These notes are kinda sketchy (especially at the beginning)
Jesus as the Good Shepherd
Open with the idea of the series – Jesus as . . . .Bread, Teacher, Great Physician, True Vine - - - now as the Good Shepherd
Popular image Get past the Christmas Card images to see what Jesus was communicating with this phrase.
Good shepherd is one who knows his sheep and calls them by name. “know” is a relationship word. It the same word describing the relationship between Jesus and God who he called his Father. Familial. A relationship in which each affects the other and each begins to anticipate and recognize the other’s feelings and even thoughts. We played a fun game at a church where there were multiple preachers – it was a matching game with snippets of the sermons and the game was to try to identify which preacher had that sentence or so in his or her sermon.
It was fun for me cause I was darned good at it. You didn’t have to remember the sermons, certainly not word for word. But you could recognize phrases, or issues, or concerns, or tricks of the trade and you knew who those things matched up with.
I’ve loved the devotional booklet. And a real test of my pastoral sense – of knowing you – would be if I could tell from a few phrases of your devotions who wrote it. I think I could do pretty well. But Jesus would get a 100%! He knows what we would write, even before we write it. There is something so wonderful about that. That the Good Shepherd, that God in the most loving aspect, knows your concerns, your issues, your special turns of phrase. Knows your soul.
So . . . We are invited into that relationship and knowing. It’s mutual. As Christians, we long to know Jesus – how he thinks of the world, what is important to him, how he interacts with others, how he’s going to react to things that we do.
Probably it seems a little strange to hear that described as being like sheep that know the shepherd. But it wouldn’t have seemed quite so odd to the disciples as they walked with Jesus around Judea, and saw the flocks and shepherd there.
A commentary on this passage (Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary) reminds us that “The Middle Eastern shepherd is well known for having a personal devotion to his sheep He talks to htem and sings to them. Often shepherd will carry a short flute and use a repeated tune so that the flock has a consistent cue to follow.” A story that Burge tells shows that not much has changed in the relationship of shepherds and sheep in that part of the world in the last 2000 years: He relates that
“During the Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s the Israeli army decided to punish a village near Bethlehem (he doesn’t name the village – I wonder if it was Beit Jala, where we have connections?) The officer in command rounded up all of the village animals and placed them in a large barbed-wire pen. Later in the week he was approached by a woman who begged him to release her flock, arguing that since her husband was dead, the animals were her only source of livelihood. He pointed to the pen containing hundreds of animals and humorously quipped that it was impossible because he could not find her animals. She asked that if she could in fact separate them herself, would he be willing to let her take them? He agreed. A soldier opened that gate and the woman’s son produced a small reed flute. He played a simple tune again and again - - and soon sheep heads began popping up across the pen. The young boy continued his music and walked home, followed by his flock of twenty-five sheep.
To accept that Jesus is the Good Shepherd means that we pop up our heads, catch the timbre of his voice, or recognize the tune he is playing, and get ourselves behind him, wherever he leads.
This means paying attention to God’s voice, as we hear it through Jesus, first of all and above all the other voices that are seeking our attention and allegiance.
What are the voices that attempt to be heard above the shepherd’s voice in our lives and hearts? The loud and insistent voice of commercialism – Buy This! I’ll Make You Happy! – it calls.
The voice of fear on the news “No One is Safe in This Economy” The Current Crisis is a Threat to Our Way of Life. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
The voice of Nihilism and Futility in popular culture: “Life stinks. And then you die. No one understands you. Pop song: I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?”
The voice of individualism and selfishness and loneliness. I saw “Crash” again this weekend, and thought how much like lost sheep those people in that movie are. It starts out with a voice saying how we are all encased in our cars, and alone and we crash into each other, just to make some contact and remember that we are alive. How great it would be for them to hear Christ calling their names. To have contact and relationship with Him and to be able to relate to each other, not as enemies, but as members of the same flock. . . We should watch that movie together sometime.
The point is that, for Christians, no other voice sounds as sweet or carries the power to move us the way Jesus’ voice does. Stephen Carter, in writing the "The Cultural of Disbelief," said, "Our religion is, at its heart, a way of denying the authority of the rest of the world."
Nothing moves us like Jesus voice. Nothing gives our lives direction except the direction of following Him.
And where does that power and authority come from? What gives Jesus the right to call us and expect us to follow?
It comes from love. Extraordinary love. Life-giving love.
Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd because I lay down my life for the sheep.
Now – if the shepherd images Jesus has offered up to now are familiar and ordinary to his listeners, we gotta hear them suck in their breathes at this one. Because, honestly, the shepherd was never expected to give his life for the sheep. No Jewish mother ever sent her son out and said, “Don’t come home without those sheep, buddy.” No father ever said, “I expect you to die before you let the coyote drag one of those lambs away.”
Let’s face it. Sheep are valuable, but they aren’t that valuable. They aren’t kill yourself valuable. The shepherd is worth more than the sheep. But Jesus said that He would lay down his life for this flock. And, as we especially remember during Lent, that is exactly what he did. He put the welfare and the life of his flock above his own life.
He loved us – we are his flock – he loved us enough that he was willing to sacrifice absolutely everything – his dignity, his power, his body, his very life’s blood – not a little of it but all of it. He was willing to lay it all down so that his flock might have life.
He loves us that much. We are that important to him. And only to Him. Our value lies completely in how much he loves us. And we so often forget that.
We are valuable - ultimately – because that value is assigned by our shepherd, Jesus Christ.
(Thought for another sermon?- are we like toxic assets. How much are we worth? Maybe nothing. Maybe a great deal. The problem for the government and the markets is assigning appropriate value. And Jesus says, “I think they are worth this much – I think they are worth dying for.” )
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves in an extraordinary way – enough to give up his own life in order that our lives might be beautiful and rich and full. The verse before our passage explains – I came that they might have life abundantly.
As a flock – how do we respond to such a shepherd, who knows us intimately and calls us personally and loves us unreservedly – how do we respond? but to listen, to follow, , in our admittedly limited and human way – to return to Him and the share with others
the Good Shepherd’s love.