is to seek to store up wisely and well in the ‘7 years of plenty’ – those seasons of peace and calm in his life; to be feeding steadily and constantly like the sheep in the field. Such strength of soul that comes from such practice will always stand us in good stead when the 7 years of want and famine come upon us; when the wolf is known to approach the sheep.

Then the sheep’s vulnerability reminds us of our own weaknesses. As men we like to think of ourselves as being strong and able to defend ourselves; but in reality, the opposite is true. This is no more the case than in spiritual matters: we are weak and without strength the Bible informs us. Like the sheep in the field – should a dog, fox, or to use the Bible’s predator, a wolf, come in and attack the flock, the sheep would be helpless. In fact, naturally, sheep are one of the few animals that will not even seek to defend themselves. No, in such cases the only hope for the sheep lies with the shepherd: one who will guard, will defend and fend off all and any assaults upon his sheep.

Thus as spiritual sheep we are those cast upon the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Himself to defend us from all assaults of our enemies – even the One who declared that He was (and is!) the Good Shepherd. He who has already laid down His life for us, His sheep, is the One who is our shield and defender. What a blessed picture we have of this in the person of the young David; how he protected the flock of his father from the assault of dangerous and ferocious beasts – the lion and the bear – even pursuing after them when they had made off with one of the fold. We read in 1 Sam 17:34-35: ‘Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock; And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.’

Then what lovely words we read in the prophet Isaiah 40:11: ‘He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.’ What a blessed combination we find in Him of gentleness and meekness on the one hand, and power and strength on the other. To Him therefore we should ever look as His sheep: as we seek to graze well upon the spiritual, lush grass of His Word, as we seek to do so at peace with a godly contentment, looking to Him to perfectly perform His office of the Good Shepherd in keeping us from all harm and bring us safely home to the heavenly fold.

Pastor Paul Ackerley