Good morning Connect. If it’s your first time with us, I hope you have felt welcome today. My name is Brian Morrissey and I am the Worship and Teaching Pastor here at Connect. Our Senior Pastor, Mike Edmisten is on vacation this morning and he is enjoying time with his family, resting and recharging. He’ll be back to preach next week.
I want you to know that we’re excited you chose to join us for week three of this series, Jesus Redefined, where we’re exploring who Jesus said He is.
Now, our culture has many different ideas of who Jesus is. There are so many ideas in fact that sorting through the answers can just be downright confusing. Are any of you fans of the “man on the street” questionnaires? I watched a video this past week of a church in Florida that asked people passing by who Jesus is and to get the ball rolling this morning I want you to check out the different reactions to that question on our screens.
Those are some really intriguing answers aren’t they? This is who our culture thinks Jesus was or is or even isn’t. And responses like this really serve to confuse the issue of Jesus’ identity even more because they raise hundreds of new questions for us to tackle.
But through this series, we’re cutting through the noise. Culture says a lot about Jesus that’s not true. For years, even church people have said a lot of things about Jesus that are simply not true. What we’re doing in these five short weeks is exploring what Jesus said about himself.
Our focus is centered on the Book of John which is in the New Testament of our Bible. In this book, we’re dialing in on five specific claims that Jesus makes about himself. Two weeks ago, Mike talked about how Jesus said He was the Bread of Life and then last week, one of our elders, Jay Hess brought a dynamite message on how Jesus is the Light of the world. If you missed either of those messages, you can check them out online at our website, connect.cc. This morning we’re tackling the third of those claims that Jesus made about himself. In John chapter 10, Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. If you have your Bibles or an app that can access the Bible, go ahead and browse over to John chapter 10. If not, don’t worry, we’ll have the words on the screen so that you can follow along with us.
Let me set this up for you before we jump into the text this morning. Jesus is teaching a crowd of people after he has just healed a man who was born blind. John chapter 9 tells us of this encounter where Jesus restores sight back to the man who, along with his parents is then dragged before the Pharisees (insert “legalistic religious bad guys”) who question both the man and his parents about how Jesus restored sight to him. When the man refuses to speak badly about Jesus, the Pharisees throw him out of the temple and the man goes and finds Jesus.
Jesus tells the man that He is the Son of God and the man puts his faith and trust in Jesus. And it is at this point that the Pharisees (who followed the man after throwing him out of the temple) mock and hurl questions at Jesus, and a crowd begins to gather to watch this all go down. You remember Junior High when there was a fight and a giant circle would form so that everyone could watch the combatants? That’s exactly what’s getting ready to go down here.
The crowd that has gathered is made up of people who knew Jesus (his disciples), people who didn’t know him, and this group of the Pharisees who were following Him, trying to trap Jesus with his own words. It is to this group of people that Jesus begins to talk about sheep and a shepherd.
In John 10, Jesus says this: 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
There’s a lot packed into this teaching from Jesus so let’s go back and break this down a little bit. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. Shepherds in that time would have been well known to Jesus’ audience. Shepherding was practiced from the earliest civilizations after Adam and Eve all the way up through the Roman world. Shepherds led their sheep to pasture and water and protected them from wild animals. They also kept a careful count of them and gave special attention to the ones who needed help. At night, the shepherds would often stay with the sheep, sometimes settling them in simple enclosures or a cave
People in those times also would have known about Shepherds because the Old Testament referred to them numerous times.
God himself is referred to as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1) He is referred to as the Shepherd of faithful followers (Psalm 23:1) God expected the kings of Israel to function as shepherds of His people (2 Samuel 5:2) God condemned shepherds who abused that authority (Ezekiel 34)
In this teaching, Jesus was drawing a contrast between what a Good Shepherd looked like and what a bad shepherd looked like. The Pharisees, (who Jesus referred to as the hired hands) fought against Jesus and set themselves up as leaders. They taught human traditions rather than God’s commandments. They enslaved the Jewish people and strengthened their own power. Like thieves, they robbed the flock, like wolves, they destroyed it and like the hired hands in Jesus’ analogy, they worked for their own profit without any real concern for the sheep.
See here’s the truth about you and I because Jesus was not just speaking to the crowd that was present. He was also speaking across time to us. You and I are in Jesus’ analogy. And I don’t think you’re going to like the role we play, even though most of you have figured it out by now. In this story, we’re not the shepherds. We’re not the thieves, or the wolves, or the hired hands.
What are we in this story? That’s right, we’re the sheep. Everybody say “I am a sheep” with me on the count of three. Ready, 1,2,3… “I am a sheep”!
That felt great didn’t it? No? You don’t like being called a sheep? Why didn’t Jesus use something cooler like lions or eagles or bears? Why don’t we like being referred to as sheep? Is it because sheep are weak? Is it because sheep have nothing better to do than eat, sleep and follow someone or something?
Yet that’s exactly what you and I do. Think of it for a moment. Why are magazines like People and Cosmopolitan such best sellers? It’s because people want to read the juicy articles on what celebrities are doing. They want to follow along with their lives. We watch the same shows over and over because we want to follow the storylines to see what happens to our favorite characters. As a matter of act in the last couple of years, Facebook made a change to certain people’s pages so that if you garner enough “friends” they get converted to “followers”.
As a matter of fact, let’s try something. By a show of hands, how many of you “follow” an organization or someone famous on Facebook? If you didn’t put your hand up, you better go home and create a Facebook account and check out our church page on Facebook because in order to stay up to date with us, you have to click the “follow” button.
Now, obviously, following some things is not inherently bad. In fact following like sheep is exactly what God created us to do. Psalm 79:13 says “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.” Psalm 100:3 tells us to “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”
Isaiah 53 talks of how we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way. Jeremiah speaks of God’s people being lost sheep whose shepherds have abandoned them. The prophet Zechariah talks of how idols have led the sheep away from their shepherd.
But even though the Bible refers to us as sheep, we still don’t like being called sheep. It doesn’t leave a pleasant taste in our mouths and here’s why:
Tim Challies describes sheep in this way – “Do a little bit of reading about sheep and you’ll soon see they are not survivors. They are not strong and independent creatures, not proud hunters or fierce predators.
There are at least three reasons why sheep are really kind of pathetic, entirely dependent upon a shepherd. The first bluntly, honest truth about sheep is this, sheep are dumb.
The BBC news reported a story a few years ago where hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, while shepherds looked on. Four hundred sheep fell to their deaths in a ravine but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. Shepherds from a nearby village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.
So, one sheep wandered off a cliff and 1,499 others just followed along. Can you picture it? 1,500 sheep, each walking off a cliff, one after the other. Soon they were piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed to death and the ones on top were lying on a big downy-soft pillow. It is completely absurd and tells us one important fact about sheep and the first reason sheep absolutely need a shepherd: they are not the smartest animals in the world. In fact, they may well be just about the dumbest animals in the world.
And here’s a second reason sheep need a shepherd: sheep are directionless. Sheep are prone to wander. Even if you put them in an absolutely perfect environment with everything they need (things like green pastures and still waters), sooner or later they will just wander off. If a shepherd doesn’t manage them, if he doesn’t micromanage them and keep them under constant surveillance, they’ll wander off and get lost.
Sheep are dumb and directionless. They are also defenseless. Left to themselves, sheep will not and cannot last very long. Just about any other domesticated animal can be returned to the wild and will stand a fighting chance of survival. But not sheep. Put a sheep in the wild and you’ve just given nature a snack.
Think about it: there are different ways animals react when they perceive some kind of danger. Here are three common ones: fight, flight, and posture.
Let’s think about fight. A sheep gets frightened or sees that he is in danger. Maybe he sees a wolf rambling toward him. What is he going to do? He doesn’t have claws, he doesn’t have fangs, he doesn’t have venom, he doesn’t have spines or quills or large talons. He’s got nothing to protect himself. Fighting is definitely out. But that’s okay—there are lots of other animals that don’t fight it out.
How about flight, just turning tail and running away? That’s a good defense mechanism. Unfortunately sheep aren’t fast; they certainly aren’t agile, especially when their wool is long, and even more so when their wool is long and wet. Last I checked they don’t have wings. A sheep is not going to outrun or outfly a wolf. The sheep will not fight and it cannot take flight. So far it is looking pretty good for the wolf.
How about posture? A dog will bark and growl and show his teeth to warn you away. A lion will roar. A rattlesnake will shake his rattle. A cat will arch his back and hiss. The best a sheep can do is baaa. I don’t think that wolf is going be too intimidated. It is for good reason that no one relies on a guard sheep to keep their property secure.
Sheep can’t fight, they can’t run away, and they can’t scare away. So what does a sheep do when danger comes? It flocks. When a wolf approaches, the sheep will gather with others in a pack and run in circles in complete panic, just hoping that the wolf will choose someone else. Without a shepherd to protect them, they’ll be picked off and eaten one by one.
Sheep are dumb and directionless and defenseless. So I guess when God says that we are sheep who need a shepherd, he doesn’t mean it as a compliment to us. It is just a very realistic assessment of who we are and what we need. We are sheep who are completely dependent upon a shepherd.”
Sheep without a shepherd look like this: They wander in death and destruction. They lose their way and cannot return to safety. They are filled with fear and confusion. As we saw earlier, they follow the rest of the flock, even off a cliff. They fall victim to wild beasts and they cannot meet their own needs. They, WE, need a Shepherd to care for us. Thankfully, we have one.
Jesus knew this and He had compassion on people because He saw them as “Sheep without a shepherd.” Our problem is that we are sheep and we need a Shepherd so here’s what we must do about it, we have to follow the Good Shepherd and stop following the bad ones.
It’s difficult in today’s culture to know who to trust and follow. Our world has many different religions with shepherds/leaders that tell people how to “get ” salvation and healing and a full life.
And as people in the video we watched earlier said, “like many other great religious leaders, Jesus taught a way or path to his followers. His teachings point to an understanding of the religious life as a journey.”
But that’s not true. Jesus said there was only one way. In John 14:6, Jesus says these words – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)
Not a way, THE way. One way, through Jesus. In our text from earlier in John 10, Jesus said in Verse 16, “… there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16b, NIV)
One Good Shepherd, not many. I want to make sure you’re tracking with me because this is incredibly divisive and counter-cultural, but that’s exactly what Jesus intended it to be.
Every other false shepherd will call you to follow them by making empty promises, but their paths lead to destruction whereas Jesus leads to life. The main difference between Jesus the Good Shepherd and other false shepherds is this, Jesus called people to follow him in an active, trust-filled way of living.
Look, lots of people believe in Jesus. They just love him to pieces. They worship and adore him. They praise his name. They invite him into their hearts and accept him as their Lord and Savior. But not many people are willing to follow Jesus.
For the most part, believing “in” Jesus is really believing things “about” Jesus—that Jesus is divine, that he died for our sins, that He will come again to judge humanity and to establish his kingdom. But this kind of belief does not necessarily take the teachings of Jesus seriously. I’ve seen people time and time again believe that Jesus is the Son of God and yet still live selfish lifestyles, ignoring the cries of the poor, and demonstrating vitriolic hatred toward people of other races, cultures, or sexual orientations. And yes, there is a difference between despising sin and sinful acts and loving people, but that’s not the focus of this message.
Think of it this way, believing in Jesus, (loving, worshipping, and accepting Jesus) is an internal experience. Sometimes it can be highly emotional, and although you normally see it when we gather on Sunday Mornings, it can often times be intensely personal and private.
But here’s what I want us as His sheep to catch this morning: Believing in Jesus is internal, but following Jesus is not an internal state. It’s external. It’s outward. It’s action. It’s an engagement with the outside world in a tangible way.
That can be a tough thing if you’re an introverted person. Look, I get it, some Christians are embarrassed to discuss their beliefs, while others are more than willing to profess their faith in public. Some may wear a cross as jewelry to symbolize their faith and devotion to Jesus or they slap a fish or a bumper sticker on their car. But even publicly proclaiming Jesus as Lord is still not the same as following Jesus.
Look at what Jesus himself said in Luke 6 – “Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46, NIV)
Following Jesus the Good Shepherd is about listening AND doing. It is about putting into practice the things that Jesus taught. It is about a lifestyle of grace and truth that sets you apart from other people.
Churches often put a focus on discipleship and that’s not a bad things. Jesus called us to go and make disciples. But you know what Jesus didn’t say? Go and make “good church people.” Most churches who have a discipleship program are only focused on worship, bible study, and giving, which often results in “good churchy people” who simply serve the church.
And look, none of that is bad. It’s a great thing to worship. It helps us grow tremendously when we study our Bible and are transformed by applying what we’ve learned from Scripture. And if you think I’m up here telling you it’s just a churchy thing to tithe, you’re dead wrong. Tithing is commanded and it is an act of incredibly joyous worship when we obey it.
Following your Good Shepherd is just so much more than that. Being a disciple should be radically different from NOT being a disciple. It involves much more than worship attendance, bible study, or service on a volunteer team.
Like I said, those are important parts of a Christian life. But they are merely training for the journey, not the journey itself. Hopefully they provide growth, not a diversion or an excuse.
Discipleship, truly following Jesus, should result in people who lead a radically different type of life, who are counter-cultural, who are markedly different from the rest of the world.
Jesus calls us to transform the world. He calls us to spend our lives in the service of the least, the lost and the lonely. That kind of life goes way beyond serving here at Connect.
The content of truly following your Good Shepherd is found outside of these walls. It is found where people are hurting, where people are hungry, where people are oppressed, where people are denied justice, where people are dying.
In a book called The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” “Cheap grace,” he said, is grace without a commitment and response from the believer. It is grace without servant-hood. Costly grace,” said Bonhoeffer, “moves us to respond to the call of Jesus.”
Following your Good Shepherd means obeying and trusting Him to go wherever He leads. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. But we have the hardest time doing that. Why? Why do we have such issues when it comes to following our Good Shepherd? It’s because Jesus calls us to not only follow him, but to trust that where He’s leading us is exactly where we need to go.
Following our Good Shepherd in an active lifestyle of worship is difficult because you and I have trust issues.
There is an old story of a father who took his young son out and stood him on the railing of the back porch. He then went down, stood on the lawn, and encouraged the little fellow to jump into his arms. “I’ll catch you,” the father said confidently. After a lot of coaxing, the little boy finally made the leap. When he did, the father stepped back and let the child fall to the ground. He then picked his son up, dusted him off, and dried his tears. “Let that be a lesson,” he said sternly. “Don’t ever trust anyone.”
Somewhere in your past, someone or something did that to you. Drugs or Alcohol told you to jump, but when you landed, they didn’t catch you. A mentor told you the next step you needed to take in order to get to the next level and they ended up being completely wrong, ruining everything you had worked so hard for. A Good friend stabbed you in the back with gossip or jealousy. Your trust was shattered. A family member sold out your greatest secret to someone else when you had trusted them with it and you got burned.
We have trust issues. So it’s no wonder that when Jesus calls us to follow Him, we wonder whether we can trust Him. And I can speak about this out of experience. 10 years ago, my wife Cara and I endured a miscarriage and at the time, I really wondered whether I could trust God or not. I grew up in the church and I had the viewpoint that God was protecting and caring for me no matter what, so when we went through that experience, it really shook my faith up because I wondered why it happened. Eventually, I settled on the fact that God wanted me to be able to identify with others in their sufferings and that it would make me able to have conversations with others so I could let them know that I understood the pain they were dealing with. I carried that thought up and to the time that Cara got pregnant two and a half years ago.
When that happened, I thought that God had heard our prayers and (like Job) was blessing us on the other side of our trial of suffering. We told our family and friends and many of you rejoiced with us, but all of that crumbled when we endured our second miscarriage four months into the pregnancy. I was devastated because my initial reasoning for why the first miscarriage had happened caused me to question God’s purpose for my life at all. It also caused feelings of deep mistrust and doubt. And it’s because of this experience (and other smaller ones) that I have trust issues.
But all of it was based on false assumptions. All of it was based on the incorrect thought that God would shield me from suffering just because I followed Him. And you have false assumptions as well. You believe that following Jesus will make life easier. You believe that God wants to bless your life with only good things. You believe that Jesus came so that you could live comfortably and safely. But that’s believing. That’s not following.
The truth is this: sometimes God allows us to suffer in order to forge us in the fire and make us stronger. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to us in order to bring about even greater blessings in our lives. Sometimes even the greatest suffering has to take place, someone has to die in order for others to have life.
Here’s the key to our trust issues and this is what we’ve been leading toward all morning: Jesus said five times in John 10 that He lays His life down for His sheep. Look at John 10 again with me this morning: 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:11, 14-15, 17-18a, NIV)
You and I can trust someone who was willing to give their life up for us. You can trust someone who has the authority to conquer death because they loved you enough to give up their own life for you. Every false assumption, every false shepherd you’re following won’t do that for you.
I had to learn that trusting Jesus means that sometimes my Good Shepherd will lead me through the valley of the shadow of death, but He will always be with me.
Psalm 23 may be the most famous Psalm there is. Thinking through all that we’ve talked about, read this Psalm with me. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” You and I don’t need anything else besides our Shepherd. He’s the only one we need to follow because He will meet all of our needs. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Sometimes our Shepherd has to force us to rest, even when we don’t want to because He knows what’s best for us.
“He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul.” Your Good Shepherd wants peaceful times for your soul so that it can be restored. He is that concerned about you.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Jesus wants you to follow Him so that you can bring glory to his name, not your own.
“4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” Your Shepherd will be with you, no matter what. Even when I endured my greatest moment of suffering, my Shepherd was with me and He will be with you as well.
“your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” A Shepherd had two tools for caring for his sheep. A rod for discipline when they got out of line and a staff or a hook shaped instrument called a Shepherd’s crook which they used to rescue their sheep when they fell into a ravine or a pit.
“5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Your Shepherd knows what you are facing and provides for you. God offers protection, even when our enemies surround us. That doesn’t mean bad things will never happen to us, but it does mean that our Shepherd wants only the best for us.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, ESV)
In the final line of this psalm, God tells us that we will live with Him forever. Jesus, the perfect shepherd and host promises to guide and protect us through life to bring us to His house forever. What a promise, church.
I’m not here this morning to minimize what’s happened in your life. I’m not here to tell you that you’ll be able to move past the scars of your past. I’m not here to tell you that life will be wine and roses and that everything will be simple for you. In fact, I’m here to tell you the opposite.
Following Jesus will sometimes bring you great pain. Following Jesus will sometimes bring you heartache and struggle. But Jesus never ever was concerned with you being happy or content in this life. He’s concerned with your joy. Joy and happiness are two different things and it’s time we learned that following Jesus as His sheep will cost us our happiness, but never our joy.
We can never have happiness in suffering or pain, but we can have joy. Joy in knowing that Jesus wants the best for us. Joy in knowing that he is forging us in a fire to make us better. Joy in knowing that He has conquered death and loves us so deeply that He was willing to take the penalty for our sins and lay down His own life so that we could be made holy and spotless and clean.
Look, the truth is this: You and I deserve one thing. We deserve hell. Every other religion will tell you different. The world will tell you different and it’s because they are false shepherds who want to trick you in to believing you can define your own life while the entire time, they’re shaping it behind your back for you.
We deserve hell because you and I are sheep. We’re dumb, directionless and defenseless. We have sinned, we’ve been led astray, we’ve been following our own leading and we only have one hope. We need a Good Shepherd that loves us and saves us from hell.
Jesus came to do just that. He came to lead us and save us through the example of dying on a cross so that we can have joy and a new life. He took our sin, our dumbness, our directionless lives, our defenselessness and became those for us so that we no longer had to live as sheep to false shepherds.
John 3:16-17 says this: 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)
By following our Good Shepherd, we have this promise of eternal life. You may never be healed from your sickness or disease in this life. The hurt from broken trust may never be fully extinguished in this life. The consequences of the scars from your past may stick with you for the rest of your earthly life, but in eternal life with Jesus, there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin.
When we follow false shepherds, we make choices as if this life is all we have but the reality is that this life is just the introduction to eternity.
John 10, one last time: Jesus said, “27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Let me pray for us.