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"Good Shepherd"

July 3, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 10:1-18, Psalm 23

Worship Service Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCFprtc-Ajk

 

The Good Shepherd

John 10:1-21

July 3, 2022

Read John 1:1-21

This is the Word of the LORD.

It is God’s providence to have this text on this particular Sunday when we remember the birth of our nation.  Normally on July 4, I spend some time watching “1776,” the musical which retells the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Early in the debates over the call to seek independence from England, Ben Franklin explains why revolt against the King was necessary.

Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed than this entire continent by the British crown.  Our industry discouraged; our resources pillaged; … first of all our very character stifled.  We’ve spawned a new race here, Mr. Dickinson.  Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined.  We’re a new nationality.  We require a new nation.

I think today, how important was Franklin’s opening observation, “Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed…”  Our national discourse has so focused on what is wrong that we have forgotten what is right.  We have forgotten to be grateful.

Gratitude is appropriate – even while recognizing the shortcomings and failings of our history.  There is much for which to be grateful.  The lives we lead, the opportunities we have, the freedoms we enjoy; all of these are the fruit borne out of the vision of those Founding Fathers sweltering in the hazy, hot, humid summer of Philadelphia in 1776.  And, beyond that, it was the fruit of the vision borne out of sacrifice.

I hope you can see how gratitude for our American heritage is a small-worldly example of the gratitude we have to God for His saving grace in Jesus Christ.  The lives we lead, the opportunities we have, the freedom from sin and the fear of death that we enjoy; all these are borne out of the deep abiding love God has for his children.  We are grateful for the walk of Jesus made to fulfill God’s redemptive revolution.

As we work through the text today, I want to encourage you – us – to do so with eyes of faith and hearts of gratitude for the sacrifice on our behalf that we might have life – and life abundant.

               Knowing His Voice

Jen and I grew up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia.  We lived in a neighborhood that was filled with activity.  My brother and I had it made as boys.  Across the street from our house lived the Mazzios: Victor, Steven, and Beanie (whose real name is Chris).  They were always a great source of entertainment.  Just a few houses away lived the Finley’s: Michael and Daniel.  Perhaps our closest friends were the Houser boys.  As we grew up, other boys moved in: the McCarthy’s, Nickie Catenza.  As we got closer to our teenage years, there was a younger class of boys: Jen’s brother, Jeff; Ted Kelly, Eric Gunther, Brian Finley and Vincent Mazzio.

Most days were spent playing sports or swimming – either at St. Anthony’s or at Jen’s family swimming pool.  It was a great place to grow up.  Everyone knew the boundaries to the neighborhood: Greenhill Road and Phoenixville Pike.  You could go that far, but no farther.  The other boundary was behind the Mazzios and Finleys: there was a cornfield where we would go and explore and have adventures.  It was great for hide and seek, for corncob fights, and for capture the flag.  In the spring, you would hear Mr. Hicks (our neighborhood was originally part of his farm) planting the field.  By early June, the corn would be about 2 feet high.  By July 4, it would be above most of our heads.  The heat and humidity of those days would culminate in a huge thunderstorm.  The rain would come down in sheets and you could see the steam rise from the street.  Afterwards, the air would be clean and clear, and we would thrill to see the fireflies.  Because there was no such thing as year-round school, there was an incredible freedom to those summer days.  When the storms had cleared through, little by little and one by one, we would all head outside.

The night games were always the most fun.  “We’re going out!” my brother and I would shout to our parents as we ran out.  We would be half way across the front yard when we would hear the screen door slam back shut.  “Be back by dark,” would come the distant response.

The same ritual was played out in most of the homes in our neighborhood.  Then the games would begin.  “Being back by dark” was not a precisely defined time.  What constituted dark for most parents was still plenty light for us.  Our thinking was, if you can see the shadow of someone else running across an open area, “dark” was yet to come.

At some point, Act 2 of the ritual began where parents would call for their children. They would call us by name; though the reality was that we would be deep enough in the cornfield or around the neighborhood to not be able to make out clearly whose name was being called.  The voice and the inflection were usually a sufficient give-away.  Not only could you tell who was being called, but the urgency.  There was five-minute warning – followed a half hour later by the “right now” call – followed another fifteen minutes by the “I mean it, mister” call that had to be obeyed.  Delaying past that was risking the full name call, “Robert Bruce Davis, right this minute” which meant that trouble was waiting.

As a suburban kid, I do not know anything about sheep.  I do, however, remember those nights and can tell you for sure that we knew our parents’ voices.  We knew them well.  We were safe as long as we were in earshot.  We had as much freedom as we could stand running around those days and nights.  If some other adult whose voice we did not know called, we paid no attention.   We would have run or stayed hidden in the cornfield.

How did we know our parents’ voices?  We knew because we belonged to them.  We knew their voices because we spent time with them.  We regularly listened to them.  By the time we were teenagers, we were embarrassed by them because we thought they sounded uncool to everyone else.  I was convinced that I could spot my Mom all the way across Veterans Stadium – where the Phillies played – just by hearing her laugh.

This is the illustration Jesus was using in John 10.  Although it is a bit confusing up front to figure out who is whom in the story – is Jesus the shepherd or the gatekeeper? – the point is clear: Jesus’ voice is the one we must know and follow for life.

As a reminder: Jesus was still addressing the crowd that had witnessed his granting sight to the man blind from birth.  After the man had multiple interviews with the authorities trying to discern the nature and/or authenticity of the miracle – and after those same authorities refused to recognize Jesus’ identity – Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains.’”  That sets the scene for Jesus’ discussion of the role of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus’ illustration of the shepherd leading the sheep out and in was a familiar biblical theme for the Jews.  For example, in the Exodus narrative, after Sinai and the giving of the Law, the LORD showed Moses the Promised land he would not enter.  Moses asked God, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  God appointed Joshua.  (Numbers 27:12-23)

Jesus was telling the Pharisees – the good, reputable, respected church leaders (at least, in their own eyes) – that they were thieves and bandits because they did not recognize the shepherd of the sheep.  People were repelled by them because they were not speaking with the voice of the shepherd.  They spoke out of their own righteousness, judging and condemning the sins of others while excusing their own.

That needs to be a wake-up call for us.  Instead of being grateful for the blessing of God’s favor and forgiveness, the Pharisees and good church people took for granted their position and felt license to express judgment over others.  That subtle shift impacted how they treated others – instead of encouragement it was judgment. Instead of freedom and joy, it was restriction and lament.  Instead of equipping the people to experience the fullness and abundance of God, the Pharisees took away joy from worship.  Instead of exhorting what could be done, they were the wet blanket talking about what could not be done.  They forgot the nature of their relationship with the shepherd and did not recognize his voice.

The Gate

John wrote that the people did not understand.  So, Jesus approached it from a slightly different angle, “I am the gate for the sheep.”  Again, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

I want to stop and reflect on this a moment.  For a lot of people, this is a tough saying. It is a tough saying because Jesus is unambiguously clear that it matters how you answer the question, “Who do you say I am?”  Jesus is not one way among many that lead to God.  Jesus is not just a window through which God’s light shines and there are many other windows.  Jesus is the gate.  The one gate.  There is no other gate.

I have been around enough to know that people will wonder, “Well, that’s just the pastor speaking.  He is supposed to say that.”  No, friends, this is not just me.  In fact, it is not me at all.  These are the words of Jesus himself.  And if Jesus is to be believed at all, we have to take him at his word here.  The next question people ask is, “What about ____________ (you fill in the blank)?  Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or Jews.  Jesus is the shepherd, and his flock knows his voice.  Jesus is the gate and only those who enter by him will be saved.  Yes, Jesus said that there are other sheep that do not belong to this flock; those would be the Gentiles who would come to faith.  Note this: they, too, will listen to His voice.

Jesus’ point was this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

We are six months into our study of John’s gospel.  Every miracle, every sign, every word Jesus spoke in the gospel thus far has been life giving.  It is his character, it is his way of being, it is his purpose to give life to those who receive him.  Chapter 5, he gave the woman at the well living water.  Chapter 6, he gave the crowds bread and fish.  Chapter 8, he gave life to the woman caught in adultery.  Chapter 9, he gave the blind man sight.  He is the Giver of Life – and none other has the power, authority, or ability to do that.  Refusing to see that is blindness.  Refusing to believe that is hardness of heart.  Refusing to accept his life is not life – it is death.  “Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Abundant life is life in Jesus.  Abundant life is the life of the Kingdom of God.  It is not pie-in-the-sky and bye-and-bye; it is here and now.  Abundant life means the freedom to live for Christ. It is the already-not yet paradox of our lives here: we are already citizens of the kingdom of God looking forward to the not-yet fully realized and manifested reality of face-to-face communion with God.  Abundant life is the blessing of community, it is the blessing of purpose, it is the blessing of fulfillment.  It is the wonder of living into the chief end of man: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  It is the hope of the Good News that we have, and we can share with others.

And the opposite also is true: abundant life does not happen without Jesus.

When we get caught up in the here and now, in material belongings, in personal achievements and success, in satisfying our own will and desires – we find that the quiet times are very lonely.  We fill those quiet times with television, with other distractions, or anything to keep us from seeing just how hollow things are.  In a demographic study of Carson City[1] – the largest group of people list no church affiliation (44%) and the highest “felt need” is for entertainment.  Entertainment.

Entertainment is fleeting; the rule is to “leave ‘em wanting more.”  Jesus is eternal, life in him is abundant. Is your faith life abundant?  If not, why not?

Finally, as Jesus himself pointed out, Jesus is the good shepherd.  He is the shepherd; we are the sheep.  Not the other way around.  Intellectually, we all know this picture and all agree; yes, Jesus is the shepherd.  Yet, if you are anything like me, you will have had this experience: as soon as I walk out of here, I will try to take over the role of shepherd of my life.  I want to tell Jesus what I want him to do.  I want to have Jesus kept safely in the proper perspective; I try to act as if I have my Jesus under control.

I do not.

What about you?  When you leave the sanctuary and the campus here, who is actually in charge of your life? 

Jesus made it clear how important is to recognize the good shepherd’s voice.  What are you doing to help become familiar and intimate with his voice?  Are you spending time in the word, are you following where he leads, are you growing and building your relationship?  Faith is not something we consume.

One of the “Indiana Jones” movies gives a great illustration of what faith feels like. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery – as son and father – are searching for the Holy Grail.  Indiana Jones – Harrison Ford – has to go through a series of deadly challenges in order to reach the prize.  The grail is supposed to have healing and life-giving power, which the wounded father needs in order to survive.  The last of these challenges is looking down into a bottomless chasm.  The hero has to cross it.  The clue is “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.”  Carved above him on the cliff wall is a lion’s head.  The hero climbs up, but there is no way across.  All he can see is down, down, down.  So, closing his eyes, he steps out into the abyss.  It is a great dramatic moment as he lurches forward and his foot lands on an invisible bridge from here to there.  Only in retrospect can Indiana Jones see that the bridge was there the whole time.  That’s what faith feels like.

Faith looks like the story of Abram, an old, old man with no heir, to whom God promised descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky.  Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15)

Faith sounds like the words we read in Scripture.  It sounds like Jesus.  It sounds like Jesus’ voice calling us by name.  He calls us from our wandering.  He calls us from our rebellion.  He calls us from our brokenness.  He calls us because he loves us – you, me, and all of us.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He did.  He did so willingly, and he did so for you and for me.  Listen again to what he said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  I have received this command from my Father.”

Believe on the LORD, and it is reckoned as righteousness.  If you confess with your lips Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9).

So, who are the sheep the good shepherd calls?  The sheep are not those who are depending upon their own judgment and righteousness for salvation.  No, indeed.  It is those who hear his voice and believe on him who will go out and come in.  Jesus’ voice calls out for sinners.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me; See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, Pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not His mercies, Mercies for you and for me?

O for the wonderful love He has promised, Promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me.

Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home![2]

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.  

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  

Communion

The table prepared before me in the presence of my enemies is right here: it is the table Jesus longed to share with his disciples, and the table he commands us to do in remembrance of him.  We heed his voice because he is leading us home.

Out there in the cornfields or running around the neighborhood, we were called by name to come home.  We hear the voice, we know the voice, the one calling loves us and cares for us, and we respond.  We respond because the Good Shepherd is calling us to come home.

Thank you, Lord.

Amen.

 

Invitation to the Table

Questions:

  1. For what are you grateful?  Take a few minutes to reflect on all the blessings and aspects of abundant life you enjoy – and give thanks to God.
  2. How have you heard the voice of the Good Shepherd?  What are the big moments when you have heard his calling?  What are the little moments?
  3. How have you experienced the “leap from the lion’s head”?  When have you been required to step out in faith, not knowing if, when, or how things would turn out

[1] http://www.perceptgroup.com/Home/interactive/ZeroFaith.aspx?ZipCode=89701

[2] Words & Music: Will L. Thompson, in Sparkling Gems, Nos. 1 and 2, by J. Calvin Bushey (Chicago, Illinois: Will L. Thompson & Company, 1880)