“Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ ” (John 21:17)
The service or ministry Jesus tells Peter to perform was to feed his people. Notice the analogy, sheep, pastures and shepherd. Christ cares for our needs. Jesus Christ came to serve and give (Mk. 10:45). He went about doing good and met the needs of people, especially those of the household of faith (Acts 10:38; Gal 6:10).
Being a shepherd is a ancient and noble calling. The Bible speaks of the first shepherd Abel who guarded the sheep (Gen. 4:2). He was listed with the prophets (Mt 23: 29-39; Luke 11: 47-51) and receives honorable mention in the “hall of faith” (Heb. 11:4). Moses appointed Joshua so, “that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” (see Num. 27:16-18). The second king of Israel David (2 Sam 7:8) was a shepherd. He protected his sheep from predators (1 Sam 17:34-37) and he saw the people of God as the flock of the Lord (2 Sam 24:17).
Notice how Christ was concerned about the sheep being fed.
He did not say, “lead my sheep.” Peter and others like him were to follow Christ’s leadership as only sheep themselves (1 Peter 2:21) and the sheep should follow them as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). The Apostle Peter reiterates, “Neither as being lords over [God’s] heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:3). The did not need to boss the sheep around, just lead by example. Christ is the only Lord.
He did not say, “breed my sheep.” He was not concerned about the “flock” growth, how many “purpose driven sheep” as the measure of success. Christ will build his church (Matt 16:18). The Lord knows those that belong to him (2 Tim. 2:19) and Christ will add to the church, “daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47). Being overwrought with the size of a church is not a concern for souls! Imbibing too much of this church growth, “Red Bull” will only end up creating a “Golden calf.”
He did not say, “weed my sheep.” Some people want to weed everyone out. I have developed a new phrase as of recent and it is, “theological neurotics.” For them there is always “sin in the camp” and “Achan’s” to throw rocks at and bean them off the top of the head. They are so busy trying to be pure and to mould people into their religious template that they become sterile. If you don’t speak their certain Shibboleth you will be weeded out (Judges 12:6). This is spiritual snobbery and arrogance of the worst kind!
Jesus says, “Feed my sheep. I am the Good Shepherd.” I will take care of my flock. You just feed them. You serve them and by this show you love me. This is not to oversimplify matters but we are limited to help people physically and we cannot help anyone spiritually. We cannot comprehensively meet their real needs. We can help them in the morning and later that day they are a mess. I know people act crazy. I know they do not listen. I know they get in trouble despite the warnings. That is between them and God. There is no need to have an apoplexy or have a breakdown. Just feed the sheep and pray, Christ will take care of the rest.
The passage we are looking at must be a reference to both spiritual and physical needs. People need food for the body and the soul. Sheep get sick, afflicted in mind, persecuted, lonely and in financial distress. True ministry means to serve, to care for someone’s needs. We serve God by serving his people. But it is not real ministry unless it leads them to Christ as their sole resource. The need above all other needs is Christ. A true Christian and a true undershepherd leads people to Christ in whom all their needs are met.
By all means and with all your power seek to feed the hungry but especially feed the spiritually hungry. You may feed people stomachs, but that is never enough. Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy and reprimands Satan saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ ” (Mt. 4:4). We realize spiritual food is more vital because as Moses told Israel, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you…” (Deut 8:3). God humbles us so we see our real need and then feeds us his food that brings genuine satisfaction for that need and teaches us that He supports us.
Everytime the Israelites bellies gurgled they wanted to go back to Egypt. God knew that they had too much Egypt in them. It is amazing that Egypt could be painted in many different ways such as “the evil world system” but here it was simply a place where they could get their needs met without trusting God. It was the place of trusting man and the power of the flesh! But to remedy this God ordained that they be empty for a time. He blocked and frustrated their path. He showed them that the stinking fleshpots of Egypt could never satisfy (Ex 16:3)! They must get out of a “needs orientation” into a “God orientation.” He brings a humility of soul, as we endure trials so that over and over again when the trial ends we will see him as our sole resource and provider. Every time we have a a physical, emotional or financial need and it extends over a period of time, we become miserable! Let the emptiness become an opportunity to see God fill that emptiness. Life is a constant series of becoming empty of self and being filled with God.
I do not have time to go into the dynamics of Satan’s temptations and Christ’s resistance to them. It is obvious that Christ was not about to eat anything Satan told him to eat, especially rocks. Satan is a salesman who sells shortcuts, even religious ones. He promises a time-saving direct route that does not require faith, patience and character. It is as if Satan says, “The need of the world is so great someone who can turn stones into bread can surely help the world. Meet their needs and they will flock to you.” Christ knows this is not true (John 6:26-27) and he realizes there is no satisfaction in earthly things! He says, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34). Christ’s sheep will be fed with his bread, it is the only bread that can sustain them. He is that bread, Christ is our meat and drink (John 6:35, 55).
I pray with David, “Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever.” (Ps 28:9). Lord let our emptiness be filled with you and only you. Take the whole world but give us Jesus because only He satisifes!
© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care
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