Sermon for May 8

First Reading Acts 9:36-43

Second Reading Revelation 7:9-17

Gospel Reading John 10:22-30

Sermon “A Very Special Shepherd”

Our Gospel Reading this morning begins with a most important question. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

This is in fact the goal of the entire Gospel of John which we just followed – reading through the passion story and the Easter appearances during the last few weeks and are studying on Wednesday nights. It is different than the other 3 Gospels. Whereas they try to give us a history of the life and teaching of Jesus, John concentrates on this one thing as he says near the end of his book: John 20:31 “…these (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John’s focus is on the true identity of Jesus. Seven times in John, Jesus names himself with a descriptive phrase trying to get across who he is and why he came to this earth. These seven “I am” statements are:

1. The Bread of Life (6:35) which we spent a wonder time with this last Wednesday.

2. The Light of the World (8:12; 9:5)

3. The Gate of the Sheep (10:7)

4. The Good Shepherd (10:11,14)

5. The Resurrection and the Life (11:25)

6. The Way and the Truth and the Life (14:6)

7. The True Vine (15:1)

It is those middle two that we will concentrate on today – Sheep and shepherds are frequently mentioned in the prophets and Psalms of scripture and also in the ancient literature of the region. As well as from scripture, It is also from these extra biblical sources that we see the title of Shepherd is often a royal image. Kings of the day often styled themselves as the shepherd of their people. For instance, the Mesopotamian King Hammurapi (who ruled around 1750 BC), wrote that he received kingship from the gods, and claims that he fulfilled his royal duty as a shepherd by providing the people with “pastures and watering places,” having “settled them in peaceful abodes.” That ancient description sounds very much like the opening verses of Psalm 23 which we will recite as our Affirmation of faith in a few minutes.

Of course, there is only one God in the Psalmists mind, but that image of Royalty is very much present when he writes “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. David himself was a shepherd growing up and knew well what the job meant. For the sheep, the shepherd represents a guardian and protector, a provider and a guide. No wonder, this was a common picture of the role of the King and ultimately of God. It is a Royal title, a messianic title that Jesus claims when he said I am the Good Shepherd of the sheep – As John 10:4 records [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. And a bit later – “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. [9] I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. [11] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

This concept of servant leadership was literally embodied in Jesus’ ministry as he healed the sick, rescued sinners, fed the multitudes, washed the disciple feet and died for the sins of the world on the cross, but we will talk more about these things in detail. It is who he is and how he lived.

Indeed, the title of Shepherd, not only speaks of royalty, it also speaks of Relationship and of Redemption. First let’s address relationship. Did you hear how Jesus, the good shepherd manages his flock? He does not drive them, he goes ahead of them and calls them. John 10:27 NKJV [27] My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

They (we) know his voice, trust him and so follow after him. There is hardly a more beautiful image of a Godly life than this. To follow in trust and love after the one who has gone ahead and prepared the way. David understood that to when he wrote: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” These are words of relationship and trust. It can be a hard world for a sheep, but the Good Shepherd is trustworthy.

There is also the wonderful aspect of Redemption. Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And he also said as we read this morning John 10:28 NKJV [28] And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. This is where the image takes an unusual twist in our Christian theology. Not only do we worship and follow the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, but we also worship him as the lamb that takes away the sins of the world, like the saints in John’s vision from the Revelation.

There he is pictured truly in Royal splendor, Exalted in this heavenly scene as the redeemer of a great multitude from every nation. They sing the Shepherd who is their’s in a most wonderful relationship, this shepherd is pictured as a lamb! Listen again to those wonder filled verses: Revelation 7:9-10,13-17 NKJV [9] After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” A few verses later the scene shifts as John is asked “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” [14] And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. [15] Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. [16] They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; [17] for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The lamb is the Shepherd! This image speaks loudly of redemption, one who has paid the price for us. The Old Testament system of animal sacrifice was established by Moses as commanded by God to deal with the sins of the nation that God formed from Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and beyond. That system repeatedly offered sacrifice after sacrifice for sin, but sin remained. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:Hebrews 10:1-4 NIV [1] The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. [2] Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. [3] But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. [4] It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

That system pointed to God’s own sacrifice, Once for all in the person of Jesus Christ – God in Human form to do his Father’s will. Again Hebrews teaches us of Jesus Hebrews 10:9-10 NIV [9] Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. [10] And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. No wonder then that John the Baptist recognized Jesus in John’s Gospel this way: John 1:36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

There are many ways of describing who Jesus is and what he has done for us, but this one is special, resonating all the way through scripture. So to those curious folks in the temple courts back there at that Hanukah celebration who had asked “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus had to reply “I did tell you, but you did not believe”. God sending a special person as messiah they were prepared to believe, but Jesus was more, he had already told them on a previous occasion “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” And now he lays it out plainly, as they asked ” I and the Father are one.” They had the answer they had requested, but when it came, it was not one they were prepared to accept. God’s own self come down in human form – to call, to teach, to lead, to die and rise again. Jesus reveals God’s own self to us. Through him we can know the attributes of God: love, forgiveness, faithfulness and all the rest, because we experience them in the Good Shepherd

This is who we worship today and who we will worship in heaven for all eternity. Jesus is Our king, our friend and our redeemer, our good shepherd and the lamb of God. Let us praise and thank him, joining our voices with those in heaven saying “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

“Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”