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Sermon August 27, 2017

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1316

Dr. Ed Pettus August 27, 2017 John 10:11-18

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“The Good Shepherd”

 

 

  • He Lays Down His Life

 

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

 

 

Jesus says four times in this passage that He lays down His life. Like a shepherd who gives his life for the sheep, Jesus lays down His life for His people. Every time I read this passage I also remember John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

When I couple this verse with John 10 I think about laying down one’s life in two different ways. First is what we might think first, that Jesus gave His life on the cross. Jesus gave his physical life as a sacrifice by dying for us that we might know the forgiveness of sin. Secondly, I think about Jesus laying down His life by coming to earth and living among us as a servant. That is He gave of His life, laying it down as a servant. Mark 10:45 says that Jesus came to serve: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This verse includes both service and sacrifice. Jesus laid down His life in that He served and in that He died.

The apostle Paul tells us to share this attitude with Jesus. Philippians 2:5-8,

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Here again Paul describes the laying down of life in two ways, emptied Himself to become a servant and obedience to the point of death. This is the expression of God’s love for us. He gave His Son and His Son came willingly for both service and sacrifice. We respond by giving our lives back to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). We seek to empty ourselves that we might be servants of God. The Bible speaks of that as self-denial, taking up our cross and following Jesus. Paul says it this way, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). We seek to become like Christ and share in His life, death, and resurrection.

 

 

  • To Know and Be Known

 

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

 

The shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their shepherd. When I was studying spiritual direction and spiritual disciplines many years ago, I came across an author who said that we take another step toward spiritual maturity when we “realize that we are realized”. I’ve appreciated that phrase for many years because I think it expresses well the relationship we share with Jesus. When we realize that we are realized, that is, when we come to understand that Jesus knows us, to know that we are known is a sense of intimacy that goes well beyond knowing about Jesus or simply thinking of ourselves as “mere Christians”.

Parker Palmer has said that “the act of knowing is an act of love”1. Think about those whom we know the most, these are the people closest to us and the people we love the most (hopefully!). At that moment when we start to like or love someone, our desire is to get to know them more and more. Palmer speaks of prayer as the act of knowing and loving. It is one of the disciplines that helps us know that we are known. In prayer we develop a deeper relationship with God who knows us and we come to know and love God. There are other things of course, scripture study and fellowship. We utilize whatever disciplines and practices we can to get to know Christ. The next point we examine is training ourselves to hear Jesus’ voice.

 

 

  • Hearing His Voice

 

16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

I remember in the late 70’s when Star Wars was the movie event of the year. I, like millions of other people, wanted to see Star Wars several times and I stood in line like those other folks to see the special effects and listen to the voice. You know the one, Darth Vader. Anyone could have been inside that helmet, but the voice made the character who he was. The heavy breathing, the low gruff tone, all made for a great science fiction villain. We all wanted to know the identity of the voice.

Jesus said that there was another fold and they will listen to my voice. We know that hearing and listening can be defined differently. Wives know that husbands often hear but don’t really listen! Moms and dads know that children might hear but not really listen, because listening involves obeying as well. To truly hear and listen is to respond, like the Hebrew Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). To hear was to know that we have been commanded to love God and then to do it. To listen to the voice of Jesus is to do what He commands. Our task is to come to recognize the only voice we need to hear and obey.

One of our distractions are the multitude of voices we hear daily. There are the voices of our society uttered in many ways: television, movies, advertising, politics, economics, culture, and all the ways we “hear” our social surroundings. Another powerful voice is the voice of self. Sometimes we think of our inner voice as listening to our conscious. We hope we have “common sense” within ourselves to lead and guide us. But even that voice can lead us astray for we cannot rely on human reason. There are other voices still. We also hear the voices of parents, teachers, peers, poets, preachers, and so on, who speak words to us and to others we overhear. All of these voices are a part of who we have become and will become. They are the voices in our lives, the voices we have heeded from time to time. There are the really bad voices that are evil, voices of sin, voices of temptation, voices of all kinds that seek to distract us from hearing and particularly obeying the voice of Jesus. So we train our ears, train our eyes, our hearts and minds to listen to Jesus that we might follow and not be easily distracted.

 

  • He Takes Up His Life

 

17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

 

Jesus obediently laid down His life but He also took it up again. God raised Him from the dead. He was resurrected. It is the message we proclaim as the good news for the world. The Easter message of salvation and hope. John’s gospel is the only one that expresses Christ as taking up His life again. The other gospels express it as God raising Him from the dead. It is a small difference perhaps, surrounded by the mystery of the Trinity and how God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit function. Somehow, God raises Jesus from the dead and it is the same thing as Jesus taking up His life again. We do not propose the ability to explain it, only to know that Jesus gave His life and took it up again. He was dead and now it alive. He was crucified and is risen. The questions of how and who are not nearly as crucial to the story as the understanding that the Good Shepherd has completed His charge from the Father in complete obedience and love.

 

 

 

  • The Good Shepherd

 

11I am the good shepherd.

14I am the good shepherd.

 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd? In Psalm 23 it is sufficient to call the Lord our shepherd. Here, in John’s gospel, Jesus is the good shepherd. Two possibilities exist: Israel had many bad shepherds in its history. Jeremiah 10:21 was one indictment of the leaders of Israel, For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.”

 

Or in Ezekiel 34:1-6,

 

The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

The second possibility is that Jesus was referring to the current leadership of Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees. They too were acting stupid and did not truly know God or inquire of God. Jesus is the complete opposite of all those bad shepherds. He truly is the Good Shepherd. He looks after the sheep. He gathers the scatters. He feeds and tends and leads beside still waters.

Jesus states “I am the Good Shepherd.” It is another “I am” statement that reveals the character and attribute of the God who is “I am”. It builds on our understanding of the great Psalm we hold dear in Psalm 23. The Lord is our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life, knows us and is known to us, He speaks to us, and He took up His life. All this for us, that we might know God and be reconciled to Him. Such is the power of God’s love and mercy. Such is the grace of God. Such is the living God we serve and proclaim, sharing the Good News of the Good Shepherd. Amen.

1Parker Palmer, To Know as we Are Known, pg. 8.