April 18, 2010

Jesus is THE Good Shepherd - Apr 18, 2010

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Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Risen and Living Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus liked to tell stories. He used stories to teach people about God. Some of His stories revealed what God was like. Some described God’s Kingdom – how it was reached, and what it was about. Some of Jesus’ stories illustrated important concepts like compassion, forgiveness and salvation.

The characters that Jesus used in His stories were familiar. Characters like housekeepers, farmers, fishermen and shepherds. Jesus’ listeners could easily imagine, or identify with, the people in His stories.

Today we’re going to hear Jesus describe Himself, using the image of a shepherd.

After gardening, shepherding is the oldest profession known to man. Anybody remember who the first shepherd was? Adam and Eve’s son Abel. Genesis four tells us that Abel kept flocks and brought the best of his flocks as an offering to God.

The Jewish people that Jesus was talking to were very familiar with shepherding. All sorts of important people from Jewish history had tended sheep. Abraham was a shepherd. Moses was a shepherd. King David was a shepherd.

Because of the large amount of animal sacrifices that went on at the Temple in Jerusalem, there were always flocks in the surrounding countryside. Of course, it was a little different tending sheep back then. There weren’t as many fences.

A typical day in the life of a shepherd would go something like this. In the morning he would lead his sheep out of the fold. The fold was a walled or fenced in area that the animals were kept in for safety during the night. The sheep would follow their shepherd out of the fold into the countryside. He would then lead them to a good grazing area. He’d watch over them as they fed. When they needed a drink he’d lead them to water.

As evening approached, the shepherd would round up his sheep, make sure they were all accounted for. He’d retrieve any wanderers and lead them back to the sheep fold.

The sheep fold had just one doorway, so that once the sheep were herded in the shepherd could sit down in the doorway, and be the door. Any wild animals would have to go through the shepherd to get to the sheep.

Now, let’s read what Jesus has to say.
John 10:11-17 (NIV)

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

When Jesus calls Himself “The Good Shepherd”, He puts Himself in a different class. He’s not just one good shepherd of many – He’s saying that He’s the best.

This is a very bold statement. If any of us were to say something like this, the people around us would consider it quite rude, even arrogant.

But Jesus explains what makes Him the best Shepherd that ever lived.

First of all, He’s not a temp.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “Temp” is short for “Temporary Worker”. Companies that need more people for a job sometimes call on Temp Agencies to provide extra workers.

One summer in college I worked on the production floor of a huge printing company in Milwaukee, WI. They called in Temps every day. They used to arrive a little bit after when shift began. Now, some of these Temps were great workers. They were trying out different job sites, looking for where they really wanted to work.

Others, however, were just there to put in the time. I say “put in the time” because they certainly weren’t there to put in the work. Some dressed in brand new and stylish clothes. They weren’t looking to sweat. They weren’t looking to get dirty. They weren’t looking to work – just to get paid.

This isn’t Jesus. He’s invested in the flock. It’s His flock, give to Him by His Father in heaven. This isn’t a hobby, or a temporary fill in position for Jesus. This is His great purpose, to be our Shepherd.

Turn to John 17, verse 6.
“6“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.” (John 17:6-8 NIV).
Jesus Shepherds those who the Father gives Him. God’s Holy Spirit brings these people to believe that Jesus is their Savior from sin. That Jesus was sent to reveal God the Father to them. To restore the relationship between them and God that had been broken by sin.

Jesus says that He’s not like the temporary shepherd stand it. Jesus doesn’t ever say, “I don’t get paid enough to do this”. Jesus is willing to give EVERYTHING to protect the flock the Father has entrusted to Him. Jesus says, “…The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

The second thing that makes Jesus a superior shepherd is that He is attentive.

Jesus pays attention to the sheep that He’s tending. He knows the character of each sheep and lamb. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our strengths. He knows our tendencies. Knows our struggles. Knows our triumphs. Knows our faith. Knows our doubt. Knows our hearts.

Did you notice the comparison Jesus made to express how well He knows us? He said, “…as the Father knows me and I know the Father”. As well as God the Father knows Jesus, that’s how well Jesus knows us.

Before Jesus was born, He existed as the eternal Son of the Father, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. You can’t get a closer knit group than the Triune God who isn’t really a “group” – can you call the three-in-one God a group? They know each other perfectly.

And here’s the most remarkable thing. Jesus says He knows His sheep that well, and He follows that by saying, “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15 NIV).

I wonder how many relationships would be ruined if we could know each others thoughts fully. If the windows of hearts were clear and every thought that we have was projected for others to see.

Jesus sees all that, and still gladly laid down His life on the cross of Calvary so that our dark thoughts, deeds and words could be disposed of forever. Forgiven through His suffering in our place.

Isaiah 53, verse 6 says,
“6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
I don’t ever want the Good News to get old. I try to vary the way that I express the Gospel of Christ so that it doesn’t ever seem repetitious and tiring. The Good News is our only hope. God’s standard is complete perfection. We can’t possibly hope to live with Him after we die unless something is done about our past sins. And we simply CAN’T do anything about our past sins. Living good lives now doesn’t erase the wrongs we’ve done before. Only Jesus can remove our sins by removing the punishment for our sins. Our iniquity was laid on HIM. Only in Jesus do we have hope for forgiveness. And in Jesus that hope is certain and sure. Apart from His cross we’re damned. Never lose sight of that. Only in Christ Jesus do we have forgiveness and life.

By His suffering in our place, Jesus broke down the wall of sin to reunite us with our Creator God. But the Good Shepherd also breaks down other walls of separation. Maybe you noticed verse 16 where it says,
“16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 NIV).
Who were these other sheep? It was the Gentiles. The non-Jewish people who would be brought into the same flock – the flock of God. The flock of faith. The flock that has only ONE Shepherd – Jesus Christ.

For Jews and Gentiles to worship together was a hard thing for Jewish people to accept. They had been the favored people of God for so long that they had developed extreme prejudices against other people groups. Yet, Jesus knew that weakness, and would bring them together. Those who listened to His voice would join with one another as they followed His lead.

The last reason Jesus gives for being THE Good Shepherd is found in verses 17-18. Let’s read those again. Jesus says,
“17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 11:17-18 NIV).
Jesus is alive. That’s what makes Him the greatest Shepherd who ever lives. He lives today, though once He was dead.

Because Jesus was sinless, death had no power over Him at all. Death couldn’t have taken Jesus’ life from Him unless Jesus gave it. He did. Jesus GAVE His life away, knowing that He had the authority to take it back on the third day. This authority was given to Jesus the Man, by God the Father.

And Jesus is alive today. Alive and ruling the universe from the right hand of the Father. Guiding and leading His flock from above.

Have you ever thought how much of our faith spring from the resurrection of Jesus? We pray to Jesus. Couldn’t do that if He was dead. We trust that He’s coming back to retrieve us. That would be hopeless if He were only dust in a tomb somewhere. We talk about how He is our Good Shepherd. That would be a complete waste of time if He were just a dead Shepherd.

Earlier I said that Jesus’ claim to be THE Good Shepherd was quite a bold statement. This last statement of Jesus was even bolder. Remember, this conversation took place before Jesus was crucified. He was telling the Jews that He was going to lay down His own life and take it back again.

Here’s their response…
“19At these words the Jews were again divided. 20Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
21But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21 NIV).
Their response was doubt. But they hadn’t seen the resurrection yet. We have, through the pages of Scripture.

So don’t you doubt your Good Shepherd. By faith you’ve been brought into His flock. He knows your faults and failings, and loves you still. Forgives all the sins you bring to Him. Your Shepherd laid down His life so that yours sins stand forgiven. And now He lives so that you may follow Him. Into the sheep fold for the night. And in the morning, out into the everlasting light of heaven.


And the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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