As I slid behind the steering wheel, I turned to my wife and said, “OK, I’m going to pinch myself to make sure I am not just having a bad dream. Is this really happening?” I had just learned that I have chronic hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver in an advanced stage.
I was in shock. The doctor determined that I contracted this disease when I was shooting up drugs back in 1970-71. Talk about the consequences of sin! I had quite a bit to deal with.
I had been raised in a good Jewish home. But I went astray in my teen years and took on a hippie lifestyle. Then, in 1973, for the first time I heard the wonderful news about what Jesus had done for me. I accepted Him as my Messiah and left drugs behind.
“How could this be?” I now asked God. “I’ve spoken for You all these years, teaching about Your Son in churches, at seminars and conferenceseven on radio and TV. And now You are telling me that all these years I have been infected with hepatitis C? What gives, God? Couldn’t You have prevented this?”
And Now for the Bad News
None of us knows how he will respond to devastating news. When we see others suffering, we may wonder, Is my faith strong enough to weather any storm? How would I react to having a life-threatening disease? Would I grow closer to God or turn away from Him?
Now it is my turn to find the answers to these questions.
Am I handling my disease perfectly? No. On some days I feel down, fatigued, and even irritated that I have to deal with the reality of hepatitis C day by day. I do realize, however, more deeply than ever, that Jesus is indeed my good shepherd. In the midst of this challenge, I choose to acknowledge that He has me on His path. This is not a detour. The shepherd didn’t take a day off, come back to his flock, and say, “Oy vay! What has happened to Stan, my cute little sheep?”
Nope! I am fully on His path. You read correctly: I am fully on His path. I am smack dab in the middle of God’s will even though I have been stricken with this disease.
Remember the story of the man born blind (Jn 9:1-4
)? Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
I conclude from this passage that God wants to display His work and His glory in and through my life. Yes, my illness is clearly a consequence of sin three decades ago. But now the important issue is, how will I glorify God in the midst of this trial?
I don’t know what my life span will be or how healthy I’ll be in the coming years. God might even choose to heal me miraculously. However, one thing I do know: No matter what happens, good or bad, nothing diminishes God’s goodness and mercy as my good shepherd. Hallelujah!
Portrait of a Shepherd
The deep-seated convictions I am expressing about my shepherd didn’t sprout overnight. You see, years ago I studied the characteristics of a good shepherd found in Psalm 23
. I was taken aback as I meditated on the care and concern the shepherd had for His sheep. Little did I realize how much that study would help in my present situation.
I discovered nine characteristics of Yahweh hinted at in Psalm 23
. These characteristics wonderfully describe Jesus, our good shepherd (Jesus
in Hebrew means “Yahweh is our salvation”), and paint a beautiful picture of His commitment to us. Let’s look at them together briefly.
Jehovah My ShepherdYahweh Roeh
. He is my feeder and nourisher who is totally committed to my well-being. Jesus loves me and cares for me beyond measure. This is the same shepherd described in Jn 10:14-18
, who promises to “lay down [His] life for the sheep.”
Jehovah My ProviderYahweh Yireh
. Jesus provides all
I need day by daystability, strength, encouragement. Even in challenging times, He knows how best to provide for me. With Him as my shepherd, “I shall not be in want” (Ps 23:1
Jehovah My PeaceYahweh Shalom. Jesus’ shalom during this process is enabling me to find quiet meadows and waters of rest, especially as my anxious spirit wells up inside me. He speaks words of comfort and hope into my turmoil:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Jehovah My RestorerYahweh Ropheca
. Jesus is going deep inside me and bringing refreshment and rejuvenation to my soul day by day through the Holy Spirit. His “streams of living water” flow through me even in this crisis (Jn 7:37-39
Jehovah My RighteousnessYahweh Tzidkenu
. Jesus blazed the very path of righteousness on which I tread. He is the beginner and completer of my faith (Heb 12:2-3
) who is intimately acquainted with the whole
Jehovah My CompanionYahweh Sham-mah. Jesus is with me in everything I face. I may walk through a valley of deep darkness (the name of an actual valley in Israel, by the way), but I will not be anxious because the shepherd is facing it with me. The psalmist eloquently wrote,
You hem me inbehind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Jehovah My VictorYahweh Nissi. In the midst of my trial, Jesus promises to be my stronghold and my sustainer. His presence protects me when Satan’s fiery darts of fear and doubt come my way.
Jehovah My SanctifierYahweh Mkaddeshchem. He has anointed me with the oil of His Holy Spirit. His power helps me to walk the path as He purifies me. Increasingly, His holiness is reflected in my life.
Jehovah Most HighYahweh Elyon. He is God, and He deserves all my praise in whatever situation I find myself. The shepherd has only goodness and mercy for me.
Truth in Action
These truths about my good shepherd have become my anchor, my buoy in a stormy sea. I’d like to expand on two of these attributes so you can get a handle on how practical God’s presence is in my life.
One of the characteristics that has especially ministered to me since day one of my diagnosis is Yahweh Shalom: the Lord is my peace. I like to think that I have a good prayer life and a solid walk with our Lord. But let me tell you, when I first heard the news of my disease I got dizzy and weak kneed. But I also want to be quick to tell you that an uncanny calm, a peace so thick I could almost touch it, took over.
Did I somehow work up that faith? No way! I was in too much shock. No, the good shepherd put His loving arms around me and said, “Stan, I love you deeply, and you must trust that I would allow nothing to come into your life apart from Me having a good purpose for it.” I’ve experienced a sense of well-being ever since.
I think also of the characteristic Yahweh Nissithe Lord is my victor. One of the first e-mails I received after my diagnosis was from a dear friend in Florida. She felt the Lord nudging her to tell me, “Stan, no regrets!”
When I was born again, I felt as if a spiritual vacuum cleaner came inside and cleaned me out as only God can. That’s why the hepatitis C was such a shock. My first thought was, God, I’ve told people for years how miraculous my salvation experience was. Yet now I find out I have this disease that started before I knew You! What will this do to my witness?”
Then I was overcome with regret. My liver specialist said it only takes one time with a dirty needle to contract hepatitis. If only I didn’t shoot up those two times. How stupid! I berated myself. My enemy Satan had found his foothold; he attacked me through my regrets.
My friend’s e-mail came the day after these regrets surfaced. God spoke comforting words through her that went deeply into my soul. What’s past is past, I realized, and I cannot change a thing. No regrets! I ceased listening to Satan’s whispers and declared with confidence, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Ro 8:37). The next verse in Romans declares that “neither the present nor the future … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I would not let Satan use my past to drive a wedge between God and me. He, Yahweh, is my nissi, my victor!
What news have you heard today? What unexpected challenge has come your way? Are you struggling to accept the path God has shown you? Be honest with God. Cry out to Him as I have. Acknowledge your lack of understanding of why this is happening.
Above all, look to Jesus as your good shepherd. He will never leave you or forsake you. He isn’t some wishy-washy hired hand who runs off at the first sign of trouble (Jn 10:11-13
). No, Jesus is the good shepherd who is in it for the long haul. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pe 2:25
). Today, trust Him with your whole life.
About the Author
Stan Kellner is director of evangelism seminars for the International Bible Society
. He is the author of Behold the Lamb: Messianic Passover Haggadah
(Sheresh Ministries) and frequently speaks to groups about his Jewish roots. He says if he could change one thing about himself it would be “that I would worry less. I’m so Jewish. Oy vay!”
On Your Own
1. Read Isa 40:11
. How does the Lord shepherd His flock?
2. What more is revealed about the character of the Lord as our shepherd in Jn 10:1-28
3. In what ways, if any, do you tend to resist Christ’s shepherding of your life?
4. In what areas of life do you particularly need Him to be your shepherd today?
5. Reread the “Yahweh” names of God that Kellner lists in his article. Which of these qualities of your good shepherd is most meaningful to you and why?
6. Think about how God has been working in your life recently. What word would you add to “Yahweh” to describe your personal experience of the good shepherd? Explain your answer.
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