1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
April 26, 2015
|The Good Shepherd|
In the Church’s early centuries, the favorite and most common way of picturing Jesus was as the Good Shepherd. As I look at some of this early Christian art, I am struck with how young Jesus appears and with wide ethnic variation.
The Good Shepherd image is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, famously the 23rd Psalm. Let’s say it together.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Pharisees reacted with hostility to Jesus’ healing a blind man, and he responded in John 10 with shepherding images, calling them bandits and himself the gate to the sheep fold. In John 10:11-18 he said:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 14I am the good shepherd. 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.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
As the Good Shepherd’s sheep of the Highlands Christian Church fold, welcome Jonathan Brink as Jesus’ appointed shepherd and not as your hired hand.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus contrasted himself with the hired hands, who most understood as the religious leaders.
The word John used for “good” does not just mean one who does a good job but means the beautiful, handsome, model, ideal, noble shepherd.
The Hebrew prophets referred to God as the shepherd of Israel a number of times.
Isaiah 40:11 “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Ezekiel 34:11-12 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.” Jeremiah 23:3-4 “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”
The New Testament picked up on this idea of God raising up new shepherds and applied it to pastoral leadership.
In John 21:15-19, when Peter assures the risen Jesus that he loves him, Jesus tells him to tend his sheep. In Acts 20:28 when Paul bids the Ephesian Elders farewell he said, “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God.” 1 Peter 5:2-3 tells the leaders “to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, (and) be examples to the flock.”
In that tradition, God has appointed Jonathan Brink to be the next shepherd of Jesus’ sheep in the Highlands Christian Church fold. He is not your hired hand.
You might think a sermon about the Good Shepherd should be preached to Jonathan, but we know not all sheep are good; some are bullies, not just bullying pastors but other sheep too.
The Hebrew prophets, again, described bully sheep as those who throw their weight around to get their own way regardless of how it affects the other sheep.
Ezekiel 34:17-22 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
Jesus referred to Gentiles as other sheep that did not belong to this fold (v. 10), but this also pointed ahead to a call for Christian unity, recognizing other Christians as our sisters and brothers when we come together from different ecclesiastical and theological traditions.
Jesus said he must bring other sheep who would listen to his voice. People around Highlands Christian Church are aching to listen to the voice of Jesus. Jonathan Brink is not your hired hand, but the shepherd God has appointed so that people can listen to the voice of Jesus in you.
Both of today’s passages speak of laying down our lives for others as the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep.
To lay down our lives for others is the exact opposite of the bully sheep who insist on getting their own way regardless of who else gets hurt.
In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 1 John 3:19-21 explains that this abundant life is free of self-condemnation. It encourages us to have boldness before God because He is greater than our hearts when our hearts condemn us. This is the joy of the Gospel; by laying down his life for us, God puts the shame, guilt and condemnation of our brokenness behind us. When we want to please God more than anything else, we can boldly ask Him for whatever it takes to do that. Thomas Merton expressed it well in this prayer from his book Thoughts in Solitude (page 83).
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
When we look at the example of Jesus, we may think of laying down our lives for each other as an heroic act, but 1 John 3:17 puts it in the context of sharing our worldly goods with someone who has an ordinary need, which may be harder to practice than improbable heroics. So when Jonathan Brink comes as God’s appointed shepherd for you, and not your hired hand, you will be called on to let go of hoped for heroics and lay your life down for each other and the people of Lake Highlands in very ordinary and mundane ways.