Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who Is Our Shepherd?

In John 10, we have the account of Jesus presenting himself as the good shepherd. We don't usually have a lot of contact with shepherds, but they were a part of the culture in the first century. Kings were often pictured as shepherds, taking care of the needs of their people. The Jews carried the concept of God as their shepherd. They also saw their leaders as shepherds.

In this passage, the focus is not on the sheep, but is on the Shepherd. Too often, we tend to take our eyes off Jesus and become wrapped up in ourselves, in our interests. We do this as individuals, and also as communities. We do what we do out of a desire to make things better for us. Programs, buildings, schedules, etc. are often built around what we think are our needs. Can you imagine a flock of sheep standing around making decisions about where they are going to graze next? No, they trust the shepherd. They know in their little sheep brains that they are under the rule of the shepherd. He is the one in charge, and all they have to do is trust him and go where he leads them. Jesus is the ruler. He is the one in control, not us.

Jesus is the good shepherd. We can trust him because he lay down his life for us. That is what a good shepherd does. Not only did he lay down his life, he took it back up again. He has defeated death, so it holds no terror for us. We are absolutely safe in the care of our Shepherd. Nothing can harm us. In contrast to Jesus, there are bad shepherds out there that sometimes draw us away. These bad shepherds would be anything that takes our eyes off Jesus and what he has done for us. They could be things like wealth, pleasure, fame, sinful habits. Bad shepherds can also be good things like church activities, our favorite preacher or teacher, family, friends. It is good to ask ourselves from time to time if what we are following is the good Shepherd or a bad shepherd.

Our good Shepherd takes care of us individually and collectively. Jesus states that he calls his sheep by name. He knows our names. He knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. Each of us who belong to him are his sheep and we follow him. We also follow our Shepherd together. When sheep follow their shepherd, they don't wander in one by one. While they are individuals, they follow the shepherd as a group. It is when a single sheep gets away from the flock that it is in the most danger. We are no different. We are best served when we follow Jesus together with others. Jesus is the head of a body, not just a collection of body parts. We need community because it is in community that we help each other follow Jesus.

Bad shepherds, whether they take us completely away from our Shepherd or convince us that we can follow him all on our own, are thieves that have only come to steal, kill, and destroy. Our good Shepherd calls us to follow him, to be a part of his flock. In following Jesus, we find a life that is full and abundant. Not in a way that the bad shepherds promise, but in knowing that we are being cared for by a loving, powerful King who is in control.

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