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The Good Shepherd

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John 10:22-30
4th Sunday of Easter
SMAS 10.30 Family Communion
(29.04.12)

Jesus the lamb who was slain at Easter is also the shepherd. And both of these symbols describe God’s leadership of His people. Jesus was very good at using everyday examples and pictures on order to explain things. Talking of Himself as the Good Shepherd was absolutely great for the people He was talking to in 1st century Palestine. Those of us living in the 21st century England have to work a bit harder to get the same understanding from His illustrations – even if we live near sheep and shepherds because shepherding has changed so much over the years.

But Jesus never wasted words - if he chose to give us this example of Himself as a shepherd there must be good reason for it. If we take our faith seriously and desire to become more Christ-like then we must accept this passage is illustrating something we need to know and take on board. And at a deep level - not just the level of those pictures we might see painted of Jesus as a loving tender shepherd with a cuddly lamb in His arms. Not just on a head knowledge level either.

So we might need to dig around a bit to understand what Jesus as shepherd means to us here today.

I wonder what Jesus might use as everyday examples of Himself in this present day and age?

  • Mobile phone?  In touch with you always?
  • Computer? They do fantastic things - and if it goes wrong can wipe it out and start again?
  • The Internet? Know all of the world’s knowledge?

All of those things are true of Him so He might. Even so He still says to each of us, just as He did to His disciples then “I am the Good Shepherd”. So lets try and get to grips with what He wants us to take on board about it.

Firstly notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “I am a shepherd” He says I am THE shepherd. The death of A shepherd would spell disaster and even death for a flock of sheep. But the death of THE shepherd is good for the sheep and brings them life. And, notice, its not just the shepherd – it’s the good shepherd. The word used in the original text actually means more than we would when using the word. It means far more than ‘morally good’ – it means good in a beautiful sense.

Archbishop William Temple translated ‘good’ as ‘beautiful’ saying it is important not to see good as being only about a moral type of goodness but also about the attractiveness of goodness:

“We must not forget that our vocation is so to practise virtue that men are won to it; it is possible to be morally upright repulsively! In the Lord Jesus we see the ‘beauty of holiness’.”

The set up in Israel in those days was that the sheep would be driven into a fold overnight to be kept watch over by one shepherd. The others would get some rest and come back in morning to lead their sheep out.
They would go in to the fold via the door and call their sheep who would recognize their voice. Those who were not genuine shepherds couldn’t do this - not only would they need to climb in the pen over the walls but the sheep would not recognize their voice.

One of the biggest differences between shepherding then and today (apart from the use of quad bikes!) is that today shepherds drive sheep, possibly with a dog. In those days they led the sheep. I once heard a bishop telling of a tour he’d led to the holy land. One of the guides was explaining what it would have been like to see one of the shepherds of Jesus’ day carefully leading their sheep. As the guide was talking there was a bit a commotion going on in the near distance and one of the visitors asked if that was the case why was the shepherd he was just watching beating the sheep as he was driving them into his truck.

The guide turned round and said that was because he was not a shepherd but a butcher and the sheep could tell the difference! Jesus offers to lead us, not to beat and drive us.

The genuine shepherd led His sheep carefully out in to open pasture. He leads us today into the open pasture. For us that means out into the world. We’re not meant to be enclosed in the church but out there in the world. That also means that we must be more diligent about listening to His voice out there in the clamour of the world. Unless we spend time listening His voice we will not recognize it. We have to learn the difference between the shepherd’s voice, the voice of the world and perhaps more importantly that of the robber. The devil, who, as I said last week can pose as an angel of light, or even a shepherd, is not the genuine good shepherd but an impostor bent on leading us astray.

The Good Shepherd is the one who does something no impostor will do - for He gave His life up for us - and voluntarily. This is important. Jesus is saying that His coming death would not be an accident or a triumph of evil over Him. His coming death was to be something He did willingly and voluntarily. Someone has said, “the passion of Holy Week was not about what man did to Jesus but about what Jesus did for man!”

As we think about what He did for us we must think about what we learn from this? We too need to be committed enough to give up all willingly and voluntarily for Him. Are we willing to be shepherds? Shepherds were dirty; shepherds were looked down upon by the rest of society. Are we prepared to get our hands dirty for Christ? Are we prepared to humble ourselves for Christ? Are we prepared to take risks for Christ? Are we prepared to give up all for His sheep as well as for Him - the good shepherd?

Being a shepherd is not an easy option. Similarly following the good shepherd isn’t either. It does not protect us from misfortune. It does not give us the worldly ‘feel-good’ factor but it will give us a sense of self-worth that comes from knowing that the good shepherd laid His life down for us. It gives us a sense of power and assurance in knowing that He leads us not to some wonderful pasture in this world but to the better pasture of eternal life with him in glory.

I started off by saying how much importance we must put on what Christ tells us because it must affect our life.
I want to end with a quote I found in a very old commentary  (Marcus Dods) which speaks of the reality of what it means to have Christ as our shepherd:

"Shameful are the places where Christ has found us, among prayerless days, unrestrained indulgences, with hardened heart and cynical thoughts, far from any purpose of good; and still again and again His presence has met us, His voice recalled us, His nearness awakened once more in us the consciousness that with Him we have after all a deeper sympathy than with any besides.

The whole experience of Christ as our Shepherd gives Him an increasing knowledge of us. The shepherd is the first to see the lamb at its birth, and not one day goes by but he visits it. So needful and merciful a work is it that it has no Sabbath, but as on the day of rest the shepherd feeds his own children so he cares for the lambs of his flock, sees that no harm is befalling them, remembers their dependence on him, observes their growth, removes what hinders it, hangs over the pale of the fold, watching with a pleased and fond observance their ways, their beauty, their comfort. And thus he becomes intimately acquainted with his sheep. So Christ becomes increasingly acquainted with us . . . We are not left alone with our awful secret of sin: there is another who comprehends our danger, and is bent upon securing us against it."

We all go through hard and difficult times but if we’ve learnt to recognise His voice in our daily walk with Him we will know the shepherd’s leading through those times.

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