The Christmas Shepherd

Bible Book: Isaiah  40 : 6-11
Subject: Christmas; Shepherd; Love of God
Introduction

Christmas is around the corner and people are scrambling to buy the right gift for the right person. In fact, most people began to search for Christmas presents way back in October or even before. I think I saw more Christmas decorations up in stores and on many homes prior to Thanksgiving this years than ever before in my lifetime. When I was a boy, my brother and our parents went into the woods to cut a tree and drag it back home about ten days before Christmas Day. My, how things have changed since then.

Of course, you husbands had better not wait till the last minute to get your wife the gift she is expecting. Always remember this: Regarding love for her husband, a woman will forgive almost anything with the exception of indifference! And you might as well remember this as well: A man's life is made up of twenty years with his mother asking him where he is going, then he spends forty years with his wife asking him where he's been – and, finally, one hour at his funeral when everyone wonders where he went! (from Sermon Builder)

Seriously, a lot of love is shown at Christmastime through sharing gifts and special events, and especially through family activities and gatherings. But, there is no love greater than the love that was shown when our Lord was born in the Bethlehem. In fact, that gift is the prompter for all our gift-giving. Jesus came here to save us from our sins, and in so doing expressed the greatest love that the world will ever experience. He is God's gift to us - the indescrible gift!

As we think about Christmas, I want us to think of God's Son as Shepherd. One of the images of Christmas is that of a shepherd. We see the shepherds on Christmas cards, in Christmas plays and during Christmas musicals in our churches. It is interesting to note that the One born in Bethlehem's manger came to be the Great Shepherd of His sheep!

Think of the heart of our great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. His love that excels all others. If we understand how much we are loved by God, and if we love Him faithfully in return, we will then love others properly in every sphere of our lives.

If you can, and if you are able, would you stand and honor the Word of God and the God of the Word as I read Isaiah 40:6-11.

We come today to one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It is impossible for us to know how much comfort our text today has brought to human souls. This passage has been spoken on, written about, preached from the pulpit and read more times that we can calculate. Even though this passage is not directly related to the birth of Christ, it does come at the crossroads in the Book of Isaiah. The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah reveal the nature of the Old Testament, and beginning with chapter forty we discover the victorious notes of New Testament love and salvation.

All students of the Bible know that the Book of Isaiah takes a completely different tone when chapter 39 closes and chapter 40 begins. From the first verse of Chapter 40, the mood turns from one of judgment in the foregoing chapters to one of grace and mercy in the following chapters. The Book of Isaiah has been compared to the entire Bible:

  • The Bible has sixty-six books; Isaiah has sixty-six chapters.
  • The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books; the first part of Isaiah contains thirty-nine chapters.
  • The New Testament contains twenty-seven books; the latter part of Isaiah contains twenty-seven chapters.
  • Just as the New Testament begins with a message of the coming of a Savior and the salvation He provides, the fortieth chapter of Isaiah begins a similar theme. Here we see the Shepherd of heaven holding His sheep in His arms. The One whom Mary held in her arms came to the be One to hold her and all others of faith in His arms.

There are three consequential components to this passage which we shall consider today. The message at first seems common, then considerate, and at last remarkably compassionate.

I. The Definition of the Human Condition

The put it plainly, humans are dying. We don’t like to think about death, but death will not let us forget or deny its existence. The dim lights and makeup of the funeral director cannot remove the cold hard facts concerning death. We can say of the corpse, “He looks so natural,” but it does not change the stark reality of mortality.

Rev. George Goldtrap tells of a preacher who got up one Sunday morning and was looking through the paper. He read the obituaries and, lo and behold, his name was listed among the deceased. He wondered if his deacons had read it. He picked up the phone and called the chairman of deacons and asked, “Have you read the morning paper yet?"

The deacon said, “Yes, sir, I have.”

The preacher asked, “Did you see my name in the death notices?"

The deacon answered, “Yes, I did.” Then there was a moment of silence. The deacon then asked, “Preacher, where are you calling from?" (Adapted from Rev. George Goldtrap, Madison, TN, The Preacher Joke Book, edited by Loyal Jones, p. 54.)

The Bible states that, “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment!” (Hebrews 9:27) Jesus came to redeem us from an eternal death and separation from God. In this passage we see the serious nature of death. Look at how the Lord illustrated death in Isaiah 40.

A. The Severity of this Illustration

The Lord uses an illustration in this passage – and illustration which speaks of our feeble nature. How severe is this word from the Lord? We are like the grass that grows up in the morning and is dead by evening time.

If you are like me, you love the smell of mown grass. I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for some time and the grass there has the sweetest smell when cut of any grass I have ever known. But, in the end, it is just dead grass! That sounds severe – it is severe. We shall perish like the grass.

B. The Simplicity of this Illustration

God does not wax eloquent in this particular spot in Isaiah, but rather shares an illustration so simple that even the weakest of mind can understand it. We humans are like grass – puny, pitiful, and transitory! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to grasp this fact. In nature there are many incredible things, like giant trees, soaring mountains, beautiful multi-colored flowers, singing birds and creatures so small that they can only be seen with powerful microscopes; however, when God compares us to something in nature, He equates our lives as grass! For anyone feeling a bit egotistical or arrogant this morning, perhaps the thought the Lord shares in this passage will cool your heels a bit.

C. The Sincerity of this Illustration

We expect the old to die, but death still appears as a thief when it takes time on earth from us. This is especially true when it involves the young. It was Carl Jung who said, “Death is a period placed before the end of the sentence." In other words, it almost always seems to come too soon.

I recall, though I don’t know where I first heard it, the story of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who was during his lifetime one of America's great preachers. His first wife died from cancer when she was in her thirties and left three children under the age of twelve. Barnhouse chose to preach the funeral himself. What does a father tell his motherless children at a time like that? On his way to the service, Dr. Barnhouse was driving with his little family when a large truck passed by them on the highway. As the truck went by it cast a shadow over their car. Barnhouse turned to his oldest daughter who was staring sadly out the window of the car and asked, "Tell me, sweetheart, would you rather be run over by that truck or its shadow?" The little girl looked strangely at her father and said, "By the shadow, I guess. It can't hurt you." Dr. Barnhouse said quietly to the three children, "Your mother has not been overrun by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear." At the funeral he used the text from the twenty-third Psalm, which so eloquently expresses that truth.

I know that Christmastime can be difficult for those who have seen loved ones slip away during this past year. Also, there are those whose loved ones died near to or on Christman day. That makes this holiday extremely hard to deal with. But listen as we move on to note this in our text today ...

II. The Declaration of the Sovereign Petition

While we are living, God is calling, that is what this passage says to us. God is calling us to come to Him while we have the opportunity and how wonderful it is that God loves us enough to call us to salvation, redemption, and life before we face death and the judgment. He calls us because He alone can save us and can comfort us in our sorrows and hardships.

I was talking with a man recently who is going through profound heartbrokenness and his face revealed the pain in his heart. He is not a Christian and I took the time to let him know that God loves Him and sent His only Son to die for Him at Calvary. The young man broke down in tears, yet he still resisted the message of personal salvation. Why? Somehow he cannot hear the voice of God speaking to him - calling to him. I pray that He will, for the Lord is his only hope. Perhaps you are going through a valley right now - if you will listen, you will hear the loving voice of God calling to you. He cares for your soul, your heart and your life.

A. We Must Hear Him before we can See Him

“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) You will never see God, meaning that you cannot have a sense of His saving presence, until you hear Him calling to you. It is not a voice like that of a man – it is MUCH LOUDER THAN THAT. His voice is one that calls beyond the ears and beckons straight to the heart! Let the person who has ears hear what God is saying.

I have noticed lately that a lot of people walk around with headphones over their ears. They are listening to a book or to their favorite music, but that can be dangerous. There are stories in the news these days of people who walk right out in front of a bus or car because they cannot hear anything but the sound coming from the earbuds or headphones. Sadly, that is how so many people live when it comes to God's voice. They have blocked out any chance of hearing Him. Open the ears of your heart and you will hear His voice.

B. We Must See Him before we can Come To Him

What do I mean by this? You are called by God to look to Him. The Scripture declares, “Look and live.” (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14, 15) To “see” Him means to trust what He says. I hear from Him and then I believe (see) Him.

When Jesus was born and laid in the manger, God placed a star in the sky to mark the occasion. When He was born, God had angels sing to the shepherds in the fields watching their sheep. God was broadcasting the arrival of the Redeemer. He wants us to SEE Him and live!

There is a wild attempt to get attention these days. Some actions by people are so radical that they defy common sense, but their goal is to get someone to see them. The real problem for most of these people is that they don't need to be seen - they need to see the One who can change their lives and give them meaning. Listen to His call, look toward the divine voice, and you will find your purpose in this world.

C. We Must Come To Him before we Die

Listen to His voice of love, look to Him in faith as the One who died on Calvary’s Cross, and COME to Him in believing faith. To come to Christ means to take the step of faith to follow Him. No one who is ashamed can be saved (Luke 9:26; Romans 10:11). You must be willing to confess Him openly. That is why we give invitations in our church and ask people to come forward to one of our ministers after the sermon. It is not to embarrass you – it is to give you a chance to come to Jesus – to openly trust Him to forgive you sins and to give you eternal life.

Your life is fragile. We are passing like the grass in the field, but God is calling to us. He is pleading with us! Why? He is pleading because He loves us! Forget for a moment the pictures of romantic love and think with me about redemptive love. God’s love is so great that Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, grew up to die on a cruel Roman cross for us. But, you must come to Him and you must come before you die! This is not a decision to delay!

III. The Demonstration of the Divine Affection

Jesus is the Great Shepherd. He is leading His sheep! Once we hear, we look and we trust Him, He becomes our Shepherd. He cares for us and leads us in the correct path.

Note some things the Great Shepherd does for His sheep...

A. The Shepherd is Lifting us

Just look at Isaiah 40:11. He gathers up His sheep in his arms and carries them. What a picture of divine love. Jesus holds us in His arms – in His hand (John 10:28-29). These pictures are here to show you how secure you are and how special all the redeemed are to our Lord!

Jesus came to this earth to show us that He loves us. He revealed His nail-scarred hands to His disciples after His resurrection. He holds out His hands to you today, and when you trust Him, He will lift you up. Place yourself in His hands and you will know the peace spoken of at Christmastime.

B. The Shepherd is Loving us

Look again at Isaiah 40:11. He holds his sheep in his bosom. This is the picture of deep and profound love. The Hebrew form of the words here is one of intensity and passion. He is seen holding the sheep securely and with great love!

There are a number of biblical illustrations regarding the word bosom and how it refers to the heart or the center of love. The greatest of these illustrations is found in the life of Christ. Look at John 13:23 and you will note that John leaned on the bosom of Christ. Now, you would think that this showed John’s love, but read it carefully. The text tells us that John was the one JESUS LOVED. Wow! Jesus holds near His heart, his bosom, those who have responded to His love.

I am loved by the Lord of heaven. Why? Am I loved because I am special? No! Am I loved for the things I have done? No! Am I love because I am better than another? No!I am nothing more than the grass of the field that grows up in a day and is dead by nightfall. No, I am loved because I heard His call, I looked to Him in faith, repenting of my sins, and I came to Him. That same love is available to all who will come to Him. He loves you, but you have to respond to Him to be held in His love forever!

C. The Shepherd is Leading us

Look at verse 11 again – “…gently leads those who are young.” He is leading those who belong to Him. Once I came to Him in faith, He took charge of my life. He has led me all the way, and He will lead me onward till He calls me to be with Him in a home He is preparing for me.

That is what Christmas is about! He came to us so that we might come to Him. He calls us so that we might call upon Him. He loves us so that we might love Him.

Conclusion

In Southern Palestine there are many caves and several flocks of sheep might be herded into one of them to escape a storm or bed down for the night. In the morning, the shepherd does not have to go through all the sheep trying to find those who belong to him and separate them from the others. In order to get His own sheep from the others, he goes to the opening of the cave and calls out in a loud voice. The sheep that belong to him will come out from the others and follow him. His sheep will not follow the voice of another.

The Lord is calling you. Can you hear Him? Will you respond by placing your faith in Him? Love Him who first loved you. Love the One who loved you enough to come into the sin-cursed world that He might lay down His perfect life for you. Turn to Him today. You will learn what real LOVE is all about. He will lift you, love you and lead you all the way along life’s path, and take you to His home forever when this life is over!

Then you will be able to say with King David, “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)