Vol. IX — No. 19 May 12, 1968
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd,
In Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, Fellow Redeemed:
Today is “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The readings and the text for today picture the intimate relationship that is to exist between the Lord God and His people. That relationship finds its counterpart here on earth in the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. The psalmist cries out: “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3.
The Old Testament reading presents in prophetic picture the activity of Israel’s Shepherd-God. He seeks the lost sheep. He delivers them from all their enemies, even as David of old rescued his sheep from the lion and the bear. He feeds them with his graces so they can grow in knowledge and grace. He causes them to lie down in rest, giving assurance that He will supply all their needs. He cares for the wounded and the sick, using the power of His might and of His grace to heal and cure. But the fat and the strong—the defiant, the carnally secure, the slaves of sin, the self-righteous—He destroys in just judgment. So the prophetic picture Which unfolds the activity of our Lord as He ministered unto and so shepherded His sheep. (OT reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16)
In the epistle selection (I Peter 2:21-25) Peter calls our Lord “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” He gave the supreme sacrifice to make it possible for Him to claim the straying sheep. The Gospel selection (John 10:1-10), which precedes our text, emphasizes the intimate relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep. The Shepherd Speaks in His eternal, unchanging Word. He touches the hearts of the sheep with that message. The sheep hear and respond through the working of the Spirit, for the Spirit causes each sheep to recognize the voice of the Shepherd in His Word.
As you heard the text read, you heard it speak of many of these same things. We would speak of them to you again. But as we do that, we would have you make a transfer of learning. The Good Shepherd has in His employ lesser shepherds. The title “pastor” means shepherd. As your pastor, I am a lesser shepherd, working under and for the Good Shepherd, for you are all sheep of His fold. How am I to shepherd you? What kind of shepherding have you a right to expect of me? The answers have been recorded for you and for me in the words of our text. Let us then consider for our mutual learning—
First we consider this divine description of The Good Shepherd and note that He—
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” The Lord contrasted His own shepherding with that of the hired shepherds. The hirelings had no personal interest in or concern for the sheep. They were simply doing a job for a wage. They didn’t consider the wage large enough to risk their lives for the sheep. So when the wolf came, they would abandon the sheep to its fate—death from the wolf. A good shepherd, like David of old who cared for the sheep, would stay and fight the wolf or the lion and so would risk and at times lose his life to save the sheep.
Our Lord uses the contrasting picture of the hirelings and then the known example of faithful shepherds to picture Himself as the Good Shepherd. Death for the sheep—to give them life—was the goal of His life. He was not born mortal, as are all other men, and so doomed to die sooner or later. No, He was born as The Life and the Lord of Life. Yet death became the goal of His life. Why? Because His death was necessary for the life of the sheep. All we like sheep had gone astray. He had wandered from the path of life down the paths of death. Each man lives his life with the just sentence of death hanging about his neck. It couldn’t be otherwise, for the wages of sin is death. The Good Shepherd died mankind’s death in the place and in the stead of each individual. That He did, so that the sheep might live.
The Good Shepherd also—
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” We sometimes say of a person, “I know him.” What does that mean? He may mean that we know his name, where he lives, something about his personality, his history, his likes and dislikes and so on. But our knowledge may be and usually is quite superficial. He wouldn’t know a person as, for example, a psychiatrist must know an individual in order to be able to help him. When Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep,” He isn’t saying that he knows us in just a superficial way: what our name is, where we live, certain things about us. To be sure, He knows all this without error. But He knows more. He knows us inside and out. He knows our innermost thoughts. He knows our needs before we are aware of them. Above all, He knows our greatest need, which we may at many times not even feel. That is why He adds again, “And I lay down my life for the sheep.” So many people feel no need of the Lord’s laying down His life for the sheep. So many feel that they have sufficient spiritual power, that they live a sufficiently decent life, that they know God well enough that they really don’t need God’s Son as their Savior from sin and death. They feel that they can solve the problem of dying and facing the Judge of all flesh without the help of The Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows better. He knows us and all wen. He knows that daily we make ourselves guilty of death. He knew what we needed. And He did what had to be done: He laid down His life for the sheep.
There is a comfort in being known so well. When we sin, we can come and make confession, for He knows our sin before we make confession. When we face surgery, we can confidently come, for we know that He knows our case and that He has ways of caring for us and healing us, if it be His will. Whenever we face the unknown, we know that He knows what the unknown has in store for us. He can commit ourselves into His hands. He knows, and we know that He knows.
So it is that The Good Shepherd is known of the sheep. He speaks to us in His Word. He says to the penitent sinner, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” He says to the fearful, “Fear not, for I am with thee.” He says to the disturbed, “Peace be with thee. My peace I give thee, not as the world giveth…but a peace that passeth all understanding.” He tenderly invites, “Come unto me, ye that are laden with your sins; come unto Me, ye that have been taught to work and strive to save yourselves; come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” We hear these words and we recognize the voice and we learn to know Him as Lord and Savior.
The Good Shepherd also—
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Our Lord restricted His ministry chiefly to His own, the Jews. They were God’s chosen people. He lived among them. He worked among them. They had the first chance to receive of His blessings. But our Lord did not intend to abandon all others, the Gentiles of various races and peoples. Before He ascended, He commanded that His disciples go into all the world and bring His Gospel to all nations. We are among the other sheep that He is gathering through the Gospel of divine forgiveness into one fold, the Holy Christian Church. This work of gathering all the sheep into one fold shall continue until time passes into eternity.
With this picture of The Good Shepherd in mind let us make a mental transfer and think in terms of a good pastor, a lesser shepherd of The Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep in a way and manner that no human shepherd could do, for we sinners cannot make atonement for our own sins, much less for those of others. But the action of our Lord does give direction to the ministry of every pastor, for if The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep, then every pastor should be willing to—
What does this mean? It is easy for a pastor to become too professional. He may then begin to look upon the members of the congregation as clients, rather than as sheep of The Good Shepherd that have been entrusted to him. It doesn’t take long then to think of the members as means to his own ends—which become a good home, a liberal income, prestige and power, and security for all the emergencies of life. When this way of doing things becomes the common way of ministering, then the sheep are considered expendable. Their welfare becomes the secondary concern, while the primary concern remains the welfare of the pastor. It’s unfortunate that many ministries are conducted in just this way. But such pastors have lost sight of the ministry of The Good Shepherd. He gave His life for the sheep. That would suggest that each faithful shepherd should be willing to expend himself for the sheep entrusted to him. In plain language a pastor should be willing to give of himself—of his time, of his energy, of his strength, of his talents, of his education, of his training, of his experience for the benefit of the sheep. The aim of a pastor should always be to discover new and better methods of serving the sheep. To protect the sheep from error a pastor may have to sacrifice his career humanly speaking, lose his home, his job, suffer the loss of his salary. His position is to be on the front lines of the battle against Satan. When Satan accuses, he is to stand with the announcement of divine forgiveness before the penitent sinner. When Satan attempts to frighten with death, he is to comfort the dying with the message of hope from the Lord of life. Always and ever he is to expend himself for the sheep.
The Lord Jesus knew His sheep and was known of them. That would suggest of a pastor that he—
When the ministry becomes more and more professional, the relationship between pastor and member becomes more and more impersonal. Members become but names in the record books of the church secretaries. They may become nameless faces For the pastor who becomes so engrossed in administering the program of the church body on the local level that he loses all sight of the needs of the individual members. Our Lord dealt with the individual—with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, with Nicodemus who came in the night, with the dying malefactor on the cross. So a pastor is to known his people individually and personally and is to administer to their individual needs. One may lack knowledge on one point, another on another. One may have one weakness, another some other weakness. One may suffer from one kind of fear, another from another fear; One is young, the other is aging, One is sick, one is healthy; One has just been married, the other has been married for years. One is soldier, the other civilian. It is the pastor’s business, to the best of his ability, to learn to know his people so that he can serve them personally and individually. In so doing his people also learn to know him, and there develops a bond of confidence which should exist between shepherd and sheep.
Our Lord was concerned with the other sheep. So each pastor should be—
That doesn’t mean what so many think of today—joining the ecumenical band wagon. It means rather that anyone and everyone regardless of Social, racial, economic, educational differences should be the concern of every pastor who would bring the salvation of The Good Shepherd to sheep who need above all else that salvation.
May The Good Shepherd continue to supply unto His Church faithful shepherds for His sheep. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.