The Good Shepherd – Nov. 22, 2020

In 2015, the British stop-animation film company that brought us Wallace and Gromit, released the movie ‘Shaun the Sheep’. Shaun is a clever, confident sheep who is prone to mischief and often a little short-sighted. He lives with his flock at Mossy Bottom Farm on a traditional small Northern English Farm.

Shaun spends most of his time trying to escape the mundane, boring life of a farm animal. He likes to invent new things and play pranks on others. While he often gets in trouble, he is also just as adapt at getting himself and his friends out of it. There is no dialogue, other than his bleating. He communicates with his body language and by drawing diagrams on a blackboard.

The movie launched Shaun the sheep to super-stardom. There have been at least 2 movies, a TV series and many off-shoot projects. He is known world-wide and even has 5.5 Million Facebook fans, more than many real stars. The original movie won many awards and holds an amazing 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

One critic wrote, “Shaun the sheep connects so well because he is just like you and me. And as Isaiah 53:6 explains, ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turning to our own way.’  The creators of Shaun the Sheep know what makes us tick, and that will certainly bring a smile to your lips.”

I have to be honest, being compared to a sheep has never been high on my list of metaphors. It is supposed to indicate that the person being called a sheep is docile, compliant, and easily influenced, basically mindlessly following the herd without thinking. The thing is, we actually have a lot in common with sheep.

In 2007, Leeds University did a series of experiments with volunteers. They asked volunteers to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. Researchers were looking for patterns.

The scientists found that most people end up blindly following one or two people that seem to know where they are going. In fact, 95% of the people follow 5% around without thinking about it. What they discovered is that people have strong pack behavior. Like sheep, we follow the crowd and react in sync with it.

That explains a lot about crowd mentality and crowd influence. In a group we feel safe – or we all panic. We move towards anger and violence or we move in unison toward feelings of peace. We move frantically at Black Friday sales and/or sing together at Sports stadiums. We are pack creatures.

An amazing part of how we act out depends on who is leading, that is why we need a good, strong faithful shepherd. The Bible is filled with warnings about bad shepherds and points us to the greatest shepherd of all.

In John 10:11-16 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand, who is not a shepherd, and whose sheep is not his own, sees a wolf coming, and abandons the sheep and runs away. Then, the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them along also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

In John’s gospel, we find a series of seven ‘I Am’ statements. Jesus said, 

  1. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
  2.  “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
  3. “I am the door of the sheep pen.” (John 10:7,9)
  4. “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
  5. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
  6. “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5)
  7. And “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14)

These tell us a lot about his relationship to the Father, who also said to Moses, “Tell Pharaoh, “I Am – or I am who I am”. Jesus was declaring to all who would listen, that he was God incarnate.

In this passage from John, Jesus is separating himself from the Pharisees and Sadducees and other false prophets. You want a true leader, he was saying, I am the good shepherd. Others took advantage of the people or abandoned them during hard times, but not Him.

Max Lucado writes that most of the people Jesus spoke to were farmers and nomads. He writes, “80% of Jesus’ listeners made their living off the land. Many were shepherds. They lived on the mesa with the sheep. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and no shepherd was ever off duty. When sheep wandered, the shepherd found them. When they fell, he carried them. When they were hurt, he healed them.” (From Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms)

We know what Good Shepherds looked like in the Bible. Abel, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Rachel, the daughters of Jethro and David were all good shepherds. They cared for the sheep, even fought off predators to save their sheep.

David told King Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

A Good Shepherd puts his life on the line for his sheep. Where hired hands run away, the true sheep’s owner defends his sheep. Even to the point that he will give his life to protect them. He does it, in part, because they are meek, easily spooked, and easily misguided.

In the 23rd Psalm we read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Phillip W. Keller writes in his book, ‘A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm’ these words, “The strange thing about sheep is, that because of their very make-up, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down, unless 4 requirements are met.” He says they must be free from fear, free from tension, free from aggravations and hunger. Sound like anyone you know?

The Good Shepherd provides comfort, so we can have peace and rest. Remember what Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. So do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Back to our scripture in John 10; Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep

and my sheep know me.” A good shepherd already knows your faults but he or she loves you anyway. To Know here implies real depth. Jesus knows your secrets, your true desires and your heart. There is nothing you can hide from him. And yet, he loves you to the core of your being.

Notice Jesus also says, “I have other sheep, not of this sheep pen. I must bring them along also.” We are good at creating social structures and classes. Just imagining Jesus saying, “I love others besides the faithful United Methodists, I have Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, and Non-denominational believers too.” But he wouldn’t stop there…

He also has some Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and other people who know him, but don’t fall into any category. Revelation 4:9 reads in part, “And with your blood you purchased mankind for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Let me just say, that is one good and merciful shepherd, wouldn’t you agree?

John 10 continues, “They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” We don’t get to choose who is in or out!

Sheep they say, find great comfort in their master’s voice, it is soothing and calming to them. The same way God’s word can be comforting and soothing to us. Now, don’t get me wrong, God’s word can also be challenging. God is loving but God lays down the guidelines.

In The 23rd Psalm we read, “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” A rod is used to protect the flock, but it can also be used to get your attention. A staff, on the other hand is used to gently guide the sheep to keep them on track. Both provide valuable lessons.

A Staff has a hook on the end. It is used to pull an animal close. It can be used to check for the heath care of the animal or save an animal out of reach. And it can keep an animal on the right path. One shepherd explains, a staff can be a comforting thing, because it reminds you that the shepherd is near, and he is watching over you.

And there shall be one flock and one shepherd. That should remind us of Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and in all, and living through all.”

The beauty of a Good Shepherd is that he never gives up on you. No matter how far off the path we wander, the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 in pursuit of the lost one. (Luke 15:4)

Ezekiel 34:11-13 reads, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” 

On this Christ the King Sunday, we see the true nature of Jesus. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

His was a rescue mission. One in which he was willing to lay down his life, so that we could be forgiven and free. And the truth is, this is why some reject him. They ask; How can an all-powerful God love and sacrifice like Jesus did? They believe that made him weak.

But that is what a Good Shepherd does. He thinks about us first. He loves us, even before we knew him. Listen to 1 John 4:18-20, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 

We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

God loves us because he created us and still desires us. He has seen us for what we are and loves us despite it. That is because God sees our potential when we are in him. I know, when we look in the mirror, we see flaws; at least I do. But when God looks at me, he looks past that and smiles.

That is our Good Shepherd. That is your Good Shepherd. He knows you and he adores you. That to me, is better than any conquering king or righteous judge. Jesus is the lover of your soul.

Ezekiel 34:13-15 finishes like this, “I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

There will be no worries, no fear, no tensions, aggravations or hunger. In Christ, you will hunger or thirst no more because you will know joy, be fulfilled, and at peace. (Revelation 7:16) And you will be loved by a Good Shepherd who never leaves you or forsakes you. That is what Jesus promises.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to sing,

“O victory in Jesus, My Savior, forever. 

He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood;

He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him,

he plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.” 

If you don’t know the Good Shepherd, it is not too late. He loves you and desires for you to be part of his flock and part of a community of believers. All it takes to begin this journey is to acknowledge Him, confess your sins, repent (turn away from them) and then turn toward the Good Shepherd.

If you do that, you will find the peace you seek. Let’s pray…

“And all God’s People said, Amen”