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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

From a Sheep’s Perspective

John 10:11-18

John 10:11-18

New Revised Standard Version

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

I imagine many of you have been to Disney World. So, you know that often, near the end of the evening, there is often a show with lights, special effects, and fireworks. One that I remember most was “Fantasmic!” at Disneyland in California (living in CA for many years, I went to that park many times – even during breaks when I was in seminary).

“Fantasmic!” was, well, fantastic. Mickey Mouse was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in this visual adaptation of the movie, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” In the show, with the lights flashing, fireworks exploding, and the musical score from the movie blasting he was confronted by some of the classic Disney villains: Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid,” Scar from “The Lion King,” Cruella de Ville from “101 Dalmatians,” Jafar from “Aladdin,” and Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty,” and others. Their appearance turns Mickey’s pleasant dreams into a nightmare! Of course, Mickey, with a wave of his magic wand, defeats them all!

Don’t we wish life were that easy. Wave a magic wand and all is okay again. Order is restored. Nightmares turn back into pleasant dreams.

Life isn’t that easy, but we often live like we are in a Disney World life. We go from one attraction to the next as we chose. We fight our battles, temptations, and challenges on our own or ignore them and hope they go away. We assume if we get hurt or knocked down, we’ll bounce right back up like a cartoon character. All in the name of freedom – our freedom to be and do whatever we want without interference from anyone else or anything else. We set our own boundaries or don’t have any at all.

Is that really freedom? A Disney World life where we defeat the monsters and then take a bow at the end? When we know that we don’t live this kind of life.

Instead, we live a reality show life. We can’t always discern who is honest and who isn’t. The monsters sometimes win. We get voted off the island. We give in to temptation and don’t always bounce back up when we are knocked down. Stress, pain, dishonesty, hurt, and sin are part of our real life.

We look for a place to escape. A place to be safe. A place to experience real life. John tells us where that place is – the sheep pen!

Have you ever been around sheep for any length of time? Sheep are calm, cuddly, and cute (the lambs anyway), and basically fearless. They have little common sense (they can easily walk into a ditch) and are very dependent. Sheep are followers, but they know who to follow – their shepherd.

As an introduction to the section of John we are considering, I want to review the first part of John chapter 9, the story of a blind man who receives his sight.

The assumption during Jesus’ day was that blindness was the result of sin, either of the person who was blind or his/her parents. Here, Jesus explains that this is not the case. He tells the people that the man “was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” Jesus then mixed his saliva with dirt to make mud and spread it on the man’s eyes. He was able to see!

The crowd didn’t believe that this man who had been healed of his blindness was even the same one that used to sit and beg. They even brought in his parents to confirm that the man was their son. The man was questioned by the Pharisees about being healed. They didn’t believe that the teacher, Jesus was from God or had the power to heal. Yet the man insisted that it was Jesus who healed him, saying that Jesus was from God and, later in Jesus’ presence, acknowledged that Jesus was indeed the Son of Man, the one known to be the Messiah.

This encounter typifies the primary message of the gospels. The writers present the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah so that others would believe.

Here, the tables are turned. The question John addresses is, “who are the followers?” His answer: the sheep!

The image of sheep is a common one in the Bible. From the earliest sections we read of the flocks of Abraham and the other patriarchs, and of the shepherd boy David. The Psalms contain numerous references to sheep. Jesus uses sheep as an illustration in several of his parables. Shepherding was one of the primary occupations the people so using the image of sheep gave listeners a connection point.

You might ask who the sheep represent. Psalm 95:7 says, “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” We are the sheep!

Most of us probably don’t like being compared to sheep. Sheep don’t have a mind of their own. We think they are passive and get pushed around. No one respects a sheep. We may grumble about being identified as sheep until we turn and look at who the shepherd is that invites us into his pen. A shepherd like no other.

Think about what a shepherd does – he cares for his sheep. The shepherd rescues them from danger, gathers them from the places they have scattered, feeds them, and provides water, and tends to the weak and injured. He protects them. Theologian and author N.T. Wright describes the role of the shepherd in this way:

The shepherd, after all, spends most hours of most days in their company. He knows their individual characters, markings, likes and dislikes. What’s more, they know him. They know his voice. Someone else can come to the sheepfold and they won’t go near him, even if he calls the right names. They are listening for the one voice that matters, the voice they trust. When they hear it, he won’t need a sheepdog to keep them in order. He won’t walk behind them, driving them on. He will walk ahead, calling them, and they will follow him.

As a teenager, Sam was always looking for trouble. He cut school and hung out at places he shouldn’t have been. His mom, a single parent, worked two jobs and did her best to take care of herself and of Sam. Because she wasn’t home after school, a neighbor kept an eye on Sam if he was around home.

The only thing Sam did that his mom asked him to do was go to church. He hated it but went every week. It was the one time he had her all to himself. They even went to McDonald’s for lunch afterwards.

The youth director at the church noticed Sam and reached out to him. The youth director took time to get to know Sam. He went to the skate park where Sam liked to hang out as well as other places Sam spent his time. For Sam it was the first time he could remember someone other than his mom paying positive attention to him. Here was a person who cared and worked to build a relationship with him.

The youth director pointed Sam to Jesus. He helped Sam see that he did have a future other than being on the streets. It took time, but Sam’s life changed. He worked harder at school, doing well enough to go to the local community college where he trained to be a nurse’s aide. Later, Sam volunteered as a Big Brother so he could do for another boy in trouble what the youth director had done for him. To be a shepherd for someone else. Sam learned that one person could help change a life.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does all these things for his sheep, his people. And even more. He is just like a shepherd for his people.

A shepherd lives with his sheep. He names each one and marks each as his own. At night he lays down at the opening of the pen as the gate to keep them in and to keep danger out. The sheep know that they are safe in the pen. In the morning he calls each by name. They respond only to his voice. No one else. he leads them to pasture and to clean water. The sheep are always under the care and protection of their shepherd. They know their shepherd!

Who is the gate for us? Who is the shepherd who is willing to do all to care for us? who has impacted our life? You may be able to name a person or two that has filled that role in your life at one time or another. But one that is and always will be your shepherd? One that can lead you into real life.

There is only One who fits the bill, who checks all the boxes. Jesus Christ. He loves us unconditionally. He freely chose death, both as an expression of obedience to God and on our behalf. Jesus will always be there for us, guiding us to a place of safety.

One more thing…the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd has no meaning without the sheep, those who follow the shepherd. We are invited to be these sheep. To be a member of God’s flock. To be those who follow the Shepherd’s voice. On our end this requires obedience and listening to who Jesus says he is. It requires acknowledging his claims and to accept him and his promises to us as true. In short, it takes faith – the faith that comes from God and isn’t dependent solely on our own ability to be faithful.

The benefits are worth making the choice to follow Jesus. You have a shepherd who can help you fight the monsters and villains of life. Under his protection and through his gift of love and life, we can spiritually experience all that life on this earth has to offer. Following the Shepherd gives you a changed perspective on your meaning and purpose. Jesus, the Good Shepherd is our shepherd. It is his voice we are to follow. No one else.

In closing, I want to share with you some familiar words as a reminder of all that Jesus does for us – Psalm 23 – in a different way. Backwards. Hear the familiar words:

All the days of my life surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

My cup overflows

You anoint my head with oil

In the presence of my enemies, you prepare a table before me

They comfort me, your rod and staff

For you are with me

I fear no evil even though I walk through the darkest valley

For his name’s sake he leads me in right paths

He restores my soul

Beside still waters he leads me

In green pastures he makes me lie down

I shall not want

The Lord is my shepherd


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