Good Shepherd Sunday – May 12th
Vicar Shaun Manning
Here at the feast of Dedication, the Jewish people have come to celebrate the successful triumph over the Syrians where they drove them out of the Temple they had profaned. A king of the surrounding empire had invaded, forced Greek culture on the Holy Land and even erected statues to Greek gods in the Temple.
In the midst of all this, winter is among them and probably the reason why Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon for it was an enclosed area of the Temple. But the Jews who are gathering around Jesus here are about to be hit with something more than the winter breeze. They are about to be hit with truth that cannot be hidden from, a truth that they cannot be protected from by a portico or any other form of protection.
This is the truth, that they are not a part of Jesus’ sheep-fold. Well what’s the big deal? Isn’t this just some first century rebellious Jew? Isn’t he just some good man that taught and exemplified love?
Who then cares if one is a follower of him or not, as long as you just respect his message to stick it up to authorities and love people that’s all that really matters … ?
Well this would be true if He didn’t claim to be divine … It wouldn’t matter that you didn’t believe in Him, don’t belong to Him, don’t listen to Him and are not within His safe and secure hands, if He wasn’t God.
So we have two alternatives when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth … it’s either that he is a mad-man who fooled everyone and Christianity is the biggest hoax or it is the best news because Jesus is who He says He is, the Christ, the Chosen One of God, the One who holds death and life in His hands, the Good Shepherd.
So let’s have a look at how this all unfolds…
22 It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
They encircle or gather around Jesus.
The original text here seems to insinuate not just a desperate request but perhaps even something more sinister. The literal translation of this would read “until or for how long will you hold our life or take away our life?” Jesus not only has the power to lay down His own life and pick it up but also has the power to hold our life and even take it away. Jesus lays down His life for His sheep, for those who hear His voice but he also brings judgment on those do not believe and reject Him. Jesus interprets their rejection as a sign that they do not belong to His sheep-fold, as ones who the Father has not granted (drawn by the Father) and put in the Son’s hand.
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
When did Jesus say this? He told them in the opening parts of this chapter; 10: 1-21.
In comparison to their disbelief, Jesus now goes on to state who He sheep are …
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
Shepherds in the time of Jesus used very different methods than we use for sheep farming today. No four wheelers to round them up, of course ― they simply led them out of their enclosures or brought them back in by calling them. The sheep would become familiar with their shepherd’s voice and follow them.
My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me … fair enough He may be speaking about Peter, John and James etc. who are following Him … but no … He takes it a step further and turns up the heat…
28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.
Okay, now it’s starting to escalate … now He’s claiming to not just have followers but the key to heaven and eternity … but wait there’s more …
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
But what is so significant about what Jesus says, is that he applies it to people in the context of faith ― something that has already been done in Ezekiel 34 where God brings judgment on the religious leaders of Israel for failing to care for his people and He promises his people that he will care for them:
“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (Ezekiel 34 vv11-12, 31).
And what does Jesus say to the Jews in our text? “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.” The connection Jesus makes to Ezekiel 34 would be inescapable to the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus is claiming to be the God who speaks in Ezekiel 34! The Jewish leaders would have been fuming!
And even though they would not have missed the connection, Jesus takes it a step further ― after all they did ask for a plain answer! He says in verse 30: “I and the Father are one”. Jesus has existed for all eternity, just like his Father. Jesus has the same divine nature as his Father. Jesus is true God, just like his Father.
This is exactly what Jesus means, for in the very next verse after today’s text, John tells us that again the Jews picked up stones to stone him ― stoning by death was the penalty the Old Testament prescribed for blasphemy. They think Jesus is guilty of blasphemy ― making fun of God ― by claiming to be God. To them, Jesus is just a “crazy man” in the Temple but really He is God Incarnate, God in the flesh.
Just as quick as children fill up their buckets with pebbles at the beach they have not recognised the voice of God, so they pick up stones to haul at him ― that the one who spoke these words in Ezekiel 34 is speaking to them right there in Solomon’s Colonnade.
If they were His sheep they would’ve recognised His voice and believed but instead they gather rocks to stone Him for blasphemy.
Jesus is saying that He and the Father are one. In other words the ‘temple’ in which God dwells is now standing in front of them, Jesus is the Christ.
He holds your life in His hands my brothers and sisters. The safest hands there are.
My question to you today is … how well do you know this Good Shepherd?
Do you hear His voice and follow Him?
If you look around this place, your brothers and sisters in the pew next to you, the amount we know the Lord may vary. Some very much and some very little. And as important as getting to know the Lord Jesus is, to know who He is as your Good Shepherd; it is not half as important as the fact that He knows you.
The real key here is that He knows you!!
The Lord cares enough to know you.
Our knowing of Him may vary in this place and even be inconsistent in our own lives. But one thing is consistent, that is He knows you as much as He knows your brother and sister in the pew next to you. Very intimately.
“my sheep hear my voice…” – that is they hear and listen to Him speak. So you are a sheep if you’ve heard Him. His Word, Baptism, HC, Absolution…
“…I know them…” you are known by Him if you are His sheep, He knows you intimately. He knows your failures and tendencies to go astray and yet calls you, gathers you and embraces you.
“… they follow me…” we follow Him not to become His sheep not to remain as His sheep but because we are His sheep. Having our life in His hands, He sustains us our Good Shepherd by…
David once broke a lambs leg to keep it from wondering off… I’m pretty sure that isn’t a biblical quote, however, just as the Father disciplines children and those that He loves… and Jesus and the Father are one… and Jesus is our Good Shepherd, so it may not be stretching it too much to say that the Lord Jesus does have an intimate relationship with His sheep that incorporates loving fatherly discipline. (Heb 12:9-11).
Friends, may we not be like those who are not apart of the Lord Jesus’ sheep by not hearing His voice, by not recognising our need to be known by the Lord, not following Him.
Luther at the end of his life uttered … “we are beggars, this is true”.
After all his discovery and re-discovery of God’s character in light of the Gospel, many theological writings and hundreds of sermon and pastoring of people. He concludes it all with those words. Beggars aren’t too different to sheep, fairly silly in constant need of tending to and feeding.
That’s me and you. And it’s who we would stay without the Good Shepherd knowing and taking care of us.
Friends, you have heard His voice today.
You have heard His voice because He has gathered you into His sheep-fold again to be tended to and fed. Through His word and words being spoken this day.
So wherever you’re at this day… feeling disciplined, feeling like a lost sheep in need of rescuing once again.
He has you friends, and always has. And your presence here this morning testifies to the fact that He still has you in His safe hands.
Despite our rebellion, our straying, and even our discipline, no one snatches us from His hand. And He grabbed and claimed you at your Baptism and has never looked back since…
This is not a crazy man who says all these things, this is the Lord, so let’s not treat Him and His words as if He is. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.
Despite how much or how little we know the Lord.
The Good News is that He knows you, you are known to Him.
Our trouble is catching up this side of eternity …
We get glimpses but still struggle to see who He really is, what He has done and who we are as a result.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen