John 10:11-18 is part of a longer discourse in which Jesus tells his disciples and us that he is the way to heaven and eternal life. In this passage he explains this concept by comparing himself to a shepherd. The image of a shepherd was one that was common among members of his audience. Palestine was more of a pastoral region than an agricultural region, so shepherds were very common. Sheep are quite dumb. They will follow anyone who leads them, even if it means that they will be led astray. A good shepherd watches out for his flock and protects them even to the point of sacrificing himself.
We, like sheep, are vulnerable and oblivious to the dangers around us. Like sheep, we live in a wilderness, and that wilderness is called our earthly lives These earthly lives, with their emphases on putting ourselves first, shun the notion of putting off pleasure for the good of others. Our society emphasizes self-indulgence and shuns self-giving. In spite of this, there are people who are willing to give up something in exchange for something far greater. They sacrifice themselves for people they love and things they have faith in. Sacrifice is a measure of their character and values. It proves the worth of their words and intentions.
There are many people in our world today who want to lead us. The question we have to ask ourselves is, "Who can we trust to lead us and not lead us astray?" We can't trust politicians because they often make promises and don't keep them. We can't always trust ministers because they are human and are subject to human weaknesses unless they lead us in true faith. Ministers are replaceable. Most churches change their ministers every few years, especially if the minister is called to lead another flock. The minister must not be the one who makes us stay or go. Something even bigger must catch us, connect us and make us want to go deeper.
That something is the only one who we can trust to lead us. He is the only person who can back up his claims-Jesus. He accepts us as members of his flock. He gives us boundaries that will protect us. He gives us spiritual nourishment, rest, refreshment and joy. He gives himself away by laying down his life for us. He gives himself away to bring us closer to God. He protects us from Satan's attempts to distract us while we are on our Christian walk of life. He gives our lives meaning and purpose. He is good all of the time. He will give us a rich life filled with purpose and true happiness. The eternal life he offers is absolutely wonderful and can never be diminished or taken away from us.
Jesus is our shepherd. He gave up the splendour and glory of heaven so that we could have the type of eternal life I referred to earlier. He protects us and guides us if we let him. He gave up his life on the cross so that we would have eternal life. In contrast, the religious leaders of Jesus' day were nothing more than hired hands. They were poor shepherds. They were selfish, but Jesus was selfless. They abandoned the flock to save themselves, but Jesus laid down his life for the people. The religious leaders obeyed their own lusts, but Jesus completely obeyed his Father. The religious leaders cared only about themselves and their "chosen ones", but Jesus was for everyone, even people who had not heard the good news-people such as the Samaritans and the Gentiles.
Our lives have a rhythm. We can feel when the rhythm is good. Everything is going well, and everything works together. We can also feel it when our lives are out of rhythm. They are forced. We feel drained. We ask ourselves why life is so hard. Jesus the good shepherd tells us that he came to show us how to live a life that is in sync with God. Like a good shepherd, Jesus came to show us the very best way to live the life God wants us to lead.
A good shepherd has three outstanding characteristics:
1. He has love and compassion.
2. He knows each of his sheep by name.
3. He places his body between sheep and vicious animals. He will die protecting the sheep.
Jesus has all three of these characteristics in abundance. His love and compassion are outstanding. He knows all of his people by name. He knows the weak and the strong, the stubborn and the submissive, the hurts and needs of every sheep. He sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could have eternal life.
Every day Jesus surrounds us with opportunities, challenges, difficulties and decisions... and his grace. Even more, he wants us to live that life to the fullest. We are not perfect people, but we can still have that abundant life. Because he gave up his life for us on the cross like a good shepherd, we can have that abundant life. We have forgiveness and eternity. We are not alone, because he is with us, and he will be with us for all eternity.
The image of a Good Shepherd is a comforting one. We can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus loves us and cares for us. We, like sheep, are vulnerable to attack. A good shepherd will protect us from attack, whereas a hired hand will flee to protect himself. A good shepherd leads his flock to where it needs to go for food, shelter and protection. We, like sheep, know and trust the shepherd. We, like sheep, know every inflection of his voice, the way he leads us to pasture, and his courage in the face of danger.
Jesus will never desert us. He will always be with us. He comforts us. Our sins have been forgiven. We have been adopted into the family of faith. Our prayers will be heard. We will have help for our problems. All we have to do is submit to his word and respond to his message in faith. That involves being thankful for Jesus and all the good shepherds who try to follow him and do his good work.
Jesus leads us to where we need to go. He leads us to the green pastures of our heavenly home. He protects us from the devil's attacks. He laid down his life for us on the cross. The image of the good shepherd is a sign of Jesus' divinity. The sacrificial lamb overcame Satan's power. It turned the earthly view of power upside down.
Jesus is not an intermediary. He represents God's love and our positive response. Jesus' death reveals God's love to us and our response to that love. We are called on to be shepherds, witnesses of God's love. That love sustains us and the world. It also protects us and suffers with us. We are called on to show that love. That love encourages us to care for others, especially those who are suffering. It calls on us to move from words to action.
We are to care for others as God has cared for us. We are to work for their safety and security. We are not to refuse to help. We are to support others in using their own best instincts. If we do, we honour the Good Shepherd who leads us and cares for us.
We are called on to continue Jesus' work. We are called on to be shepherds, witnesses of God's love. We are to be there for each other. We are to care for and support one another. We must put ourselves in the path of evil when necessary. We are to go out and encourage other non-Christians and non-believers to join the flock, just like Jesus and other Christians encouraged us to join the flock. We are to guide Christ's sheep, especially if we are in positions of leadership within the church. In other words, we are to be good shepherds ourselves, and with faith in Jesus we will be able to overcome any barriers that would otherwise hinder us in this task
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