I AM: The Good Shepherd

Good morning and welcome to Journey.  My name is Phil and I’m glad you are here to worship with us today.  This morning we are continuing our summer series based on the I AM statements of Jesus.

When you are getting to know someone – or someone is getting to know you – I AM statements are great ways to reveal who you are to someone you know.  For instance – if I say to you, “I am a native New Yorker” – you might think – I’ve learned Phil, that you probably can’t be trusted.

If I then topped it off by saying, I am a New England Patriots football fan, you’d think.  Oh.  You are a cheating bandwagon-riding, jerk.  I just met you and strangely, I kind of hate you already.

If my third thing I share is, I am the proud driver of a Kia Soul – you might think to yourself – “Well finally, there’s one redeemable quality in this man’s life.”  Because who doesn’t think the Kia Soul is Hot Hot Hot.  Am I right?  Not to mention sensible.

Well, two thousand years ago Jesus used I AM statements to help us understand who he is.  And the statements he used were profound – because he didn’t say that he was a Nazarite.  or I am Jewish.  He said things like, I am the light of the world.  I am the bread of life.   Or, the statement we will learn today –  I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

He says things that go far beyond – Oh, that’s interesting.  It forces us to decide – is this claim ridiculous?  And ought to be dismissed as lunacy?

Or is Jesus telling us the truth about himself?  If what Jesus is saying is true, then it’s ridiculously good news.  So we’ll use that as our big idea this morning.   Jesus is the ridiculously Good Shepherd to all who choose to follow him.

Understand the meaning of the sheep/Shepherd metaphor.

Recognize the problem with the metaphor.

Celebrate the beauty of the metaphor.

First – understanding the meaning of the metaphor. And it’s important to do this because we find this imagery on more than a few occasions in the life of Jesus.  Jesus loves the metaphor that we are sheep and he is our shepherd.  Loves it.

For instance – in  Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

In Matthew 18, and also Luke 15, Jesus tells a story about a Shepherd who owns 100 sheep and one runs off – what does the shepherd do?  Leaves the 99 to chase down that one lost sheep.  Jesus leaves no room for getting it wrong – we are the sheep – He is the Shepherd.

We are sheep and Jesus is our Shepherd.  This is one of Jesus’ favorite metaphors.  Why does Jesus love this metaphor?

Well, some commentators like to make a big deal out of the fact that Sheep are, apparently, pretty dumb.  They love to say things like, “The reason Jesus calls us sheep is because sheep are the dumbest animals on the face of the earth?

Look at that sheep – can’t even get a bucket off his head!” Sheep are stupid!  God is our shepherd and we need him, because, God’s word tells us in this passage that you are all as dumb as sheep.

Now, I’m not arguing with the guy.  In fact, the gap between my intelligence and Jesus’ intelligence is far greater than a sheep versus a Shepherd.   But if we reduce this metaphor to some kind of backhanded insult by Jesus, then we will lose just how sweet and precious the metaphor really is.  We will lose the power of it.

See, some of the I AM statements tell us about what Jesus does.   Others what Jesus is like.  But this one teaches us about how God feels about us.  We are part of the I AM statement.  We are included.  We are the sheep.  He is the Good, the compassionate, the loving and trustworthy Shepherd.  And he cares about us.

Now – before we read the passage, I want to explain a little bit about first century shepherding that I learned this week in my study.  And then I want to show you a one minute video – and then we will read the passage from John chapter 10.

This is what I learned.  There is a big difference between how we “Shepherd Sheep” in the West nowadays, compared to how they shepherded in the East.  Here in the west we drive sheep – we have dogs and ATVs and we push sheep in the direction we want them to go.

But in the East?  They lead sheep.  The Shepherd goes in front of the sheep and the sheep follow the voice of the Shepherd.

Remember the part of the Christmas story – there are shepherds who are guarding their flocks by night.  Multiple shepherds, multiple flocks.  What’s going on?  Well, for the protection of the sheep – and so that the shepherds could get rest too, the shepherds would put all of their flocks together in the same pen for protection at night.

The shepherds would sleep in the pen opening – they were the gate- and in the morning they would separate the flocks and lead them out of the pen and into the open fields where they could graze.

Well, how do they separate the flocks?  If you are a shepherd with a flock and I am a shepherd – how do we separate the two in the morning?   Quite simply, the sheep have learned the voice of their shepherd – and so the shepherd would stand in the gate and call them – and his or her sheep would follow.

We have a one minute video – of a shepherd who is leading some high school students on a tour and what he does is to send two different students up the the gate – and he says – go ahead and try to call the sheep to you.  Watch how the sheep respond to a voice they do not know – and then watch how they react when they hear the voice of their shepherd.

John 10 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

What does Jesus reveal about how he feels about us?  He cares about us!  The hired hands don’t.  The Shepherd cares about the sheep.  And we are the sheep.

It is Jesus’ desire to shepherd us – the rest of our lives.  To lovingly tend to our needs, and lead us into places he knows we need to go.

Jesus’ declaration that He is the Good Shepherd is an invitation to let him lead us.  And a promise that we will follow him wherever he needs to take us.

It’s a beautiful metaphor.  However…

Now let’s talk about problem with the metaphor.

What’s the problem with the metaphor?  Well, Jesus kind of bursts the banks of this metaphor by describing a shepherd that is too good to be true.  There is no shepherd like the one Jesus claims to be.

What do I mean?  Well, even the shepherd of the month would not know the individual names of all of his sheep – unless his flock was tiny.  He might be able to spot which sheep are his but as far as a personal name for each sheep?  Highly unlikely that a sheep is going to say, Come here Sally.  Charlie and Susie – play nicely.

I mean – someone might be able to do that – and if you find that story the reason it’s a story is because that shepherd has gone far and away above the call of duty to become so personal, so intimate, so caring, that he or she took the time to get to know each individual sheep.

And yet – here’s Jesus.  I’m a ridiculously good shepherd.  I know my sheep by name.

How does that make you feel to know that Jesus knows the real you – all the way through?  He knows everything that you are trying to keep hidden.  He knows what’s behind the dark doors of your heart.  He knows your thoughts.  He knows all of your failures and fears.  He knows your wounds.  He knows your failures.  He knows you the bottom of you.

I will never forget a conversation I had with a young woman named Ali – she was a student coming to our youth group – and when she came to see Jesus as the one who sees through all of the barricades of our heart – it actually terrified her.

Why?  Her reasoning was – if my friends knew everything I was thinking – they would all desert me.  How much more then, would God?  If he truly knows everything about me – then he would be the first one to leave me.

Ahh, but this is why Jesus can claim to be a good shepherd.  Because not only does he know us through and through, but he loves us to the bottom as well.

The second problem of this metaphor, and the biggest problem.  Jesus claims to do something no sane shepherd would claim to do.  He bursts the seams of this metaphor when he claims that he loves the sheep so much that he is willing to fight to the death for them.  John 10:11 “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”

Listen – I’m not taking a bullet for a sheep.  In fact if a wolf comes charging me – I’m grabbing the first sheep I find – Lamb chops!  And I’m gone.  Does that make me a bad shepherd.  No it makes me a normal one.

Who would you take a bullet for?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  What Jesus is telling us with this one statement is that he loves us with the intensity of a parent and a child.  Of a husband and wife.

What Jesus says is either ridiculous or ridiculously good.  Does Jesus mean this?  Even though Jesus knows everything about me – would he really take a bullet for me?  The answer is yes, he already did.  He took the cross for you.

See – this is one of the reasons I have a problem with the idea that Sheep are stupid!  No – to Jesus we are worth everything.   We are not worthy of that kind of love but neither are we worthless.  Jesus loves us intensely.

See, the story of Jesus isn’t just that we are sheep and He is the shepherd.  The bigger picture is that the Shepherd became a sheep.  The Shepherd became friends with the sheep!  He became one of us in order that the wolf might take Him while we escape.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.

Why?  Because Jesus is the kind of shepherd who loves us enough to fight to the death for us.  Would you follow this shepherd?  Do you trust this kind of shepherd?

The wolves were coming for you.  And Jesus said- I’ll take it on – while you escape.   Do you trust this kind of shepherd?

Do you trust this shepherd even when he leads you into difficult, dark valleys?

It’s one thing when the Shepherd is leading us into green pastures and quiet waters…  I’ll follow him then!

But what about when the Shepherd says, I have a destination in mind that will require you to trust me enough to follow me through the valley…

My wife Jody is from San Diego and every year we would pack up our minivan and drive there with our kids.  San Diego is about as beautiful a city as there is in the US.  Unreal beauty.  La Jolla Cove is our favorite place – stunning beauty.

If you are driving there – we first had to go through Death Valley.  This is Baker California, where the temperature once topped 134 degrees.  Yeah, But it was a dry heat.  Slap!

That’s why they have this giant thermometer.  To alert people driving by that they are entering death valley.  And to top it off there were mountains we had to drive over and our van always got hot and we’d have to turn off the AC and roll down the windows so as not to over heat the engine…  And it was miserable!

But here’s the deal…  We were not getting to the beautiful place without first going through the difficult place. There could be no La Jolla without death valley.

And this is the beauty of the metaphor.  Now matter how dark the valley, Jesus our ridiculously good Shepherd promises to lead us through it.  And therefore…  we can pray with confidence…. The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing.  I fear nothing.  Why?  Because thou art with me.

The problem with life is, you never know when you will end up at the doorway to death valley.  At least when we were driving to California we knew – okay in 5 hours we are going to be miserable but it will only last a couple of hours and we’ll be on the other side of it…

Unfortunately – life doesn’t work that way.  We never know when we will find ourselves at the gateway to difficult terrain.  One day things are peachy and the next day – life seems to be falling apart and you are wondering where God is in all of this?

Let me tell you – he’s right by your side.  Jesus is the ridiculously good Shepherd, yes he is.  And we need to make the decision right now – in the good times – that he is worth trusting.  He is worth following wherever he leads you.  He has laid down his life for you and he promises to never leave you in the dark valley alone.

You might have to go through it.  But you will never go through it alone.