I am the Good Shepherd

August 19, 2012

“I am”.  Over the past eight weeks we have been
looking at the various times that Jesus describes himself using the phrase “I
am”.  And so we have examined Jesus words
and meaning when he said “I am the way”, “I am the truth”, “I am the life”, “I
am the resurrection”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the vine” and “I am the
light of the world”.  And these all lead
back to the message we began with in John 8:58 where in a debate with the
Jewish religious leaders Jesus simply identifies himself simply as “I AM”.   And while for us that may seem a little
vague the Jews knew exactly what he was saying, which explains their reaction
in John 8:59 At that point they picked up stones to
throw at him.
Why? Why would they want to
throw rocks at Jesus? Because of his superior debating skills?  No. Because he was claiming to be over 1500
years old?  No.   It wasn’t about when Jesus claimed to be but
instead it was all about who Jesus claimed to be.
From childhood every Jew had
been taught the story of how Moses had been called of God to deliver the
children of Abraham from the slavery of Egypt. 
They all knew the details and they knew that when God called Moses while
he was in the wilderness that he didn’t want to go, and when Moses finally gave
in he had one final question for God and that question is found in Exodus
3:13
But Moses protested, “If I go to the
people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’
they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”   And that is a good question?  It’s something that I would want to know.
“Why should the people believe me?  Whose
authority am I coming in?”  And God’s
response is found in the next verse Exodus 3:14 God
replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has
sent me to you.”   
And so when Jesus told the people
who had gathered that day John 8:58 Jesus
answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” They
knew exactly what he was saying and exactly who he was claiming to be.  And when someone claimed to be God, for the
Jews that was blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy was stoning.  You might be thinking “Well how did Jesus
escape?”  Well . . . we don’t really have
all the details.  What the bible tells us
in John 8:59 At that point they picked up stones to
throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.   And we don’t know if Jesus simply disappeared
or if his disciples crowded around him and snuck him out or what.  All we know is that the plans of the people
to kill Jesus didn’t come to fruition that day. 
In the book of John there are
several instances where Jesus uses the phrase “I am”  times in the book of John that Jesus said “I am”.  And for those who care there are 22 separate instances
where Jesus is recorded as saying “I am” in the gospel of John.  In John 8:58 we see Jesus use “I AM” as a
statement of existence.  The statement
lacks an object after the verb.  In the
other twenty one instances when Jesus says “I am” he means he is something, a predicate
nominative
follows the verb.  Not in
this case, he isn’t saying he is something, he is simply stating that he is.
Another ten of those
instances are self-identification, times when Jesus said “I am” to identify
himself.  An example of that is found in John
18:4-5
when Jesus is arrested in the garden,  Jesus fully realized
all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who
are you looking for?” he asked. “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied. “I AM he,”
Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.)
In another 11 instances the
statements are metaphorical, that is that Jesus describes himself by comparing
himself to something else.  And that is
where we’ve parked this summer. 
In the scripture that was read
for us this morning we hear Jesus say not once but twice “I am the Good
Shepherd.” So the question has to be: Why a Shepherd?  Probably a couple of different reasons.  If you read through the gospels you discover
that Jesus was a genius at taking the everyday and using it to illustrate the
eternal.  The Kingdom of God is like:  a man working in a field, a woman making
bread, a fisherman casting his net into the water.  So perhaps on this day as Jesus and his
followers were making their way along the roads of Palestine they were
interrupted by a shepherd and his flock of sheep crossing the road.  Or maybe it wasn’t a spontaneous teaching but
something he had planned and crafted.  We
don’t think of Jesus’ teaching in that light do we?  We don’t think of him writing a sermon or
preparing his thoughts in advance but we just assume that it was a natural
outflow of who he was.  I can’t speak for
other preachers but I spend hours writing and molding what you hear on Sunday
mornings, sometimes that may be hard to believe but it is the truth. 
So maybe Jesus had stayed up
late the night before wondering how he would convey these specific thoughts to
those who followed him and decided on the analogy of a shepherd and sheep.  After all 2000 years ago in Israel everyone
knew what a shepherd looked like and what a shepherd did.   Their greatest king had been a
shepherd.  When the birth of Jesus was
announced it was to shepherds.  When
David was looking for a description for God that everyone would understand he
said “The Lord is my shepherd’ and that was just one of a number of times that
David would refer to God as a shepherd over the people of Israel. 
And that fact that the bible
sometimes uses sheep as an analogy for God’s people isn’t always a
compliment.  People who don’t know sheep
think they are soft, fluffy docile animals but that isn’t always the truth.
2000 years ago the Roman poet Sextus Propertius wrote “The seaman tells stories of winds,
the ploughman of bulls; the soldier details his wounds, the shepherd his
sheep.”
But what does it mean to us
today, August 19 2012?  Sheep and shepherds
are not a common sight along our roads. 
The other day when we were driving back from NB we saw sheep but they
were penned in a field and there wasn’t a shepherd anywhere to be seen.  Very few if any of us know a shepherd or have
even met a shepherd.  It would be like
speaking to someone in Australia and using a snowplough operator as an
illustration. 
It is interesting to note that
this is one of only two times where Jesus using an analogy to describe himself
and then expects others to emulate that analogy.  Last week Pastor Ben spoke on Jesus’ words
from John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. If you follow
me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that
leads to life.” And perhaps you will recall Jesus’ words from the Sermon
on the Mount when he told his followers Matthew 5:14 “You
are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be
hidden.”  But nowhere do you see
Jesus commanding those who would follow him to be a vine, or a gate or bread or
the Way.
And so in John 10 Jesus says “I
am the good Shepherd”  and in one of
Jesus’ last interactions with his disciples we read this account in John
21:15-17
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter,
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter
replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus
repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter
said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third
time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that
Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You
know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
When Paul was giving direction
to the elders of the church in Ephesus he tells them Acts 20:28 “So
guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church,
purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as
elders.”
And when we read in Ephesians
4:11
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to
the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and
teachers.  The word that is used
for Pastor is the Greek word ποιμήν
(poimēn) which is
used 18 times in the New Testament and the other 17 times is translated
shepherd.
And so I don’t think I’m being
presumptuous when I say that the characteristics that apply to Jesus as the
“Good Shepherd” should also apply to those to whom  he entrusts his flock  today.
 So what are those characteristics?  I would suspect when Jesus said “I am your
Shepherd”  that many of those listening
would have immediately thought of David’s psalm, which we now call the 23rd
Psalm and would have thought about how the Great Shepherd was described there.
So firstly this morning let’s
look at what a Shepherd is supposed to do.
Psalm
23:1-2
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in
green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  A
Shepherd Leads the Sheep to Food
In the arid Palestinian country side good
grazing was a moving target, if sheep were allowed to graze too long at one
spot they would destroy the grass and so the shepherd had to move them from
area to area, firstly so they would have enough to eat and secondly so they
wouldn’t overgraze and render that spot barren. 
If you grew up watching westerns or reading Louise Lamour novels you are
probably familiar with the term Cattle drive and you can almost picture in your
minds the whooping cowboys driving the herd of cattle from point “A” to point
“B”.  But here it says the shepherd leads
the sheep.  Take a look at this (video of
sheep following shepherd)
From all I’ve read sheep aren’t
the brightest of animals but they do trust their shepherd.  Jesus tells us in John 10:3-4 The sheep recognize the
shepherd’s voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them
out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they
follow him because they know his voice.
The sheep know the shepherd’s
voice because they hear it all the time, they understand that if they follow
that voice that good things will happen, they will be led to food and water.
In our daily life as Christ
followers we are supposed to follow Christ. That should be a no-brainer.  The Sheep trust that the shepherd is concerned
about their well-being and that he will take them to where they can find both
food and water.  If we follow Christ, his
words, his teaching and his example then we will be provided for spiritually.  And like sheep if we are familiar with his
voice we will find it easier to follow his voice.  That’s why we read the gospels, to become
familiar with Jesus so we will know his voice. In the same way Jesus continues
on in  John 10:5 “They won’t follow a
stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”   So when you are familiar with the
voice of Jesus when you hear something that just doesn’t jive with that voice
you know better.  Even if that voice
comes from a pulpit.
  It’s
when we decide that as sheep we know better than the shepherd and we go our own
way that we get into trouble. 
At different times in the
gospels Jesus talks about sheep that get lost, those are sheep who came to the
conclusion that they knew more than the shepherd and stopped following the one
who was leading them and decided to go their own way.  The scriptures warn us, Proverbs
14:12
There is a path before each person that
seems right, but it ends in death.
As your Pastor, your shepherd,
my responsibility is to lead you where God would have you to go, to direct you
to where you can be fed spiritually. 
Psalm 23:4 Even
when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close
beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Some
scriptures are just best in the King James version Psalm 23:4 Yea,
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The Shepherd Protects the Sheep  How many people here are fans of the Bugs
Bunny show?  Truly the cream of the
intellectual crop aren’t we.  Out of all
my favourites the one cartoon I enjoy most is the one with the Ralph the wolf
and Sam the sheep dog.  You remember,
they clock into work together each morning, “Morning Ralph, morning Sam”, spend
the day doing what they do best.  The wolf
trying his hardest to steal a sheep and the sheepdog preventing him from
stealing said sheep. 
Remember sheep weren’t raised
in town, they were roamed the hills where the wild animals also roamed.  And there were times as they were looking for
something to eat that predators in the same area were looking for something to
eat as well. And although sheep had a number of natural enemies they had no
natural defences.  They can’t run that
fast, they are herbivores so their teeth really aren’t designed to bite in
defence, although most pastors have discovered that sheep can bite.  Sheep really are helpless.  And it is up to the shepherd to defend them
against wild animals.
Do you remember the story, from
the Old Testament, of David the shepherd boy and the giant Goliath?  David volunteers to go up against Goliath and
the King says “Don’t be ridiculous, you are just a boy”  and David counters with these words 1
Samuel 17:34-35
But David persisted. “I have been taking
care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to
steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from
its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to
death.
If we follow Jesus’ voice he
not only leads us but he protects us. 
Time and time again in the New Testament false teachers are portrayed as
wolves that want to prey on God’s sheep. 
Part of my responsibility as your pastor, your shepherd is to protect
you from those false teachings.  To
counter them and point people in the right direction.  And remember the best way to be know what is
false teaching is to be immersed in the truth.
The third thing a Shepherd does may sound a little
strange and perhaps cruel Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but
helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a
shepherd drives the sheep. When
Necessary The Shepherd Disciplines The Sheep  
Apparently there were times that sheep
just wouldn’t do what they were supposed to do, they would wander away and not
stay with the flock.  So there were three
options, you could let them be eaten by something, you could eat them yourself
or you could discipline them. 
I have read accounts that purport to be true although I
can’t vouch for it myself.  The story
goes that sometimes a shepherd would find himself with a particular young
headstrong sheep who seemed to have natural leadership abilities, apparently
sheep must be like people in that account, those two characteristics often go
together along with youth. 
When the Atlantic district and I were in the courtship phase
about starting Cornerstone I had to take a personality profile test, I forget
which one it was.  But the report came
back and they told me, “We like the fact that you think outside the box but
have some concerns that you might be a bit of a loose cannon.”   No really? 
Anyway, back to the story. 
We are told that sometimes this individualistic sheep would lead the
other sheep away from where they were supposed to be and into danger.  If the shepherd couldn’t stop this behaviour
he would resort to drastic measures.  He
would break one of the sheep’s legs and then set it.  He would then carry the sheep with him and
the sheep would become dependent on the shepherd for his food and water and
would get used to being around the shepherd so when the leg finally healed he
would no longer be a danger to himself or to the other sheep.  You ever wonder about the paintings with
Jesus and lamb around his neck?  Of
course if that didn’t work the shepherd would eat the sheep, but they don’t
tell you that.
Now I have a confession to
make.   I don’t like discipline.  Didn’t like it as a child, didn’t like it  as teen don’t like it as an adult.  But it is part of life and part of
accountability.  But listen to the words
of Bible in Hebrews 12:5-7 And
have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He
said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up
when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes
each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline,
remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a
child who is never disciplined by its father?
Angela and I came across an
interesting scripture the other day in 1 Corinthians.  It was about a man in the church who was
involved in sinful behaviour.  And I know
in 2012 we are told not to judge, to accept people as they are and love them
where they are at. But this is what Paul tells the Shepherds of the Corinthian
Church to do with this individual.  1 Corinthians 5:5 Then you
must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan and that
sounds really harsh, but let’s keep reading to find the result.  so that his sinful
nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord
returns.
At some point there needs to be
discipline and a clear statement of: this is right and this is wrong and often
times the discipline on this side of eternity will make a difference on the
other side of eternity.  
Finally there are a couple things
that a shepherd can’t do.
A Shepherd Can’t Have Baby Sheep. 
This might sound silly but often times in the church if there
is no growth and the flock isn’t growing the sheep blame the shepherd.  But the reality is that the shepherd is to
provide a safe healthy place for the sheep and in that environment they are
supposed to reproduce.
A Shepherd Can’t Eat For His Sheep 
I’m sure that you have all heard the old adage “You can lead
a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” 
Well you can lead the sheep to food but you can’t make them eat. 
If the sheep are going to grow
and stay healthy then they have to eat but the shepherd can’t force them to
eat.  If Christ Followers are going to
grow and stay healthy then they have to eat but the shepherd can’t force them
to eat.  And if you aren’t feeding on the
word of God through the week and you are weak spiritually don’t blame me.  Too many people blame the pastor saying “Well
I’m just not being fed on Sunday” What would happen if you only ate food on
Sunday? You’d starve to death, eventually, some of us it would take a while. My
prayer when someone tells me that is “Lord teach them to eat.” 
Let me close
with the words of Peter, remember this is the Peter that Jesus commanded to feed
his sheep.  1 Peter 2:25 Once
you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your
Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.