The good shepherd John 10:11-18
Headline grabbers. Let me list some for you. ‘Bikies united!. Weapons of mass destruction! The recession we had to have! These are some famous headlines. Headlines are designed to grab our attention, to turn our head and stop us in our tracks. But have you noticed they say very little? Have you realized that nothing becomes of a headline? There’s no facts or substantiated claims. That’s because a headline is just that; a headline…attention seeking statements meant to sell newspapers.
We could see Jesus statement ‘I am the good shepherd, I lay down my life for my sheep’ as just a headline grabber; a bold but empty statement to get our attention. We could say that nothing has come of it, but the facts about Jesus being the ‘good shepherd’ are too great to ignore. Yes, we could say Jesus claim was just a headline, except he acted on his word, went to the cross and died. We could say Jesus’ words ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to take it up again,’ was an empty boast, but historical fact and substantiated human statements from 500 who saw him, state that he had risen from the grave.
Jesus was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day and rose again from the dead. We say this each week in the creed. This is not just an empty saying, a cold and stale statement of history; a headline grabber. This is what we believe and know is true. What you and I say in this creed is that Jesus ‘is’ who he said he was. He is our good shepherd and the good shepherd of every person on earth, whether they know his voice or not. He is the good shepherd because he lays his life down for the sheep and takes it up again on his own accord. Just like we might deliberately lay down for a nanny nap knowing we will get up again whenever we want.
Jesus said his is not like a hired shepherd, a false shepherd. You can imagine the biblical scene of a hired shepherd guarding the sheep grazing the pastures. A wolf comes, who as we know, can kill both the shepherd and the sheep. For the sake of his own life, the hired shepherd runs from danger, leaving the sheep to fend for them selves. The sheep have trusted in a false shepherd and have no hope against such a foe and will certainly be killed. This sort of shepherd is a headline grabber; a shepherd by name but not by action.
Without Jesus as our shepherd, we are those sheep trusting in a headline grabber, a hired shepherd, as Isaiah says ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.’ All of us have turned our own way and hired our own shepherd for our souls. Which means when the devil attacks, either by tempting us to sin, or by making us fear God’s anger and condemnation, our trust for protection and deliverance is in another shepherd.
If its not in Jesus, we had better find out where our confidence lay for overcoming temptation and the accusations of the devil and get rid of it before it gets rid of us. Do we trust in our willpower to say ‘no’ or our moral upbringing to stand up to the devil’s attack? When alone by the computer or TV with easy access to explicit sexual scenes, are we able to withstand temptation to watch by our own hired shepherd of willpower? Or when tempted to gossip or lie, cheat someone of money or to seek revenge, can we rely on our favourite psychologist to stop us or change our desires?
What hired shepherd do we have to protect us when the devil reminds us of God’s anger against us when we sin? Will our self-justification stand up to God’s judgment? Did Adam’s ‘she made me do it?’ Or our previous good deeds, or upright life ‘I go to church’. ‘I worked hard to support the ministry of our church!’ be enough to excuse us?
These and any shepherd other than Jesus is a hired shepherd and will desert us to be devoured by the devil and God’s wrath, just like the hired shepherd run when he saw the wolf. Our headline grabbing shepherds, the ones we have hired, will leave us in an instant. They have no power to stop us from sinning and no power to save us from the anger of God wrath.
I heard on the radio news with sadness the other day, of a policeman who was caught in the devil’s attack of sexual attraction to teenage boys. He tried to get help for his sexual desires by seeing a psychologist and a number mental health nurses. No one could help him overcome his sin. Finally, he was caught with pornographic photos of boys and was subsequently jailed; his life and those closest to him now ruined because he sought help from hired shepherds. All of us have experienced a time when our false shepherd left us all alone to fall into sin; to be attacked by the devil.
St Peter warns us ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith’. How do we resist the devil, sin and temptation and even death? Standing firm in the faith; faith in the good shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ. The true shepherd has overcome the devil by allowing the roaring lion to devour him instead of us, his sheep. Instead of us paying for the consequences of sin, Jesus took our sin upon himself, voluntarily, and died on the cross, as Isaiah foretold ‘the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The sheep are safe as long as the shepherd is being devoured. You and I are safe from eternal death because Jesus has died in our place, as St Paul states ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ But what happens when the wolf is finished with the shepherd? Are the sheep left to defend for themselves? Are we all alone? Has Jesus died and left us to fend for ourselves against the devil’s continuing attacks? If so, what was the point of Jesus death in our place?
Jesus is the good shepherd because he is the resurrection and the life. Not only did he lay down his life for us his sheep, but he took it up again and now he lives to eternally protect us in all places and at all times. Jesus laid down his life on his own accord to pay the dept of sin, knowing he will rise again to defeat the power of the devil. ‘I have authority to lay my life down and authority to take it up again.’ Jesus takes up his life to continue to be a shepherd of our souls, only now through his death, resurrection and ascension, he can be with us and protect us every single hour of the day, as he promised ‘Lo, I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.’
When Peter said ‘resist the devil, stand firm in the faith’, he means to trust that Jesus has paid our dept to sin; for his sake God no longer condemns us. He means to stand firm, despite the devil and the world attacking us. To trust that Jesus is alive to be our personal shepherd, available to call on any time for deliverance from evil. We can be certain Jesus will protect and deliver us because he said
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ And what is even more radical is to trust that he is bodily present in and with the bread and wine to give us the forgiveness we need each day, and to trust that we are actually communing with the good shepherd. Stand firm then and receive from your good shepherd the peace of God that passes all understanding because even though the devil still attacks us, he cannot steal you away from him, for Jesus is our good shepherd and he is always on guard.