May 12, 2014
Shepherd, Shepherd? Who Needs a Shepherd? Scripture John 10:1-10 May 11, 2014 May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. After a drawn out and abusive relationship, Shelley finally worked up the courage to break up with Todd. However this break-up did not last long because a month […]
Shepherd, Shepherd? Who Needs a Shepherd?
Scripture John 10:1-10
May 11, 2014
May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. After a drawn out and abusive relationship, Shelley finally worked up the courage to break up with Todd. However this break-up did not last long because a month later she was back with him. I would imagine that there are thousands to millions of these kinds of relationships going on in the world today, abusive relationships where one party simply cannot break it off permanently with the abusive partner. Many men in prisons are there for abusing their spouses. Yes, even women are in jail for the same reason. It may make you wonder WHY people stick with relationships, or get into relationships like these in the first place. What makes people stay in relationships that are not healthy for them? In many cases the abused are somehow under the spell of the abusive partner and cannot break away. They are drawn to the physical or “outside” part of someone rather than being drawn to what’s on the “inside.”
When Jesus came onto the scene over two thousand years ago, he was trying to break up such a relationship that the Jewish people had with the Pharisees. The Pharisees looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were not so hot. In Matthew 9:36 we read the following “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So Jesus wanted to demonstrate to the Jews to that this relationship with the Jewish Leaders was not a good one. In order to do this, Jesus used several parables to illustrate his point. With these parables he wanted the Jews sitting there listening to seriously consider this question – “What kind of a shepherd do you want?” Today we’ll consider that same question. What Kind of a Shepherd Do You Want?
- Do you want a thief and a robber as a shepherd?
In today’s text, Jesus starts out by saying, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” Reading the Greek, the word for “thief” is “kleptase” – where we get the English word “klepto”. This is someone who takes something in a crafty way, like a shoplifter. His main weapon is stealth and trickery. Some of the worst thefts that have taken place have come from what are termed “inside” jobs – where someone will obtain a job with a company and then figure out the company’s weaknesses and take advantage of them.
That’s how some shepherds have gotten into the ministry throughout the ages. How many priests have deceptively told the Catholic Church, “We will remain celibate,” when in reality they had no intentions of doing so? Many of you may remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker – smiling before the camera – telling the world what dedicated Christians they were. They ended up stealing people’s money and ruining God’s reputation. You wonder how they could be so two-faced. This is very similar to when Jesus compared the folks that acted in a similar manner to thieves. They said they were on the same team as Jesus and that they cared, but they really didn’t. Is that the kind of shepherd you would want?
Or would you rather have a robber? This is someone who takes something by force. Paul had to deal with men like this, and he almost lost his Corinthian congregation over it. He writes in 2 Corinthians 11: 20, “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” These were men who were “enslaving them and slapping them in the face.” Whether this was literal or not, Paul was saying that they were being forceful with the Corinthians, and the Corinthians were letting them get away with it and even praising them for it! These were false shepherds.
Paul couldn’t figure out why the Corinthians were putting up with such behavior. That’s the same kind of behavior that the Jews were putting up with during Jesus’ time on earth. Just prior to today’s text, in chapter 9, Jesus had healed a man who was born blind. But instead of being happy for the healed man, the Pharisees were angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. These same Pharisees were constantly threatening people and telling them that they were going to throw them out of the synagogue for breaking Jewish Law. The sad thing is that people not only put up with this kind of behavior, but they laud and praise it yet today. Have you ever listened to Dr. Laura, for instance? She has very seemingly “good and moral things to say.” But have you ever heard the way that she goes about her business? Stop for a minute and think about what her whole motivation is for people to change their lives? “Now, go and do the right thing!” Why? Because it’s the right thing to do! That’s why. Now DO IT or I’ll really yell at you! Her ratings declare to us that people love it when someone yells at them and tries to set them straight.
In a similar way, if you watch some tele-evangelists on TV – it seems that the sweet talkers – those preachers who tell people what they want to hear – but then always seem to want more from the people, have great news to share. So whereas they seem to care and be concerned, they are also using guilt trips and taking people, and their money, for all they’re worth. Jesus asks, “Is that the kind of shepherd you want? A robber and a thief?” Really, is it?
- Or do you want a compassionate and personal shepherd?
In this parable Jesus was illustrating, by contrast, the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd. In both illustrations he was obviously referring mainly to himself. Notice the first thing he says about himself: The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. . . . Jesus said again, I tell you the truth; I am the gate for the sheep. Like a camel entering through the eye of the needle, God had required that the Messiah would have to be born of a virgin. So God entered the gate by becoming a man. The gate to man had huge obstacles however. The watchman was the mighty law that said, “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Like a huge Arnold Scwarzenegger – God’s wrath stood watch and said, “the Messiah must go to the cross and pay hell to get access to these sheep!” That was the gate that Jesus walked through willingly when he came to earth and died. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. Jesus then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – preparing a way for the world to follow him through faith. This was visible for the entire world to see – there was no trickery involved – as some of the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities claimed as the news of Jesus’ resurrection spread.
What else did Jesus say about his shepherding? He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I remember talking with a mother who had just given birth a few hours before hand. When she was asked what the name of her new baby was, embarrassed and confused, she started crying, because she couldn’t remember what she had named her child. She felt like a failure as a mom because she couldn’t remember the name of her freshly born child. Jesus said that a true shepherd has such a close relationship with his sheep that he knows them by name. After Jesus rose from the dead, he personally appeared to Mary Magdalene when she was alone – he took a personal interest in her and called her by name. When I think of my own kids, I often call them the wrong names, and I only have two daughters. I call Laura Julie and Julie Laura and I know it drives them nuts. They would always say, “There are only two of us Dad and you can’t get our names right, Really?” Well, I must admit, I mess up with names, even with my own daughters and grandsons. Think of this however, God has thousands of millions of children and God knows every one of us by name – and doesn’t get us mixed up. This means that he takes a personal interest in us.
One of my favorite passages to meditate on before I go on hospital calls is from Isaiah 43 where God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… I meditate on this passage of scripture to help me minister to whomever it is I am visiting in the hospital that day to help me, help them, remember that God is with them throughout this current hospital stay. Not only that God is with them but also so they know they have God’s undivided attention directed toward them.
What is the final sign of a good shepherd? John writes that Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Instead of wanting to take things from us, our Good Shepherd loves to GIVE things to us. All the time Jesus was on this earth he only gave! He gave the sick their health. He gave Lazarus life. He gave the Jews the freedom to worship apart from the laws of the Pharisees. And he continues to do the same. Jesus gives us forgiveness. He gives us holiness. He gives us freedom from God’s wrath. Freedom from guilt. He gives us our families. He gives us eternal life. He has come to give us a FULL life – overflowing with His gifts.
Isn’t it a shame then when we hear people complain about God? That all God wants is their money? All God wants is their time? How could anyone accuse a God who GIVES health, GIVES life, and GIVES eternal salvation – to be a God who only wants to TAKE? These accusations then are not based on reality.
III. So then which will it be, which shepherd will you follow?
What is it that the SHEEP recognize and use to distinguish between the two shepherds? The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” It all boils down to the VOICE! It’s not just what the shepherd says, but it’s the inflection and the TONE of his voice.
Think about what these kind of shepherds end up doing? The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. This happens when someone says to you, “You aren’t safe here in this church! It’s too easy! You need to work for your salvation! You aren’t good enough yet! You need to make a decision! You need to give more money, to me! You need to . . .” This happens when a false shepherd says, “God wants you to be richer! God wants you to be happier! You could have so much more out of this life, if you only trusted him more!” Notice the tone of their voice – it is forceful and tries to make you scared. The Pharisees were intimidating the Jews with their threats and laws and regulations, stealing their money and destroying their hope. Any religion or advice that just tells people to “do the right thing” without a motivation, only produces a family of self-righteous people who think they’re doing the right thing. But God says “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Hebrews 11)
When it comes to sheep, there are really only several things they need – a guardian – a guide – and a pasture. As long as they have that – they have a “full life” in their sheep minds. They don’t worry about what kind of job the shepherd is doing. They don’t want to be shepherds. They are just content and happy with being sheep. It’s kind of funny isn’t it? Dogs are happy with their dogginess. Sheep are happy with their sheepiness. But humans are never content with their humanness. Doesn’t it almost always seem that if we just had one more thing, we’d be full.
What is your idea of a “full” life? Even when we have the essentials of this life – food, shelter, and even more than that as Christians – the promise of eternal life in Christ – how many of us feel God has given us a “full” life? No, we say, we want more out of life. Another job. Or we want more money, more fame, more friends, and more family. God forgive us when we slip into that kind of thinking. For what is the main ingredient to a full life? Jesus said it – I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. It is salvation in Christ – knowing that he gives us protection, love and eternal life. Notice the tone of Jesus voice. It is calming, soothing, and relieving.
So which voice will you listen to? What did the Jews listen to? Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. And after Jesus had finished, they accused him of being demon possessed. They didn’t recognize his voice, because they weren’t sheep. They were only wolves. Sadly, many in this world only listen to the voices of the wolves, because inside – that is what they are.
What about you? Thankfully, Jesus – our Good Shepherd – has already taken you out of this world and planted you in HIS Kingdom. He has turned you from wolves into sheep, and in so doing He has given you ears to hear so listen to what he is saying. He has enabled you to see that a full life does not revolve around how nice of a car you drive or what kind of a house you live in or even what sports teams you follow. Having a FULL life only revolves around the fact that we can continue to listen to the words of Jesus, hear that he loves us and forgives us, and enjoy the extra gifts that he gives us. It’s like when we sing the ending stanza of hymn 275 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God- Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever. Amen.