Lord, Our Shepherd!
22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.30The Father and I are one.”
An elderly lady was asleep in her bed one night, when she was awakened by a strange noise from the living room. Cautiously, she walked in and discovered a burglar in the process of stealing the stereo. Overcome with fear, she whispered a desparate prayer, “Help me Jesus!” The burglar heard her and started toward her. Without a thought she put up her hand and shouted a favorite scripture reference: ACTS, 2:38! The burglar immediately froze. The lady dialed 911, and within minutes, police were on the scene, and took the burglar to the police station. As the police were questioning him, one of the detectives said, “I’m curious, you could have ran and got away, why did you stay frozen in that one spot?” The burglar answered, “Man, if you knew that old lady was packing an axe and two 38 revolvers, you would not have moved either!” You got that? The burglar though she said an axe and two 38 revolvers.
In the passage we read today, we are confronted with the divine character of Christ and encouraged to respond in faith. Jesus is one, along with God, who gathers, protects and eternally blesses God’s people.
The feast of Dedication that John is talking about in our Scripture was celebrating the victory of the true religion over the corruption of Antiochus. Antiochus had suppressed the worship of Jehovah and replaced it with the worship of Zeus. The victory of Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BC restored the worship of the true God in a cleansed and refurbished temple. We call it Hanukkah, the festival of light. Jesus was among the crowds walking in the temple courts that day.
The people gathered around him and asked, “How long will you irritate us? Are you the Messiah? Tell us plainly, in words we can understand.” Jesus answered the question. “I have told you… The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me, but you do not believe.” Jesus had told them when he healed the blind man. He had told them as he fed the five thousand. He had told them he was the light of the world. But they had not understood.
During his teachings and works, Jesus testified to who he was. For those who have eyes to see, those who are seekers, both Jesus’ teachings and his works clearly declared who he was. However, the religious authorities refused to see who stood before them. Each time he told them, they plotted to destroy him. They were not even curious if Jesus is the messiah or not. They wanted a clear claim which they could use in evidence against him.
There is a reason why Jesus’ opponents do not listen, understand, believe or follow. It is because they do not belong to Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is using this metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus is the shepherd and we, who are his sheep, hear his voice and follow him.
However, as for the opponents, they had long decided not to believe and not belong to Jesus’ sheep. To those opponents, Jesus again clearly makes the point that those who are his sheep are eternally blessed with the gift of eternal life, a spiritual life that is full, abundant and everlasting. In Christ we are secure and this security is guaranteed because both God and the Son are one when it comes to the gathering, protecting and blessing of the sheep.
In this text, we can hear Jesus’ strong word, “No one will snatch my sheep out of my hand,” “No one can snatch them out of God’s hand.” “God and I are one.” These words assure us that we belong to Christ and make us confident that we live in God’s house.”
We are the sheep of the shepherd, Jesus Christ. We hear and follow his voice so we can be secure. However, today we cannot help but question what happened last Monday.
Last Monday, what happened in Boston was a sorrowful tragedy. The police said three people were killed and one of them was an eight year old boy. Hospitals kept reporting how many injured critically. Also, I heard this news that 16 years old girl who is a summer member of Chilmark Community Center lost her lag. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Everyone couldn’t believe this news. It was a very sorrowful tragedy and the whole country grieves for those injured and killed.
Why did it happen? Did it only happen to the people who do not belong to God because they are not secure? I don’t think so. I am sure that all of the victims are beloved ones by God. I am sure that Christ is crying for them now.
We often hear this kind of news from around the world. Why does it happen over and over again? To be honest, we can’t find any clear answer to the question, but at least we know what we should do in this circumstance. Let us look at Psalms 23. I will read it for you.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I 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 mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
This is one of the most beautiful psalms. We all learn it as children and over time the pastoral imagery of God as our shepherd becomes almost beautiful. However, even though Psalm 23 is about security, in fact, the background of this pslam is just the reverse. Danger is looming large for the psalmist. Verse 4 provides the setting, and it includes images of death and evil. We can know that this happens precisely at the point of greatest danger.
However, the scene changes abruptly from greatest danger to a banquet in the very presence of God. Here the metaphor for God shifts from shepherd in a threatening situation to host within the security of a home.
What is important is that trust in the Lord’s protection and provision is thus not only something that the psalmist can speak about, but they are part of his personal experience. They emanate from an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord. The surpassing peace and trust stand against the threats behind the scenes of the shepherd’s care. There is a trust that allows the psalmist not to fear. The psalm ends with a statement of deep, life-long faith. No matter what circumstance the psalmist had, he heard the voice of the Shepherd.
Likewise, no matter what circumstance we have, Jesus speaks to us in the shepherd’s voice today. It is a voice of promise God made with us, the promise found in Revelation 7.
The promise is and I quote, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It is a voice that promises stubborn protection and care. It is the voice the sheep hear and know and follow. It is the voice which is especially precious in times of struggle and pain. And it is one we sometimes have to work harder to hear in good times when other voices especially seem to drown it out. And yet even when those other voices overwhelm and even when we don’t pause to listen, the voice of Jesus is always there, inviting and comforting and urging us on in every threatening situation of our lives.
Let me wrap up today’s sermon with the following questions, which we need to think about as the sheep belonging to Christ. What does our Shepherd’s voice sound like to you? What promises does it speak? What does the voice tell us to do in threatening physical or spiritual situations? What does the voice comfort us when we hear a tragedy? Let us together go out into the world and try to find the answers to these questions. I pray that the Holy Spirit guides, protects, and blesses all of us and our families, so that you all can hear and follow a comfort and wise Shepherd’s voice.
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, you sent Jesus Christ to be our shepherd. Help us to hear the voice of the shepherd. Give us wisdom and courage to follow the shepherd. We believe that we are your sheep. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.