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Shepherd

Sermon: The Good Shepherd

Sunday 1st May 2022
Revd Tony Cantlow

One of the distinctive features of St John’s Gospel is that he records seven sayings that are not to be found in the other three Gospels; the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus introduces himself to us as The Good Shepherd, and in common with each of the I am sayings, it is followed by a description of himself: ‘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’. This is an image that runs through scripture. God was always the shepherd of his people. From the moving words of the 23rd Psalm through to passages like that of our first reading from Ezekiel: ‘As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered’.

And Jesus also clarifies a distinction: the hired hand tends the sheep for a wage, while the good shepherd does it for love. The good shepherd knows the sheep and is committed to them. Jesus is not merely doing a job. He is committed, to love us, guide us and even lay down his life for us.

So, here it is important to remember that we are not only New Testament Christians, but whole-bible Christians. All of the I am sayings are linked to Jesus’ remarkable statement in John chapter 8 where he declares: ‘Before Abraham was, I Am’.

By describing himself as the pre-existent ‘I Am’, Jesus is identifying himself with the way in which God revealed himself in the Old Testament. God, in that grand moment of self-disclosure and self-revelation in Exodus 3, declares to Moses and the Israelites, ‘I am who I am’. All seven of the I Am sayings are rooted and grounded in this revelation, and all go on to employ an answer to the question: Who are you, Jesus?

Well, he is the great I am, our God and creator, who exists from eternity to eternity, and yet comes into the world and says, I am the good shepherd, I am the bread of life, I am the true vine, and so on.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus shares three different ways in which he is the good shepherd: Jesus lays down his life for his sheep. He knows his sheep. And there shall be one fold, or one flock, and one shepherd. All of which are good news for his flock.

Notice that he does not simply ‘give’ his life for his sheep, but he lays it down. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. That means he lays down his life on behalf of the sheep, for the sake of the sheep. He dies that they may live. He dies that we, his flock, may live.

Secondly, he knows his flock, and they know him. Jesus knows the sheep from the goats. He knows those who truly trust in him for salvation, and those who don’t. Jesus knows his sheep, and they know him. Jesus knows us, probably more than we know him. And the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. They know the voice of the one who loves them, feeds them, guides them, and cares for them. And because they know his voice, they follow him wherever he leads.

Jesus knows both the sheep who are under his care now and also those who will come under his care in the future. He says in verse 16: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd…and there shall be one flock under one shepherd.” Here, Jesus is referring to the Gentiles. Salvation is not only for the Jewish people, but for everyone who place their faith in Jesus.

Jesus’ mission is worldwide. We, his flock, the Church, must follow in the character and mission of the good shepherd. To draw people into the reality of God’s loving guidance and grace. We, who hear the gospel and respond are Jesus’ sheep. We must echo the voice of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. We must share his good news with those around us, in our neighbourhoods and in our workplaces. “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

This is the ultimate goal of Christ’s mission. The wolf scatters and divides, but Jesus gathers into one flock and Jesus is speaking about the unity of the body of Christ. As Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, which we commemorated on Good Friday, not only reconciles us with God, but with each other. “I will gather all my sheep, and (as we have heard) there shall be one flock under one shepherd.”

In verse 17 following on from our gospel reading, Jesus says ‘I lay down my life that I may take it again’. The good news does not end with the death of the Good Shepherd, but that he rose again and gives us life. He continues to guide us, nourish us and be with us each and every day through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each of us need a guiding force in our lives. So, I ask, who is your shepherd today? What kind of care does your shepherd provide for you? Does he lead you in green pastures, beside the still waters? Does he restore your soul? Does he guide you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake?

Let us look upon and rejoice in the gift and grace of THE Good Shepherd, who loves us and laid down his life for us, so that we may gather, as we do today, to render our thanks and praise, and follow him for ever.