4th Sunday of Easter Good Shepherd Sunday “Jesus is more: the Good Shepherd”
April 30, 2023
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
The 4th Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday; it’s a fitting part of the Easter afterglow from the glorious resurrection of our Lord, the great Shepherd of the sheep. As we heard from John chapter 10, Jesus – like a shepherd – leads us; He is the Door of the sheep, so that we hear & follow His voice. With Him we will have life, and have it abundantly.
There are even more familiar words with this shepherd picture of Jesus in the verses beyond our lesson. Jesus goes on to say: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me…” (vs.11-14)
Have you ever noticed how you think you know someone at first, but later you learn that the person is different than you imagined? People imagine that they can have the right sense of someone from a first impression; but this is why con-men are so successful. Have you ever made that mistake? You might immediately think someone is so nice, but find out later he or she is a scoundrel; or you immediately have the impression someone is awful, but find out more about them, and they’re like a diamond in the rough. Really knowing someone takes time & effort.
We can be wrong about people. The clean-cut sales rep, whom you liked from the start, turns out to be a slick operator, exaggerating the product to gouge a profit from you. Or that creepy person who gave you a ‘bad vibe’ at first, but later you realize they’re just socially awkward; they’re loyal & generous to the Lord’s church, & you just caught them at a bad time. We don’t like to admit that our ability to ‘read’ people is not perfect; but by experience, we know that it takes effort to actually get to know someone, fully.
This is one of the challenges of the church’s ministry. It can take a long time to uncover all the hidden strengths & weaknesses that people have – because we all tend to hide both. This person has a wonderful singing voice, but hasn’t sung since high school choir, so they don’t volunteer.
That person has the ability to relate Bible stories to children, but they’re stuck working on Sundays. That other person has a good way of comforting others, but they’re shy; someone else is good at organizing activities, but currently they have health problems. Much of the time we’re so worried about ourselves, that we’re not really paying much attention to getting to know others. When we do, we discover more than we imagined.
It can be that way with Jesus; He is, after all, the eternal Son of God! In John 10, Jesus was explaining that He was much more than what people were imagining He was; but they were not understanding. Author Philip Yancey wrote a book titled, ‘The Jesus I Never Knew,’ where he admits that the real Jesus of the Scriptures is more than, &bigger than, & greater than the Jesus he had known as a child in Sunday school.
In the book, Yancey recalls the opening scene from a foreign film where a statue of Jesus is being transported to Rome. The very large statue is suspended by a cable from a helicopter, and the chopper swoops across the Italian countryside with ‘Jesus’ beneath it. A farmer in the field sees it, and waves a greeting to Jesus as He flies by. People in cars stick their heads out & wave and shout ‘Hey! There’s Jesus!’ Everyone who sees the statue knows who it represents.
There is still a universal recognition of Jesus; and just about everybody knows a little about Him. A majority does not know much about the Bible, or an accurate history of the people of Israel, or the early Christians. Too many have no true sense of God’s values or morals; no grasp of sin or faith, or heaven or hell. But nearly everyone has a good impression of Jesus of Nazareth. All of the world’s leading religions will call Jesus a great teacher, or a fine example of being human. Everyone is willing to wave at, acknowledge, & even respect Jesus.
It’s true that the most well-known stories about Him are very appealing = the way He reached out to care for the sick, & feed the hungry, & bless children. Loving & carefree Jesus roamed the hills of Galilee with His happy band of disciples; like a combination of the Pied Piper & Robin Hood. He resisted the establishment gov’t & the super-religious people. He taught non-violence & peace, and other virtues we want our kids & grandkids to learn = like the golden rule, /& humility, / charity, /helping & serving others.
But what if the real Jesus is more than that? What if our favorite image of Jesus is too limited because we haven’t dug any deeper and learned more about Him since Sunday school, or confirmation, or what we hear during Christmas time? Do you really know all that He is for you & your life; or do you just wave at Him as He occasionally passes by your life?
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we take comfort in this image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. It’s probably one of our favorites, altho most of us have never met a shepherd, or even a real flock of sheep. That’s okay, because Jesus himself gives us this image; it’s one of the ‘I Am’ sayings St.John tells us about. Jesus describes himself -here in chpt.10- by saying, I am the Door, and I am the Good Shepherd. In chpt.14 He says, I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Elsewhere, Jesus says, I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the resurrection and the life. All of these are different, & they help us to know Him better. Some are comforting, & some are a kind of a warning. But ALL of these ‘I Am’ statements are true. Jesus doesn’t just want us to merely have our own impression of Him; He wants us to know Him deeply & fully; our life needs ALL of Him. There’s a part of who Jesus is for all the different times & ages & conditions of our life. That’s how much there is to the Son of God.
A priest in England, 800 yrs ago, Richard of Chi-chester, wrote a prayer that you may recognize; a simple prayer that said: ‘O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.’ That prayer was made into a song called ‘Day by Day,’ which was part of a 1969 Broadway musical called ‘Godspell.’ But, what does this prayer mean?
‘Knowing Jesus more clearly’ means stretching us beyond our personal ‘favorite‘ Jesus, and into the real & fuller Jesus of the whole Bible. There are times we need more than the Good Shepherd. Altho we love that picture of Jesus, with the little lamb over His shoulder. That image is one of very earliest artistic works of the early Christians; so it was painted, & drawn, & made in wood-carvings, & in mosaics. It shows Jesus as our ultimate care-giver.
But, at times, these symbolic images were a little confusing to people, like in chpt.10. Jesus said ‘I am the Door’, but He’s not wood, & doesn’t have hinges. Yet, only thru faith in Him can we enter heaven. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t actually carry us around on His shoulders. Yet, as our Good Shepherd, He claims us as His own, He feeds -or supplies- our life, and He leads us day-by-day, in safety from harm = as in green pastures.
Others can claim to be a shepherd, a guide thru life, or a guard, or provider in life;
but if they are not Him – they are a thief, who wants to use us, & benefit from acting like our shepherd. Our real Shepherd has the voice that we recognize. We recognize Him by having learned how the true God speaks to us in His Holy Scripture. There is just one Shepherd for this life, & one Door for salvation & future life. Anyone who points away from The Son of God, no matter how kind or wise they seem, comes to steal & kill & destroy. Our Good Shepherd is our One Door, who alone brings us ‘in’ for this life, and ‘out’ to the next life; only with Him is abundant life.
The ultimate proof of this is vs.15 (Introit) as Jesus says, ‘I lay down my life for the sheep.’ Altho the people back then could have known what the Messiah meant by that by listening to the OT prophets, they were confused – because they were caught up in their shallow impression of this Jesus of Nazareth. Isaiah said, “we all like sheep have gone astray, everyone has turned to his own way; but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The Good Shepherd would bear our iniquity on the cross, and protect His sheep from eternal death. The Door of God’s mercy & forgiveness is open to all who hear His voice & follow Him. He has brought us into a new life with God.
That’s how much more Jesus is. Back then, the people saw Him as a humble teacher out of backwoods-Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, who seemed to care for people & reportedly did some miracles. But He is more. Even now, God expects the sheep of the world =including us= to stop waving at Jesus in polite respect, and to grow to know Him more fully, trust Him more deeply, worship Him as true God, obey His teachings. For that’s how we follow Him into eternal life.
There are three deeper truths about Jesus as our Good Shepherd that we want to remember today. FIRST, Jesus is teaching us to know that He is God; fully God. When people heard Him say He is the Good Shepherd, He wanted us all to know that He’s the shepherd of Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd = Jesus is God & Shepherd. False religions will not acknowledge this; and without faith, they can’t get past the shallow idea that He was just a good human. But Jesus is fully God, even as the Father and the Holy Spirit are God, & must be treated as, worshipped & obeyed as Almighty God. He must be treated as & worshipped & obeyed as Almighty God; & He will judge between the sheep & the goats in the end.
The SECOND truth is: when Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd, He wants us to know that He is the promised Messiah, which the OT prophets wrote about by the Holy Spirit.
Thru Isaiah, God says, “See, the sovereign Lord comes with power. He tends his flock like a shepherd, and carries those close to his heart. He gently leads those that are young.” The Son of God carried His people Israel thru the centuries. At times, God choose some shepherds to lead His people, such as Moses and David; and so God taught this image that His Messiah would come to tend His flock like a shepherd. So the people expected Jesus to be a shepherd of the Jews like a king. Jesus wanted them to know that He was even more. He would be the Good Shepherd for Jews & Gentiles, slave & free, male & female; for ALL who would hear His voice & follow Him.
THIRD, when Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd, He gives us a picture of sheep in need of a caring leader for their lives. One who knows them & all their needs, who sees wolves & other dangers, and protects them. In Jesus’ day, all the shepherds brought their various flocks into the village to be safe in one large fold at night. When it was time to take them out to pasture, each shepherd would come to the gate & call out his own sheep. He knew the ones that belonged to him, and they knew his voice. Day by day, they would all go in & come out – safe & fed. You & I go in & come out each day with our Shepherd. He knows us by name, forgives & protects us. We follow His voice in true living, day by day.
A section of Reader’s Digest is called ‘quotable quotes’. A teacher once heard a frustrated 4th grader say, “The problem with life is that it’s so doggoned daily!” It’s true that we have to get up each new day and start over again; it’s hard. It is harder if a person does not have a Good Shepherd who knows us, & calls us by name, & leads us.
If your image of Jesus has been too small for this ‘doggoned daily life’ of real problems; if He seems too weak to face the wolves that threaten to steal our morals & values, & rob us of peace, Jesus wants you to know that you don’t know Him as well as you should. He’s more than the world says, as it waves at Him. He’s the very Son of God; the promised Messiah & Redeemer; He took your death, & He broke open the grave. He is your Good Shepherd,
who is giving you abundant life. Keep getting to know Him better – day by day.