Monday, April 26, 2010

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
April 18, 2010

This morning’s Gospel provides one of the most visible and widely recognized images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In my mind, it’s also the easiest of Jesus’ I AM statements to grasp and imagine.

Throughout John’s Gospel, numerology plays an important role in how John tells his story of Jesus’ life. The book has often been broken down into two halves – the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. These two halves can touch on the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The book covers the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry are recounted by three Passover accounts, with the third culminating in the Last Supper and our Lord’s Passion. In John, Jesus makes three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem – thus we have a Trinitarian structure with the three trips to Jerusalem and three Passover dinners.

There are also two times when the number seven appears.

First, instead of miracles, John speaks of the signs of Jesus in his ministry.

Changing water into wine
Three different healing miracles
Feeding of the 5,000
Walking on water
Raising of Lazarus

The first half of John’s Gospel centers around these seven signs. The seven signs are accompanied by seven great I AM statements.

I AM the Bread of Life
I AM the Resurrection and the Life
I AM the True Vine
I AM the Light of the World
I AM the Door to the sheepfold
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life
I AM the Good Shepherd

The first six are a little more difficult to get our heads around, but Jesus’ statement about being the Good Shepherd is a bit easier to grasp. Even though sheep herding isn’t too abundant here in Colquitt County, we’ve probably all seen a Discovery Channel special that shows the sheepherders in Ireland, or Australia, or some other country. We’ve heard the Old Testament stories of Joseph’s brothers as keepers of the Jacob’s flock; the story of David tending the sheep when Samuel came to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the new King of Israel. It’s not too hard to visualize Jesus as a Shepherd, and I’m sure you’ve all seen the stained glass windows with Jesus and a small little lamb about his shoulders.

What are the attributes of a shepherd?

The great Anglican priest and preacher, The Rev. Dr. John Stott speaks of four attributes of a shepherd.

First, a shepherd is someone who feeds and nourishes his flock

One thing to know first about sheep and shepherding is that sheep are led; they are not driven like cattle.

The shepherd goes ahead of his flock, and they follow him faithfully to pasture.

A good shepherd is not going to lead them unnecessarily, but rather, toward green pastures where they can be fed and nourished. They can drink of the waters of comfort.
Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds his sheep, you and me, with his own Body and Blood.

I am the Bread of Life
Give us this day our daily bread
The water that I shall give will become a spring, welling up into eternal life
That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood

Jesus our good shepherd feed us and nourishes us to the point that our cup runneth over with His grace and love

There is no end the bounteous goodness that God provides, so much that the disciples gathered twelve baskets full and everyone had their fill

Second, a shepherd guides

As I mentioned before, sheep require a guide, not a ranch hand

If one attempts to herd sheep, they simply huddle up in a big mass, and go nowhere.

If one attempts to guide a flock of sheep, they will willingly go wherever the familiar voice of their shepherd leads

Jesus says that the sheep of his flock will not follow a stranger

The sheep of the Good Shepherd will be guided along the paths of righteousness

We as sheep of Jesus’ flock will never be led anywhere by the Good Shepherd that is not for our benefit

Only a false shepherd will led us into places which result in death, despair, and destruction.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to the place of ultimate joy – He leads us to the Father

No one reaches the Father except by following the Good Shepherd, and trusting Him wherever he leads and guides

Third, a shepherd is a guardian

In order to protect a flock, the shepherd would build a make-shift pen with one entrance in or out

Any other way is a mark of deception and evil

The true shepherd and guardian of his flock would lay down at the entrance, and anything desiring to come in would have to go through him first

If an animal came to attack the flock, he would defend his own with his life if necessary

Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends

Jesus did just that

He laid down his life willingly in order that we might live

No one took it from him, but he willingly gave it up

His guardianship as the Good Shepherd is that He is the guardian of our souls

Jesus gave thanks to God before he died and said, “While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition…”

He loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them until the end

Finally, a shepherd heals those who are hurt

We as sheep are going to wander and stray

Thieves and robbers are going to enter the sheepfold not by the door, but by climbing over the walls

We are going to be hurt at times by those who love us the most

Being a member of Christ’s flock never, ever exempted us from pain, or suffering, or trials, or temptations, or illness.

Christ as the Good Shepherd has healed us, and will continue to heal us

The great suffering servant song in the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah speaks with unequivocal clarity regarding the power of Jesus to be the healing Shepherd

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

A shepherd feeds, guides, guards, and heals

What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd is the fact that he is the only perfect sheep

He shunned not the Virgin’s Womb, but rather became Man, and walked as a sheep amongst the sheep

There was one glorious difference

He is the only true sheep without blemish

He is the very Paschal Lamb, who willingly took it all upon his shoulders in order that we might live

He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

He is the one who feeds us, guides us, guards us, and heals us

Listen to His voice and allow Him to heal all that is hurting – His words will bring comfort and peace

Follow him – for He will guide us and guard us every step along the way

And if we are truly willing to follow the Good Shepherd when he leads us into green pastures and guides through those valleys of the shadow of death, we will most surely…

Dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

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