Will the Shepherd undertake the awful alternative? Will the Man who is Jehovah's Fellow, His co-eternal Son, be willing to give His own life for the sheep, and accept the tremendous responsibilities implied in such a Suretyship? Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the Lamb for a burned-offering? "Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" At that interrogation, we can well imagine there would be silence in Heaven. Each eye would be directed to the sword still slumbering at the foot of the eternal throne, and then upwards to the One glorious Being who could alone undertake the mission, and pay the adequate ransom. The question would pass from rank to rank, "Will He save others, or will He save Himself? Will He delegate some minister of wrath on the errand of retribution to the flock pent up in the fold, or will He Himself become the Redeemer of a doomed and dying world?" They are not kept in suspense. The silence is broken by a voice from the excellent glory, "Behold, here am I, send Me!"

The Shepherd, as we have seen, is represented in the parable as leaving the ninety-nine—the glorious angelic beings who hymned His praises from all eternity, and "going after that which was lost." There is something tenderly true to nature in this description. The ninety-nine occupy, for the time, little of His thoughts in comparison with the one erring wanderer. Have you ever observed how the mother's tenderest care and love are lavished on her little invalid? The rest of the family, the hardier shrubs, are left to battle with the storm, but this lame one nestles in her bosom, and engrosses all her sympathies. Or have you ever heard her tell the touching story, as to how all her living treasures are nothing to the one that lies in yonder churchyard? She will tell how wrong she feels it to be, with so many blessings still remaining; but yet, in spite of all, how her anguished heart will go after "that which is lost!"

Jesus is like that parent. He loves the lost more than the ninety-nine. He seems for the moment to forget all the fold in His pitying fondness for the wanderer. "He goes after it." Dare we attempt to follow Him in His pilgrimage of incarnate love? What a journey was that, from the heights of glory to the depths of humiliation! Think of the mountains of transgression He had to climb! Think of the valleys of humiliation He had to descend! Think, as He pursues, of the thorns which pierced His bleeding feet! Think of the nights of darkness in which His unpillowed head was denied the rest of the lowliest of His creation! Nothing would daunt Him in His divine heroic purpose.

In this respect, how different the Shepherd from His fickle, irresolute, feeble flock! The utterance of one of the latter was this, "Lord, I will even lay down my life for Your sake." Alas! when the testing time came, how the conduct of the renegade apostle belied the words so bravely (too bravely) spoken! The Good Shepherd had made a similar utterance, "I lay down My life for the sheep." "But He faints not, neither is weary." What as the God-man He spoke, as the God-man He also performed. "He saved others, Himself He would not save."

Oh! there is no more elevating subject of contemplation than the joyful alacrity with which the Great Surety undertook this work, and longed for its completion. "Before the mountains were settled, before there were fountains abounding with water," the Shepherd-Redeemer seemed to take a hallowed delight in coming down to gaze on the fold, the half-formed world which was to become the scene of His redemption. Hear His own expressive words, "Sacrifice and offering" (the poor expiation which man could provide by the blood of slain victims) "You did not desire. But a body have You prepared Me. Lo! I come!"—(at once the High Priest and Sacrifice, that I may offer the prepared body on the altar of My Divine nature—the altar which sanctifies the gift)—"Lo! I come. I delight to do Your will, O My God!"

In another passage He is represented, still as the Shepherd of His people, looking down the vista of ages from these remote eras of a past eternity. He sees the sheep scattered far and wide on the desolate mountains. He sees death and the grave hunting them over the precipices of ruin; and He exclaims, as the bleat of the despairing flock reaches His ear, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be your plague! O grave, I will be your destruction!" As the crisis approaches for the fulfillment of His vast purpose, His desire to give His life for the sheep, and to fulfill His covenant engagement, seems to grow in vehement intensity. Moreover, while the bravest human spirits frequently startle and recoil at the thought of death, see how this Great Victim loves often and again to dwell on His approaching sufferings and sacrifice. "I lay down My life," says He, "for the sheep." "Therefore does My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."

In the scene of His transfiguration-glory, it is the same wondrous theme which forms the topic of conversation between Himself and the heavenly visitants. They talked not of His glory as God. They spoke of Him not as the Shepherd of the Universe, calling His worlds, like the sheep of His flock, "by name, by the greatness of His might"—but they spoke of the Shepherd plunging into the torrent of wrath to effect their rescue—"They spoke of His death which He should accomplish at Jerusalem."

As the hour drew still nearer the same awful anticipation seems to fill more and more His loving eye and loving heart: as if He had room only for one thought and one sight, that of the flock of wanderers being reclaimed and saved by the pouring out of His blood, "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!" In His last intercessory prayer, we hear Him exclaiming, as the hour of suffering is close at hand, "Father, the hour is come, glorify your Son." And again, under the very shadow of the Cross, He breaks out into these words of triumph, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him!"

In the case of the sacrifices of Pagan Rome, it was considered an evil omen if the victim struggled. If OUR all-glorious Victim had struggled or staggered in His wondrous work, we must have been lost forever! But He falters not one moment. On He pursues the blood-stained path, until, stretched on the Tree, He can shout the last glorious word of triumph and of consummated victory, "It is finished:" and yielding up the spirit, exclaims, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit."

Oh! wondrous, unspeakable condescension! Matchless, unparalleled self-consecration! He who had known no relation but that of co-equality with God; He who is called "My Shepherd," "My Fellow;" He who was Himself seated on the pinnacles of all Being, and superior to all law, yet is made under law; He voluntarily assumed a place of subordination, and "took upon Him the form of a servant." Behold how He loved them! His whole work is indeed a miracle and triumph of love. We can understand the utterance of the skeptic of a former age, as the gospel plan of atoning mercy was unfolded to him—"It is far too great—it is far too good to be true."

Yes, measuring the deed of love by human comparisons or by human antecedents, it is so. Man never so loved his brother man. "But God so loved the world." We read in old classic story of a magnanimous patriot sacrificing his life for another. Pylades laid down his life for Orestes his friend. "But God commends His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Well may He be called "the Good Shepherd." He, the true Jacob, can say, "That which was torn of beasts I bare the loss of it. In the day, the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes!"

He, the true Aaron, with the burning coals in his censer of love, has come between the living and the dead, and the plague is stopped! He, the true David, when the lion and the bear were rushing on his defenseless flock, encountered them single-handed and alone, and rescued them from the destroyers! He, the true Jonah, flung Himself into the boiling, surging deep, saying—"Take Me up, and cast Me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; and the sea ceased from her raging!" He, the loving Shepherd and Bishop of souls, comes to every lost one, and pointing to the open gate of the fold, says—"Behold, I have set before you an open door!" Justice has sheathed her sword. The arm of the law is powerless. "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!"

That must have been a wondrous morning when victorious Israel stood on the other side of the Red Sea—making its shores ring with their anthems of triumph. Terrible, too, were these trophies of Divine vengeance that strewed the beach—the bodies of Pharaoh's warriors, with the sword still fastened by their side or clutched with the grasp of death. Or awful must have been that kindred spectacle—the armored legions of Sennacherib—who had, the night before, been gathering up their strength like a proud wave, to dash themselves against the towers of Zion. When the morning dawns, the 180,000 are still there, with sword and spear and helmet and streaming banner; but these banners wave over a silent camp. The trumpet of battle lies beside silent lips—the gleaming sword is clutched by powerless hands. It is a camp of death. Sword and spear are still intact: but the arms that wielded them are powerless. The angel of death has descended at midnight, and converted the tented field into a sepulcher! So it is with that sword of condemnation.

The curses of the law, like the weapons of Pharaoh or Sennacherib, are still there; each demanding satisfaction, and declaring, "The soul that sins it shall die." But the Great Angel has come down at midnight and paralyzed these arms. He has, by His own doing and dying, rendered the law powerless to smite. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us." Yes, and not only are we thereby released from condemnation. It is more than a mere negative salvation which has been secured. An earthly king, by virtue of an act of royal clemency, can open the dungeon doors and let a prisoner go free. He is a pardoned man—but he is not a justified man—the old brand is still on his brow, though released from the fear of punishment and death.

It is more, however, with the redeemed sinner. Not only is he justified, having the sentence—"Not guilty," pronounced upon him; but he stands also arrayed in the imputed merits of that sinless Savior. The live coal of pardon is taken from the smouldering embers on the altar where the Great Sacrifice is laid. It touches his lips and he goes forth "clean." Child of God, member of the ransomed Flock, which He has purchased with His own blood, "as far as east is distant from the west, so far has He removed your transgressions from you." Wondrous picture! You can take the wings of the morning, and make the sun your chariot—traverse intervening oceans and continents until that sun dips his burning wheels in the western wave; and when you take a retrospective view of that magnificent circuit, think of it as God's own emblem of the distance to which He is willing to remove your transgressions from your sight and His own!

Seek often, devoutly and reverentially, to contemplate this sacrificial work and atonement of your Great Shepherd. Beware of the theology that is now-a-days creeping stealthily in under subtle disguises and ingenious fallacies, which would rob us of that great central truth of Bible teaching, without which all others would be vain—the vicarious sufferings of our blessed Lord; Christ our Substitute—wounded for our transgressions; and though personally sinless, yet, as our Surety-Redeemer, said to be "made sin for us." We do not undervalue the precious truth of Christ our Example—Christ, as we shall immediately come to consider Him, as our guiding Shepherd, "going before His sheep," "leading them out," and marking out for them their pasture. But we would place, in peerless importance, in the foreground of these Shepherd-picturings, the Altar of Sacrifice, the crown of thorns, and the bitter cross; white-robed Justice with her unsheathed weapon; Heaven and Earth listening in hushed suspense—in mysterious silence, to the terrific summons—"Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the Man that is my fellow; smite the Shepherd!"

Let us close these thoughts with a twofold lesson. What an awful thing is sin, which cost the Son of God so much! How vile does it seem when brought side by side with the holiness of the Immaculate Surety! As the lightning, when it leaps from the midnight cloud, makes the darkness more felt—as discord is most grating to the ear when it rises in the midst of sublime and beautiful harmony—or as those northern battlefields of olden days and terrible memory, were all the more fearful to look upon, from seeing the blood crimsoning the virgin snow—so, when we see the crimson and scarlet guilt of His people tinging the snow-white purity of that Spotless Being, how terrible does sin appear! How fearful must have been His recoil from this the foe of His nature and His universe, during every step of His Divine pilgrimage—more especially at the closing scene, when the powers of darkness were gathered around His cross; and how at that hour must He have longed with holy ardor to rescue from the pit of perdition, the millions under its dominion and curse, otherwise doomed to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire!

See that you trifle not with an offered salvation, purchased at such an expenditure of blood and suffering. Oh, if, on account of sin, God "spared not His own Son," Sinner!—you who are still nurturing in your bosom the adder which planted its fangs in the heart of Infinite Purity—do you think that He will spare you? If God poured out these vials of wrath on the Innocent, what will He do with the guilty? "If these things were done in the green tree, what shall be done with the dry?"

The other closing lesson is one which runs like a golden thread through the entire theme we have so cursorily treated. Let it be the last on which the eye rests—the Love of God. God—the eternal God smiting His Shepherd-His Fellow for the sake of lost sinners! He, even HE—could give no costlier proof of love than this. Reader! having given you the greater pledge, you may take it as a guarantee for the bestowment of all lesser blessings. When His providential dispensations at times seem baffling and mysterious—when there seems no bright light in the dark cloud, no mercy in His footstep—when you are apt to say with Gideon, "If the Lord be with us, why has all this befallen us?" revert to that cross—that mysterious smiting! Let it hush every rebellious thought.

Did He wear that crown of thorns for you? Did He pour out His life's blood for you? And will you murmur at anything proceeding from the Great and Good Shepherd's hands?

"Yes! God is love—a thought like this
May well each faithless doubt remove,
And turn all tears—all woes to bliss!

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