By Doug Redford
Some time ago, the local newspaper carried the story of the death of an infant girl with a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome. The average lifespan for infants born with this condition is three days to two weeks. Less than 10 percent of children with this syndrome survive to their first birthday. In the news story, the mother of the child said this: “As with her life, our daughter’s death was marked by little gifts, and it was very peaceful. She was surrounded by the love of her family, and she was always in someone’s arms.”
The picture of this child being “always in someone’s arms” shows how deeply she was loved, though her time on this earth was brief. It is a picture that brings to mind the prophet Isaiah’s description of Jesus as a gentle, caring shepherd.
Immediately after describing the coming Messiah as someone who would rule with power and a mighty arm (Isaiah 40:10), the prophet’s imagery changed dramatically: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).
Jesus went even further with the shepherd imagery by describing himself as the good shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). In fact, he referred to laying down his life five times in eight verses (vv. 11-18).
Many of us have needed the assurance of being in our shepherd’s arms over the last couple of years or so, perhaps even more so amid the uncertainty of recent developments in our nation and world. We all probably can think of times when it gave us added strength to know our Lord’s arms were there to embrace us and carry us or to carry those to whom we’ve said goodbye, for even in death our loved ones are still in the shepherd’s loving arms. He still carries them; he is with them, just as another shepherd, David, attested (Psalm 23:4).
At Communion we think about our shepherd’s arms stretched out on a cross, with his hands cruelly nailed there. A lost world of sinners, however, was still close to his heart. And while it may not have looked like it at the time, even when the shepherd was dying with his arms outstretched, we were still in his embrace.
Doug Redford has served in the preaching ministry, as an editor of adult Sunday school curriculum, and as a Bible college professor. Currently he is the minister at Highview Christian Church in Cincinnati.