by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Not long ago, one of my coworkers, Theo, was having a rough time. He remarked, “I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” Another coworker, Marcus, replied, “Well, just don’t start clucking.” There are times when we all felt as if we might “start clucking” at any moment. Our lives seem to be out of control. Luke, the author of Acts, describes such a time.
Paul had led a number of people in Ephesus to Christ. But a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, had made a good living making items for temples of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:24-27). As people turned to Christianity—or “the Way” as it was called at that time—they were turning away from Artemis. For this reason, Demetrius regarded Paul and his friends as a threat to his livelihood. He stirred up his fellow craftsmen under the pretense of defending Artemis when he was really protecting his business. When they heard Demetrius’ words, “. . . they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ . . . The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” (Acts 19:28b, 32 NIV).
Did you catch that last sentence? “Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” They only knew that there was a commotion but not what was happening or why. A man named Alexander attempted to speak to the crowd but when they realized he was a Jew they refused to listen and continued shouting (Acts 19:33-34). Finally, the city clerk mollified the crowd, pointed out that Paul and his friends hadn’t done anything wrong, and then told them to disperse.
One image that comes to mind is “chickens with their heads cut off.” But the Bible uses another image. God’s people are sometimes referred to as “sheep without a shepherd.” (Num. 27:17, Matt. 9:36, Mark 6:34). Before he died, “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’” (Num. 27:15-17 NIV). And God told Moses to appoint Joshua to lead the people. Mark’s gospel says “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34a NIV). Significantly, this passage occurs just before the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:35-44). The coming of Christ is about the coming of a shepherd. Israel’s greatest king, David, was originally a shepherd. Further, I believe it is no coincidence that the first people in Luke’s gospel to hear about the birth of Christ were shepherds (Luke 2:8-20).
A shepherd takes care of all his sheep’s needs. He provides green pastures, water, protection, and more. But one of the most important things the shepherd provides is guidance. Sheep are easily frightened and will not only run but frequently in the wrong direction. The shepherd’s guidance calms the sheep and lets them know everything is all right. Rudyard Kipling’s well-known poem “If” reads, in part,
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; . . .
. . . you’ll be a Man my son!”
A Christian perspective might be “. . . you’ll be a child of God my son/daughter!” Our response to everyday stress can be a barometer of our inner spiritual lives. I confess that I don’t deal with these situations as well as I could and I know it sometimes affects my own witness. But it doesn’t matter whether we know where we are or why we’re there, as long as we know God is there with us. If we can “keep our heads” and look to the Good Shepherd for guidance, and not start “clucking” or “baaing” or running in the wrong direction, others will see and wonder about our relationship with Christ. If we trust in him, it will show in our lives and our behavior.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:35-36.)
Copyright © 2009 by David Phelps