Good Shepherd Sunday

2019-05-12 – Year C – Easter 4 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas Numbers 27:12-23; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Lord Jesus thank you for holding us in the palm of your hand. Thank you for being a good good shepherd to us, for leading us, coming after us, and never giving up on us. Help us to see your kingdom reign and to be a sheep in your sheepfold. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and also Mother’s Day. While I will be preaching about the Good Shepherd I would like to acknowledge all mothers. This day can be a sweet day for some, a sad day for others, or a bittersweet time for others.

So while I wouldn’t linger on this topic, I would like to thank God for all the Christian mothers, god-mothers, or grandmothers out there. Thank you for choosing life! What a great and profound calling you have to share Jesus, to love others, and to proclaim the gospel with your life. Seek to bless those in your lives with this message of hope and goodness.

Our gospel passage today opens up with Jesus being in Jerusalem and celebrating the Feast of the Dedication. Our scripture passage gives many specifics about the time of year and what  is going on in Jerusalem so that we might understand the depth of his words. So first what is the feast of the Dedication? To understand this we must back up in time.

When Antiochus IV became ruler of the Seleucid Empire he tried to force Greek culture upon the peoples he ruled. For the Jews this meant that practices such as sabbath observance and circumcision were prohibited, and the books of the Law were burnt.

In 167 BC the temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by offering swine’s flesh on the altar, and Jewish people were required to offer sacrifice to pagan deities. This led pious Jews to revolt against Antiochus IV, a revolt led by Mattathias and his sons. They fled to the mountains, from whence they conducted guerilla warfare against the Seleucid armies.

Their campaign was crowned with success, and in 164 BC the temple was rededicated to the worship of Yahweh. The rededication of the temple and the institution of the annual remembrance in the Feast of Dedication is described in 2 Maccabees 10:1–8.

Three years to the day after the disaster, they solemnly purified the Temple. They offered the proper sacrifices, they lit the lamps, and they prayed to the God of heaven and earth that they might never suffer such a thing again.

And they commanded that every year a festival should be kept to commemorate the occasion. It is called Hanukkah, ‘dedication’, and it falls on the 25th day of the Jewish month Chislev, roughly the equivalent of our December.

So every time the Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah, they not only thought about God and liberation. They not only thanked God for having the Temple back again. They also thought about kings, and how they became kings. And here is Jesus, walking in the Temple during the festival of Hanukkah, talking about the good shepherd, the real shepherd, the king who would come and show all the others up.

The Feast of Dedication, celebrated in November–December, took place in winter. Jesus was said to be in Solomon’s Colonnade which was located on the eastern side of the temple precincts, overlooking the Kidron valley.

It was a covered area with a cedar-panelled ceiling spanning 49 feet supported by white marble columns 38 feet tall. The space would have been a grande beautiful place to behold and offered protection from cold winds and was used as a meeting place where people discussed Scripture after ceremonies in the temple. In Acts 5:12 we learn that early Christians used to meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. This was a real place of historical significance in which many conversations where held.

The setting that Jesus was in was important to the gravity of his words. Never let it be thought that Jesus’ message was anything other than controversial—and dangerous. Never forget that the famous ‘good shepherd’ chapter ends up with people trying to stone Jesus to death.

Controversy and danger are in the air in these words of Jesus. What images do you get in your head when we speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Soft gentle pictures of Jesus looking serene surrounded by sheep and children. Perhaps with a field of flowers and grazing sheep? The reality—the real question he was talking about when he spoke of himself as the good shepherd—was and is very different. It was and is all about power and rule, about God’s kingdom and the world’s kingdoms, about God appointing a true king, not where there had been a vacuum waiting for someone to fill it, but where there had been too many kings, too many rulers, and all of them anxious and ready to strike out at anyone.

As Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Colonnade the Jews gathered round him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’

Their request did not arise from a genuine desire to know if Jesus was the Messiah, and whether they should believe in him (as Jesus’ response to them in 10:25 indicates). Rather, it was another attempt to get Jesus to say something that would incriminate him. The Jews in this area longed to kick off the suppression of the Romans and they wanted complete liberation and acknowledgement of being an independent nation.

Jesus’ popularity with the people had significantly grown and many were believing him to be the Messiah. The Jews did not want people leaving the faith to follow a supposed Messiah.

Despite all that Jesus is recorded as saying to the Jews, including the immediately preceding chapters, he had never publicly stated that he was the Messiah (the admission to the Samaritan woman was no public proclamation).

His claims to being the source of living water (7:37–38), Light for the world (8:12), the Shepherd of the sheep (10:11) were certainly astonishing, but was he prepared to affirm that he was the Anointed of God, and so the King of the coming Kingdom of God? That was what the Jews wanted to know. While Jesus never claimed publicly among ‘the Jews’ that he was the Messiah, in various ways his words had indicated to them who he was. We must understand that the works done in the Father’s name tell the Jews what they want to know, since they bear clear witness to him.

Jesus’ actions of the blind being able to see, the lame being made able to walk, and the demon possessed being set free spoke for Him.

The life Jesus was living demonstrated his Kingship or oneness with God the Father. No other prophet was able to do the miracles that Jesus was able to do. He performed many miracles in Jerusalem, but still ‘the Jews’ refused to believe. They refused to believe, Jesus said, because they were not his sheep.

The Jewish leaders do not believe, because they do not belong to the flock of Jesus; i.e., they have not been “given” to Jesus by the Father. Lots of people like to argue whether or not we can choose Jesus or He chooses us. This scripture passage is not supposed to answer this question fully but rather say yes. Jesus presents himself and his message to people and they either turn away from him and do not hear his voice or rather turn towards Him following His ways.

Often I hear of people in very difficult life decisions trying to ask God for help however having lived a life that was fully turned away from God. They end up not being able to hear or discern the voice of the Shepherd in their times of crisis.

If you have heard the message of the Gospel, do not suppose that you have plenty of time to sort out your feelings about Jesus. Do not assume that you can choose Him at a later date. The Bible says that our lives are like a vapor or a puff of wind. We are like the grass that withers and fades away. We are here one moment and gone the next.

Each and every day of life that you have is a gift. If you are on the Way as Fr. Chris preached last week then you need to live a life poured out for others seeking to show others the Way to the Father. The Jewish leaders were not able to hear the voice of the shepherd Jesus because they were not on the Way to the Father.They had decided how the Messiah was going to come and what it was going to look like.

How often do you decide how Jesus should heal you or present himself to you? How often do you decide that He is not working fast enough or in the way you would like?  If you are not daily listening to Jesus then you will not be able to hear his voice in times of crisis. Listening for a still small voice is the only way you are going to hear. Jesus desires for you to hear his voice. Jesus desires to be your shepherd; a godly, kind, and good shepherd. His ways are so very good.  

Jesus returns once more in the gospel passage to the shepherd-and-sheep theme, this time with a glorious and spectacular promise to the ‘sheep’. Those who hear Jesus’ voice and recognize it as the voice of ‘their’ shepherd will be safe forever. He will look after them, and even death itself, the last great enemy, cannot ultimately harm them. Jesus’ bond with His Father makes him able to speak truth about his followers.

Jesus’ trust in the goodness of the Father allows him to direct those on the Way to eternal life with a good good Father. This is the first explicit statement of Jesus’ oneness with the Father. Describing this oneness, the evangelist does not use the masculine form of the adjective ‘one’ (heis), which would suggest that Father and Son are one person. Instead, he uses the neuter form (hen), suggesting that the oneness of the Father and Son here is oneness in mission and purpose. The Father and Son are one in making sure no one is snatched from the hands of God.

Christian confidence about the future beyond death is not a matter of wishful thinking, a vague general hope, or a temperamental inclination to assume things will turn out all right. It is built firmly on nothing less than the union of Jesus with the father—one of the main themes of this whole gospel. Jesus’ sheep will not be snatched out of his hand. We live in an era where persecution of Christians is increasing with frequency. It is my belief that the wider church should turn its attention to getting ready for persecution. This year in homeschooling my kids we have studied the Reformation. I have had to tell over and over again the story of faithful men and women who have chosen to stand for their faith in Christ and the word of God. They stood up in trying times not knowing what might become of them for speaking the truth.

These brave men and women were tortured, burned at the stake, and watched their faithful friends die a brutal death. They did it for the Gospel and because they knew their Shepherd and followed in His ways. Despite all their hardships they were never snatched out of the hand of Jesus. Because the Father is greater than all, the security of believers is guaranteed—no-one can snatch them out of his hand.

Jesus implied that just as his disciples are in his hand (28), so too they are in the Father’s hand, because, as he said, I and the Father are one.

Jesus was walking, talking, and teaching in the Colonnade of Solomon during the Feast of Dedication. He was proclaiming his oneness with God the Father and allowing His actual life’s work to proclaim the truth to his sheep. Jesus was all about doing the will of his Father and shows us the way to go in our own lives.

Jesus is a great shepherd who longs to care for his sheep, to provide for them, and to give them eternal life in heaven with Him. He longs for you to share your love and experience of Him with others. The older I get the more I long to see people experience the power of worshiping Jesus and of being known by Him. There is nothing as sweet as experiencing the holiness and love of Jesus.

There is nothing in this life that could possibly compare to His love. All of the sweetest moments of life all rolled up into one can not sustain you like the love, guidance, and wisdom of following the Good Shepherd.

So as you enter this week may you be overcome with the love that Jesus has for you. May you seek out his voice and listen when He calls. His ways are good, kind, holy, and loving. Christ’s sheep listen to his voice; he knows them and they follow him. The emphasis falls on the Shepherd’s calling and establishing a relationship with the sheep.

He gives eternal life to the sheep, for he lays down his life for them that he may take it again.  May you share your love of him with others and when people look at your life may they see a life lived for the Good Shepherd. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen.

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