First Lesson: Ezekiel 34:25-31:
25“I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Psalm 23 on Page 72 in Christian Worship
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
he guides me in paths of righteousness for his names sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Second Lesson: Revelation 7:9-17:
9After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Sermon Text: John 10:22-30:
22Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
Introduction: You have seen the sight often times in your life. It is an occasion when gifts are being handed out to younger children. It might be a Christmas or it might be a birthday. The child eagerly tears into a brightly wrapped gift . His anticipation is intense. Then he sees what it is. His face falls. This is not what he was looking for. He had hoped that the brightly wrapped box contained some toy or some electronic device that he had had his eye on. Instead, there sits a piece of clothing. Maybe there sits a book. The child looks at this gift and you can just see the disappointment in his eyes. Meanwhile, the adults in the room give each other a knowing look. They know that, despite the child’s disappointment, the gift that he just received is just what he needed. He was growing fast and he would soon grow out of the clothes that he had. He would need that new pair of jeans. He would need that larger shirt. It may not be the most glamorous gift in the world, but it was exactly what he needed. As we look at what happened on this feast of dedication in Jerusalem, we can see the same sort of reaction among the leaders of the people. Here they were confronted with exactly who Jesus is and what he meant for them, but they are completely disappointed. But as we hear him relat what he is, we see that he is…
The Good Shepherd: The Greatest Gift
I. Not the gift they wanted
II. But the gift beyond expectations
I mentioned just before that this took place on the feast of dedication. This was a feast that took place in the Jewish month of Kislev. It would start on the 25th of that month and it would run for eight days. It is still a festival that the Jewish people celebrate to this day. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It is commonly called Hanukkah. Maybe you’ve never known exactly what Hanukkah celebrates. Let me give you a little rundown. About 165 years before the birth of Jesus, the people of Israel found themselves under the control of a King by the name of Antiochus. This was a foreign King that wanted to get rid of any expression of the Jewish faith that he could find. He went so far as setting up a statue of a Roman God in the temple at Jerusalem , sacrificing a pig to it, and taking the blood from that sacrifice and sprinkling it on the people who were assembled in Jerusalem in order to defile them. Into this seen stepped a man by the name of Judah.
He was part of a large family who made it their mission to get rid of this foreign ruler. He fought against this foreign ruler with such ferocity that he gained a nickname. They called him Judah Maccabee, or Judah the hammer. There is a legend that grew up around his victory over Antiochus. It was said that Judah not only defeated this enemy King, but that he also completely re stored and re dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. In order to do so, it was necessary for them to burn the oil lamps in the temple. However, they only found one jar of oil that had not been defiled. It should have lasted only one day, but the legend says that the oil from that one container was able to burn for eight days. That is why Jewish people, to this day, light a candelabra, a menorah, with eight branches. Each candle in that menorah represents one day in which this miraculous supply of oil brand. Because the celebration of this festival dealt with someone who freed the Jews from a foreign ruler, it was common in the days of Jesus for the people to think about the promised Messiah, one that they hoped would free them from Roman rule.
So now we have Jesus teaching in the temple during the time of this festival. If you look at the timeline in the gospel of John, you see that this is only about 3 months before he would enter into Jerusalem for the final time. This means that he had been preaching, teaching, and performing miracles for about three years up to this point. There was a lot of talk about whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Many of the common people thought that he was; many of those leaders asserted that he was not. The last time he had been in Jerusalem, he had spoken about himself as the Good Shepherd. When the Jewish people heard the term Shepherd, they also naturally thought of the Messiah since King David, the great ancestor of the Messiah, had been a Shepherd. This is why the Jewish leaders approached him that day and asked him to tell them whether or not he was claiming to be the Messiah. They told him that they didn’t want him to keep them in suspense any longer, they wanted a direct answer now.
Jesus answer to them indicates that he had already told them all that they needed to know. His powerful teaching had marked him as one anointed by God to bring his holy message to the people. The miracles that he performed showed that he had the power of God at his disposal. This was all the proof that they would need that Jesus truly was the Messiah. What was the problem with the Jewish officials, then? The problem was but he was not the kind of Messiah that they were looking for. They were looking for a Messiah like Judah Maccabee. They wanted one who is going to lead Israel to earthly glory and drive out the Romans and all other foreign oppressors once and for all. This was the kind of Messiah that they wanted. Jesus did not offer that to them. We see the same sort of thing happen in our day and age. Think of the reasons why people reject Jesus. They reject him because , in this day and age, he doesn’t match up with the idea of who a great leader should be. He is not one that promises nothing but good coming into our lives. There are many people who sample Jesus and then find out that he doesn’t do for them what they think he should do for them and then they reject him. This is the temptation that Satan throws our way from time to time, of course. He asked us if we really think Jesus has done that much good for us. He asked us if the teachings of Jesus make any sense in our science heavy age. The voice of the world is pretty persistent. The world has a million and one reasons why we should not pay attention to Jesus.
After it was apparent that the Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus, Jesus goes on to repeat what he had said in Jerusalem just three months before this. He tells them why it was so important for him to describe himself as the Good Shepherd. Use that picture from the life of King David. He did not present himself as the warrior King which David later became. He spoke of himself, instead, as a gentle Shepherd.
Then, in a beautiful way, he tells us why that means so much to us. In a way, he tells a little parable here. He paints the picture of a Shepherd with his sheep out in the pasture. He uses things that were very familiar to the people. He tells them that he is there to give something very special and very comforting to the people who are led to believe in him as the Good Shepherd. He says that his sheep listen to his voice. This was something that was true of shepherds. A sheep would know the voice of the true Shepherd and would be able to distinguish it from anyone who would want to do them harm or to steal them. We, also, have come to know the voice of our Good Shepherd and what that voice means for us. He then goes on to say that he, the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. If we were to look at a flock of sheep, we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. A Shepherd, though, would know each one individually. Jesus knows us through and through.
He tells what the response is for the sheep. They hear his voice and they know his intimate concern for them. So they follow him. Sheep in a field know that a Shepherd is not going to lead them into any place that is going to do them harm. Even if he’s leading them through a scary and dark Valley, those sheep know instinctively that he is only leading them through that so that he can get them someplace that is good for them. He’s leading them to a place where food and water are plentiful for them. And so we follow our Good Shepherd. Sometimes he does lead us through places that are dark and scary. He allows us to undergo illnesses and hardships in our lives. But we know that this Good Shepherd is leading us through those so that he can get us to the final goal. And then Jesus take this picture of the Shepherd and he tells the leaders exactly where he was leading his people. He was not leading them to earthly power and grandeur. Instead, he tells them directly that he gives them eternel life. Of course, no earthly Shepherd could promise his sheep that. So now he is telling them directly what he is going to do for his sheep.
When he spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd some three months before this, he talked about how he was going to offer them eternal life. He talked about how the Good Shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. And because he turned a life is based entirely on what the Shepherd did Jesus can see what he does next. He says that they shall never ship perish and that no one will snatch them out of my hand. These words are a great comfort to us we’ve come to know the shepherd’s voice. There may be times that we might doubt the strength of our faith. There may be times that we doubt how we stand before this Good Shepherd. However, we need to remember that our Good Shepherd is holding on to us. That it is entirely by his work that our sins are forgiven, heaven is gained, and eternal life is attained. It has nothing to do with what the sheep do, is entirely in the hands of the Shepherd. He is the one who promises to hold us in his hand and to lead us through the dark path of this world into the heavenly pasture. And he is able to do it because of who he is.
He once again repeats that no one can snatch his sheep out of his hand . The reason he gives for that is because he has all of the power of God. He says, “My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my father’s hand. I am the father are one.” This is what Jesus’ enemies failed to see. They thought of the promised Messiah only as a great teacher or leader. They did not consider , even though the Old Testament foretold it, but the Messiah would be both God and man. So our Good Shepherd, as true God, has the power to do everything he spoke of here. He has that ability to know us intimately. He’s got the ability to save us and lead us. He’s got the ability to bring us into the eternal pasture of heaven. He is the greatest gift and he gives us the greatest gift because of who he is. This is why we rejoice but Jesus is our Good Shepherd. This is why we will always follow him. It’s not because our faith is strong, it’s because our Good Shepherd is infinitely strong. Amen.