"Written Not With Ink"
by T. Austin-Sparks

Meeting 9 - The Good Shepherd

26 February 1957, at Kangshan, Taiwan

Well, I want to join brother Madsen and all the brothers and sisters who have come with me, to thank you for this very warm welcome. When we get back to our own country all the friends there will want to hear where we have been and who we have met. And one thing we shall be able to say to them is, "Everywhere we went, the Lord's children came out and met us and gave us a very happy welcome; it did not matter what time of the day or night it was, there they were, ready to receive us. And one thing was common; they kept us eating all the time!" Now, like brother Madsen, I felt very sorry for you this afternoon. If we want to give children a special treat, we take them to see wild animals feeding; I only hope you have had that pleasure this afternoon!

Now, I must not carry on like that, we must have something of the Lord. It is only just a few minutes that we have with you, but when we go away, we do want that there shall be something of the Lord left with you. So I will use the few minutes that I have for that purpose.

I was very happy with the way that you opened your meeting, that is, with the hymn that you sang at the beginning. You may not remember what you have sung, but you started the meeting with these words, "Jesus, how much Thy name unfolds...". Now, we have just had a long conference* in Taipei and in the evening meetings of that conference we have been thinking about the different names of Jesus. We were able to think about just a few of His many names. There are many names by which Jesus is called, but we have no time to think about that now.

However, when you sang that hymn this afternoon, another one of those names came into my mind and I think we will just spend our few minutes with that name. You know that Jesus goes by the name of Shepherd, He called Himself by that name. He said, "I am the good shepherd". And then there are two other passages in the New Testament which refer to Him as the Shepherd.

At the end of the letter to the Hebrews, you have these words, "Now the God of peace who brought again from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep..."  And then at the end of the first letter from Peter you have these words, "When the chief shepherd shall appear...". You notice the three different words. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd" the other passage speaks of Him as the great shepherd and the third passage spoke of Him as the chief shepherd. They are not just changes of thought, they all mean something special.

The Good Shepherd

Jesus Himself explained what He meant by calling Himself the good Shepherd. He said, "I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd layeth down His life for the sheep." Jesus proves Himself by being the good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep. That means that the sheep have had many enemies. There are those who want to destroy the Lord's sheep. Satan wants to destroy the Lord's sheep. Sin is a great power to destroy the Lord's sheep. There are many things that are against the life of the Lord's sheep and unless something is done for them, they will be destroyed. Now, Jesus said that He did that "something" for the sheep. He gave His life for the sheep and because Jesus gave His life for us, we are saved, we are delivered. That is how He proves that He is the good Shepherd.

The Great Shepherd

The second passage speaks of Him as the great Shepherd. The good Shepherd is always the great Shepherd, and if we look at these words in Hebrews 13, you will see how He is the great Shepherd. Let us read the passage again. This is how it goes, "Now the God of peace who brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep..." He is the great Shepherd because He has triumphed over all the powers of death. The great enemy of the Lord's sheep is death. The Bible says that the last enemy is death. Of course, that is not only physical death, that is also spiritual death. And this enemy is around us all the time, trying to kill our spiritual life.

Now the great Shepherd has destroyed the power of death. He is not only the good Shepherd who has died for us, He is also the great Shepherd who lives for us. He said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." That is only saying, "Because I have overcome death, you shall overcome death also." The Apostle Paul speaks about the raising of Jesus as the most powerful thing that God ever did. He said that in raising Jesus from the dead, God exercised His exceeding greatness of power. God put forth the power which exceeds all the powers when He raised Jesus and then the Apostle said that power is toward us who believe. The power which lies behind the raising of Jesus from the dead is toward us. That Jesus was raised from the dead represents a tremendous power of God and it is that which makes Him the great Shepherd. What a great Shepherd He is, to exercise so great power for us!

The Chief Shepherd

Then Peter speaks of Him as the chief Shepherd and you have to look again at the context. He said "when the chief shepherd shall appear..." what is he talking about? He speaks about the reward of the under shepherds. He is talking about the people who are under shepherds. You see, if there is a chief Shepherd, there must be under shepherds. He could not be the chief Shepherd if He was the only shepherd. Therefore, He is speaking to the under shepherds. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, He will reward the under shepherds who have been faithful. That is an encouragement to us in the Lord's work.

"The Lord is my shepherd," said David. I like to think about that this way... I suppose the best known part of the Old Testament is Psalm 23. Everybody knows the 23rd Psalm, the great shepherd psalm of David and I like to think about it like this. David was a shepherd. We know that from his boyhood, he was a shepherd. The first thing that we know about David is that he was keeping his father's sheep. When David wrote the 23rd Psalm, he was thinking about himself as a shepherd. I think this Psalm sets forth the kind of shepherd that David was. David was evidently a very good shepherd. He did all these things that he puts down here. He said, "I shall not want". Evidently, David had made it his business that his sheep never did want anything. That is a kind shepherd, isn't it? Then he said "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Evidently, that is the thing that David had done for his sheep. 

"He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me in the day of trouble." David had never run away and left his sheep. He had stayed with them through the time of difficulty. "I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." You know the difference between the rod and staff, I believe you know what kind of staff you have on this island. It may be the same in the Far East as in the Middle East. If you see a shepherd with the sheep, you see that he carries many things and among the things that he carries, is a rod and a staff. A rod is a heavy stick with a heavy head, and he will prevent anything that will come to the sheep, so when the enemy comes near the sheep, the sheep would say, "Well, we need not be afraid, for our shepherd has got that rod in his hand and he will defend us against the enemy." And another thing that the shepherd had was the  staff, and if the sheep should slip over a rock or get into any difficulty, then the shepherd pushed down his long staff and pulled him back again. And the sheep would say if he got into any trouble, "The shepherd will get me out, for his rod and his staff they comfort me."

"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil." Another thing that the shepherd carried was a horn of oil. The sheep always have a way of getting their head into trouble, or the sheep would get tired and when they did so, the shepherd used his horn of oil to pour some healing or refreshing oil on their head. "Thou anointest my head with oil... surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Now that was the kind of shepherd that David was. And then he said, "The Lord is my Shepherd just like that; He is my Shepherd. All that I would do for my natural sheep, He will do for His spiritual sheep."

I expect you wonder what those words mean, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." That is not easy to understand. But I can explain it to you. You know that the shepherds in the East are always thinking that there are unseen people following them. You know some people out there are so superstitious that they think there are unseen things following them. For instance, if you will go to the Middle East near Palestine, the man who goes out in his boat always pushes the boat forward instead of following it. That is, they always face the way they are going because they are afraid of the evil spirits and they always have someone at the boat watching them so that the evil spirit will not come to them without being seen. They are afraid of evil spirits. Well, of course there is this here. Now that was true in the life of David. Men were terribly afraid of evil spirits coming after them, but David changed the picture and he said there were two good angels following him. The name of one angel was Goodness and the name of the other angel was Mercy. "Goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. No evil power will be able to touch me, for God will give His angels charge over me. I need not fear. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And this good Shepherd will prove how good He is by bringing me to His house forever." 

The hymn, "Jesus, how much Thy name unfolds..." which you sang this afternoon. What a lot there is in the name of Jesus, the good Shepherd, the great Shepherd, the chief Shepherd; so then go away saying, "The Lord is my Shepherd."

* Editor's note: this Taipei conference is available on the website in both audio and written form as "The Persistent Purpose of God".


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