"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is the hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." -John 10:11-18
We're continuing with those I am statements that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John, and we're following up on the second half of Chapter 10, and John, last week, he said, I am the gate, and then he follows up by saying, I am the Good Shepherd. Now, Jesus wanting to make sure that we didn't miss the point of this actually says it twice, I am the Good Shepherd. And then he says it again, did you hear me? I am the Good Shepherd.
Now, I preached actually on this text, it was, I think the fourth Sunday after Easter, and that's often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday, so I preached on this text earlier in the year, think it would have been end of April, I believe, and talked a little bit about that Shepherd, and I had that video of the shepherd calling to His sheep and stuff, so I think we've established that one, sheap aren't that smart, and two, they need a shepherd. But it's also a text that we have to look at and say, Okay, Jesus is saying, I am the Good Shepherd, so what does that mean for us? Well, how does that change our life... or our relationship with Him. Well, in some ways, you could look at it and say, Well, he starts out by giving us his backhand to compliment because what positive aspects of being compared to livestock are there... I mean, really? Does anybody say, Hey, I just got a called a chicken. Now, that implies something else. Were to be called a cow or a pig, those aren’t compliments. Never mind that other word for donkey, that some people get called, so for Jesus to call us a sheep, there's not positive connotations typically associated with being compared to livestock, and yet Jesus has a way of taking some of those things that at least likely and least expected and turning them upside down, we have all of these sports mascots, lions and tigers and bears, powerful, strong, fast animals that hopefully impart some fear in the opposing team.
We don't have the Indianapolis Sheep. We've got the colts, they're not big animals, but we don't hear a sports team's name, sheep, because they're vulnerable. They're not that bright. They are dependent. And the thing is, Jesus often contrasts His people, the people of God, to the weak and the vulnerable. He even said that, to enter, the kingdom of God, you must become as a child. Again, weak, vulnerable, dependent. This word sheep is unfortunately in political circles, being used in a derogatory way as well, “sheeple” who blindly follow... Well, again, it's not a positive connotation, and yet Jesus somehow takes this and turns it around and says, You know what, it's not so bad to be a sheep, it's not so bad to be dependent, as long as you've got a shepherd, or particularly a good shepherd, like me.
Now, when it comes to this idea of people being sheep, sometimes there are instances where people may blindly follow, and the truth of it is we live in a world where there are a lot of different voices that we hear. Jesus in this passage talks about the hired hand, the one who doesn't have a whole lot invested or at stake, they're paid to mind the sheep, but they're not their sheep. That's a rental car. We don't need to keep it that clean, somebody else's apartment, I just live here. We don't need to take that good care of it, it's kind of the attitude that Jesus is saying the hired hand has about the sheep, now I'll take the paycheck, and if it's just gonna require anything of me, forget it, I'm out of here. And Jesus talks about those threats, those attacks, those things coming... That threatens the sheep. He says, When the wolf comes, that's when the higher hand says, Yep, I didn't sign up for that. I'm out of here. And yet Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay down my life, I'm willing to give everything I have to take care of, to make sure that the she are provided for.
And well, he continues and says, I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. Now, there's an aspect of this that we have to consider, and that's that relationship of the Shepherd to the sheep, the Shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know the Shepherd. Now, this idea of knowing is one that, again, is a relationship, it's a connectedness that the shepherd and the sheep have with one another, in some studies that have been done on infants and even premature infants, they've done some studies on a mother's voice and the impact that it has on a child. Even still in the womb, and a mother's voice has a way of calming and soothing a child that it's been associated with a decrease in cortisol, which is a stress hormone, it's been associated with an increase in oxytocin, which is kind of a feel-good hormone that is associated with bonding and social connections, and the one study that I've read about in the New York Post where they reported on it, it said that there is actually an imprinting of the mother's voice on a child's brain, to the extent that that child's ability to form social connections and communicate is often dictated by the level of that imprint in a mother's voice, that's that relationship that begins forming and leaves an impact on that child.
Well, when Jesus talks about the sheep, He says, they know my voice. There are a lot of voices that we hear in this world, but is it the voice of Jesus that we hear the loudest and clearest?
Is it the voice of Jesus that's imprinted upon our brains, guiding us and directing us and helping us to understand how we should relate to others. Because the truth of it is that in our world today, there are many people recognizing their own weakness, their own vulnerabilities, listen to other voices and other shepherds, we might put a face on it and say that, Oh, it's this political leader or that political party, but the truth of it is, for many people in our world today it's... Capitalism or consumerism... For some, it might be individualism that I did this myself, I don't need someone to take care of me.
I'll do it on my own, but if all of those other voices of all of those other shepherds or hired hands that we may listen to and follow, when life gets rough and things start unraveling around us, we find that those voices are not that much different than the hired hands that cut and run and leave us saying, Okay, now what... But Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. I am the one who will lay down my life for you. Now, we clearly see from Easter that part of Jesus laying down His life as the sacrificial act of going to the cross. In fact, Jesus is probably alluding to that in this passage, when he says, I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again, but the thing is, Jesus lived sacrificially throughout his ministry and the stories we have... How often did Jesus set aside His own wants and needs to give himself fully and undivided to the people that were there in front of him, to the woman at the well who was an outcast and going to drain water in the heat of day.
Jesus looked at her and spoke with her, to those who came to him, hurting and broken, blind and crippled, Jesus looked upon them with compassion and gave them that gift that only he could give. The voice of that Shepherd continues to speak to us. But we're not gonna hear that voice shouting at us from the speakers of our televisions or off the screens of our computers, we're not gonna hear that voice in the places that most people go to to listen and seek out that wisdom and that guidance. The voice of this shepherd. and the voice of Jesus is gentle. The voice of our shepherd comes to us through His Word, through our worship, through our singing, through our prayers, the voice of this shepherd is so different from anything else that we hear, that when we hear it, we will know it.
Now, Jesus continues talking about those who will hear his voice, and to those that he is speaking to, he even goes so far as to say, Guess what? All of you, I've got other sheep out there too, that this sheep pen that you're in right now, and those people that you see around you...
That's not all that there is. Now, for Jesus audience and his listeners that day, the obvious conclusion was that he was speaking to people who were fellow Jews, and that those other sheep were probably Gentiles, people beyond the community that Jesus and his disciples were a part of. People that were unfamiliar to them. That was a striking contrast in Jesus day, but the thing is, in Jesus day, to be a Jew, I wasn't just their religion, it was their family and their tribe, it was their religion, but it was their politics, and to some extent it was even their ethnicity.
All of those things bundled up in one... Well, today, you and I all live in sheep pens, and there's a pretty good chance that for most of us, the sheep pens that we find ourselves in now, by and large, are probably filled with sheep that look and smell about like us.
And this idea of Jesus saying, I've got other sheep out there is one that probably is going to stretch us.
Because when Jesus says, I've got other sheep out there, if you voted red, and he's probably talking about some blue sheep, if you find yourself struggling with the debate around Black Lives Matter. Jesus probably had some people in another pen to see things a little different than you. When you look at any of the issues that our world is dealing with right now, issues around sexuality and gender, all of the mess around politics, and guess what, they're probably even a pen, a taliban out there. Jesus says, I am the shepherd. Those sheep are gonna hear my voice as well.
With the end goal being one shepherd and one flock. And that probably makes us all feel a little bit uncomfortable saying, Wait a minute, I'm gonna be in the same pen with those people or that person or people to think this way, or vote that way. But we need to remember what Jesus talked about with regard to the sheep and his role as the shepherd. He said, they hear my voice. And they know me.
Jesus says, they don't look around them and say, Oh yep, these sheep look like me, I must be in the right spot. Those... She don't look like me, No. He's not saying, Take a look at the sheep that are around you and make your decisions based on that. He says, I know my sheep and my sheep know me. Friends, for all of the conflict, all of the divisiveness, all of these struggles that we see going on in our world right now, those conflicts often happen because we look around and we decide who we like, who we don't like, who we agree with, who we disagree with, and we draw the sheep pens and we try to sort the people out, Jesus says Your job as a sheep is to keep your eyes and your ears on me. I am the good shepherd, and I'll lay down my life for all of my sheep, not just for you. It takes us out of the way the world looks at things, because the reality is, the state of things right now is because we have listened to the world of who is in? Who's out? Who's right, who's wrong? Jesus says, All of my sheep. Every single one of them are the ones that I lay down my life for.
So if Jesus, if Jesus is willing to lay down His life for you and for me. And if Jesus is willing to lay down His life for all those other sheep out there that he has in other pens... Well maybe what we need to learn about this Good Shepherd is that the people he loves are the people we need to learn to love just a little bit better ourselves. The good shepherd calls to us and calls us his own may we listen to his voice and follow his lead.