A fascinating story is told about the hymn writer, Ira Sankey, who was traveling by steamboat boat on the Delaware River in 1987. He was a well-known song leader for the evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Some of the passengers recognized Sankey after they’d seen his picture in the newspaper. So they asked him if he would sing one of his compositions. Instead, Sankey said he’d rather sing a hymn by William B. Bradbury, “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
When he finished the song, a stranger asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union Army?”
“Yes, in the spring of 1860,” he replied.
The man asked, “Did you do any guard duty in Maryland at night about 1862?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I was there, too,” said the stranger. “But I was on the other side, in the Confederate army. One night at Sharpsburg, I saw you standing there in the light of the full moon. I had you in my gunsight, just about ready to pull the trigger. But just then, you started singing the same hymn you sang tonight,” he told the astonished Sankey. “I couldn’t shoot you.”
The man explained to Sankey that when he heard the words in one of the stanzas, “We are Thine, do Thou befriend us, be the guardian of our way,” the would-be-sniper thought back to his God-fearing mother. She sang that song to him many times. And when Sankey finished, the soldier just couldn’t pull the trigger as he thought, “‘The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty.’ And my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side.” (ref., cited sources from Preaching Today and Family Times)
As this incident and the hymn so fittingly remind us, Jesus is our Guardian Shepherd. He must have had a purpose for guarding Sankey as he stood on guard that moonlit night in Maryland long ago. And he also guards us, if not by sparing us from a sniper’s bullet, at least by his saving grace that leads to everlasting life in God’s coming Kingdom.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus repeatedly says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus pointed out that just as a good shepherd sacrifices for the sake of his sheep, he was going to give his life for his sheep—those who follow him…
10:11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, died on the cross to save believers from their sins and will give them eternal life when he returns to set up God’s Kingdom (John 3:16). Our desire is to be among those believers (Revelation 20:6).
10:14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
The first sheep Jesus came to save was his own people, Israel. But because he was rejected as Messiah and Savior, “other sheep” were called in the meantime, namely those who were not of Israel. One day, when Jesus returns to earth, Israel will accept Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Savior. And so, Israel will be saved along with all of his sheep not originally of his fold. And together, whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female, all will become one flock with one Shepherd, Jesus the Christ (Romans 11; Galatians 3:28; Revelation 1:4-7).
10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
We believers, the sheep, know the voice of the Good Shepherd and he knows us. The closer we follow him, the more we know him. We go where he wants us to go, we do what he says to do, and we believe what he teaches us to believe. We loyally follow in faith knowing that even though we die, we shall be raised to live again, forevermore (John 11:25-26). For Jesus is the One who was raised from death to immortality by God his Father and, therefore, the “firstfruit” of those (the faithful) who sleep in death awaiting the first resurrection when Jesus returns (Acts 2:22-24, 29-39; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 20-28; 50-58; Rev. 20:6).
The Apostle Peter reminds believers, “…and he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls,” (1 Peter 2:24-25). There it is: Jesus the Good Shepherd, is the “Guardian of our souls.” In other words, he is the Bishop or Overseer of our lives.
As the good Lord spared Sankey from a soldier’s bullet and kept guard over his life that night, we are reminded of the way he keeps spiritual guard over our lives, too. His loving care for his flock protects us from falling prey to the enemy, sin. He constantly keeps his watchful eyes over us, providing for our needs in so many wonderful ways. And, when it’s all said and done and the Kingdom has come, we will have an eternity to praise God our Father for it, thanks to his Son Jesus Christ, the Guardian Shepherd.
Good News to YOU!
P.S. Here is the sacred hymn, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” by the Joslin Grave Choral Society: http://youtu.be/yuEgj3hp1iM