Summary: Jesus announced that he was the Good Shepherd. The implication is clear: he is the shepherd who leads us to God.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
The Israelites, long before they became a settled agrarian people, were nomads in a pastoral setting. It was natural that they would see their relationship with God in a pastoral image. Against this backdrop of a people who pictured themselves as God’s sheep, Jesus announced that he was the Good Shepherd. The implication is clear: he is the shepherd who leads us to God. The child of Bethlehem is the true revelation of God and the true way to God and salvation. But how does the Good Shepherd lead us to God?
I. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us to God by translating God’s message for humans.
a. In the East shepherds lead their sheep by chanting to them in nonhuman sounding utterances that the sheep learn to discern, trust, and obey.
i. As a shepherd watches his sheep graze, he periodically calls to them in loud sing-song voice to reassure them.
ii. He also calls the sheep to follow him, and they recognize his voice and move to the sound.
b. Louis Cassels writes of a man who had a humbug attitude toward Christmas.
i. He was a decent and kind man who loved his family, but he simply could not understand the Christian proclamation of an incarnation.
ii. God becoming flesh seemed absurd and silly
iii. One Christmas eve, while his family was at church, a flock of birds was stranded in the snow outside his house.
iv. He desired to lead them to the barn where the children’s pony was kept, but he was unable to communicate this to the birds.
v. He tried to lead them into the barn by waving his arms, leaving a trail of bread crumbs, and carrying out a variety of other schemes.
vi. He finally realized that in order to communicate to the birds, he himself would have to become one.
vii. It was at that moment that the church bells rang, announcing the glad tidings of Christmas.
viii. As he heard the bells he finally understood the reason for the incarnation:
1. God could now communicate with us in a way we could understand so he could lead us to safety!
c. Jesus has come to lead us into the barn, to show us that God loves us and wants to save us.
i. When you look at a nativity scene, remember that Jesus was born so that God could communicate with you that he could call you to himself.
ii. Jesus relays God’s message in a way we can understand.
II. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us to God by personally giving us God’s message.
a. Jesus knows us and calls us by name, and we know him.
i. The Good Shepherd knows each of us intimately.
ii. In the East sheep are raised not to eat, but for their wool.
iii. Thus, a shepherd grows to know each one, and even gives them nicknames – often based on their physical characteristics, such as Brown leg or Black ear.
b. Before the incarnation of God at Bethlehem, we humans could only speak of God at best in the abstract, as a stranger.
i. He was “out there,” not a native.
ii. We could not say for sure if he liked us, if he was an ally or an adversary.
iii. We could only guess.
iv. That baby born on the first Christmas fleshes out for us our understandings of God and his feelings for us.
v. Recall that beloved verse, John 3:16, and personalize it by inserting your name.
III. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us to God by a loving sacrifice.
a. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15).
i. It was not uncommon occurrence for a shepherd to risk his life to protect the flock.
ii. Sometimes, the threat would be from wild and dangerous animals – wolves, bears, or lions.
iii. Sometimes, the threat came from humans bent on theft.
iv. Shepherd would sometimes have to engage in desperate fights with savage beast or thieves, and the faithful shepherd would lay down his life to defend his flock.
b. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gladly and voluntarily sacrifices his own life.
i. God gave at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in a manager and on a cross, in life and in death.
ii. Jesus did not have to die; he could have followed the advice of friends such as Peter, or he could have called a legion of angels to his assistance.
iii. But the Good Shepherd died because that is what would bring life to the sheep – you and me.
iv. He laid down his life so that we, his sheep, might have life – abundant and eternal.
One day Jesus told a story to reveal what the Father is like. A shepherd had one hundred sheep in his care, and during the course of the day’s labors, he lost one. Tired, hungry, thirsty, and desiring to be with family, he nevertheless began to retrace the many and difficult steps of the day’s journey. He finally found the kid (Baby Goat) which had strayed off and become frightened. Then he tenderly and joyfully put it on his own shoulders, returned home, and gave a party to celebrate finding the lost sheep. Then Jesus made the point: God is like that Shepheard. He wants us all safely in the fold. He has gone on a long search – the incarnation. He rejoices when one person is found – salvation.
That, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas. That baby in the manger is God looking for you.