A mother was once asked by a census-taker how many children she had. She replied, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and…”. “Never mind the names,” the man interrupted, “Just give me the numbers”. The mother angrily replied, “They don’t have numbers, they all have names!”
This might be a funny story, but in our modern world this is oh so true. We are often reduced to numbers and statistics, especially by the government. Here in Canada, our governments- municipal, federal or provincial-know us by our Social Insurance Numbers, and that identity is included in almost all of our lifetime records and transactions. We are no longer identities to our governments, only our “number” is. Even our opinions are reflected by numbers in survey results. No wonder many people have an “identity crisis”.
Thankfully, our Saviour Jesus Christ is not like this. He knows each and every one of us by our names, just like a shepherd knows each and every one of the sheep in his flock. Personal names and identities are important to God, especially his own; therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus knows us by our names. After all, he is the Good Shepherd.
The parable of the good shepherd and his sheep is a reference to God’s intimate knowledge of all of us. A good shepherd looks after his flock and knows his sheep. Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world. They seek the security of the flock and blindly follow the lead of the shepherd. When several flocks are grazing together in a field, they are still able to distinguish the voice of their own shepherd and follow his movements, clap, voice, etc. Sheep need a leader not because they are dumb, but because they know they can’t go it alone. They need someone to lead and to guide them.
Jesus is our shepherd. People who truly belong to God listen to and believe in the words of Jesus. We must distinguish his voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives and follow Him in faith. He provides the security of an eternal kingdom, but people often look elsewhere for their spiritual and eternal security. No forces other than our own can snatch us out of His good care and keeping. There is no security in the law, only unbelief. Christianity is not about Christians behaving themselves. It is about hope for those who do not have any-including all of us. All we have in ourselves is doubt and fear-and nothing there is certain.
In Biblical times, sheep were often placed in a fenced-in area at night for their protection. If the sheep pen had a gate, the shepherd could close and lock it and go home; however, many sheep pens did not have a gate. Instead, there was an opening. A shepherd would then lie across the opening to keep predators out. Just as the shepherd controlled the entrance to the sheep pen, Jesus controls our entrance to heaven. In fact, Jesus is the only way to heaven. As Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me”. Our comings and goings are through Jesus.
This might seem narrow-minded to some people, but it was Jesus who in his perfect mind and perfect planning paved the way for us to be reconciled to God. He did this by giving himself to us. For us he emptied himself of his deity and took on human form and became a lowly, humble servant-just like a shepherd is a lowly, humble servant. We can have all of the world’s goods, but we would still be empty inside. The only person who can truly satisfy us is Jesus. If we allow Christ to live in us, we will have an abundant life. His love encourages us and empowers us so that we will obey him out of joy and thankfulness.
As a gate-keeper, Jesus provides both protection and freedom. He gives us helpful boundaries and keeps the enemy at bay. We can trust him more than we can trust the world around us. Jesus warns us about those who would lead people far from the truth, especially false teachers and some TV evangelists. These false prophets are like junk food. They look so appealing, but a steady diet of their “spiritual junk food” will hurt us in the long run. Jesus loved people and cared for them just like a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Those of you who have ever held a yard sale might have been in a situation where a customer found an item that he or she wanted, but did not want to pay the price you were charging. Well, our spiritual life is the same. There are people who are looking for joy, peace and love in their lives. When someone tells them that they can have all of that and more just by believing in what Jesus did for them on the cross, they do not want to pay the price.
Sheep can’t spend their entire lives in the sheepfold. After all, there’s no food in the sheepfold. The sheep might be comfortable and safe in the sheepfold, but the sheep must follow the shepherd out of the fold in order to find sustenance, in order to live. In the same way, Jesus calls out to us. He speaks the word that will bring us out of the places of comfort and safety that we have built around us.
Life cannot be conquered, but it can be delayed, put on hold or made dormant. When we retreat to the safety and comfort of our own personal sheepfolds, we can’t fully enjoy the fullness of a life lived in God. Life is not the same as existence. Ease does not bring joy, and less demanding often means less fulfilling.
A good shepherd is also willing to lay down his life in order to protect his flock. He will use any weapons he has at his disposal (including his staff) to fight off predators. Jesus as our shepherd willingly laid down his life so that those who believe in him would be protected from both sin and the wrath of God’s punishment. Those who love, follow and obey God will be in the devil’s sights. His eye will be on us when we take the battle to him. He also gave us the armour of God that Paul refers to in Ephesians chapter 6 so that we might be better able to protect ourselves as we fight the temptations of Satan and the world.
Satan has no power to stop us from walking with God. He can never own us because we have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection and we are forever in him. Our greatest challenges often come after our greatest victories. The devil will always be there to challenge whatever God has done. He is always looking for our vulnerabilities. Jesus became the door to salvation for us. He gave his life for the great flock of humanity so that anyone who believes in him can become part of God’s flock.
Jesus came to give us eternal life, offer us forgiveness, set us free from guilt and sin, and give us a fuller, meaningful life here on earth. We can live abundant lives because he can provide forgiveness from sin. In order to seek the gifts he offers us, we have to continually follow him and obey him without reservation. Don’t we all want to experience the joy of living and moving in grace-filled rhythm, in tune with something larger than ourselves? Don’t we all want the sense that we are living and moving in perfect rhythm to the song of the Christian life?
The world tells us to measure our lives by the limited time we have here on earth, but the life we have in Christ is so much better than that, because the life we have in him is eternal life. We disrespect Christ when we do not live up to the potential and possibilities Jesus has made available to us. When we settle for a listless and lackluster life of going through the motions and pursuing meaningless plans, we tell Jesus that his work has no effect in our lives.
We as sheep are unambiguous people who are to be cared for. We can’t enter Jesus’ flock by deeds, philosophy or ritual. We have to come through Jesus. The voice of the good shepherd helps us when we have to make difficult choices-choices about who we are, what we believe, and what really matters to us. He whispers his love for us. He calls us into an ongoing relationship with him. All we have to do are three things:
- Confess our sins and admit that we need a saviour.
- Trust Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
- Believe that our sins are forgiven and that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
We must be careful not to let our zeal for God fade. We were created to live a full and abundant life that was paid for by Jesus so that we can enjoy God’s full blessings. Are we living the abundant life, or are we just getting by? How do we leave time in our lives for these blessings? We have to make time for the joys of the abundant life. We have to stay close to the one who makes the abundant life possible-Jesus.
When we come to Jesus that does not mean that our life will be perfect and carefree. In fact, the storms of life might become stronger because of the devil. Jesus does not protect those he loves from bad things happening but uses bad things to fulfill his plans for our lives. When we suffer, he is glad not because we are suffering, but because through suffering we have the chance to grow in faith and display his glory-and that is the very purpose of our existence.
- Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
- ESV Study Bible
- Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study, Winter 2011
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- Sheila Schuller Coleman, “Wake-up Call Number One”. Retrieved from www.hourofpower.cc
- Dr. Jack Graham, “Living an Abundant Life”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
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- Greg Laurie, “After the Dove”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
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- Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “The Lord, Our Shepherd”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “Jesus: The Only Way to Heaven”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Sharon Jaynes, “Just What You’ve Always Wanted”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Kelly McFadden, “The Truth versus the Lie”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “Rekindling the Fire”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Mike DeVries, “Living in Rhythm”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Mary Southerland, “First Class Living”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Jack Graham, “How You Can Experience Abundant Life in Christ”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Steve Arterburn, “Called by Name”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Joel Osteen, “Thriving Every Day”. Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
- Anne Graham Lotz, “More to Life”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
- Rev. Billy Strayhorn, “The Voice of the Shepherd”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- William Loader, “Easter 4”. Retrieved from www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MtEaster4.htm
- Jerry Goebel, “I am the Door”. Retrieved from http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/John/jn_10_01-10.htm
- Craig Condon, “Shepherd to Lost Sheep-Do you Read Me? Over”. Sermon preached in 2008
- Rev. Adam Thomas, “The Sheepfold”. Retrieved from www.day1.org