Psalm 23, John 10:22-30
April 29, 2007
We’re going back a few weeks now. We’ve followed Jesus along the road to Jerusalem. We’ve been through Holy Week. We’ve celebrated again his Resurrection. And we talked about the way his disciples reacted to that unbelievable event. Now we’re going back and picking up on the perspective of another of the Evangelists. And we’re seeing some of this story through the eyes of St. John. And one of the ways John saw Jesus was in this image of the Good Shepherd.
That’s actually the theme that runs through this entire tenth chapter. When you get a chance, read the whole chapter through and you’ll see. In his Gospel, John often devotes entire chapters to certain stories and themes. In this chapter, there are a number of things happening, but behind it all is this recurring theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” I’d like us to think about that today. That’s a very comforting theme, isn’t it? As we said in our Call to Worship, “We are God’s people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
I served in a Church once that had a beautiful stained glass window right behind the chancel. And it was a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd bringing back the lost sheep over his shoulders. You probably couldn’t have listened to a sermon in that Church without thinking of that image. It’s funny, I’m sure we who preached in that Church didn’t think about it as much as the congregation did. The image was behind us. Again, it was a beautiful and comforting image!
At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus uses this image. He tells how the one who enters the sheepfold by the gate is the true shepherd. Then he declares that he is that true shepherd. And as he continues to paint this picture of the sheep and the shepherd, the people start to wonder what he’s saying about himself. Probably some were excited, but as we read on we find that some were indignant! And that was happening more and more. In verse 19 it says, “Again the Jews were divided because of these words.”
As we think about this, let me ask you this. Do you think those people knew this other passage we read today, the twenty-third psalm? I’m sure they did! They knew their scriptures. I daresay they were “steeped in their faith” more than we in ours. Their religion was their entire lives! And I’ll bet this was even more of a favorite psalm to them than it is to us. These were images from their world. They understood far better than us what it meant to be a shepherd!
One of the things we did while we were in Arizona was go to the Pima County Fair. Has anyone been to a county fair before? What a fun time that was! (Except for the dust!) There were all kinds of animals being shown and judged. Two of our nephews were showing animals called “cavies.” Does anybody know what a cavy is? (Besides Patty.) A cavy is a guinea pig. (Who gets the blue ribbon!) Well, among all the other animals, there were rows and rows of sheep. And that was really neat to see – especially with this sermon on my mind! And I got to thinking about these images of Jesus as the good shepherd. And I wondered about those people who heard Jesus speaking that day, and how sheep were just part of their lives.
With that in mind, let me ask you this. Do you think those people realized that Jesus was casting himself in the image of “The Lord” in “The Lord is my shepherd…”? The answer is, “You’d better believe they did!” Jesus often used those Old Testament images – images they would know – to refer to himself. John recorded a lot those images a lot in his Gospel. He’s the one who gave us the words of Jesus when he said, “I am the bread of life which comes down from heaven.” That was a direct reference to the Manna in the wilderness.
So as this chapter unfolds, as the people heard Jesus talking about himself using these images from their scriptures and from their lives, this controversy about him also became evident. This becomes one of those watershed moments in his ministry where they ask him flat out what he’s saying about himself. “Are you the Christ? Are you the Messiah? Stop beating around the bush! Tell us plainly!” He answered them, “I have told you already. And not only that, I’ve shown you over and over by my works. But you refuse to believe.” Then he goes on to tell about those who do believe, again using this metaphor of the Good Shepherd.
At that point, things really start to heat up. In some of the people’s minds, he was being a “blasphemer.” He was presuming to say he was God. And that was a most serious charge! John tells us “they took up stones again to stone him. This wasn’t the first time! And remember, that was a serious reaction! Because capitol punishment was illegal under Roman Law. That’s why later in Holy Week the Jewish council had to change their charge to something that was punishable under Roman Law.
The more I read this, the more it’s apparent to me, that’s what this passage is about. In fact, that’s what Christianity is about. Jesus is God. He is the second person of the “Trinity.” He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the “Godhead.” That’s something the Church needs to reaffirm in our world. And I think that’s something we need to reaffirm for ourselves now that we’re past the celebration of Easter.
In the recent seminar I attended, we were dealing with the whole idea of living in the Post-Modern age. And one of the leaders talked to us about how the Church in this age is beginning to apologize too much for the role of Jesus. “This is an age,” she said, “where many people are ‘spiritual,’ but many at the same time have an aversion to Jesus and his claims. And the Church is accommodating that too much.” I think she’s right! As she said, we need not to apologize. We need to reaffirm our belief in him. We need to know he is who he said he was.
With all this in mind. I’d like to direct our thoughts this way. I’d like us to think of this idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Using that image, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they know me.” And I’d like to ask, “Is that true?” “Do we know him, and do we hear his voice?” Sheep do know the voice of their shepherd. So I ask you, do we know the voice of our shepherd? And perhaps the more important question, “How do we hear his voice?”
Last week at my brother’s Church, the pastor talked about the importance of hearing God speaking to us. And that’s not an easy thing to get a handle on. I’m sure we would agree it would all be much easier if God would just speak in plain, audible tones that we could hear – like you’re hearing me now. But God doesn’t do that very often, does he. So the pastor asked us to think about the importance of listening.
Think about that. Listening is so important that sometimes I think that’s why God does not speak “out loud” very much. He wants us to learn to listen. But in our world, it’s very difficult to hear God’s voice, isn’t it? There is such a cacophony of sound all around us, all the time. To be able to listen to God, we need to rediscover silence! Think about old Elijah. He heard the voice of God, but it was not in the earthquake, wind, and fire. It was in the silence between. If we are going to hear the voice of the shepherd, we need to learn silence.
Particularly, we need to rediscover that silence in our prayer life! Think about it. When we think prayer, we usually think talking, don’t we? When we pray, we often speak – continually. We speak in practiced formulas, and we go on and on, and then we “sign off” without giving God a chance to speak. Imagine if we talked on the phone like that! What kind of a conversation would it be if we made a call and just started talking, left no room for the other person’s responses, and then hung up – without ever hearing the other person speak! Isn’t that often the same think we do in prayer?
I’d like us to think about spending more of our prayer time just listening. In fact, I’d like us to try some “prayerful silence” right now. I’m going to pause and have us do that in a moment. But please know that it may seem awkward at first. But then you’ll start to get used to it. And if you practice it, not only will it become more comfortable, but you’ll also become better able to hear God’s voice. And hopefully you’ll become better at trusting him, rather than doing all the talking and all the directing. Because prayer is often “God please do it this way!” Isn’t it? Let’s try that now. Pray in silence with me…
I want to close by going back and focusing on one other verse here. In the middle of all this imagery of the sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice, etc… Jesus gives us one of the most important things that we forget most often. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
Do we have that ‘more abundant’ life? Some Christians are content with just the “life eternal” part! We shouldn’t be! We should seek to know the abundant life that Jesus promised! That’s why he came! He came so that this life could be above the mundane. Being his sheep should mean we should live differently. We should know his voice. But we should also know his abundance. Yet how many people in how many Churches have missed that?
Let that not be said of us! Let us seek to know the master’s voice. Let us seek to listen and to find his peace. Let us seek to know the abundance of life he promised us as we live our lives in his presence.
Master help us to know your voice. Help us to listen and to hear when you speak to us. Teach us patience in hearing. Help us to discover your voice in the silence of our hearts. Help us to know your abundance. For we pray in the name of the Good Shepherd, Amen.