Sunday 10th January 2020
“I am the good shepherd.”
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” Today we focus on this another of the great, ‘I AM’ sayings of the Gospel of John. A saying that points to who Jesus is and what difference that makes. These words of Jesus answer some of the deepest needs of all our lives:
- Our need to belong,
- Our need for someone to care about us,
- Our need, as we enter another lockdown, to feel secure, now and always.
It has been said that a picture can paint a thousand words: Jesus is the Master Teacher and Jesus understood the power of a familiar image to unlock the mysteries of heaven. And so, in order to teach a vital and powerful truth, He chose one of the most familiar of images of the day – that of a shepherd leading his sheep.
Shepherds in 1st century Judea raised sheep not for food but for their wool. The sheep grazed and grew thick mats of fleece that could be sheared off and sold for significant sums of money. The shepherds were known for their devotion to their sheep; they talked to them, they sang to them, they perhaps carried a flute and played to them….But if we have the image in our head of a kindly shepherd strolling in lush fields with a cuddly lamb under each arm, then we don’t have the right picture. These shepherds didn’t wander around pleasant green fields, they worked in the harshest of environments, the wilderness, a place where water and food were scarce and danger was everywhere. The life of a shepherd was both dangerous and demanding…
In the daytime a good shepherd would lead the flock to the best pastures but as darkness fell, he would never allow the flock out in the open, it was too dangerous, instead he would corral them into a small stone enclosure with one opening that served as a door. The shepherd would count the sheep in, making sure none was missing and would perhaps inspect each one to see if they were scratched or wounded by thorns, and if so, he might rub the wounded sheep with oil that helped the healing. Once the sheep were safely inside the shepherd himself lay down across the entrance, he literally became the gate using his own body to keep the sheep safe and to protect them. The good shepherd and his flock – the shepherd knows his sheep, and the sheep know their shepherd…
So, Jesus takes this familiar image and then says: ‘I am the Good Shepherd…the Good Shepherd knows his sheep.’ That means:
Jesus is the One who knows us, who really knows us.
- He knows your name.
- He knows everything about you.
- He knows you better than you know yourself.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves you so much, He laid down his life for you.
Jesus suffered for you and me. The love of God, shown through Jesus, is simply unimaginable. The Bible says this: ‘May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith and may love be the root and foundation of your life. Then you will be able to grasp fully, with all the other believers, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge…’ Ephesians 3:17-19 That’s what God wants us to experience – a love that surpasses all knowledge…
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus also said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” I was saying earlier that in the hills of 1st century Judea, the good shepherd lay across the entrance of the enclosure at night or in times of danger, and the sheep were safe. That image gives us the picture that is at the very heart of the gospel message – the very core of the good news: Because when Jesus says, ‘I am the gate’, He is telling us we are saved when we put our trust in Him. There is no other way of salvation but by faith, by putting our trust in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. He goes ahead of them and his sheep follow Him because they know His voice…they will never follow a stranger. We live in a world today that can be every bit as treacherous to a life of faith as the Judean desert was to a shepherd and his flock – For we live in a world that is often not God-fearing, but God-jeering…And so many different ‘voices’ will always seek to lead us astray:
- There’s the voice that says life is all about how you feel – and feeling good is all that matters…
- The voice that encourages us all to say – ‘me, me, me, it’s all about me…my rights, my choices, it’s about me…’
- The voice that says, ‘There is no God…’
It’s so easy in this world to get pulled in different directions, to be led astray, to follow the wrong path and that’s why we need Jesus Christ as our Shepherd, that’s why we need to stay close to Him. There is also a teaching here that encourages us all to take on something of a shepherd role ourselves – how do we do that?
As shepherds who follow the one Good Shepherd we also follow His example, and that means:
- Putting the needs of others first,
- It means looking out for people who are going through what the Bible calls, ‘a day of clouds and darkness’ (Ezekiel 34:12), and being there to encourage and help,
- And it means we must have a burden for people who are ‘lost’…
The Biblical picture of the good shepherd is basic to our understanding of God and each other, and knowing we are part of God’s ‘flock’ means we can take these familiar words as our own – these are the words of the 23rd Psalm from one of our modern Bible Versions:
The Lord is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
2 He provides me with rest in rich, green fields
beside streams of refreshing water.
He soothes my fears;
3 He makes me whole again,
steering me off worn, hard paths
to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
4 Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, this world’s most challenging places,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
And I am comforted.
5 You spread out a table before me,
provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
6 Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with you,
in Your house forever.
That’s what it means to be part of the Good Shepherd’s flock.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.
I know my sheep and my sheep know me…”
Jesus also said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
And there is no better place for any one of us to be than in the company of that Good Shepherd.
Let’s pray together: Lord Jesus,
You are the Good Shepherd.
You long for us to know You and follow You.
Help each one of us to draw nearer to You in the coming weeks and to always listen for and to Your voice…
You are the Good Shepherd and we praise Your name. Amen.