You can listen to an audio recording of today's service by clicking on the file posted below under 'Downloads.'
The Good Shepherd has always been one of the most popular images of Jesus in Christian artwork. The scene depicted is usually an idyllic and peaceful pasture with a serene-looking Jesus standing amidst the flock, carrying a young lamb over His shoulders. The reality is that shepherding in those days was a dirty, dangerous, lonely and thankless occupation.
So really, the Good Shepherd is an image that speaks to the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf; as we just heard, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus suffered, died and rose again so that He could be our shepherd forevermore – in life and in death.
Early Christians in the Roman Empire would often gather in catacombs or underground cemeteries, which they adorned with pictures, and one of their main themes was Jesus the Good Shepherd. What they had in mind, no doubt, was Jesus as shepherd of the dead.
Not even Death itself can separate us from the Good Shepherd’s guiding hand. Death cannot cut us off from His fold. As Jesus says later in John chapter 10: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).
But those early Christians in the catacombs also represented Jesus as the shepherd of the stars. Jesus is the cosmic shepherd, the universal shepherd, whose watchful care governs the whole order of creation and brings it to its final redemption in Himself.
Friends, this is an image of Jesus we would do well to remember in the midst of this pandemic, when the whole world seems out of order.
And it relates very much to our beautiful first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. (Classical music fans will recognize this from the opening of Handel’s Messiah).
These words were originally addressed to God’s people when they were in exile, seemingly cut off from their home pasture. And friends, today these words are addressed to us, as we also find ourselves scattered and isolated.
Today we are assured of our eventual homecoming and promised that God will be our shepherd even here in this wilderness. As Isaiah says, in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Knowing that our Shepherd will come to feed us and lead us, here we are commanded to remove any obstacles in the pasture, anything that might interfere with our grazing, any distracting noise that might prevent us from hearing His voice, any hazard along the path.
Friends, what might this be in your life?
Now certainly in the wilderness of this pandemic, there are lots of challenges beyond our control, but each of us will have some obstacle, some noise, some hazard in our lives that we can strive to remove with God’s help. So what might this be for you?
Perhaps it’s a bad habit, or harbored resentment, or anger & irritability, or unhealthy thought patters and self-talk … something like this that might seem small, but which can be magnified by the stress of this pandemic. Whatever it might be for you, take time during the prayers today (and every day this week) to bring that concern before the Lord and hand it over to Him.
In the words of our second reading for today, cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Friends, whatever our own individual struggles may be, I’m sure we’re all dealing with some degree of anxiety in this time.
And our Bible readings today make it clear that the main cure for anxiety is to trust and obey Jesus as our Good Shepherd. So I want to spend the remainder of this message describing what it will look like for us in our lives when we say and truly believe that the Lord is my shepherd.
A shepherd is someone who lives with the sheep 24/7. The shepherd does everything for His flock. The shepherd is the sheep’s protector, provider, physician, leader, guide and owner. The shepherd is everything to the sheep.
So to say, the Lord is my shepherd, means He has to be everything to me. We have to trust and obey Him 1. comprehensively, at all times; and 2. in a spirit of joyful thanksgiving.
First, the relationship of between shepherd and sheep is one of comprehensive intimacy. There’s no area of our lives from which He can be excluded. The sheep depend on their shepherd moment by moment. They know they have no strength or smarts of their own. They are utterly dependent on Him.
Friends, here’s a little discipline that will revolutionize your life if you practice it: Make a list of five or six temptations you’re probably going to come up against during the day. Think over your day ahead and say, “Where am I most likely to get grumpy? Where am I most likely to get disappointed? What temptations are probably going to come my way today?” Then cry out to your Shepherd continually during the day, especially when you approach one of these. Cry out to him moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, talking to Him, running things by Him. So that’s the first point, trust and obey comprehensively and at all times.
Second, obey Him joyfully. Often when we think of obeying God, we’re motivated by fear. But only when we see Jesus as our Shepherd will we obey Him joyfully. Why?
In biblical times, the shepherd’s entire wealth was his flock of sheep; the sheep were his pride and joy, his honor and wealth. They were the shepherd’s glory. They were everything the shepherd owned. So in calling Himself the Good Shepherd, what Jesus is really saying to us here is, “You are my pride and joy and glory.” Friends, if you understand this, it will become the joyous driving force of your life.
The heart of the Christian life is to be able to say, “I know my Shepherd loves me and adores me. His honour and joy are bound up in how I do. All the things He asks me to do are simply expressions of His commitment to my joy.” So friends, to obey joyfully, understand that you are His joy. He prizes you. You are His treasure. So obey Him obey Him joyfully, comprehensively and at all times.
And in the words of Peter, Christ will Himself restore support, strengthen and establish you. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.