John 10:11-18; Psalm 23; Jesus IS the Good Shepherd (4-26-15)

By the Rev. Bob Gochenour

 

One of the joys of touring the Holy Land is having the Bible come alive as you witness the land, the culture, and the religious practices of the day.

Many of these things have not changed over the centuries; so as you see them, they illuminate the Biblical stories.

This is particularly true in the arena of shepherding.

The nomads of Israel have not changed their shepherding practices for the past 2000 years.

One example of this is found in the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.

The shepherd always leads the way.

The shepherd calls his sheep—each one by name.

The sheep faithfully follow their own shepherd.

They recognize their shepherd’s voice.

They do not respond to any other shepherd—they do not follow other voices.

Upon visiting these nomadic shepherds; you see this amazing scene over and over.

The shepherds in their field call their own sheep; and the sheep follow.

One day, a friend of mine was visiting the Holy Land and had observed this marvelous sight: shepherds leading their sheep.

Towards the end of the tour, he saw another strange sight.

He saw a man driving the sheep down the road.

Unlike the shepherds he had seen earlier, He was behind them.

He was walking behind the sheep: yelling, scolding, forcing the scared sheep down the road.

Confused by this sight, my friend asked the tour guide:

“What kind of shepherd is that? He is driving the sheep from behind and not leading them from the front like all the other shepherds.”

The guide answered: “That is not a shepherd. He is a butcher!”

Good shepherds treat you differently than butchers.

Good shepherds treat you differently than bad shepherds.

Good shepherds do all that they can to nurture the sheep.

Good shepherds understand how to make sheep thrive.

One good shepherd gives the following advice:

“Don’t count sheep, or else they won’t thrive.”

From his years of shepherding experiences, he had learned an important truth.

If you count sheep—you de-personalize each sheep.

You turn each sheep into an abstraction—one of many sheep.

Counting sheep turns each live & unique sheep into a mere symbol of a sheep.

Each sheep becomes identical to every other sheep—they become just a number, a statistic, and they lose their value as a unique sheep.

In this way, a shepherd begins to lose sight of them as individual sheep.

Once this happens, the shepherd fails to notice whether each individual sheep looks healthy, acts normal, and whether they are becoming their best sheep-selves.

Jesus is not this kind of shepherd—he is a good shepherd!

THE GOOD SHEPHERD KNOWS EACH SHEEP BY NAME.

       He treats each sheep with individual care and concern;

       If medication is needed—he anoints the sheep with oil;

       If protection is needed—he uses his staff and rod;

If food is needed—he leads the sheep to green pastures and still waters.

If direction is needed—he leads them on right paths.

This is why Jesus claims the title: the Good Shepherd.

Jesus is committed to us as unique individuals.

Jesus is invested in his sheep.

Jesus has a sense of ownership for all his little lambs.

Jesus knows each of us by name—he cares for our individual needs.

Jesus stands between the wolf and the flock with:

his shepherds’ crook raised;

his feet solidly planted;

his eyes sharp;

his ears listening;

all his body, mind and soul at the ready to protect you.

He is ready to fight, even to die if need be, out of love for the sheep.

We have heard this description since we were small children.

It is comforting!

We can understand this with our child-like faith.

We can appreciate the little girl who misquotes Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I want.”

The problem comes when we become adults and get confronted with the real world.

We learn that the world is full of butchers: wars, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, terrorists, sickness, disease, death.

We learn that the world has many bad shepherds: leaders who manipulate us to their own greed, people who betray us, those who accuse us falsely, and inflict us with trials and tortures.

In the midst of this world—we may ask the hard question: Why?

We may wonder: Is the Lord Jesus a good shepherd?

We may doubt: How could the Lord let this happen?

This is a good question.

Let me encourage you to look at this question for a few minutes.

You may have been taught that these questions show a lack of faith.

You may believe that these are bad thoughts that Christians should not have.

Let me invite you to pause and find some good answers.

Let us honestly confront our loving shepherd and find some answers.

We can ask these questions with a searching faith, seeking understanding.

We should enter into Jesus’ School of Discipleship and learn and continue to learn God’s ways.

Our scripture today invites us to do just that.

Jesus tells us: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

Jesus is explaining the problem with bad shepherds:

       They care for themselves and not the sheep;

They run away from the wolves;

       They do not protect the sheep;

       They let the wolves catch the sheep and scatter them.

Jesus is not like these bad shepherds!

Jesus cares for us so much that he even came to die for us.     

Jesus is explaining the miracle of Holy week: the events of His crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.

Jesus came into this world to die on the cross and to rise again.

He explains: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

This is Good News: Jesus is committed to us—his sheep.

In some ways, Jesus is answering our questions about death.

Wolf = death.

We may picture death as a menacing wolf hiding behind every turn in our journey, ready to snatch us away.

Our experiences and fears may lead us to this conclusion.

Perhaps this is why our culture reinforces this picture through media, cable news, music, art and movies.

Even doctors and physicians see death as the enemy—they take a solemn oath to fight death and preserve life at all costs.

We sometimes think that this is Jesus’ mission.

We re-write the 23rd Psalm to read like this:

       The Lord is my shepherd, I will not die.

       He will protect me from all accidents.

       He will protect me from all disease.

       He will protect me from all pain.

When we experience accidents, disease, pain and death for our loved one…we start to wonder.

Jesus does deal with these issues—but only on his own terms.

Jesus died and rose again to conquer death.

The miracle of Easter is that Jesus has vanquished death for us.

Physical death is not the end of the story.

God has transformed it—it is now a step from this world to the next.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd has delivered us from the finality of death—we can have hope that we have an eternal home with God

This is why we need to have faith in the Good Shepherd.

Those who do not have this faith are constantly afraid of this ferocious wolf—the power of death.

Which leads us to another reality.

I think the wolf can also symbolize despair. WOLF=DESPAIR

This is the ONLY alternative for those who do not have faith.

The wolf seizes us with fear and this leads to despair.

The Good Shepherd Jesus has come to deliver us from despair.

The Good News of Easter gives us hope that Jesus is our Good shepherd.

Although we may have experienced the reality of this cruel world: And the wolves of accidents, disease, pain and death seem to be encircling us, we can have hope!

The Good shepherd cares for each sheep individually: “I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

This is the Good News of the Good shepherd: he watches over us.

He protects us from the wolves of despair, hopelessness, and doubt.

He is not a hireling who runs away when the wolf attacks.

He stands with us in the midst of our deepest sorrow.

He will not let us become an abstraction or a statistic.

He will minister to our unique needs.

He will answer our questions.

He will resolve our doubts.

He will help us to grow in faith.

He will deliver us from hopelessness and despair.

Jesus is a Resurrected Shepherd—he watches over you for eternity.

This is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives and cannot die.

He is your eternal Good Shepherd—he will never fail you.

He is committed to you—he will never leave you.

He loves you—he knows you by name.

 

 

Jesus stands between the wolf and you with:

his shepherds’ crook raised;

his feet solidly planted;

his eyes sharp;

his ears listening;

all his body, mind and soul at the ready to protect you.