“What Makes for a ‘Good’ Shepherd?”
March 8, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
How many of you here remember the old TV Game Show called “To Tell the Truth”?
For those who don’t remember, this was a game show with 4 celebrities whose job was to interview 3 contestants who all claimed to be the same person, and then to take their best guess at which of the 3 contestants was actually telling the truth.
Merv Griffin, that’s the host I remember, would introduce the shadowy contestants: “One of these three men works as a shepherd, but not just any shepherd, He is the ‘Good Shepherd’. He was born in a suburb of Jerusalem, but was raised in a backwater town in northern Israel. Let’s give a round of applause to our three men claiming to be the ‘Good Shepherd’.”
In the middle of February we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd.”
As we come to today’s Bible story, we remember that in chapter 8 Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, and He condemned the men who thought they were better than her, then He told her, also, to go and sin no more. And He reveals Himself as the Light of the world, and any who believe in Him would no longer walk in darkness, but would have the Light of life.
In chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man and tells the Pharisees that they are spiritually blind because they don’t yet see the Truth that Jesus is the Son of God – they are still walking in darkness while the man born blind could see even before he received his sight!
Which brings us to John 10:1-21; hear the Word of God …. —-
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.”…
Let’s stop there for a minute and see if we understand, any better than the Pharisees, what Jesus is saying.
I think Jesus is simply describing for them how we might discern the difference between a shepherd and a thief.
If this were To Tell the Truth, we might hear the celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #1, how do You enter the sheep pen? Do You ever climb over the fence in the dark of night, or does the gatekeeper open the gate and You walk through that way?
Shepherd #2, what are some of the names of the sheep in Your pen?
Shepherd #3, did You ever have any trouble getting Your sheep to recognize Your voice? When they heard You, did they run the other way or did they follow You?
How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
I enter by the gate – always, and the gatekeeper always lets me in.
Some of the names of my sheep are: Sigrun and Vera and Kermit and Betty and Barb. I know all their names, and they all know me personally!
Sometimes my sheep get distracted by the enticements of this world – but when they finally hear my voice, they always respond by coming straight to me. My sheep trust me, fully.
Jesus was painting a pretty clear picture of the contrast between knowing salvation through knowing the Savior, and being tricked into following someone other than the real thing.
But because it was not yet a clear-enough picture, Jesus kept painting. Go down to verse 11 …. —-
…11 “I-AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep….
Some of us have been in the area around Jerusalem and Bethlehem and into the wilderness of Judah. We have seen actual Israeli shepherds and seen how they live in the fields. It hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus – today you can see TV satellite dishes with wires streaming into the tents where the nomadic shepherds live, and there’s often one vehicle so that when they have to move to fresher pastures they can haul their satellite and TV and other equipment with them – but everything looks pretty much the same as it did 2,000 years ago!
There might be one sheep pen in a field, with several flocks of sheep kept in the one pen. But when Shepherd David goes into the pen and calls for his sheep, only his sheep follow him out the gate. When Shepherd Jacob goes in and calls his sheep ….
And they also had hired hands, helpers. Starting in verse 11, Jesus describes the difference between the Shepherd and the hired help!
So now we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #2, how many wolves have tried to attack Your flock, and did You risk Your own life to protect Your sheep?
Shepherd #3, why would You risk Your life for Your sheep?
Shepherd #1, do you really care about Your flock?
How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
The number of wolves out there is uncountable – but there is one leader of the pack – and he attacks relentlessly. Did I risk my life to protect my sheep? I offered it up as a willing substitution for the sheep that would be slaughtered and scattered. I died once for all, and my sheep get this.
The reason why I would offer my life as a ransom for theirs is simple – I love my sheep to the full, and my Father loves them so completely that He never leaves or abandons them.
I care so much that my flock know they can call on me, for every miniscule thing that interrupts their faithfulness, and every giant-sized struggle that darkens their faith. I-AM with them, always.
Then, because Jesus just knew His listeners needed a little more help He continued with verse 14 …. —-
…14 “I-AM the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.
Did you hear Jesus’ words? He used the great I-AM identification of God, and then repeated His personal claim to be the Good Shepherd!
Who was Jesus addressing? Who were His first century listeners? Verse 1 tells us He was speaking directly to some of the biggest religious leaders of the day. And He is telling them, I-AM the God of Moses, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God! The Word, who is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the incarnate Son of God. I-AM He! And my sheep know me! And, since I have to tell this to you, it’s obvious that you do not know me, therefore you are not my sheep! You are walking in darkness.
Once again we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask some questions:
Shepherd #3, who exactly are You?
Shepherd #1, You say You lay Your Life down for Your sheep – why would Your Father approve of that? Who told You to lay Your life down for these sheep?
Shepherd #2, tell us about these “other sheep”; who are they?
How would the real Good Shepherd respond now?
I cannot make it clearer – I-AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I-AM the God who called Abram from Ur to be a blessing to the whole world, and I- AM that ultimate blessing. I-AM the God who rescued your people from bondage in Egypt. I-AM the God who spoke through the prophets. I-AM the God who is mighty to save, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I-AM the God who will never let you go!
My Father so loves the people in this world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life! That is why I came, why I was born in Bethlehem – the House of Bread, so that one day my body would be broken and all who partake would receive eternal life. My Father sent me for this very reason – to die for you.
In 1963 the Pope declared that maybe these “other sheep” are the Protestant Christians around the world. He was partly right. When I first said it, I was reminding the Pharisees that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing – that salvation was not limited to the Chosen people of Israel, but for all who are drawn close to God, for Gentiles of every race, for cultures across this globe, for people groups yet to be reached with the Gospel. All one need do is believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with their lips that God raised Him from the dead, and they shall be saved! In John 5:24 you can hear me say, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That includes those who follow the Roman Catholic Pope, but only those that claim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life; that includes Presbyterians and Methodists and Pentecostals and Independents and Orthodox, but only if they know Jesus as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
Remember, while people worship differently and emphasize different theological doctrines, there is only One flock and One Shepherd.
At the close of every segment of To tell the Truth, the celebrities had to pick which contestant they believed was really the correct one.
In faith, so do we. This Bible story ends with some of the Jews saying Jesus was demon-possessed, and others wondering if He really might be the promised Messiah!
How about you? How do you know Jesus as your own Good Shepherd?
We could say, “Will the real ‘Good Shepherd’ please stand up?” But what we already know is that after He laid down his life for His flock – He also already was raised to new life from the grave! He’s the One who stands above the crowd. Jesus is that Good Shepherd!
Let’s pray: Loving Shepherd, You know that we tend to wander and get ourselves into tight places. Help us to respond to Your voice as You call us this morning, as You call us over and over toward the way that leads to real life. Help us this week to listen to Your whispers and to obey the Holy Spirit’s small nudging. We give thanks for Your tender care that has kept us and carried us this far. In the name of Jesus, whom we want to know more and more, and who faithfully and diligently seeks all wanderers. Amen.
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 22-27.