Summary: “I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by my own. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” John 10:14-15.
Theme: Christ the good Shepherd
Text: Acts 4:5-12; 1 Jn. 3:1-2; Jn. 10:11-18
We all learn by example and this is the way children easily pick up the habits of adults. A young couple returning home from work one afternoon opened their front door only to hear their nine-year-old son and seven year old daughter yelling at each other. Alarmed they rushed in to find out what was going on. “What on earth is going on here?” they asked. Their son looked at them for a moment, smiled and replied “Oh, there is nothing wrong. We were just playing father and mother.” As Christians we play a very important role in the society. These days when social structures are collapsing, family life breaking up and everyone appears to be only concerned about pleasing themselves, a lot of people are looking up to Christians to provide the answers. We can only help society find the right solutions when we set a good example by following the example of Christ. As followers of Christ our lives should be an example of true Christian teaching. Any conduct falling short of this will only invite criticism and inevitably restrict the growth of the Church. The example of Christ should be central to our life and faith. Like Paul we should be keen to know and have the mind of Christ - a mind that is characterised by the self-giving attitude of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Every profession conveys a certain image that does not always apply to those who practice it. A sales person will want to meet the needs of customers but not all of them do. The doctor will put his patient first but not all doctors do so. A lawyer should be concerned about his or her client but not all of them are. A shepherd should be someone who did whatever had to be done to protect and nurture his flock but not all of them do. The ones who do not are called hirelings. They are not concerned about the sheep as the shepherd is. The reason is because the shepherd often owned the sheep he shepherded whereas the hireling worked for an absentee owner. Both the shepherd and the hireling looked the same, but the shepherd was honest whereas the hireling was dishonest; the shepherd was diligent whereas the hireling was lazy; the shepherd was ready to do everything necessary for the protection and nurture of the flock, whereas the hireling did not really care what happened to the sheep.
In ministry we also find the shepherds and the hirelings. The hirelings are unfaithful and are only concerned about their earnings. Isaiah in chapter 56 verses 11 describes them as greedy dogs who never have enough, as shepherds who cannot understand and who all look to their own way and for their own gain. Jeremiah describes them in 6:13 in the following way “From the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.” This same problem led Paul to complain of shepherds in his day. In Philippians 2:20, 21 he declares, “For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.” Are we today following the example of the Good Shepherd or are we seeking our own profit and honour? Are we leading the flock, feeding them and guarding them safely? Have we a relationship with the flock?
When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” He was claiming to be God because only God is good for only God is able to demonstrate true goodness - caring for His sheep, praying for them, and labouring for them. Jesus Christ is our example and to follow Him we need to know Him – know what He says and behave the way He behaves. His good relationship with the sheep, knowing each by name, enables them to recognise His voice. So close was this relationship that He did not only know them by name but He also knew their different natures. The Good Shepherd knew that the sheep were not all alike and that each of them had their own special needs. He was always available when the sheep needed Him and when they moved He went ahead of them knowing that they needed His guidance. In Old Testament times and even today in the Middle East, the shepherd leads his flock. He goes before them leading them to good pasture and water. He knew the location of shelters and caves where they could shelter from storms, cold nights, heat and wild animals. The shepherd protects his sheep and puts their safety before his own. He made sure he carried a sling and a wooden club to fend off wild animals and birds of prey that swoop down on unsuspecting lambs. He also carried a staff to prod the sheep as they moved or to rescue them from crevasses. He did this by placing the curved end of the staff around the neck of the animal and lifting it up. This was a painful process for the sheep but was often the only way for the shepherd to rescue it and bring it back into the safety of the fold.