But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
A Sinner Is A Dirty Sheep
Looking across a green field dotted with sheep is a beautiful pastoral image of peace, serenity, and contentment. Sheep are docile creatures that exhibit a character of quietness. The unassuming nature of their small bodies exhibits a defenseless animal needing the care and protection of a shepherd. Images of sheep fill the pages of the Bible. David wrote a powerful psalm of the relationship of the sheep to its shepherd as a graphic image of man’s relationship to God. Jesus would use sheep to show His love and care for humanity and His divine willingness to give His life for the world as the sacrificial shepherd.
Without understanding the nature of sheep, the full meaning of God’s parabolic use of sheep to describe men is lost. They have a form of beauty about them but sheep are filthy, dirty, and smelly animals. Sheep are prized for their wool but what is prized about them is what makes them one of the filthiest animals on earth. Lanolin is secreted by the sheep to help protect the animals from the weather. Combining this with the wool also makes the wool a magnet and prison for everything the sheep come in contact with. Everything clings to the wool of the sheep from dirt, grass, manure, and anything else found in the field. David describes the sheep lying down in green pastures but he did not mean outdoor carpet. The ground is filled with all types of bugs, worms, debris, weeds along with mud, dirt, and animal refuse.
Another characteristic of sheep is that unlike some animals such as the feline species, sheep cannot clean themselves. David said sheep must be led by still waters because sheep are so skittish and nervous. Fast running water would scare the sheep. If they fell in there would be no hope. The wool would burden them down and their short legs cannot swim. Only at the moment of birth is a sheep clean but afterward, his whole life is consumed with living with dirty wool. Adding to the complex nature of the sheep is the have an incredible smell. Without cleaning themselves, they carry their filth with them.
There is a reason God uses sheep to describe the plight of humanity. If a warrior was choosing an animal to be his symbol of courage, he would select a lion, a bear, or an eagle. The Vikings would have never had a sheep as their emblem of power. You will not find among the Roman Legions a shield bearing the mighty sheep. The sheep is a dirty, filthy, smelly, dependent animal that has no natural defenses and cannot care for himself. They are completely helpless just like the one who looks after them. The problem with the pride of man is that he thinks he is a roaring lion when in reality he is nothing more than a baying sheep. That is all he can be and will ever be. The greatest achievement a man can have is only heard as the voice of a sheep. Nothing more.
Sheep are dirty. All men are dirty because of sin. A man enters the world pure and clean but then begins to wallow in the filth of the world. Everything about the world sticks to him and in time he becomes a smelly and dirty creature. The key to the imagery of man being a sheep is that he cannot clean himself and he cannot protect himself. Jesus came as the Lamb of God to take away the filth of man and to clean Him in the living water. The wisdom of men, riches, honor, and power cannot save men from sin. Without the cleansing blood of Jesus, Christ man remains a filthy animal. The sacrifice of Jesus was not from the will of man but the will of the Father. Nothing man could do would save Him but God gave the world His only begotten Son so they could be clean.
Many passages speak of men as sheep. Do not be fooled into thinking these are creatures you would want to bring home and make pets. These animals are detestable for their filth. Sin must be recognized for what it is. All men are sinners, undeserving of God’s grace, and should face the wrath of God. There is nothing beautiful about sin. It makes the soul of man loathsome in the eyes of the Lord. Grace, mercy, and love come from the hand of the sacrificial Shepherd who died on a Roman cross to clean those who come to Him. Only by the power of God will sin be removed. Without that spiritual bath, man remains a dirty sinner. Check yourself – what do you smell?