Summary: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will calm our hearts in bereavement and other troubled times. The question: Do we know the Shepherd?
Many of us will have come this evening to this Hope and Remembrance Service with feelings of sadness; many of us, or some, probably recently bereaved. In this time of bereavement, we run a whole gamut of emotion. It’s a time when the boundaries of life seem to have changed and nothing is certain, nothing is sure. And in these situations we need safety; we need security. We need a sure foundation. In these verses from John’s Gospel on the Good Shepherd, we have a source, if we but find it of security; a source of safety.
Jesus said, I am the Good Shepherd. So we don’t miss the point, he says it not just once, but twice over. In verse 11: I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In verse 14: I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. And Jesus speaks these words with authority, because he speaks as God.
I am the Good Shepherd. There’s a particular significance in those words ’I am’ in John’s Gospel. The original Greek ego eimi was in Greek the divine title.
When Moses saw the burning bush, the voice speaking from the bush was that of God; os God sending Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. And when Moses asked God who he was to say had sent him, God said say that I AM has sent me you (Ex 3:11 The divine title, rendered as JEHOVAH: I am that I am. It shows God as the very essence of being..He is the source, the creator of all that is. He is ’I am’.
Jesus, as recorded in John’s Gospel uses that title time and again: I am.
-I an the Light of the World
-I am the Bread of Life
-I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.
We can understand something of that meaning. If we went back to John Chapter 8, we would find Jesus in dispute with the Jewish religious leaders. They accuse him of being demon-possessed, and Jesus reply was I am not demon possessed, but I honour my Father and you dishonour me. It finishes with the Jews claiming a one-upmanship: We have Abraham as our father, to which Jesus replies, rather enigmatically: Before Abraham was, I am. We read that they then picked up stones to throw at him. And why? because he had spoken a blasphemy. He had taken to himself the Divine title.
So when we hear those words of Jesus; I am the Good Shepherd, he is using a divine title. He uses it in such a way that he describes something of the character of God. God is ’I am the Good Shepherd’- he is ’God the Good Shepherd’. That is one of the characters of God, so be a good shepherd.
Jesus is saying he is the good shepherd; he is the one who will protect his sheep. There were many false shepherds, many false hands around, and they’re just concerned to do a job of work. They have no real interest in the sheep except as a source of income. When the wolf comes to attack the fold, they run away; they save their own skin and leave the wolf or wolves to savage the flock.
There is much in life that will savage us. There is that in life which seems to attack us; which destroys and takes away. We may well feel that as we go through bereavement. We have suffered attack, we have suffered destruction- or we may feel a loved one has. And loss. But Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd. I am here to look after my sheep. He is the one who would lay down his life for the sheep. At the Cross, all that was evil and destructive became focussed upon Jesus. He laid down his life in a very real and literal way. And he did it for us.
But then Jesus goes on to speak about knowing his sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. In the same kind of way. Had I read on to verse 27 tonight we would have read this:
My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.
If you ever watch a shepherd at work- as many of Jesus’ original hearers would have done- those who weren’t shepherds themselves, you will know that they do know each individual sheep. Margaret and I stayed on a Cumbrian sheep-farm a few years ago. It was lambing time, and there was that very clear bond between sheep and shepherd. They knew which ewes were likely to have a difficult time lambing, and much more.