A shepherd keeps sheep together. Without a shepherd, they scatter, wandering aimlessly until they become weak. Alone with no defender or guide, they have little courage. Now they are easy prey to the predators who eye them greedily. The Bible likens people to sheep. On their own, they can easily become exhausted, weak, and fainthearted. The multitude which Jesus saw scattered abroad were like that.
Not all people are like sheep. Some are described in scripture as “ravening wolves” who see others as opportunities for exploitation. They “ambush the innocent without reason” and lead the blind into a ditch. These wicked people stalk others for their own purposes, and leave multitudes in fear and despair.
Yet Jesus saw most people as sheep – needy sheep. When He walked the dusty roads of Israel, He encountered them in their troubles: a man sorrowing because of a daughter who had just died, a woman with a chronic illness, a demon-possessed man who could not talk, two blind men, and many others who were sick and diseased. What did He do when these very imperfect people were brought to Him? He healed them all. And then He looked around and saw multitudes of them. How did he respond? He had compassion on them. Why compassion? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd (see Matt. 9:36). Good shepherds care for their sheep. What good is a shepherd without sheep? What good can come of sheep without a shepherd?
Not everyone has compassion on needy people. Some are too concerned with their own lives to be bothered by a weak person who gets in their way. Others are fearful that they may not know what to say to a person in need so they avoid him or her. Still others look with a kind of disdain on the weak and fainthearted. What’s wrong with their faith? Why don’t they just snap out of their depression and get on with life? Not everyone has a compassionate response to a person in need. People without compassion for others are needy also. They just don’t recognize their need.
But Jesus had compassion on the multitudes. The problems of multitudes are more than just physical. Some are struggling mightily with other things that are great burdens on them. People deal with depression, heartaches, disappointments, dashed hopes. Families are fractured. Relationships shipwrecked. Finances dissipated. Plans ruined. Does Jesus care? Yes. If He is the good Shepherd, He cares. If He is a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief, He cares. If He has given a personal invitation to the weary and heavy-laden, He cares.
But Jesus has long gone. He left earth after He was crucified and rose from the dead. He ascended to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Yes, He cares, but how does that help us needy sheep on earth? The answer is that He has sent the Comforter. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). And Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.” The Comforter is here for the sheep. The Advocate, the One who pleads our cause, the One who gives knowledge and strength, the One who is sent to be by our side, the One who fills us with Himself, the Spirit of Christ, is with us. Through everything.
James V. Reid understood this about our Helper over 100 years ago when he wrote these stanzas.
“In the midst of joy and blessing, and when all the way seems bright,
Clouds may come which seem distressing, and they may obscure the light;
Though you weep at night with sorrow, and the gloom oppresses you,
Joy is sure to come tomorrow, He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.
It may seem God does not hear you, and withholds the gift you seek,
Then just learn to trust His silence when the Father does not speak;
Let your heart new courage borrow, for His promises are true,
He’ll reward your faith tomorrow, He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.
Think not strange of fiery trial, which is sent your faith to try,
Though it mean great self-denial to live for Him, or to die;
Count it joy to share Christ’s sorrow, gladness then will come to you,
For there’s sure a bright tomorrow, He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.
When affliction is upon you, you may say, as Job of old,
“When He’s tested, when He’s tried me, I shall then come forth as gold”;
Then take courage in your sorrow, cease your sighs, let tears be few,
Just remember on the morrow, He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.
Then, O brother, never waver, even though in prison cast,
Though you lose all worldly favor, you will gain a crown at last;
And when trials all have ended, if to Jesus you’ve been true,
Then the pearly gates will open, He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.”
Our Shepherd, understands our sorrows, for he is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” It is not unspiritual to weep, for Jesus wept. It is not wrong to be sorrowful of heart, for Christ sorrowed over Jerusalem. He understands. Our Shepherd sometimes answers with silence. He knows when to speak and when to refrain from giving what we think we need. Oh, how we wish He would break his silence, yet in wisdom He waits for the right time. He also in grace gives us trials. He knows that it is in suffering that we learn our greatest lessons. He also “learned obedience by the things that he suffered.” Yet He is compassionate in our difficulties and identifies with our tears, for His life was once marked “with strong crying and tears.”
But the Shepherd will ensure that we gain the results of purified motives, courage for each day, gladness in partaking in His sufferings, and joy in the morning. Our difficulties and heartbreaks are not lost on the Lord Jesus. He cares for us. And we have the unbreakable promise of His continuing help, “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
James Reid’s song reminds us that it is not our own power that helps us. It is the Shepherd’s strength that takes us through the challenges of life. He has given His promise: “I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee…”
“He’ll take you through, however you’re tried;
His tender care is never denied;
Then always trust His promise so true,
He’ll take you through, He’ll take you through.”
James V. Reid, 1911