The Good Shepherd - John 10:1-13
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Now I want to begin this morning by asking you what your favourite animals are. (Ask children). And I have brought along some of my favourite animals to show you too. Here's my most favourite at the moment (Acetate 1- Panda). Can anyone tell me which country he usually lives in? Here's another you might like (Acetate 2- Koala). Anyone know where he's from? And then finally I'd like to introduce you to a good friend called Walter the Warthog (Warthog).
Now the thing about all these favourite animals is that no-one has mentioned sheep as their favourite animals have they? (Acetate 3- Sheep). And I guess there are a number of good reasons for that. For a start they smell pretty bad (mind you so do warthogs). They are also pretty stupid, so we're told. And they can look at bit mucky and run down. They aren't always fluffy and white like this picture! And sheep need a lot of careful looking after. Can anyone tell me who it is that looks after sheep? It is, of course, shepherds. (Acetate 4- Shepherd) Shepherds have the job of looking after sheep. And I wonder if anyone would like to come out a be a shepherd for us during our talk? (Volunteer) So what will a shepherd need? Well for a start he'll need a shepherd's cloak (Cloak)! Secondly he'll need a shepherd's hat, which conveniently doubles up as a tea towel so the shepherd can dry up his washing. And then thirdly he'll need a crook, which is his stick. And with this stick the shepherd will do a number of things. For a start he defend the sheep against predators. So in the Bible times there were all sorts of nasty animals that would try and attack the sheep, for example lions. (Acetate 5- Lion) You don't find many lions in the Yorkshire Dales any more, but you did in the days of the New Testament. Now our lion here looks fairly nice, but I can tell you that they weren't. They would have sheep for breakfast dinner and tea if they wanted to! But also the shepherd would use his crook to ward off thieves. (Acetate 6- Thief) So thieves would try and steal the sheep, so the shepherd would try and ward them off with his big stick! So a shepherd, then, would take care of his flock and defend them from all sorts of attacks!
Now you may be wondering why on earth am I telling you all about sheep and shepherds? Well hopefully you'll have spotted in our reading from John's gospel chapter 10 that Jesus talked all about sheep and shepherds. In fact, Jesus said that he was a shepherd and that we are his sheep. Those who trust in him and seek to follow Jesus are his sheep. We are in his flock if we follow him! In fact Jesus says something amazing in verse 11 of our reading. (Acetate 7- Memory verse) He says: "I am the good shepherd." Now I want you to remember this verse, because we're going to come back to that later and try and remember it all together. But for now, I want us to try and understand a little more what this verse means. What does it mean that Jesus is the good shepherd? Well in our passage, Jesus tells us three amazing things about what he does for us as our good shepherd.
1) Jesus loves his sheep
(Acetate 8- 1st title) And the first thing we are told is that Jesus loves his sheep. And we see that in verse 2: "The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name." Now if you've ever seen a shepherd with his sheep, you'll know that the shepherd sometimes has all his sheep in a sheep pen. And when the shepherd comes to the pen, he knows all the sheep in his sheep-pen by name.
Now I thought we'd give a little test to our shepherd to see if he knows his sheep by name. (Acetate 9- Lots of sheep) So I've got five of his sheep up here on the screen, and let's ask our shepherd if he knows who these sheep are. (Shepherd names his sheep) You see the amazing thing about shepherds is that they know their sheep by name. They can tell you each and every sheep by the colour of the coats or their horns or whatever it is. The shepherd knows each individual by name.
And here Jesus says he knows all his sheep by name. The staggering thing is that Jesus knows his flock individually and completely by name. So if you are a Christian here this morning, if you are trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, then Jesus here reminds you that you are very deeply loved. He knows you by name and knows every single thing about you. And amazingly he still loves you. And the great thing is that Jesus is like a good shepherd who will always look after and care for us and defend us from attacks. In other words he's not going to sell his sheep for lamb chops or anything like that. Nor is he going to allow thieves to take his flock away. Jesus is a good shepherd who will always care for and protect his sheep!
And if we are having a tough time at the moment, for whatever reason, be it because we're a Christian, or be it trouble at home or at work, then this is a great truth to remember. That Jesus knows us by name, and he loves us very much. He will never leave us or forsake us. In fact, Jesus will go on to say later in the chapter that no-one can snatch us from Jesus' hands. Once we're in his flock, we're there to stay. And nothing can change that! So that's the first thing we learn then, that Jesus as the good shepherd loves his sheep.
2) Jesus leads his sheep
(Acetate 10- 2nd title) But then secondly we discover that Jesus leads his sheep. Let's have a look at verses 3 and 4: "The watchman opens the gate for him and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." Now in the time of Jesus, and in fact in the Middle East even today, shepherds did something different to what shepherds do today. Now today if you go up to the Yorkshire Dales and watch a shepherd with his sheep, he will always stand behind his sheep and drive them from behind. (Acetate 11- Sheep dog) And he'll perhaps have a sheep dog or two to giving him a helping hand! But in Jesus' time they didn't do it that way. Because what happened instead was that the shepherd went in front of the sheep and the sheep followed along. So they would see the shepherd walking off with his crook and tea towel wrapped round his head and then the sheep would follow. And he'd call to them, and the sheep would know the shepherd's voice. So the shepherd would lead his sheep.
And I thought we'd try out our shepherd at a bit of sheep leading. I thought we'd re-enact "One Man and his Dog" if you were ever into that. So we have in front of us an assortment of obstacles which our shepherd will attempt to guide our sheep round. But all we need is our sheep who will have to be blindfolded because sheep aren't the most intelligent of animals! ("Sheep" volunteer- blindfolded). So our shepherd will stand at one end of the obstacle course and shout instructions to his "sheep" so that he will guide him to the end of the obstacle course.
Now the key thing about our shepherd guiding our sheep was that the sheep listened to the voice of the shepherd. And Jesus says that we must listen to his voice if we are going to be guided by him. You see as Jesus' sheep we need him to lead us to go the way that pleases him. That's what he means when he says he will lead us. But there's a challenge here for us too. Jesus will guide and lead his sheep in God's way, but we need to listen to him. And how do we listen to the shepherd's voice? By reading the shepherd's book, that is the Bible. It's through Jesus word in the Bible that we can be led by him and follow him. And Jesus calls each and every one of us who claims to follow him to listen to his voice and go where he leads. So again if we are claiming to be one of Jesus' sheep, a Christian, then we must be committed to hearing the shepherd's voice. Otherwise we won't be able to follow him properly. So the second great thing the good shepherd does for us is to lead us.
3) Jesus dies for his sheep
(Acetate 12- 3rd Title) But there's one final thing the good shepherd Jesus does for his sheep and that is that he will die for his sheep. Have a look at verse 11 and see what Jesus says: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." So here Jesus says that he is willing to die for his sheep. (Acetate 13th- Sheep) Now sometimes that would literally happen. A shepherd would sometimes die trying to protect his sheep from a lion or a robber. But it must have been pretty rare. But here Jesus says that he lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus dies for the sheep. Now why would he do that? Well the Bible makes it clear that every one of us here in this building is a bit more like a sheep than we care to think. Because the Bible describes every human being as a sheep which has turned away from the right way to live. So if ever you have been up to the Dales or Moors you'll know that sheep get absolutely everywhere. They stray all over the place. And the Bible says that is actually our problem. We stray away from God's ways. We do not live to please him as we should. (Acetate 14- Isaiah quote) In fact, in one part of the Bible it describes us in this way: "We all like sheep have gone astray. Each one of us have turned to our own way." None us live the way God designed us to live which was with him as our King. We all want to do our thing and live our way. And the trouble with that is that God will hold us accountable for our actions. There's a penalty to face for doing what we want instead of what God wants. And because the crime of ignoring God is so very serious, the penalty is death, not just physically, but to be cut off from God ever.
But Jesus says that as the good shepherd he lays down his life for the sheep. And that is precisely what Jesus has done. (Acetate 15- Cross) Because when Jesus died on the cross, he was taking the penalty each one of us deserves for our attitude towards God and the way we live our lives without loving the God who made us. And because Jesus died on the cross in our place, it means we can be forgiven and set free and live a new life which pleases God. We can become Jesus' sheep. We can become part of his flock, which is actually the best way to live.
Now some of you will have seen this illustration before, but it's very helpful for helping us to understand what the cross of Jesus means. Now I have here a video. And imagine if on this video there was the whole of my life. It says "Nathan's Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine if it contained not just the things I have done, but also every thought that has gone through my brain and everything I have ever said. Now that would be some video. I tell you now, it would not be fit for a family service, in fact it would not even get into the cinema because it would be so horrible and foul. It would have to be rated at least triple X. So here on this video is my entire life. A terrible thing to watch. But I have also got another video. This one says "Jesus' Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine that this video contains everything Jesus has ever said and done. It would be a beautiful thing to watch. It would be classified 'U' because it would be suitable for all to see, such is its beauty and love. Now when Jesus died on the cross for your and my wrongdoing, it was as if Jesus took my life, and that triple X rated material and took it on himself. He took it away so I would not have to deal with the consequences of my life before God. But in its place he put his life. (Swap videos). And so when God looks at Nathan, he sees Jesus' life. And when he looks at Jesus he sees my life. Jesus takes the punishment I deserve for my life of evil. And he gives me a brand new life. Forgiven and cleaned up. And that is why Christianity is such good news. And a Christian is someone who has quite simply accepted that incredible offer of Jesus' on the cross. It's an offer open to all. A Christian has realised he's not perfect and a Christian has accepted that forgiveness Jesus offers. So Christians are not just good people. They are forgiven people.
And how do we receive that forgiveness? Well Jesus actually tells us in verse 9 of our passage. He simply says that we must come to him and we will find forgiveness. In other words admit your need for forgiveness, ask for forgiveness, and begin to live life as God intended. Because as Jesus says in verse 10, true life is found in him. I have come that they may have life and life to the full, says Jesus. And if you have not yet come to Jesus for forgiveness and a fresh start, then what holds you back. Why not accept that gift today, and find life in all its fullness. Because Jesus as the good shepherd offers us life itself and to be the very meaning of life.
(Acetate 16- Summary) So Jesus has taught us thee things about what it means for him to be the good shepherd. It means that he loves his sheep, leads his sheep and dies for this sheep. And today everyone here has the opportunity of becoming one of Jesus' sheep by receiving the forgiveness he offers to us. And only then can we find life in all its fullness.
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