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April 22, 2018

Sermon John 10:14 . . .“Bible places:  the Shepherd’s Fold”

“Bible places:  the Shepherd’s Fold”

John 10:14

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Just a couple of years ago, back in June of 2016, a flock of a sheep took over the streets of Huesca, a town in northeastern Spain.

Apparently, their shepherd was guiding the herd to summer pastures in the Pyrenees mountains.  But he was tired, so he laid down, set his alarm for 7:00 a.m., then promptly fell asleep.

But at right about 4:30 in the morning, the police got a call from a concerned local resident.  And sure enough, when the police arrived, there they were, all 1,300 of them, flocking through the city streets.  

Eventually, the police managed to lead the sheep out of the city, and find their shepherd, who, by the way, was still sleeping.

Throughout the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus described Himself at many different times in many different ways.  He said:  “I am the Resurrection and the Life…I am the Light of the world…I am the Living water…I am the Bread of Life…I am the Door…I am the Vine…I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  And with each name He said something about Himself and what He came to do.

But in the book of John, He said one thing more.  Please turn with me in your Bibles to page 1140, as I read our text.  John chapter 10, verse 11:  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me.”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about sheep.  When you come from Detroit, there’s some things you know, and a lot of things you don’t know.  

But one thing I do know is that sheep are not the smartest creatures on the farm.  Taking first place, they tell me, is the pig, about as smart, they say, as a three-year-old child.  Pigs are good problem solvers.  They apparently even know how to play video games.  

Rats are smart.  Older, more experienced ones learn how to shake a trap until it springs, then steal the bait.  Some will even warn younger ones to avoid poisonous bait.  

But coming near the bottom of the list, just above the chicken, is the lowly, little sheep.

You’ve seen trained apes, trained elephants, trained dolphins, but trained sheep?  Probably not and probably never will.  They’re just too simple-minded.

And when you think of sheep, you might think of clean, little, fluffy balls of cotton like they draw on greeting cards.  But if you’ve ever seen the southern end of a northbound herd, you know better.  They’re dirty and wayward.  They wander off and, no matter how many times you bring him back, they’ll probably wander off again.

Even more, sheep are defenseless and dependent--no claws, no horns, no fangs, not even a stink like a skunk.  And to make matters worse, they’re top-heavy and their legs are spindly.  And with no camouflage whatsoever, when a wolf chases them, they’re pretty much out of luck.  They are definitely not the king-of-the forest.

In a book called, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, author Phillip Keller writes, “As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bear, or other enemies, the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives.  They have little or no means of self-defense.  They’re helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run.”

In the words of Max Lucado, “Behold the hero of the American west:  the cowboy.  Behold the hero of the Bible:  the shepherd.  On the surface, he appears similar to the cowboy.  He’s rugged.  He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl.  Never off duty.  Always alert.  Like the cowboy, he makes the stars his roof and the pasture his home.”

But that’s where the similarities end.  A shepherd lead his sheep to be shorn.  A cowboy leads his cows to slaughter.  The cowboy drives the cattle.  The shepherd leads the sheep.  The cowboy wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes.  The shepherd leads, guides, feeds, and anoints.  The cowboy whoops and hollers.  The shepherd calls each one by name.

And here, in the book of John, of all things, this is what Jesus said:  “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.”

At the time of Christ, shepherds were very different than they are today.  Flocks were small, usually a dozen sheep or less.  And a shepherd and his sheep were inseparable, because he lived with them, and they with him, morning, noon, and night.  Each sheep had its own name and each seemed to know it.

And in the ancient world, shepherds marked their sheep, not with a brand that would ruin the wool, but with a notch in the ear.  And a good shepherd could look at a huge flock of sheep and pick out which ones were his simply by looking at their ear.  He knew them that well.

But as beautiful a picture it is of Jesus as our Good Shepherd, we sometimes wish He would have called us something other than sheep.  But that’s what the prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each has turned his own way.  A psalmist wrote, “Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”  And in the book of Mark, the Bible tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Just like sheep, we wander away.  Just like sheep, we go astray.  

But even though we are so very much like sheep, we have a Good Shepherd.  And this is what He said: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.  And I lay down My life for the sheep.”

And what comfort that is to know.  Jesus knows you inside and out.  He knows things about you that no one else will ever know.  He knows your thoughts.  He knows the struggles you carry in your heart.  He knows your needs.  He knows your hurt.  He feels your pain.

And I hope you know Him too.  And I hope you know Him not just as a Shepherd, but as a Savior who walks beside you every day.  “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus said.  “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”

In October of 2015, 27-year-old Quinn Duane was ready to marry.  The ceremony was scheduled, the hall was rented, and the food was ordered and ready to be prepared.

There was just one problem—all of a sudden, the groom had second thoughts, and the couple broke up.

So what do you do when you’ve already paid the deposit for a $35,000 wedding?  What would you do?

Quinn, and her mom, Kari, could only think of one thing to do.  They sent the non-refundable wedding flowers to a local nursing home, then reached out to all the homeless shelters in Sacramento to invite people to a lavish dinner.

So on Saturday, October 17th, the day of her wedding, about ninety homeless men, women, and children showed up at Sacramento’s Citizen Hotel to join in a feast.  

Quinn, the bride, was too distressed to attend.  She spent the day with friends.  Still she said, “I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to give to them.”

We have a Shepherd, a Good Shepherd, who’s provided a lavish feast, a gourmet feast.  We didn’t deserve it.  Never have, and never could.  

But there at that dinner, worth far more than we could ever understand, we learn the full meaning of love, mercy, and grace.

One more thing.  Henrietta Luise von Hayn lived in the mid-1700s.  When she was young, she taught at a girls’ school.  When she was old, she cared for some invalid sisters at a Moravian convent.  But one thing for which she is best known is that, over her lifetime, she composed forty different hymns.

And of all the hymns she wrote, there’s only one that appears in our hymnal, but it’s her most well-known hymn of all.  It goes like this:  “I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need, and well provides me.  Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” 

There will be enemies.  There will be dangers of all kinds.  But through it all, we hold this word from our Savior most dear:  “I am the Good Shepherd…I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”

 

Almighty God, heavenly Father, because You are our Shepherd, You know our needs and well supply them.  According to Your mercy, lead us to green pastures and beside still waters.  And when we are anxious, burdened, or afraid, restore our soul and make us whole again.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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