Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jesus Is the Good Shepherd

John 10:11-16 Of all the images of our Savior in Holy Scripture perhaps none is so dearly loved as that of the Good Shepherd.  That’s as it should be for the image of the Good Shepherd tells us much that is true about what kind of Lord and Savior we have in Jesus—one who is strong and gentle and loving.  This image tells us much that is true about what kind of people we are—weak and defenseless and prone to wander like sheep who go astray.
            As we reflect on God’s Word to us today we hear these truths taught by Jesus who tells us that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes it up again for us—the Good Shepherd who knows us and provides for us—the Good Shepherd who came into the world to gather a flock for himself.
            Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”   In a choice of three things, advertisers list them in terms of good, better, best—good being the worst.  But when God uses the word “good” it is something altogether different than what the world means.
When God created the heavens and the earth he looked at all he created and called it “good”.  It was good beyond anything we can comprehend—perfect beyond comparison!  That is the sense in which Jesus is our Good Shepherd and his goodness is found in the fact that he gives his life for the sheep.  The goodness of the Good Shepherd is grounded in the cross.
            At one point in Jesus’ ministry, as he was surrounded by a crowd, the Bible says that he looked at the people and had compassion on them “because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”. 
That’s true of all of us.  We are born into this world as weak and helpless as newborn lambs and throughout our lives we are harassed by enemies deadlier to us than wolves are to sheep:  the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  And just as sheep have no natural weapons with which they can protect themselves, so we are helpless in the face of these enemies.
            But our Good Shepherd wasn’t helpless—he had compassion on us and saved us from our enemies.  His holy life took the place of our sin.  His death on the cross was Satan’s defeat.  And his resurrection changed death from the end of the road for us to the doorway to heaven.  Just a few verses after our text, Jesus the Good Shepherd says,
“My Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one 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 up again.”   
In ancient Israel it was not unknown for shepherds to be killed protecting their sheep and the stories of their bravery were told and retold.
            But the death of the shepherd was not good news for the sheep because it let them fall victim to the same enemy that had just destroyed the shepherd.  A brave (but dead) shepherd was no help to his sheep. 
Jesus showed that he is the Good Shepherd, not only because he lays his life down on the cross to defeat our enemies, but because he takes it up again in his resurrection.
            We have in Jesus Christ a living Shepherd who rules this world for us—for his flock—for the sake of his sheep—a living Shepherd who intercedes for us and helps us—and orders all things in heaven and on earth for our eternal good, to see us safely to our heavenly home.  Jesus the risen Shepherd promises, “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” 
            How different is this kind of crucified and risen Shepherd than all the pretenders that came before or since.  Jesus says that,
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”     
These words of Jesus would have resonated with the people of that day.  In many ways, Israel’s long, sad history was the story of the failures of the shepherds who should have cared for them.  Their kings, and judges, and generals, and even their religious leaders showed themselves to be merely hirelings who were in it for themselves.
            Especially in Jesus’ day the scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law had little concern for the flock that the God of Israel had entrusted to them.  Instead they were interested in politics, and power, and prestige.  They were in it for themselves.
            Not much has changed.  All around us we see those who are claiming to have our best interests at heart—politicians and pundits and even preachers—and yet they are in it for themselves-for what they can get out of us.  And when it comes time for them to show their true colors through sacrifice and selflessness—they turn and run.
            How different is our Good Shepherd from these hirelings!  Jesus knew just exactly what his life would entail—the suffering, pain, and death—and yet Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross-- because he knew it was the only way for us to have the rich, abundant, eternal life that God wants us to have.  He did it because he knew what was best for his flock—and he still does.  Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”   
Despite the fact that there are over a billion sheep in his flock Jesus has the individual number of our hairs counted, so intimately does he know us.  He knows when we rise up in the morning and when we rest at night—he knows our thoughts and dreams and hopes and struggles and fears. 
And because he knows us perfectly and personally—he knows exactly what is best for us and will always provide it to us.
            When Jesus spoke these words he was headed to Jerusalem with other Jewish pilgrims to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in which the Israelites would remember God’s care for them during their desert wanderings:  how he provided them with water and light and food. 
And as Jesus traveled along he proclaimed:  I AM the bread of life—I AM the living water—I AM the light of the world—and I AM the Good Shepherd.  He wanted the people then to know, and he wants us to know today, that he graciously and generously provides for his flock—just exactly what we need, when we need it—because he knows us individually and personally.
            And not only does he know us—he wants us to know him and have fellowship with him.  Jesus says, “I am known by my own.”    Jesus wants us to know him just like sheep know their shepherd—to listen to him and follow him and come to him in faith when he calls. 
Our Good Shepherd wants us to know his voice and to respond to his call and to recognize his presence and so he speaks to us in his word and gives himself in Holy Communion so that we can have life in his name.
            And the life that he has come to give to us and the fellowship that he offers to us he wants to share with the entire world.  Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”   
Jesus is not content that the number of sheep in his flock remain static and certainly not for it to decline.  The Bible says that he “is not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance.”  
            Throughout his earthly ministry we see the Good Shepherd adding to his flock--reaching out to those caught in sin like the woman at the well and Zaccheus the tax collector—reaching out to Romans and Samaritans—reaching out to those who denied him in his hour of need. 
In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus explains how the Good Shepherd is not content with 99 out of 100 but seeks the one lost sheep to bring it into the flock as well.
            We need to have exactly the same attitude when it comes to those who are not yet a part of the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Jesus has shed his life’s blood for them and the greatest tragedy that exists in the world today is when someone for whom Christ died goes to hell not knowing the one who loves them like a shepherd loves his little lambs.
            His mission of salvation has been entrusted to us and any hesitancy to invite others to become a part of his flock because of their sinful life- or because of their ethnicity- or because they have wandered from the flock- should be set aside because our Good Shepherd wants them to be a part of his flock with us so that there would be one flock and one shepherd.
            What a comfort it is for us to hear once again that in Jesus Christ we have a Good Shepherd—one who shows his unfailing love for us in his death and resurrection—one who knows us intimately and invites us to know him in the same way—a Good Shepherd who enriches our lives on earth by inviting his to share in his mission of seeking and saving the lost.  Amen.

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