Matthew 9:35-10:4 (ESV)
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 10 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
While Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, visiting various cities and working from the local synagogues, he met many people. Jesus took on flesh and became a man so that souls would be saved from the eternal consequences of their sins. His ministry involved continual teaching, preaching, and healing (to authenticate his message). As Jesus saw the crowds around him, he had compassion on them. The Greek word for compassion implies that intense emotion was involved; he felt deep sympathy for them. Why did he feel sorry for them? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd. If a herd of sheep had no shepherd, there would be no one to care for them and protect them. Jesus also said they were “harassed and helpless.” These words describe sheep that have been injured by bushes with thorns or dangerous animals. Without the shepherd’s protection, sheep often ended up on the ground, or cast down, with no one to assist and no way to get out of their predicament. Jesus saw the crowds were in spiritual danger and unable to rescue themselves.
Sheep are incredibly needy animals because they are basically defenseless. Shepherdless sheep would have been easy prey for any attack. When Jesus looked at all those around him, he saw them as sheep in the midst of wolves. Those wolves were the religious teachers of the day who led the sheep away from Jesus, the shepherd they so desperately needed. Even when no aggressive animals lurk nearby, sheep must be directed to green pastures and quiet waters for food and drink. The bottom line is that sheep really can’t do much on their own. They need someone to deliver them from the perils of life. We are all, in a spiritual sense, like sheep. We can’t provide salvation for ourselves, and we are continually open to the attack of false doctrine. If we are under the care of the Good Shepherd, we need to utilize the resources he’s provided for us by staying in his word, depending upon his Spirit, and participating in his church. If you are neglecting any of those, then change that. On the other hand, if you are making use of what Jesus has given you, then, out of gratitude for his care, tell someone else about your compassionate Shepherd today. All people need the protection Jesus offers, whether they realize it or not.