Saturday, May 05, 2012

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.