When I was nine years old, we moved to a small acreage and we needed some cats. My parents got three small kittens from a friend and we weren’t sure how Gizmo would respond. But Gizmo, immediately laid down and the kittens nuzzled up to his stomach and started pretending to nurse. Gizmo would sleep with the kittens, who were probably too small to wean. He followed them, he barked if they got into trouble. As they got older, if they fought, he would restrain one by pinning it with his mouth and let the other one go.
But the best part, when they had their own kittens and their kittens had kittens, Gizmo continued to look after the cats. When one of the mom cats disappeared with young kittens, he adopted them and protected them, just like had done with their grandparents. Gizmo was a good dog.
Today we are talking about the good shepherd.
I want to start with the end of this passage. Some said Jesus was crazy or demon possessed and walked away. But there were others who defended Jesus, and said, the things he is saying makes sense, so he can’t be crazy. And he healed the eyes of the blind, so how can he be demon possessed.
This passage comes just after an episode of healing. The healing of a blind man. This is an interesting episode because of what happened after the healing. You see, no one had ever seen a blind man who had been blind since birth be healed. That had just never happened. And the fact that Jesus did it was huge. The Pharisees were already watching Jesus closely, they were already questioning his authority and teaching.
So when this man was healed, the Pharisees sought out the man and asked him how he was healed. He explained that Jesus spit on some clay and rubbed it in his eyes, and there he was, healed. The Pharisees were still skeptical so they went to his parents and asked about it. They wouldn’t claim to know how he was healed but they confirmed that he was healed.
The whole time, the Pharisees wanted to say that Jesus was demon possessed, and they were pressuring others to say it, too. So much so, that people were afraid to say that Jesus actually healed the man or was a prophet, or even worse, the Messiah, because the Pharisees would basically excommunicate them, or kick them out of the synagogue. This was a big deal!
So they went back to the blind man, and again, he said that he believed that Jesus was of God and that is how he was able to heal. The Pharisees look at him and say basically, you were born blind which means that you were a sinner and you are not out of the synagogue.
So Jesus hears this and also goes back to the man he healed. And he has this conversation with him about who is the ‘Son of Man,’ or Messiah and the Pharisees get back into with them and basically Jesus tells them, that because they don’t see, they are the ones who have sinned. I love this, by the way!
This is where we pick up today’s scripture. And this whole conversation about being the Good shepherd. Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. There are few things about this statement that I think are just amazing.
Shepherding was a lifestyle in those days. A shepherd lived with his flock. He smelled like his flock, he ate with his flock, he drank with his flock, he slept out in the pasture with his flock. He guided his flock, protected his flock, walked with his flock. The shepherd gave his whole live for his flock. The shepherd was known by the flock because it wouldn’t be a flock without one. They would be wild sheep completely vulnerable to the elements and wild.
He distinguishes the good shepherd from the thief who tries to push his way into the good pasture. And he distinguishes the good shepherd from the hired hand who is not committed to the flock. Neither of which are good.
So this statement, I am the good shepherd… Jesus is saying I know you and you know me because I am with you. I am with you always. I love this relationship that the good shepherd has with the flock. He knows the sheep by name and calls them by name. He goes before them and the sheep follow because they know his voice. He opens the gate into the pasture. He protects them from the thieves and wolves, to the point of laying down his own life. He stays with them and never runs in fear and abandons them.
What a good shepherd. This is amazing… Jesus is the good shepherd.
But there is something more, for the sheep without a flock, the good shepherd takes care of them, too. He brings them in. He brings in the sheep without a flock. Jesus is the good shepherd.
So Jesus is talking to essentially three categories of people when he makes this analogy. He is talking to the Pharisees, the crowd that has gathered and the blind man.
Jesus has already named the good shepherd in the analogy. It’s him. So who are the thieves and the hired hands and who are the sheep.
Who does Jesus know by name? Who knows Jesus by his voice? Who is Jesus walking with, leading, protecting, and laying down his life for? Clearly the good shepherd did not do this for the hired hands or the thieves. He did it for the sheep. The sheep are anyone who knows the voice of the shepherd… anyone who recognizes the shepherd.
And Jesus is the good shepherd.
So where do you fit in this analogy.
The Pharisees had already shown that they did not know Jesus. In fact, the last four or five chapters, the Pharisees are trying to ‘figure out’ who Jesus is, and also strong arm people from believing he is the messiah. They are literally trying to ‘steal’ the followers of Jesus by trying to kick them out of the synagogue – social suicide. They were the skeptics, the power hungry, the corrupt, the greedy, the envious, the thieves.
There are also the hired hands who run away, abandon the cause. These are the ones who are with the shepherd, but only to a point. So when the going gets tough, they get going.
Some in the crowd followed the Pharisees, they are the lost sheep. And those who defend Jesus, who are with him, are the sheep, following the good shepherd.
This last week I read a book called Faithiest. It was interesting because it told the story of a man, who grew up in the Twin Cities and in the church and walked away from the church. For a lot of reasons he walked away from the church. He talks about growing up and discovering that he is gay and all the hurt and pain that caused him as both society and church rejected him. He talked about how he found that he could be an active Christian, even a Christian leader and still, he met so much resistance from the faith community that he eventually left the church, and his faith. Because of the people of faith who rejected him, questioned him, hurt him, and skeptics he left the church.
Now this is not a sermon about being gay or the church’s stance, but it is a sermon about the good shepherd.
The author so this book, Christ Stedman walked away from the faith because of the thieves and hired hands who pulled him from the flock. He is now a lost sheep.
Sometimes we are the Pharisees. We are judgmental and critical, we carry out witch hunts and in our own self-righteousness steal the faith right out of people. It’s tragic. This book, Faithiest, is one representing this ‘New Atheism’ movement. Whole collections of people who reject God, but are claiming moral hierarchy. They have replaced religion with good works, morality, and intellectualism. They even have a church, Sunday Meetings, all around the world and people gather on Sunday mornings, sing inspiring secular songs, share in benevolent giving and listen to an inspirational message… all void of God. These are people who have been hurt by church people, but desire the ‘church’ experience. Sometimes we are the Pharisees, stealing people of their faith. Sometimes we are the Pharisees, but Jesus, Jesus is the good shepherd.
Sometimes we are the hired hands. We abandon those in the middle of their struggle. We leave people to fend for themselves. We are in it, until it gets hard. When it means we have to make a public statement. When we are asked to give or share in our resources. When we are asked to give of our time. When we are asked to not go to the cabin this weekend, because I know that there is a chance I could bring my neighbor to church. When we are asked to stand up for our faith, not just our church. When we are asked to make business decisions that do the most good and don’t necessarily bring the most profit. Sometimes we are the hired hands, but Jesus is the good shepherd.
Sometimes we are the lost sheep ourselves, we feel rejected, hurt, put on trial by the church. For this reason or that… But Jesus is the good shepherd. The church is not the good shepherd. In this analogy, in Jesus’ experience, it was the church people who were the thieves. But Jesus, Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus knows you by name. Jesus walks with you, protects you, leads you into the good pasture. He even laid down his life for you. Jesus is the good shepherd. The sheep know his voice and follow…
Where we want to be, is in the flock. The place to be is with the good shepherd. Walking with the good shepherd, following the good shepherd, being known by the good shepherd. This relationship with the good shepherd and the sheep is an intimate relationship. The sheep are completely known, they are called by name. They know his voice and follow.
Recently I was asked at youth group what changes when you give your life to God… I don’t mean just to church, but to God… It is supernatural. When you are following the good shepherd, when you give your life to God, everything changes. And the more you walk with God, the more you see God… in other people, in the world around you, in your prayer life, through the word of God. When you are following the good shepherd, God calls you by name. It is life changing. Jesus is the good shepherd and life with the good shepherd is good.