MARCH 7th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
PSALM 23 EZEKIEL 34:11-17,23-24
JESUS — THE GREAT I AM JOHN 10:2-4, 11-18
"THE GOOD SHEPHERD"
We've been exploring the I Am statements Jesus made to identify himself to those trying to sort him out and to reveal his sense of purpose. And so he says, I Am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
It's the most illustrated of all the I am statements Jesus made. My first pictoral image of Jesus, in fact, was that of him holding a lamb. But Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd! What did he mean?
Care to hear a story? A certain shepherd was looking after his sheep near a dirt road when a brand new Porsche suddenly raced up to an abrupt stop. The driver, a young man dressed in an Armani suit, aligator shoes and sporting a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, stepped out of the car. "Hey mister," he said, "if I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?"
When the shepherd nodded in agreement, the young man parked his car, connected his laptop to his mobile, entered a NASA Webster, hooked up his gps and preceeded to print out several pages on his high-tech mini-printer. Then turning to the shepherd he said, "You have exactly 1,586 sheep here! "
Surprised the shepherd replied, "That's...right. I guess you may babe one." The young man grabbled an animal, put it in the back of his Porsche and started the engine, but before he drove off, the shepherd asked him, "If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?"
When the young man agreed, the shepherd matter of factly said, "You are in IT consultant. " The young man was equally impressed. "But — how did you know?"
"Very simple," said the shepherd. "First, you came here without being invited Second you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew, and third you don't understand a thing about my business. Now, if you don't mind can I have my dog back?"
So how about you? How familiar are you with sheep and shepherding? Even though our neighbors have a sheep next door to the church here, most of us don't know a whole lot..., at least not from personal experience. But in biblical times, shepherds were as common place as rain is here in the northwest. Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his family were all shepherds.
Prophets like Amos, Micah and Isaiah referred to them; Jesus' birth is witnessed by them; the most famous psalm in the Bible is told by a shepherd depicting Yahweh, the Lord God, as a shepherd; and both Peter and Paul commissioned 'pastoral' leaders as shepherds over the church flock.
Paul: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:27-28)
Paul was, in fact, borrowing from Jesus, and a long tradition before him, referring to spiritual leaders as shepherds. So what does Jesus mean, he is The Good Shepherd? What are the implications of that metaphor and does it still have meaning in our post-modern culture?
I believe it does. And I think it works primarily on two levels. First, it works because we have some not-too-flattering similarities to sheep, and second, because Jesus' devotion and self-sacrificial love for you and me is similar to that of an ancient shepherd for his flock of sheep. As he notes rather prophetically: "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)
We resemble, in many ways, those wooly hoofed creatures of fluff and fame. How so? For one thing, sheep are notorious followers. Wherever a ram or sheep dog leads, they will follow without a thought to the consequences. Sheep have been known to wander over the edge of a cliff, one after another, if a reckless ram so leads. Among humans this social behavior was so well known in the ancient world that an idiom, still used today, came to identify it: the mob rules.
It came from the tendency of Roman citizens to act with crowd mentality, often in violent ways. I was once invited to a game at Comisky Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, that had just been host to a Kiss rock concert. Center field was no field of dreams but a field of cinders. Two partyers had set off bottle rockets and scores of others followed their lead, igniting anything flamable, and wound up torching the turf. The result? The center-fielders for the two teams couldn't get traction in the cinders leading to two errors by the White Sox that lost them the game. Anyone remember the blackout in LA?
Even believers are at risk. Does the name, Jim Jones, ring a bell? He gave new meaning to the phrase, like leading sheep to the slaughter! No wonder Jesus urgently warned against false shepherds! "(Such) men...care nothing for the sheep!" (John 10:13) I wonder, where are we at risk today?
Sheep also have a reputation for being willful and stubborn. Like goats they love to butt heads, but unlike goats, they don't have the cranium to protect their vulnerable brains! No wonder they're reknown for not being too bright! Remember Paul's first letter? "You foolish Galatians!"
I was invited by a seminary classmate to her family's ranch home. That evening a thunderstorm crackled to life. With the first lick of lightning her father leaped out of the chair and headed out into the rain. When I asked where in the world he was going, my friend explained that he had to break up the flock, for in a thunderstorm they will huddle together so intensely that those in the middle will suffocate to death. It's one of many uses of the shepherd's crook! "Break it up! Break it up!"
That's the second profound insight of Jesus' analogy. He's like my friend's father, willing to brave the storm in order to keep his sheep from destroying themselves. As Jesus says of himself: "I am the Good Shepherd — I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and
I know the Father — and I lay down my life for my sheep." (John 10:14-15)
A sheep-pen in the ancient world was generally a cave or circle of rocks piled high with but one way in or out. A devoted shepherd would guide his sheep in at the end of the day and lie down in that
opening, making himself the Gate, thus Jesus' statement: "I am the Gate!" (John 10:7)
Being the Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus, has laid himself down — placing himself between us, his flock of sheep, and the mortal enemies of sin, death and the enemy — Satan! By laying down his life on the cross, Jesus provides the ultimate service of a good shepherd — one of peace and security.
In the Morph Course our home group learned of all the substitutes we trust in for security —money, work, family, money, success, popularity, money... Each is like a house built on sand...!
Matthew, the former tax-collector, a classic example of someone sought security in money, makes a timeless assessment of the human condition, and a profound observation of what Jesus was doing to address it, when he writes: "Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:35-36)
His assessment of the human condition? We are like helpless and harassed sheep without a shepherd. Helpless — because there is nothing we can do to change our wooly ways. No matter how hard we try, we can not stop sinning, stop from doing the very things we know are not only counterproductive, but self-destructive. We are helpless to change ourselves. We need...help!
And we are harassed. We have an enemy out there, and in here, whispering in our ears. Jesus tell us he is a thief He wants to steal from us what God wants to generously give us. Jesus says of him: "(This) thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; but I have come that you may have life to the full!"
So how did this Good Shepherd, this life-giver, counter-attack the work of this thief? Matthew reports that he went all over the place — through all the towns and villages, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness! He told them about the kingdom and then he showed them the kingdom! Why? So that they would come to trust in him for their present and eternal security! He was shepherding them by loving on them in demonstrative ways!
That's what a Good Shepherd does. And as he did so, they came to recognize his voice. The more he told them about what the kingdom of heaven looks like when it breaks loose here on earth and demonstrated it thru healings, signs and wonders, the more they came to know and trust in his voice.
And what's so cool, is that as he was talking about shepherding and gatekeeping, he spoke of what he would do for all of us on the cross and how his kingdom would expand beyond the boundaries of Israel to include you and me! "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I'm going to bring them also. They too will hear my voice! And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.. (for) I will lay down my life only to take it up again!" (John 10:16-17)
That's why you, and me, we need a shepherd — and not just any shepherd — but the one and only really Good Shepherd. Because here's the thing: counselors can comfort you in the storm, but you need a Shepherd who can quiet the storm itself! Teachers and artists can depict the meaning of life, but you need the author of life to illuinate the ultimate meaning to life! Friends and family can hold your hand at your deathbed, but you need a Shepherd who can lead you beyond death to green pastures and still, living water. Pastors can tell you about eternal life but you need the Good Shepherd who's laid down his life only to take it up again, so that ultimately, you can as well!
You and me — we need a shepherd like gig! And my friends, we have one! Learn to put your complete trust in him, listen for his voice not only to comfort you, but to guide you and feed you so that you can feed others with the same word of life he has given you, the same glimpse of the kingdom he has entrusted to you, the same rich and satisfying life, following his lead, that He, the Good Shepherd, is leading you to! You and me — we need a shepherd like that! And my friends, we have one!