Psalm 23; John 10:11-21
A census-taker once asked a Mom how many children she had. The mother replied, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and…”. “Never mind the names,” the census-taker interrupted, “Just give me the numbers, please.” The mother angrily replied, “They don’t have numbers, they all have names!” While this might be a funny story, in our modern world this is so true. We are often reduced to numbers and statistics. In this day and age, we are no longer identities, only our “number” is. No wonder many people today have an “identity crisis.” Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ is not like this. He knows each and every one of us by our names, just like a shepherd knows each and every one of the sheep in his flock. After all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
We Are Helpless on our Own
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said twice in John chapter 10:11 and John 10:14. Of all the “I am” Statements, this one is probably the most popular “I am” and most loved for two basic reasons. First, each of us instinctively knows how desperately we need a shepherd. Deep down inside we know that we need guidance and leadership. Deep down inside we know that we need shepherding to make our way down the roads of life. I mean, think about it. How many times in the past week you have asked someone for their opinion on a decision that you needed to make? I am sure numerous times. We all ask for help and guidance.
It’s a commonly held belief that sheep tend to wander off easily, perhaps because they can’t see very far ~ less than 15 yards. They are near-sighted. And, no matter how many times you bring wayward sheep back, they are prone to wander off again. Moreover, sheep are defenseless and dependent. They don’t have much of a bite… no natural defense—no claws, no horns, no fangs. They have no camouflage, so when they are being chased by a wolf they are out of luck. They are vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. To make matters worse, sheep are easily frightened and confused. It doesn’t take much to scramble the simple mental yolk of a nervous sheep. They’ve even been known to plunge straight over the edge of a high cliff in a panic, one following right after another. They definitely need guidance! So, we are drawn to this fourth “I am” statement because we know we need a shepherd.
No One is more Qualified than Jesus for this Task
Not only do we need a shepherd, but second, Jesus is the only One who is qualified for this task. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says in John 10:11. I want you to know this morning that God doesn’t compare us to sheep so often in His Word to put us down. The Israelites knew what sheep were capable of and so they didn’t take offense at being called sheep. We are likened to sheep so that we understand (1) We need constant care and guidance. Look at what Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Mark 9:36 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Scriptures like these should remind us that we have an inborn need for a Shepherd and second, Jesus is the only One who is qualified for this task.
The Good Shepherd: Comfort and Challenge
No doubt that the fourth “I am” Statement brings to us so much comfort and encouragement, and at the same time puts before us a huge challenge. The comfort and encouragement, as you can tell, in knowing that we have the best Shepherd ever. In Psalm 23 we see the Shepherd as our friend, our leader, our sufficiency, our comforter, our assurance, and our eternity. He is the only one who could say in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Best friends might leave us. Parents might abandon their children. People may fail us. But Jesus will never disown His followers. John chapter 10 puts right before our own eyes the comfort and the challenge.
Listening to and Following the Good Shepherd
Again, the comfort and encouragement come from the fact that we have the best Shepherd ever. John 10:14 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” The challenge is found in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The challenge for us today is to listen to the Shepherd’s voice and follow His directions. This is the Christian faith in a nutshell. The is the ABC’s of the Christian faith. We are to listen and follow.
Let me give you an illustration from the Middle East today. It is fascinating having seen it myself when we lived in Egypt. This is the same exact thing that Jesus is talking about in Palestine two thousand years ago. So, let us envision a group of shepherds tending their flock. Although several flocks might gather at a sheep pen or at the same watering hole, shepherds don’t try to keep them apart, because when a shepherd is ready to leave, he or she gives off a distinctive call or whistle or song and the flock gathers to that shepherd. It is amazing. They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd's voice, and it is the only one they will follow. When we lived in Egypt, I tried once to imitate a shepherd. I dressed like a shepherd, sang the same song, and called the flock to follow me. I got their attention for a second but not even a single one followed me. It would seem that sheep aren’t all that dumb after all; they know whom they can trust and whom not to trust, and they respond only to that one voice. If we are Christians, we are to listen and follow the voice of the shepherd.
Friends, so many voices call out to us every day. They appeal to our emotions, our needs, our desires, our pride, and our fears. They prey upon our sense of rootlessness, that nomadic spirit that has infected our age. And into this spiral of confusion, we hear Jesus saying to us: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”
We should always be expecting to hear from God, because God always has something to say. Remember God is the Word in John 1:1. God the Word, is always and ever speaking and so we need to pay attention – to be in right place, at the right time, with the right attitude; we need to shut out distractions. We need to reduce the clutter and the noise; to have a clear focus in a very distracted culture.
In the Reformed (Presbyterian) tradition, we are taught to listen both individually and collectively. Left to our own devices, without the wisdom of the community, individuals can sometimes imagine that God is saying all manner of things, but all individual understandings are to be checked out within the community of the faith. It is as members of the Body that we can best clarify all that God has to say to us and for us. Therefore, we need one another in the church, we need one another so that we might all hear, understand, and rejoice in the Master’s voice. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, July 21st & August, 4th, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
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