Shepherds Needed

Mark T. Bube

How often do we consciously try to look at people in the world as our Savior might see them? Explaining the parable of the good shepherd to the unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus Christ says:

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.... I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.—John 10:11, 1416

He is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. There are sheep, many sheep, each of which belongs to the Good Shepherd, each of which is intimately known by the Good Shepherd, and each of which knows him. Some of these sheep have already been gathered into the local fold. Others have not, but ultimately all of the sheep will be gathered into the one flock with the one Shepherd. He will gather them himself; his sheep will follow him because they know his voice.

Pouring out his heart to his heavenly Father on the way to his death, Jesus prays:

I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.—John 17:2021

He prays not only for those immediately around him on this fateful eve, but for all of those who are his, including those who are still far off and must be gathered in. All of his sheep know his voice: some, during his brief earthly ministry, have actually heard him speak; many more will hear his voice through the word of those whom he sends. He prays to the end that his sheep might, in him, be gathered into one flock, and, most importantly, that the Father might receive the glory for the salvation the Son has secured for the sheep given to him.

Zeal for God’s glory, a deep love of the Savior, and a passion for his sheep mark the heart of the true undershepherd. After his resurrection, our Lord pressed upon Peter how his love for his Lord was to manifest itself: Tend My lambs.... Shepherd My sheep.... Tend My sheep (John 21:1518). The sheep are lost without their Shepherd. Where the light of the gospel is not shining, the darkness of sin overwhelms the sheep, as the evil one keeps them in a cruel enslavement of fear (and, often, grinding poverty). It is a pitiful sight. Remember our Lord’s anguish over Jerusalem? If we love our Lord, then we must love his sheep, for he loved them so much that he willingly submitted himself to a horrible death to redeem each and every one out of the grasp of the evil one.

Obeying Christ’s Commission

If we love Jesus Christ, we will do what he tells us to do. Before his return to his heavenly Father, our Lord charged his apostles (and through them, his church) to labor for the gathering and perfecting of his sheep, in this life, until the end of the world:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.—Matthew 28:1820

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.—Acts 1:8

To enable his church to carry out this commission, he gave to his church the Scriptures, the gospel ministry, and what have often been called “the means of grace” (the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer). By his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, he makes these things effectual to his sheep for their salvation. Lost sheep hear the voice of their Savior calling to them through the mouth of the preacher, who opens God’s Word to them. And, by the Spirit’s application of that preached word, they are convicted of their sin and humbled, caused to turn away from themselves and be drawn to Christ, and established in holiness through faith that leads to salvation.

What Undershepherds Do

What Christ’s undershepherds fundamentally do in witnessing to the remotest part of the earth and in making disciples of all the nations is not dependent upon geography. The Scriptures, the gospel ministry, and the appointed means of grace do not change as a function of longitude or latitude. If Christ’s church needs Spirit-filled preachers to accomplish the work to be done in the States, then we also need Spirit-filled preachers in Africa and Asia. Yes, the preacher in Africa or Asia might have to learn a new language, so that he can bring God’s Word to the sheep there in their own language—how many of you would choose a pastor who could not speak, preach, and pray in English? Yes, the preacher in Africa or Asia needs to be able to meet the sinful aspects of the local culture with the Word of God—like the pastor here in the States must also help guide the members of his flock along the narrow path of righteousness through an increasingly wicked culture. It may well be the case, especially in lands where the Reformed faith has not historically been preached and practiced, that the bondage to sin and the oppression of the sheep is more visible and blatant. Hence, when it pleases the Spirit to move in such a place, the effect of the pure, clean freedom of the gospel upon the lives of those formerly in bondage is all the more striking, all to the glory of God.

On the mission field, whether at home in the States or in a foreign land, both gathering and perfecting are ever in view as two things are undertaken simultaneously. First, we establish the worship of God. It is our life, and God’s covenant people cannot live without it, for that’s what we were created and redeemed to do. Second, we cast the net to bring his sheep into that worship. Indeed, our zeal for God’s glory drives us to desire that all creation would repent and bow before his name. Neither aspect of the work can be neglected: failure to cast the net is direct disobedience to our Lord’s command, and without worship, what are we to do with the sheep he puts in the net? In casting the net, since we do not know specifically which sheep are his (only God sees the heart), we preach the good news of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to all, confident that the Spirit will make the preached Word effectual for the salvation of those that are his: Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

A Glorious Calling

It is a grand and glorious calling to preach the gospel to the nations. Yes, it often involves great sacrifices, but it’s worth it—remember how much more our Savior gave up for us. Yes, dealing with the oppression of pagan and animistic world-and-life views can be frustrating and, at times, even heartbreaking, but it’s worth it. The lover of Christ never tires of seeing the power of the Word of God at work transforming lives and communities. Today, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church needs preachers who are willing to go after Christ’s sheep that are scattered and lost all over the face of the earth.

We are frequently asked what we are looking for in a missionary. We are praying that our Lord would supply Christlike men of prayer, who live to preach the glorious gospel and are firmly convinced in their own minds and hearts that the Spirit will make the preaching of the Word effectual for salvation. They must delight in the worship of God as he has instituted it in his Word. They must be able to handle the Word of God aright, remaining faithful to our confessional standards and, as a matter of honor, restraining themselves from introducing novelty into the young church on the mission field. They must love Christ’s sheep with the love of their Savior and be willing to spend and be spent for the sake of his sheep. They must be humble and regard others as more important than themselves. They must be gentle, and, insofar as it depends on them, seek to be at peace with all men. Please join with us in praying that it would please our Lord to raise up such undershepherds and send them to the mission fields, so that his sheep, scattered over the face of the earth, may hear through them the voice of their Savior and be saved.

The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions. He quotes the NASB. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2000.