Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Lord really is my shepherd

Jesus said: “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 – and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.” John 10:14-16

How do you feel about being compared to a sheep? Not particularly flattered, I suspect, because sheep aren’t exactly the brightest of animals.

Well, sorry, but you’d better get used to it! – because this is an image which is very common in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. (You could take a look at Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 23:1-4 and Numbers 27:15-17 if you’re interested in following this up. Not to mention Psalm 23.)

In the Bible shepherds often stand for leaders, rulers, even kings. God himself is the ultimate shepherd to his people, so when Jesus comes and declares himself to be the promised good shepherd, this isn’t simply a comforting and encouraging figure of speech; no, it’s also a serious claim to authority and status, a claim to be nothing less than the fulfilment of ancient prophecies.

But it’s the comforting aspect that specially touches us as Christians today. Why? – because it’s all about relationship. See what Jesus is saying…
  1. I am in an intimate relationship with you, my sheep: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.
Earlier in the chapter Jesus has told us that the good shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” (verse 3). Isn’t that beautiful? Christianity isn’t a “religion” that we do our best to follow! No, it’s a relationship with a shepherd who knows each one of personally and intimately.

And just as he knows us, so we also know him. He is a living reality in our day to day lives. We “know his voice” (verse 4).
Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus? – warm, personal, intimate? Make no mistake, this is for you. Don’t settle for anything less!
  1. My relationship with you, my sheep, reflects my relationship with God my Father: “… just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father…”
I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult even to start thinking about the eternal, timeless father/son relationship of God and Jesus: some of the words that spring to mind are “perfect”, “deep beyond imagination” and “infinitely loving”.

How wonderful, then, that we can speak of us-and-Jesus in similar terms. The closeness Jesus has with his Father is mirrored, albeit of course in a far less perfect way, in the closeness we have with him. The great truth is that we find ourselves when we lose ourselves in him. Have you yet come to that point in your life?
  1. My relationship with you, my sheep, is one of loving sacrifice: “…and I lay down my life for the sheep”.
Earlier in the chapter Jesus draws a comparison between the good shepherd and the “hired hand”. The hired hand might be very good at his job. But ultimately he does it for money (nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course) – which means that as soon as a bear or lion appears he’s on his way pretty sharpish; he doesn’t love the sheep, or know them personally, or know their names. There’s no relationship.

But with the good shepherd it’s different. He is prepared to risk his very life to protect and save his sheep. Which, of course, is exactly what Jesus did.

The theme of sacrifice is a thread running through the whole Bible. In ancient Israel animals were slaughtered day by day on the altar of the temple. Blood was shed in order to deal with the sins of the people, and in order to bring them back into harmony with God.

It seems strange, but the shepherd is also the lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Can you say with confidence that your sins have been dealt with by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Can you say with Paul: “He loved me and gave himself for me” (note those “me’s”!) (Galatians 2:20).

Well, sheep may not be particularly impressive animals, but I can only say how grateful I am to be numbered among Jesus’ sheep. And how thankful I am for those people who first told me about him and introduced me to him.

Which leads me to a challenge for all of us… What about those “other sheep who are not of this sheep pen” who are still waiting to hear? Is it time we did for them what somebody once did for us?

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my good shepherd. Please help me to be a good sheep! Amen.

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