May 12, 2019 Shorn by The Shepherd
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
Each year -on the 4th Sunday of Easter- we are reminded of the shepherd imagery of our Lord Jesus for us; “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” We like that image as a comfort thru life’s challenges; even tho most of us don’t know much about the life of sheep. But we know that the shepherd powerfully, lovingly, tends his flock = carefully guiding, & protecting from wolves & other dangers. Today, in John 10, we’re reminded that the Shepherd has a clearly recognizable voice, and the sheep follow that voice.
So, *where exactly IS the voice of our Shepherd Jesus today? Our father-of-the-faith, Rv. Dr. Martin Luther, asserts that Psalm 23 is all about the Word of God = the Living Voice of the Good Shepherd. He says:
“For whenever God’s Word is preached properly and purely, it creates many good things –good results — as David pictures in the Psalm. To those that hear it diligently & seriously == and they are the only ones whom our Lord acknowledges as His sheep = the Word is pleasant green grass, a cool drink, by which the sheep of the Lord are satisfied and refreshed. …
… and all kinds of joy and pleasure abound. In other words: these sheep-of-the-Lord are not only instructed and guided, refreshed, strengthened, and comforted by God’s Word;
but they are also continuously kept on the right path, protected in body & soul in all kinds of distress, and finally they conquer and overcome all tribulation and sorrow, … as verse four says = “though I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me,
Thy rod and staff they comfort me.” = In short, (says Luther) His sheep live in complete safety …. because their Shepherd tends and protects them.”
By using this imagery in John 10, Jesus declares that HE is the shepherd of Psalm 23;
that His sheep know & hear His voice; following Him thru the valley, and into pastures.
*Are you aware of that voice? The voice of our Shepherd was heard by the people of Israel, & was heard by king David, and is heard by us & our children == His voice is the Spirit-filled written Word of the Lord; the 66 books of Holy Scripture, Genesis to Revelation.
But, speaking to, comforting & leading the sheep are not the only thing the-Lord-our- Shepherd does for us. Our Shepherd also shears us. For those famous Australian sheep farmers & herdsmen, shearing time is always met with great anticipation. All the year’s work comes down to those few long days. The shearers spend hours relieving sheep after sheep of a year’s growth of wool. The sheep look ‘obese’ as they move toward the shed; some sheep are so heavy with wool that, if the herding dogs have to move them very far, they tire-out & drop to their bellies.
In the chutes they wait their turn. There are usually thousands of sheep, so speed is important. Pulled into position for the first shave, the sheep is upright against the shepherd’s legs, & the wool on the stomach is removed. Then long strokes are used to remove the wool from side, to back, and down the other side. Finally, there’s a few odd swipes on the legs, and the top of the head, and the fleece is gathered in a heap, onto a rack, taken up & away,
to be cleaned, plucked, & graded for quality.
The sheep now hobbles off a bit dazed, small patches of wool remain, often with bloody scrapes, seen as bright red against the white underwool. The sheep is now ready for next year’s growth. The shearing reveals how scrawny & helpless these little animals really are. But, relieved of the heavy wool, they bound off.
Whether Psalm 23 or John 10, these passages about shepherd & sheep might give us the impression that being a Christian is a soft, warm, & fuzzy business. Because ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want’ == all my needs are met.
But Australian Christians know that sheep get shorn = it’s not a fun part of their life;
it’s scary & painful. The language of Psalm 23 is not all warm & fuzzy either; but there is a deeper comfort in the face of real difficulty & evil. We recognized this, and hardly a death or a funeral goes by without Psalm 23. The Lord-our-Shepherd is bringing us to green pastures, and to quiet waters; but those things are right in the middle of ‘the valley of the shadow of death,’; in times of fear; with enemies around.
That’s the way it goes with God’s people in a fallen world. The prophets & apostles -as sheep- were shorn physically & spiritually, too. Paul wrote: “there was given me a thorn in my flesh.”
Peter & Paul suffered severe opposition; /groups disagreed on how the church should be run; /towns chased them away; /people left the church because of their teaching. All the apostles were opposed, & most died a martyr’s death; as did many believers = men, women, and children. And if it goes this way with the ‘toughest’ Christians, *what about the weaker sheep, those with doubts & confusion & fear that the wolves in the world can sense = what about US ?
So our Good Shepherd teaches & informs us that our life of faith is not all warm & fuzzy. So we’re not really surprised that we are like defenseless sheep in a valley of shadows & enemies; sheep get shorn. If we are following The Crucified One, we will all have some crosses in this life. We follow the Lamb-of-God who got shorn. John the Baptizer didn’t live to see it, but wouldn’t have been surprised at Jesus’ ‘shearing-sacrifice’; he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
I’m told that the closer sheep get to being shorn, the less noise they make. By the time the shearer has them in hand, relieving them of wool, they are dead silent. Christ was silent in the face of His accusers, living out the prophecy of Is.53 …“as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Peter also tells us about this in his first letter: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example….When they hurled insults, he did not respond.”
So our Lord Jesus Christ silently & willingly bore your sin in His death. He is the great Passover Lamb of Exodus 12, by whose blood you & I stand forgiven in the presence of a holy God. As we hear in Hebrews: “Christ entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” Salvation was never by the blood of goats & bulls, according to the Old Covenant; they were just ‘stand-ins’ for a time, pointing to the future blood of the Christ, the sinless Lamb of God; so our eternal redemption rests in Jesus’ work alone.
This means that the Lamb of God was shorn on purpose. Christ’s suffering was the Lord’s will & purpose, and at the perfect time. Likewise, when you & I are shorn, it is for His good purpose for our life in Him.
Those Australian sheep are an awful sight when the shearing is done. They are scrawny, mottled, bleating, & bleeding; afterward, they don’t look like the same animal.
But they are shorn for 2 good purposes. First, it’s a harvest & a livelihood for the shepherd, his farm & family. And second, IF those little animals are NOT shorn, the wool will continue to grow. Weighted down with more than a year’s growth, the sheep become susceptible to disease; the wool becomes course & useless; and infection is a danger.
And -as you might guess- they can’t move well with all that weight; they become even more vulnerable to any enemies. The shearing is confusing & painful, but quite necessary. And the shepherd wants the sheep back on the range healthy, growing a new useful & valuable coat for the next season. It’s a good thing the shepherd is overseeing the shearing; he truly cares for the sheep.
For us, the Lord is the one “preparing a table in the presence of my enemies.”
In Ps.23, the table prepared reminds us of the Passover Meal = now the Lord’s Supper; it’s the table of presence, forgiveness, & true fellowship. But, this table is all the feeding the flock does on Jesus = the Bread of Life = while we are surrounded by an opposing world. Luther said,
“If you knew how many fiery darts the devil was shooting at you, you’d run to …[church & to the Lord’s Supper]… every chance you got!” This is the saving purpose of God’s Church:
it’s the one unique place where our Shepherd feeds & leads us; the place where we are constantly reminded of the Lamb’s purposeful suffering & death for us.
During Lent again this year I heard people on the radio trying to explain Jesus’ suffering & death. Ignorant people say things like: ‘it was the Romans fault’, or ‘the Jews are to blame.’
But, the crucifixion wasn’t the fault of /any man, /or council, /or governor, /or soldier, /or even Satan himself. As Jesus said, “I lay down my life, and take it up again; no man takes it from me.” Jesus’ life & death was not accidental. So also, there is nothing accidental about your suffering; the Shepherd shears His sheep.
Job said, “though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” Peter understood this same living hope; that the power of God guards us & our place in His heaven, (he said) ‘tho now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, to test the genuineness of your faith, which is like gold that needs refining by fire.’
So it is: sheep get shorn. Christ was first shorn for us; and now our Shepherd shears us, and it’s for our benefit. Our Shepherd knows that our bodily life is fragile; /certain parts wear out, /systems don’t work as they should, /disease affects us, /injuries disable us, /our emotions assault us, /age takes it’s toll == and our Shepherd doesn’t stop it, because this mortal life will pass away; we cannot put our hope in this world. Our Shepherd shears His sheep for the good of our eternal faith & life. He’s the one in control, so that one day we will truly rejoice to be out of ‘death valley’ and with Him.
In the meantime, ‘thy rod & staff they comfort me.’ The rod is for discipline & fending off enemies; the staff for prodding & guiding His sheep. The rod & staff function with His voice; His word of strength & promise is what we all need for our time in the valley of ‘shadow & death.’
*Who has called you as His own? Your Good Shepherd; who has washed you and brought you into His flock. Because of Jesus, surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
No one & nothing can take you out of His hand. His is the voice you know & follow.