DO YOU KNOW THE SHEPHERD?
John 10:11-18, 27-30
The time was the late 1800s. It was a time before most of our modern forms of entertainment - before movies, before television, before the internet, even before radio. Entertainment consisted of traveling groups of actors who went from town to town.
One such actor went into a small mid-western town. The town hall was packed, the audience was wildly enthusiastic as the orator recited passages from great plays, poems, and literature. At the end of the performance, they shouted for more. The actor agreed to take a few requests.
Immediately, a hand shot up. The hand belonged to an older man with a weather-beaten face and clothes that were clean but definitely patched and had seen better days. "Would you… could you…do the 23rd Psalm, please?" he asked.
The actor thought for a minute, then said, "I’ll do it on one condition. After I have finished, you will come up and recite it, also." Puzzled, the old man agreed.
The orator began, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…." As he went, he infused the words will all the tricks of his art. One by one, the phrases known and loved by all rolled off his tongue. "He leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
When all the words of the great beloved Psalm were delivered with great art, the audience gave the actor yet another enthusiastic ovation.
Then the man who had requested the Psalm came up. His face was not handsome, and his voice was thick and uncultured. Yet, as he began to speak, his face took on a glow of joy, and the love almost leaped from his mouth with the words.
When he concluded, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in house of the Lord forever." the only sound in the hall was the rustle of handkerchiefs as they brushed away tears.
The silence was finally broken when the actor stepped forward and said, "Now you know why I wanted him to follow me. It's just as I thought. You see, I know the Psalm, but he, he knows the Shepherd.
This may or may not be a true story. I read it somewhere. But if it isn't, it should be. It contains some truths and highlights some questions that maybe we should be asking ourselves.
Do we know the Psalm - can we quote all the right scripture verses, the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and John 3:16 from memory? Do we know all the right answers to various theological and moral questions? I hope so, because it is important that we do.
But there is a deeper question: Do you truly know the Shepherd?
If you have the word with you, turn to our text for today's message: John 10:11-18, 27-30. (Read text)
Today's text tells us who that Shepherd is. Five times in those verses, Jesus refers to Himself as either the Shepherd or the Good Shepherd. The rest of the verses are spent distinguishing the shepherd from the hired hand and emphasizing again and again that Jesus will lay down His life for His sheep. "No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment, I have received of my Father."
When we focus on Jesus, one of the most beloved images we get is of Him as the Good Shepherd. The point of this passage is that there is a great deal of love that exists on the part of the Shepherd for His sheep. There is a willingness to do whatever is necessary so that the sheep will survive and prosper.
A good shepherd doesn't beat his sheep with a whip, like a lion-tamer, or an electric cattle prod. The good shepherd leads his flock with gentleness, mostly just by his voice, although occasionally he must use the shepherd's crook.
Most important, the shepherd will face dangers for his sheep that they are not able to handle on their own, if necessary going so far as to lay down his life to protect them.
This is the image Jesus in conveying in our text for today.
He leads us with gentleness and love, although occasionally the scriptures tell us that He does need to rebuke and discipline us, even that is with gentleness and in love.
As the Good Shepherd, He did lay down His life for us to pay the penalty that we should have paid but cannot.
Not only did He lay down His life for us, but he took it up again, just as He said He would. He has provided the only way for us to be cleansed of our sins, be reconciled with God, and given the hope of eternal life.
Do you know this Shepherd?
It's fairly plain that we live in a world that doesn't. Do our neighbors, the people we work with know the Shepherd? Many of them might say, "Jesus was a great teacher. The Sermon on the Mount sure contains some of the finest moral teaching ever." Or, "Yes, Jesus was a good man, with compassion for the sick and the poor and those that society didn’t treat very nicely."
Well, yes, all those statements are true, but they don't convey the whole truth. Although the final call is always God's to make, the chances are when someone says those things about Jesus and His teachings, there is a strong likelihood that they are acquainted with the Psalm, may even be knowledgeable about some of the teachings of Jesus, but don't truly know the Shepherd!
Do you truly know the Shepherd?
It's possible to be like Apollos in the18th chapter of Acts. "He was a learned man," the Bible tells us, "with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately."
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Knowledgeable, well-taught, fervent, accurate when he taught about Jesus. We could use more like him, couldn't we? Maybe we could all be a little more like him.
But then we are told there is a gap in his knowledge, and Aquila and Priscilla invited him to their home and explained the way of God to him more adequately. (Let's just read that in Acts 18:24-28)
It is possible to be well-taught, fervent, accurate, and thoroughly acquainted with the scriptures, and still not know the Shepherd. For us, too, there is more than simply getting the facts right, or even to speak with great fervor. We must know the Shepherd, not just as a great teacher or a good and compassionate man, but as Lord of our lives.
Do you know that Shepherd?
The first problem with simply saying that Jesus was a great teacher or a kind and compassionate man is that when we speak of him that way, we are thinking of him merely as a historical personage who lived and died in the first century A. D.
The Bible teaches that there is more to the story. After He died, remember, He took His life up again.
He was around for another 40 days, appearing to many and giving further teachings to his disciples, but Jesus then ascended into heaven.
Put it another way: how do you think of Jesus right now? Do you picture Him as He is described in Acts, sitting at the right hand of the Father?
Or perhaps you think of Him the way He is described in the book of Hebrews, "a priest forever on the order of Medchizedeck," even now interceding in the heavenly tabernacle for those who follow Him.
Or maybe you picture Him the way He is described in the book of Revelation, receiving the praise and adoration of the angels and the saints who have gone on before, even now preparing to return at the head of a heavenly host.
All of those are scriptural pictures, but there is another one which sums it up best for me. In the words of the hymn, "I serve a risen master, He's in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say, He lives within my heart." Jesus was not anything. Jesus is. He indeed lives.
Do you know the living Shepherd?
There's an accusation often leveled against churches. We are accused of being "so bound up in the Bible, so much a people of the Book," that we are guilty of Bibliolatry. And that is possible to do, and I wonder if there is not some small grain of truth in it.
You see, the Bible has a purpose. That purpose is not so that we can study it as a mere intellectual exercise, although there is a lot in the Bible that demands our best efforts to understand and comprehend. The more we read and study the scriptures, the more we are compelled to admire their beauty and their unity of purpose and teaching.
We don't study the Bible merely to memorize certain key passages and concepts, although memorization is good and has a definite place in our lives.
We don't study the Bible merely so that we can enrich our prayer life, although that is a good thing which frequently happens.
We don't study the Bible just so that we are able to refute the views of other Christians on a particular theological point.
The purpose of the Bible is to record the self-revelation that God has entrusted to the human race, and to record both the history and the nature of God's dealings with us. In short, the purpose of the Bible is to help us get to know the Shepherd and to come into a right relationship with Him.
Put another way, the Bible is indeed the written Word of God, but its reason for existence is so that we, and others like us, can come to know the true Word of God, the one who John says was with God in the beginning and who became flesh and dwelled among us. (John 1:1) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Some of you may like to go hiking. Suppose one day, you pile into your car with your picnic basket. You drive a few miles until you come to the sign which points to the place you want to go. You stop the car, eat your picnic lunch, walk around the sign a few times. Have you picnicked and hiked at the Pinnacle or wherever it is that you like to hike? Of course not - the signpost is not the same as the thing it points the way to.
We are not meant to stop at the signpost.
The Scriptures are a signpost that points the way to the Shepherd.
If we are studying the Bible and we don't feel that we are meeting the Shepherd in those pages, prayerfully back up and start reading again, because we may have missed the point.
There may be some of us who are saying, "No one love's the Scriptures more than I do. I have the highest possible regard for them, of their inspiration and reliability."
Turn with me to the Gospel of John, to the 5th chapter. Throughout His earthly ministry, Pharisees and others would follow Jesus around, asking Him what they thought were tough questions, trying to trip Him up. This time, Jesus turns to them and says, in verses 39-40: (read)
I hope that we do all diligently study the scriptures. There simply is no substitute for studying the scriptures, preferably on a daily basis.
Remember, Satan knows the scriptures better than you and me. He quoted them, or rather misquoted them, when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Knowing the scriptures is not by itself enough.
Going on in verses 42 & 43, Jesus says, (still talking to the Pharisees) (read from Bible)
The goal of reading the Bible is to become better acquainted with the One about Whom the scriptures were written. The goal of reading the scriptures is to meet, come to know, and accept Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Master of our lives and for the love of God to dwell in our hearts.
God loves you so much that you're not left to guess whether or not you know the Shepherd.
There are a number of indicators, some of which we have been talking about this morning.
When we believe that Jesus died for our sins, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven where He is still working on our behalf, interceding and preparing a place for us, we're well on the way to knowing the Shepherd.
When we examine our hearts and minds and find the love of God growing there, we know that we have met the Shepherd in our quiet times: Bible study, prayer and meditation.
We will find:
joy replacing anger,
love replacing hate,
peace replacing anxiety.
These are some of the things that let us know that we're in a relationship with the Shepherd.
On the night before He was arrested and eventually crucified, Jesus told Peter that he would disown and deny Him three times before the rooster crowed the following morning. Imagine how appalled, how guilt-ridden, how ashamed Peter must have felt when he did exactly that and then fled while Jesus was being crucified.
Praise God the story didn't end there!
After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared many times, but one must have been especially significant to Peter. "Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?" Three times with minor variations, Jesus asked the question of Peter, once for each denial. Each time with minor variations, Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love You." After each question and reply, Jesus gave Peter a command or instruction.
Let's stop right here and think about it for a minute. Jesus could have given Peter any instruction He wanted to. He could have said, "Peter, go and make a success of yourself in business. Build the biggest fishing fleet in the Mediterranean." He could have said, "Peter, write down all of My Words accurately, so that future historians can get the record straight." He could have said, "Peter, start a large church and build Me the biggest, fanciest, most expensive building you can."
Sometimes, we act as if those are the kinds of things Jesus said.
Listen again to what He did say, though. "Feed My lambs." Then again, "Feed My sheep." (Another translations says, "Take care of my sheep" which would indicate more than just "feeding.") And finally, He says again, "Feed My sheep."
Peter did that for the rest of his life.
He didn't care for the sheep perfectly.
Sometimes he was slow to change even when God gave him a vision that would seem blindingly obvious.
He fussed and feuded with Paul a little, although that may not have been too hard to do (Paul was a little difficult to understand sometimes).
Imperfectly or not, Peter spent the rest of his life feeding his Master's sheep.
When he was being crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down because he felt that he wasn't worthy to be crucified the same way as his Lord and Master.
Do you know the Shepherd?
Feed His sheep. Feed them imperfectly, because only Christ is perfect, but feed them.
Do you know the Shepherd?
Feed His sheep, perhaps by comforting a brother or sister when they are down.
Feed His sheep by raising your family, the children who live in your home,
or feed them by teaching some of the children in our congregation,
or feed His sheep by teaching a Sunday school or discipleship class,
feed them by being a greeter at the door when people come in,
feed His sheep by being friendly to new people who come, making them feel welcome,
feed His sheep by sharing Jesus with those you work with, those with whom you come in contact.
Remember, Jesus, said, "I have other sheep that are not a part of this sheep pen." We may need to feed His sheep by reaching outside the four walls of this sheep pen!
Feed His sheep faithfully, as He gives you the grace and the strength and the knowledge and the opportunity to do so, now and for the rest of your life!
DO YOU KNOW THE SHEPHERD?