Saturday, May 26, 2012

B, Pentecost Sunday – Acts 2:1-8,13,14 Ezekiel 37:1-10 “Dead Men Walking”

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So how does this all work; Holy Spirit, baptism, Jesus' death two thousand years ago, his resurrection and ascension and you? It's a fair enough question since many these days have not grown up in the church and have no idea how it all works. Even for many in the church, if asked and put on the spot, would be hard up to give an outline of why they believe, and what happens in a believer. Why? Because much of it happens due to God's work hidden from our conscious minds and understanding!
In fact, it takes greater conscious effort to walk away from believing! And added to this, once one rejects what God has freely given, the evil one accuses and makes one feel guilty.
Not that this guilt is bad. If we see it for what it is then we can use it to God's advantage and return to him. When the devil accuses, he seeks to tell us we are not worthy to be before God, that he would condemn us if we did, and so the devil's attack shows us that by ourselves we are not worthy.
However, he uses more spin than a politician on the campaign trail! He's not going to remind us of what God has done and is doing. He is not going to remind us that he really cannot attack us anymore once we are covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And so we come to the original question, "How does this all work?" Or, "How do we get and remain under the righteousness of Jesus Christ?" You need to know so the devil can't play with your doubts and drive you away from the wonderful effective gift which gives life upon life into eternity.
The first thing I would like you to picture is what happens when you hold your breath. Just say for argument sake you decided you were going to be very childish and stop breathing to get your way. What would happen? All would start off well, then after about thirty seconds you body would say, "Hang on mate, I need air!" After a minute you would be going red in the face, and only if you were stubborn enough could you hold on any further. If you could you might continue for some time until the oxygen in your blood started getting low, you would get light headed and finally pass out. But what happens once you go unconscious? Your body forces you to breathe again, that why people drown in water because the moment you pass out you cannot hold your breath any more, and you begin to automatically breathe regardless of where you are.
In fact, anyone who holds their breath knows it takes more effort not to breathe than it does to breathe. The human body wants to breathe, that's what it's created to do, and that is why you and I are human beings. We are not people who rise in the morning needing to remind ourselves to breathe because we have been doing exactly that unconsciously the whole night through. We don't have to "do" breathing it's a part of our being. And because we "are", we have "being", we are humans being!
For Christians it's the same. I will come to what gives us our being in a moment, but the devil seeks to tell us time and time again we are not Christians being, but rather we need to be doing more. It's like if he was to convince us we are humans not being, that breathing won't give us life, causing us doubt that breathing oxygen is the right thing to do and that we need to do something else to be human. Can you imagine how hard it would be to be a human and to exist without oxygen?
Yet this is what the devil does to those who have been given life as a Christian. He condemns and confuses Christians to stop being Christians, because he causes doubt over the very thing that freely gives us the life breathe of forgiveness, peace, hope and love.
Something very important happens through the disciples at Pentecost, the same thing can also happen though any Christian who is asked, "What is all this Christian stuff about?" Do you realise you have been given the same power as them in your baptism. This is the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus hidden within, and it's promised to all who are baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, they were apostles with a very important job on the day of Pentecost, and most of you are not called into an ordained ministerial office. Nevertheless, like them you and I are believers, and it was in trusting and believing that God could do anything, big or small, through them. They, like you, were believers and therefore doers of the tasks God had set for them. We are all very different human beings, but unless every person trusts the breath they receive no one is able to do anything.
So let's look at the apostles for a moment. Their job as apostles began a long time before the day of Pentecost. Jesus had worked with them for three years — teaching, correcting, and sending them out to witness while he was walking on earth. Then after the crucifixion and resurrection he came to them on that first Easter Sunday evening and gave them the Holy Spirit and opened their minds. After this time Jesus was still present but not always seen. God caused him to be seen at various times over the next forty days until Christ finally ascended from their sight. How could these terrified men remain in the very place where their Lord was crucified? Surely if they showed their faces they would have been arrested and received the same fate as Jesus on the cross? It was the Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathed into them!
Then fifty days later, we hear the twelve were gathered in one place, the sound of wind rushing occurred and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. And thirdly they spoke in different tongues so others present could understand what was going on. We are not necessarily going to have this happen to us audibly or visually, nor will we necessarily be able to speak in other languages. But all Christians receive the breath of life from the Holy Spirit, when God breathes his word and Holy Spirit into us at baptism. And what God chooses to do through those who trust him, is then only limited by God's will and what he needs to do to make himself known to those he would have us meet.
We hear a strange occurrence in Ezekiel 37 where Ezekiel recounts being caused to see a valley of dry dead bones.
And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:3–6 ESV)
So he did what God commanded and the bones came to life. Don't underestimate the power of God the Holy Spirit, given the right circumstances he might chose to use any of us in ways we might not even begin to comprehend. So don't let the devil make you doubt what God has done and what he can do!
What happens to the valley of dry bones and the apostles on the day of Pentecost is the same. And the same happens with us.
There is a movie starring Tom Hanks based on a novel by Stephen King called "The Green Mile". In it Hanks plays a prison officer in a death row prison. When the prisoner is walked to the electric chair from his cell past all the other prisoners in their cells, the guard cries out, "Dead man walking!" The valley of dry bones and the apostles on the day of Pentecost were "Dead Men Walking". And so are you.
But we are not walking in the same doomed and deathly way as those prisoners. We are walking to death, but through it by faith. In fact, before we were made eternal beings by God in baptism, we were "dead men walking" in hopelessness through this life, never content, never finding true peace, always knowing something was missing in our lives. But now having received the Holy Spirit we, who were once dead and as lifeless as bones in a valley, or as frozen in fear as the disciples were after Jesus' death, are called to see that God has put his life in us and us in the life of his Son.
We may not be able to speak in all sorts of tongues but we have all been given the same being. And this being enables in us the language of love, to forgive, to encourage, and to tell others the hope we have.
So how does it all work? It works because God makes it work. The Holy Spirit continually reveals the kingdom of heaven is with us. His job is to give us the being of eternal life; he is sent from the Father and the Son, to bring us to and reveals Jesus Christ in us. He puts the wind of life as Christians in us; he is the doer and the shaker, the deliverer and maker of faith.
All humans are "dead men walking". But those who trust the being of eternal life and allow the Holy Spirit to walk them in it are no longer dead men walking in death, but rather dead men walking in life. Don't let the devil deceive you with only half the story! Yes, on your own you are guilty! But, your guilt has been drowned in baptism; so let the Holy Spirit daily raise you to a life of faith, hope, and eternal love. Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

B, Ascension Sunday – Acts 1:1-5 “O Theophilus”

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Theophilus is the person to whom the doctor, Luke, writes. Is Theophilus a real person? Or is he an archetypal fictitious character representative of all who have a fondness for God? After all this is the meaning of the name, Theophilus. The first thing we can observe is that this conversation stands out from others in the bible because Luke and Theophilus are Greeks and not Hebrew. So firstly we note this is a record from the gentiles and therefore it's focus differs somewhat from the Jewish perspective.
You can hear the two words that make up the name, Theophilus. Theos is the Greek word meaning god or divine being. From it we get words like theology, meaning "words about God", theocentric, "God-centred", or theocracy, "a form of government where God is recognised as the supreme authority.
And Philos means, friend, neighbour, associate, or someone to whom one is endeared, or of whom one is fond. Words like philosophy, meaning "fond of wisdom", Philadelphia meaning "brotherly love", paedophile "lover of children", or philanthropist "fond or friend of humankind" all are derived from Philos.
So Theophilus is one who is fond of God – a friend of God. He could have been a specific person with this name or Luke may have been writing to those who were Gentile Christians.
If he was writing to a single person we might ponder the situation Theophilus finds himself in at this time. Luke has written him two letters. In the first, the Gospel of Luke, Luke writes…
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4 ESV)
Here we find the purpose of Luke writing to Theophilus. He addresses this person as "most excellent", a noble, dignified, or very honourable person. But this soul is not just highly esteemed; this character is also a student — one who's being taught. So Luke writes, so Theophilus may have certainty concerning what's been taught.
Part two is the book of Acts. In it Luke continues the account of what happens when Jesus is no longer present in sight but through faith in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the pivotal point of Luke's narrative is Jesus' glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father. We hear…
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:1–5 ESV)
The key is hinted at from the outset of Luke's second letter. Luke had written both of his letters to Theophilus sometime after these events had happened. The book of Acts could have been written as late as, or even later than, 70 AD, when we consider the last of the events in Acts occurred in about 63 AD. But the hint comes in Luke's first line to Theophilus — that Jesus had only "begun" to do and teach. Jesus' ascension was not the end but only a time of transition. The student Theophilus was living in the times after the transition and was still being taught by Jesus, but now in a special way.
He is encouraged in the faith because Jesus was alive from the grave. He had risen from the dead and was seen for forty days, before being "taken up" from them. In fact being taken up to a heavenly place is Greek thinking. But rather, in reality, Jesus was lifted up to a certain place and then hidden. We would better understand Jesus as being enthroned in heaven or glorified to the right hand of the Father. He is still present but unseen in the heavenly realm outside of time and our minds being bound by time find that difficult to understand.
This is all good news for Theophilus, because he still has access to God, through the work Jesus began while on earth and now continues out of sight in heaven and in us. The second part of Luke's narrative lays out how Jesus continued this work. Jesus was now to be revealed, unhidden, by the Holy Spirit whom he and the Father would send to continue the teaching so certainty in Jesus' promises would continue.
The teachings are in fact these letters from Luke, among others, and the certainty in the teaching which comes through hearing the accounts of Jesus' work on earth and in heaven is faith. Faith was given to give sight to Theophilus to further increase the certainty that God was still with those who were friends of God — that God had not abandoned them. This teaching was to be made most effective when the Holy Spirit would use it through the mouths of Apostles to reveal Jesus Christ to his faithful ones. In other words that God was still faithful to those in whom he had placed faith through the message of Christ preached by man and revealed by the Holy Spirit.
So if Theophilus was in fact an individual to whom Luke wrote this would have been very reassuring. But if Theophilus was a name to address all the followers of God then it is equally reassuring for all who are one in their fondness of following Jesus Christ, now revealed from the hidden realm of heaven as being the faithful head of the one true hidden church on earth.
Whether Theophilus was in fact an individual or a church of gentiles is really not worthy of our concern! However, what is worthy of our meditations and thoughts is this: Am I Theophilus? Am I a friend of God, am I letting Jesus Christ be my friend?
Do you believe Jesus Christ continues his work in heaven before the Father for you? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, that he brings you to Jesus and Jesus to you through the teaching of the gospel? Do you believe when you received the Holy Spirit he made you one in the great congregation, that's seen and unseen? See that Jesus seeks to continue his work in and through you!
You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, living around the world and called into glory out of this life. They are hidden for the most part, but in prayer they're encouraging you to endure in letting Jesus carry you through this life.
Aren't you one of the witnesses too? Called to join Jesus in his work and pray for those who are friends of God so their certainty may be strengthened? As well as those who are not friend of God in the hope they too will share in the great victory?
Friends of God, friends in Christ, we are in the first chapter of our lives and there is another to come. When this chapter of your life is closed, O Theophilus, be confident the second eternal chapter of heaven will continue. So let the Holy Spirit give you the eyes of faith, hold fast to the teachings of Christ, and encourage this in me through your prayers too. For Jesus' sake! Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

B, Easter 6 – John 15:26 “On Being Fruitful”

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Throughout Australia at this time of year farmers are looking to seed or plant their fields. Those in the north wish to plant into soil with a wet base after the summer subtropical rains have finished. In the south another farmer waits for the wet cold fronts to start rolling in after months of dry Mediterranean heat.

Perhaps earlier on, or at another time, gates have been opened, welcoming the rams in amongst the ewes, the bucks amongst the does, the bull amongst the cows, or the stallion in amongst the mares.
And at the end of the day all farmers lean over the fence and ponder what might be the other end of the season; willing the seed of plant and animal to be fruitful and multiply. Commanding the soil and the creatures they've put on it to, "Grow! Live! Remain! Endure! Be what you naturally have been made to be!"
After all, every farmer has spent his or her time preparing the paddock and filling the flock with food for strength and fertility. At the end of the day farmers want grain to be grain; they want cows to be cows; and ewes to be ewes. Farmers give the best with the intention of receiving fruitfulness; so that which lives on the land might produce a bountiful harvest, and a multitude of young livestock.
Jesus tells us… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16 ESV)
Just like the farmer who owns a farm chooses what he wishes to do with each of his paddocks, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit chooses us. You and I are God's going concern, we are the flock of the Father, we are the fertile fields, chosen to bear fruit, fruit that abides and lasts forever.
But as every farmer knows, things don't always turn out as one would wish. The rains don't come or they don't stop coming. The crops get crook and die from disease. A bumper harvest is burnt to nothing or destroyed by wind or waves of locust swarms. Or one finds out after waiting for the best part of a year the bull is impotent and the cows are barren, or the crow, the fox, or the freezing night stops lambs from living.
Nevertheless, this is not the same for you and me. A farmer may choose his farm and livestock to bear fruit for him, but our Heavenly Father goes to greater lengths than any farmer does with his farm. You see when things begin to go wrong on the land we might go and get the opinion of an agronomist and others, but God does what no farmer can do. He places his life in us. From himself he sends his Son and the Holy Spirit implanting his seed in us. You and I carry the very being of God, whereas even if a farmer works himself to death for his land and livestock, these things will never bear the being of the farmer who wills them to live.
There is also a difference between us and our farms. When the season turns out to be perfectly timed, the rains, the sunshine, and the heat come at the right time, and a healthy harvest has gone exactly to schedule, we see a fruitful return. But despite God graciously giving us all we need, filling us with the seed of his faithfulness, implanting in us his perfect will to be eternally fruitful. Still we struggle to be what he has made us to be – perfect and holy! Why is this?
Here we're called to step back and see the big picture. Despite God giving us his Son, Jesus Christ; who has perfectly kept all the commandments of the Law for you and me, in exchange taking all our imperfection, on himself, on the cross, and giving us his holiness and perfection so we have access as children to the Father, we still doubt. The originality of our human Adam still remains. The world around us still appears to offer sweeter fruit. Satan slithers in to make us doubt the Word of God and the seed of holiness planted in us. First, when we were baptised into Jesus' death and resurrection, and as we continue to hear his holy perfecting word spoken.
Know this is the devil's deadly deception! He wants us to think the grass is greener over the fence because he knows the seed of God planted in us is almighty, powerful, lifesaving, germinating faith and holiness worked by the Holy Spirit who continually seeks to deliver us into the forgiveness of the cross. You see many today inside the church are succumbing to the his temptation; believing they have to give up too much to be a Christian — that life won't be fun doing all that church stuff. But I challenge anyone who believes this to step back and have a good look at what one must really give up to become or continue living as a Christian. And you will find it's all the ugly stuff that separates from God, leads to uncertainty, hopelessness, individualism and greed, hurt and the fracturing of relationships.
And why do we know this is the devil's deception? Because the more you seek to abide and remain and be the bearers of God's fruit the more you're attacked by the devil and his evil entourage from within and from without! This is why when you seek to remain in church, pray, care for others, or study God's word you're so easily distracted and torn from focusing on God and his good things. Also notice when you fail in these things the voice inside that tells you it's not worth it, you're a failure, you're not good enough for God, or a thousand other accusations from the accuser, the devil.
But just like the farmer who wills his crops and his flocks to yield their fruit, God lovingly commands us to do the same. But how do we do it? The secret is to remain in very things from which the devil is tempting us to depart. In this way we can see through the devil and use his accusations to the glory of God. When he accuses you allow it to drive you to the cross, to our Father's forgiveness, which we have through being baptised into Jesus Christ.
We can say to Satan, "Thankyou for showing me my sin. You want me to hide it, or justify it, so you can continue accusing me with it, but because of what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do for me, I'm going to confess what you rightly accuse me of, before my Lord, and let the light of his love take its power away!"
In this we fulfil what Jesus promises in John 14:12–14
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12–14 ESV)
You see God has placed in each of us a new existence, a listening being, the faithfulness and forgiveness of Jesus himself! God the Father continues to send the Holy Spirit when you hear the word of God. Hearing and receiving enables you to remain, abide, stand, persevere, endure, and continue receiving what he has given you from the day of his death and resurrection – your baptism into his death and the freedom of daily repentance.
God has germinated his Son in you, let the Holy Spirit grow him in you, let love be. Therefore remain and receive this life. Believe, endure, love, ignore evil, because the victory of eternity has already been made yours! Amen.
Walk in the light, as he is in the light, have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. Amen.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

B, Easter 5 – John 15:1-5 “Evergreen”

The Easter season sees us pondering the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And during the last couple of weeks we have been encouraged in the hope of our resurrection; we're called to turn from doubt and worry towards an eager expectation of eternal joy.
In the northern hemisphere things are flourishing as summer approaches, vines are carrying their fruit, flowers are blossoming! But here in the southern hemisphere as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, plant life is preparing to shut down for the winter months.
And so the pruning shears will be brought out and gardens will be severely chopped back. The winter pruning is not just a little trim to keep things in shape. No! While the plants are dormant and the trees are bare, the old and the ugly, the weak and the diseased, are hacked off and hauled out in preparation for the new growth of spring after a cold frosty winter.
As life ebbs in the garden one gets to experience a myriad of colours as the vines and trees lose their leaves. Then there are the colours and fragrances of roses giving their last hoorah before the petals fall off and each plant goes into a state suspended animation till spring.
Life is as much about death. What started out new and fresh and leafy green is now fading from fiery ambers and reds to a withering wintery brown. And with both one can appreciate the beauty of God's creation as the life cycle continues to revolve.
Imagine if gardens were not pruned and the dead, weak, dying or diseased remained on the vines and in the flower beds. The expectation of spring's new growth would be overshadowed by unsightly remains. No! It's best when nature finishes it show of changing colour to cut and clear, to prune and prepare for the newness of the next season.
God pruned his people Israel. It was a harsh pruning! He cut them back to a single stump, the stump of Jesse. And from that root came new life at Easter. The holy nation which became one person dead on a lifeless hanging tree sprung to life once again.
At the resurrection humanity was reborn through Jesus Christ. He was raised to life and now carries an all-knowing wisdom and knowledge bearing perfect eternal peace, an omnipresent holy counsel with complete understanding, omnipotent loving power, and reverent fear built on the Father's faithfulness. God loved us so much he pruned and recreated life itself in what was the darkest and most dormant three days of human creation culminating in a resurrection of life that will only get better.
Now today Jesus is God's new vine. This vine is the life centre of God's garden of grace. And we're branches of the vine in this garden. The people of God were reduced to one, but now from the grave, from the stump of Jesse the shoot has shot into an evergreen vine that will never fade or die and we the branches have been grafted into the vine.
Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn 15:1-5)
Saint Paul also testifies to our destiny in Christ saying to the Ephesians, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…" (Eph 1:13)
Being in the word we are grafted into Christ. We are the children of God because Christ is the new Israel. But unlike Christ we still bear the rot and disease of the old season, and as a result are constantly in need of being pruned into the branches that produce the fruit of the vine, the fruits of grace, mercy, and peace, that show the true beauty of the source of our re-creation.
When we have times of doubt and our faith seems to be wintery and worn, we do well to remember and trust what Jesus and Paul tell us… You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.
On the other hand when we are tempted to believe we have remained in the vine long enough and we're attracted to cut ourselves off by believing in ourselves rather than God, we're also called to take heed of this warning…
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:17-23)
So like leaves on the vine, we start off green and fresh, and as time goes on we mature and colour with age. We all serve a function on the vine whatever stage of life we're in.
But unlike leaves that wither and fall off the vine, our evergreen vine will never let us fall away while we trust in him. Therefore, although we are foliage that changes during life, we are more like branches that grow stronger and stronger in the vine. As we grow in him we need more and more substantial prunings.
So as we are lovingly pruned by God the gardener, soon we'll face the greatest pruning of our lives – your earthly death. As we've been lovingly pruned throughout our lives we're called to live with the same reverent fear as Christ, trusting in God, in the wake of his faithfulness towards us. Not hoping to go back to the past, nor approaching the future with inward-looking fear.
But we strive in hope for what's in front of us where like the stump of Jesse, the dead wood and deciduous leaves will be left behind, and, we will spring into new life, being clothed with the lush evergreen righteousness of God's holy perfection together with him forever, Amen.

B, Easter 4 – John 10:11-18 “Shepherd of the Sheep”

Far be it for anyone to tell sheep graziers about sheep. But let's cast our minds back to Christmas outside Bethlehem on a starry night, where the shepherds stand their post over the flock. These fellows were rough and ready for action at any time of day or night. They were watching out for wild animals or unsavoury individuals who might decide to take possession of their sheep. They knew their sheep and their sheep knew them. If one was lost the other ninety-nine were left in search of the one.

Yet on this night, what appeared was not able to be fended off. The glory of God shone around them as the choir of angels praised God in the highest. This night they left the herd and hurried into Bethlehem to see the product of the angels' proclamation – the Son of God lying in a manger.
These rough, rag and taggle, men—shepherds of sheep—stood looking over baby Jesus. This was the baby born to be the Lamb of God, who was sent to takes away the sins of the world. This night the shepherds were drawn away from their sheep to see the Lamb who was to shepherd these shepherds with loving forgiveness found only in a sacrificial Lamb's death on the cross.
What a strange turn of events! Shepherds were meant to protect sheep — it was their job! Yet they find themselves standing over a little human being, so tender and mild, who was to save these wild lion wrestlers, these sheriffs of the sheep, these fighters of felons.
We also must remember these men were not considered worthy of salvation either, as their job caused them to be ritually unclean. They were unable to go to the temple in Jerusalem to perform the appropriate sacrifices needed to fulfil the requirements of the Law.
Even stranger than the rough shepherds being drawn to the manger of humanity's Shepherd, is that they were in the presence of God's, one and only, Son. The unworthy shepherds, for possibly the first time, had an audience with God without any repercussions. God was born into this filthy environment to shepherd the sheep considered unfit for God's pastures! Therefore, the Lamb of God is surely the greatest Shepherd ever to be born.
Baby Jesus grew into a man and made this claim of himself during his ministry on earth. He said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)
Just like any well trained shepherd, Jesus comes to lay down his life for his sheep. He did this by becoming like his sheep. Just like the shepherds whose smell was probably more like sheep, Jesus became everything that humanity is; born with the stench of sinful human nature yet without sin. He is God but was also human like us; both the Shepherd and a sheep.
However, this heavenly Lamb was not lost; he was sent to shepherd us by first being the sacrifice for our sin. So the Shepherd lay down his life by first becoming the Lamb and then by silently suffering for our sins at the hands of humanity.
Jesus goes on to say in John ten, "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 the sheep." (John 10:14-15)
Here we part from the shepherds of the past. Today's shepherd, or sheep grazier, might be known by the sheep but do they know their sheep? If we stood at the saleyards and survey thirty thousand sheep being chased off trucks by kelpies and collies, drafted into pens for sale the best we might see is the breed of sheep, the quality of the herd, or perhaps sheepskin uggboots or chops on legs!
But Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd, he knows his flock, he knows each and every person in his fold. He knows all Christians of all time. Imagine how many yards of sheep that would be. And even more amazing than this, is, in knowing each of us intimately with all our sinful ways, he still laid down his life for us. And he does this so we might appear before God like lambs without blemish or spot. We are now seen by God as if we were grand champions, the strongest, the best, and producers of best super fine fleece.
Jesus not only came to shepherd us from our sin, but he came to shepherd all people from sin even though many don't recognise the Good Shepherd. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd… 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." (John 10:14a, 16)
You and I are God's sheep, sheep of the Good Shepherd! We were lost in the sleepiness of our sheepish ways, but now the Good Shepherd has found us and rescues us. As God's sheep we are the same as the Lamb who lay in the manger, in that we have nothing to fear because the Good Shepherd watches over us.
We can graze the pastures on which God leads us, not concerning ourselves about what type of sheep God has made us to be. Like a sheep that happily lives within its boundaries never concerning itself about what it must do to be a sheep, we too don't need to worry and doubt what God had recreated us to be and leads us to do. You are free to be God's sheep, to be a child of God.
Because the Good Shepherd shepherds in each of us, shepherds amongst us, and shepherds around us, rounding us up with his dogged and determined Holy Spirit, we can be confident of gathering other lost sheep into the fold over time too!
We know, being who we are, in being God's sheep the nature of the Good Shepherd lives in us guarded by the Holy Spirit like a Shepherd's dog watching over the flock. In your freedom as God's sheep God's nature of love lives in you.
So now a strange thing happens that never happens on a sheep farm; out of love sheep lay down their lives for each other. Be it, simply letting others go first, or by even greater sacrifices. Either way, the sheep are more concerned with following their Good Shepherd. As a result, doing things of love just happens without the sheep even noticing they're doing it!
As sheep of God, your nature is this: believing the Son of God, your Good Shepherd, and loving others like the Lamb of God loves you. And guess what? The Holy Spirit is already seeing to it in you! Amen!
Let us pray!
Lord Jesus Christ you are our Good Shepherd, so we never have to worry or doubt who we're called to be.
Make us lie down in green pastures, lead us beside quiet waters, continually restore our souls. Guide us in paths of righteousness for the sake of your name.
Give us fear of no evil as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, for you Good Shepherd are with us; your rod of the law and your gracious staff of the gospel, comfort us, because they rescue us time and time again, and they feed us and sustain us.
You always have a table prepared before us in the presence of our enemies. You anoint our heads with oil; our cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will hunt us down and overshadow us all the days of our lives, as we dwell in your Father's eternal house now and forever. Amen.