Years ago, I heard a story about life and death on a little sheep ranch in Barstow, California. It’s a wonderful story, albeit bittersweet, and although I have not been able to confirm the facts, I want to share the story with you. Grab a cup of something you love, sit down and enjoy.
Once upon a time, on a sheep ranch in Barstow, little lambs were being born. The ewes were sniffing and nudging and cleaning their newborn lambs, and the lambs were awkwardly getting up on their spindly legs and looking for the milk they could smell on their mama’s warm belly. Funny how babies are born with the innate knowledge of who their mama is and instinctively cling to her and suckle from her. As well, a mama recognizes the scent of her own baby the moment he is born.
Rows of pens, each with a ewe and her newborn, were in a covered barn protecting the sheep from the brutal desert sun and the frosty desert mornings. Day by day the baby lambs were getting stronger and bigger and were almost strong enough to venture outside of their sheltered pens and explore the ranch.
The ranch hands were busy checking each pen and assessing whether or not the mama and baby were ready to go outside when they discovered a ewe loudly crying over the still body of her baby lamb. The ranch hand quickly entered the pen and checked the little lamb for signs of life. Sadly, the baby was dead, and could not be revived. The ewe was frantic with grief and inconsolable. The ranch hand gathered the baby up in his arms and removed him from the grieving mama. Her wailing was non stop, and could be heard throughout the ranch.
Several pens down the row, another ranch hand made a similar sad discovery. In the back of the pen lay a shivering, weak and severely dehydrated baby lamb, snuggled into the now cold belly of his dead mama. The ranch hand removed the body of the poor dead mama, and cradled the orphaned lamb in his arms. He took the baby to the nursery and prepared a bottle for him. The little baby was so weak he was not able to suckle more than a drop or two. The ranch hand put the baby in an incubator to get his temperature up to normal hoping that would help the little lamb to be able to take the bottle. If not, the baby would surely die.
This sheep ranch now had a sickly orphan without a mama; and a grieving mama without a baby. Seemed like a perfect match! They needed each other! A plan was formulated to introduce the two and pray for mother nature to work her magic.
Later in the evening, the grieving mama was placed in a neutral pen, one that did not have the scent of any other sheep or animal. There was fresh water and food. This pen was in the 1st class section of the barn, an upgrade from the maternity ward. After she acclimated a bit to her new pen, a ranch hand came in to the pen with her and sat down. In his arms lay the little orphaned lamb. He was getting weaker by the minute, and would not live much longer if this plan didn’t work.
Every ranch hand on the ranch was gathered near by, but out of sight. Watching silently, waiting hopefully, to see if this would be successful. A match made in heaven! The grieving ewe came over to see the baby and sniff him. She sniffed and nudged him right out of the ranch hand’s arms onto the straw floor of the pen! She was frantically checking and sniffing every inch of that little lamb, rolling his tiny body on the straw bed. She was searching for any sign or scent that would identify him as hers. The ranch hand took his queue from the ewe, and quietly and slowly left the pen, leaving them alone, and joined the rest of the staff out of sight. Like children watching for Santa, the staff watched the mama and orphan, hoping and praying for them to bond.
After what seemed like an eternity, the mama lifted her head from sniffing the baby, turned her back on him and walked away. She resumed her despondent wailing by the gate; wanting out, wanting to be away from this strange baby, wanting to find her baby. Her teats were painfully full of milk, and she wanted to nurse her baby.
The staff and ranch hands were baffled! They had been certain their plan would work! Then one seasoned old hand said this: “She doesn’t recognize him. She doesn’t know his scent. She knows the scent of her baby. She won’t be appeased by any other essence other than the one she shares with her baby.” Then he walked away.
When he came back, he was holding the freshly skinned coat of the sweet little dead lamb. Without a word, the seasoned old ranch hand entered the pen and walked straight to the orphaned baby. He placed the coat of the dead lamb on the back of the orphaned lamb and secured it there. He placed the coat, this precious sacrifice, blood-side down on the orphan’s back. Carefully, he picked up the orphan, now covered in the coat of the dead lamb, and placed him under the grieving mama.
Immediately, the mama recognized the scent of her beloved and sniffed and nudged him to her teat where he latched on and enjoyed the life saving milk from his new mama. The ranch hands celebrated with hugs and silent high fives, then quietly left the barn so the new little family could continue to bond.
What a beautiful picture of atonement. At-one-ment. The reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. But why, exactly, do we have to be reconciled to God?
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, it resulted in separation of humankind from God. Like the separation of the ewe from her baby.
“But God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”. John 3:16
God allowed His son to die on the cross so that we could “atone” or be made “at one” with Him! Jesus’ death on the cross provided for us His essence, the only essence that God recognizes as His own! He loves us so much that He provided the covering for us, He cloaked us with His own essence through the death and resurrection of His only son! He “at one-ed” us with Him! He loves YOU so much that all you have to do is believe in Him and His son, Jesus Christ, and He will recognize you as HIS! He will call you His own child!
“I am the good shepherd: and I know My sheep, and I am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so, I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15
“To all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” 1 John 1:12
There it is. That’s it. That’s the love of God in a sheep’s pen.