Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

May 11, 2014 –– 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36–41 / 1 Peter 2:20b–25 / John 10:1–10

The fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the oldest paintings of Christ in the Roman catacombs represents Jesus carrying an injured, straying sheep gently on his shoulders back to the sheepfold. Jesus is our Shepherd―and he tells us so himself in today's Gospel.

We are like sheep. We run after wrong things. There's a line in the Old Testament written by Isaiah that says: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). If we are honest, we know that we need a Shepherd. We want an “abundant life,” but it seems so elusive. People do not seem to realize that our most basic longings are distorted by bring cut off from God. Although God has a right to own us because he created us, he gave us the option of freedom.... and we all rebelled and ran away.  Peter tells us (in his first letter) that in response, God chose to send his own Son to seek and redeem us––at a terrible cost―at the cost of his own life (1Pet 2:24–25).

Sometimes a shepherd notches the ear of a lamb born to his flock to show rightful ownership (we can see this in analogy with baptism). If the lamb later wanders away, the shepherd searches near and far to get that lamb back. He may even find it a long time later―not a baby lamb, but a grown sheep for sale at an animal auction. The shepherd recognizes his mark on that sheep's ear. He goes to the auctioneer and says, "I can see the mark. That sheep is mine." The auctioneer says, "Listen, you must bid and pay just like anybody else." So the shepherd bids and pays in order to get his own lamb. He now has a double right to own this sheep: from birth and from redemption. God wants to be our Shepherd. Because he is both our Creator and Redeemer––he has paid the blood of his own Son in order to redeem us––we are doubly his.

God has chosen to be our Shepherd. When we are able to see that trying to live on our own terms only gets us more and more lost, and when we are able to see that God has sent his Son to seek and to save what was lost (Lu 19:10)―that he has bought us off of Satan’s auction block with his own blood―we can know that Jesus is our Shepherd.

We need to remember that we are sheep. Unless we listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice, we will do stupid things. Even with normal and good things, we get stubborn and foolish about having our own way. One sheep farmer tells of having to take a few days off from other work every spring to look for sheep. When asked why he would have to look for sheep on their own home, he said that whenever a pregnant ewe goes into labor, she immediately sits down. But if she is facing downhill when she sits, she will stay in that direction, fighting against gravity to push the lamb out of the womb. If no one helps her, she will die in that position rather than simply turn around. Every night his family has to carefully count the pregnant sheep. When even one ewe is missing, the whole family goes out to search for her and then bring her home.

When we turn to Jesus (that’s repentance) we find that he leads us into his “sheepfold.” The fold is an enclosure shepherds use to keep their sheep safe. There is only one way in, and the shepherd guards it so only his sheep can safely be inside. John tells us that Jesus said, I am the gate for the sheep.... I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (Jn 10:7, 9). But there is an ongoing response we need to make if Jesus is truly our Good Shepherd―if we are truly his sheep; Jesus also says his sheep follow him because they know his voice (v4b).

As Christians we need to have our ears tuned to hear our Shepherd’s voice. Instead of stubbornly trying to go our own way, let’s admit the humbling truth: I need a Shepherd.... I need to follow Jesus.

Do you hear the Good Shepherd’s voice? The Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and his sheep hear his voice.

Listen.... the Good Shepherd is calling you.

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