Summary: 4th Sunday of Easter, Series C, Preached 4/25/2010 at St. Paul
Of all the pictures that we have of our Lord Jesus Christ, the picture that is painted for us in the words of the 23rd Psalm are perhaps the most well known and the most comforting. One of the stained glass windows at St. Paul, McConnellsburg has this picture of Jesus as a shepherd surrounded by sheep. If you notice in my office, in the window sill by the desk, you’ll see a statue of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb. Usually when I find myself at the bedside of a Christian who is dying, I will read these words to that person, and they find great comfort. Of all the funerals I have officiated at in my career, only once has the 23rd Psalm specifically not been requested. What is it about this particular Psalm that makes it perhaps the most well known, and why we take a Sunday out of the Easter season each year to look at this Psalm and a Gospel reading where Jesus describes him as our Good Shepherd? This morning, we’re going to find out why Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd of the 23rd Psalm, and how we, as His sheep, delight to hear His voice to us.
The first thing that’s going to help us this morning to really understand this shepherd/sheep analogy our readings for today set before us, is to review a few characteristics of sheep. First, sheep tend to look the same to the casual observer. While they may be different shapes or sizes, for the most part, once you’ve seen a sheep, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
Another characteristic of sheep is that when left on their own, they’re pretty helpless animals. They need to be guided and kept from danger. They easily fall prey to the savage wolves out there who wish to devour them. Thus, part of the shepherd’s job is to keep watch over the sheep and keep them together in the flock. When one strays, it’s the shepherd’s job to bring that wandering sheep back into the safety of the flock.
One thing that sheep do have is a keen sense of hearing. They’re able to differentiate between different voices. Sheep can recognize the voice of their shepherd, and actually distinguish it between the voice of someone else, or the shepherd of another flock.
So with these characteristics of sheep in mind, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about us, His sheep, in today’s Gospel reading. He is talking to some Jews who are gathered around Him in the temple at the Feast of Dedication, or as some of you may know it by its’ Hebrew name, Hanukah. The Jews gather around Jesus and say “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (v. 24) They ask him essentially “Jesus, there are these rumors going around that you’re the Christ. Enough with the parables and this speaking in riddles; if you are the Christ, just come out and tell us already if you are or you are not” And what is Jesus’ response to them? He says “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (v. 25-28)
So what is Jesus saying? He’s telling the Jews that there are things He has been doing that point to the fact that He is the Messiah. If they really were a part of His flock, they would recognize that by His Word. The Old Testament Scriptures told of things that the Messiah would do. What Jesus is saying is this: “I am the Word made flesh. Look back in the Scriptures at the things that would point you to who the Messiah is, and look at what I have been doing. My teaching, my healing, my raising people from the dead, is all foretold. These are the signs that I pointed you to, yet you refuse to listen to me. Thus, because you don’t listen to me, you are not a part of my flock. You won’t recognize that I am the Christ. My actions speak in accordance with my Word.” The Jews are not a part of His flock because they see the signs, yet refuse to believe that Jesus is the true Messiah. Part of their problem is that they are looking for a political Messiah, someone who will save them from the oppression of the Romans. They’re not looking for someone who will save them from sin, death, and the devil.