Sheep and shepherds are word pictures used throughout both Old and New Testaments. If you preach the Bible long enough, you are guaranteed to talk about how clueless sheep are and how all of us are in such desperate need of the Good Shepherd.
One illustration I recently found helpful came from a blogger named Tim Challies. He wrote a post entitled “Dumb as Sheep“. In it, he records this story about an unfortunate situation in Turkey:
ISTANBUL: Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.
This is an incredible illustration. It can be used in so many ways. For one, it is fun to tell. I mean, sheep falling off a cliff, one right after another!? Preacher’s live to tell stories like this. Then, to let the audience imagine 1,100 sheep “surviving” because they landed on a huge pile of wool?! Guaranteed to get their attention and a laugh.
But here is what makes this illustration so powerful. It demonstrates what Jesus knew to be true about every human heart not connected to the Good Shepherd. We simply follow what we’ve seen. We look at the person next to us and do what they do. We follow what our dad did and what his dad did and what his dad did. Those who are without Christ aren’t deliberately and intentionally seeking destruction. They are hoping the person they are following will lead them to their hearts desire. They are hoping they will finally be led to green pastures. Sheep, like every human heart, cannot function properly unless led and tended to by the Good Shepherd.
Have fun with this illustration, preacher. Enjoy helping your listener’s get a glimpse of what it must have looked like seeing 1,500 sheep walk off a cliff, one right after another. But be quick to show the gravity of it and how desperate all humanity is in need of the Good Shepherd.