Year A - Easter 4 13/4/08
John 10:1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Play "Simon says" with the children and, perhaps adults to show that sometimes it is right to follow and example and do what you are told. Other times it is not. Jesus told this parable to show that it is right to follow him and this will lead to a wonderful life.
Alternatively, play "Guess The Voice" pick up on hearing different voices using the attached .mp3 file ( right click on this to open or save the file which is 2 MB ). This has the voices of David Beckham, The Queen, Prime Minister - Gordon Brown, The Chucle Brothers from Children's B.B.C., Konie Huq - presenter of Blue Peter and part time carrier of Olympic torch, Kylie Minogue, Joseph Mawle playing Jesus in "The Passion". Jesus followers know HIs voice and follow Him because this will lead to abundant life, verse 10.
In the Old Testament the leaders of God's people are sometimes likened to shepherds looking after sheep. In Ezekiel 34 they are condemned for taking advantage of the sheep and not caring for them, see footnote. That passage and others looks forward to a time when the Lord himself will shepherd his people with justice, care and compassion. Jesus is the fulfilment of that prophecy. He offer abundant life, v. 10, in contrast to the religious leaders of his day who took advantage of people, enslaving them by rules and religion, justifying themselves.
Perhaps we might compare them today with religious sects who enslave and manipulate people today. For example the Mormon sect in Texas which was in the press early this week with allegations about the sexual abuse of minors.
Jesus has an intimate relationship with his "sheep". He knows them by name v.3. They know His voice and He leads them, providing for them ( pasture, v. 9 ), and saving them, v.9.
Jesus talks of giving his followers a full life in verse 10. A number of translations talk of abundant life. The International Standard Version is one... "The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
The Greek word perissos, "abundantly", refers to something extraordinary, superior, remarkable, supreme, exceeding something over and above what is necessary.
This is the life Jesus can bring through a relationship with Him as our personal shepherd.
Yet, if we are honest, there are many times when our lives do not feel full or abundant. The reason for this is to be found in the first part of verse 10. "The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy...
The thief that Jesus was talking about here was the religious leaders of the day that robbed God's people of true faith in God. Perhaps we need to ask the question "What is robbing me of the abundant life that Jesus has for me?"
[ Encourage the congregation to think about what things hinder their walk with Jesus ]
I would like to suggest some possible "robbers";
We live in a busy world and there is so much to do, so little time to do things. Even though we have never had so many labour saving devices we have never been so busy!
What should we do? Decide what is important to us and then see if this agrees with how we spend our time. For those of you who like lists you could divide a page into two, write down "Priorities" on one side first, writing what you think is important in your life. Then head the other side "Time" and list what you spend your time doing.
I've heard it said that at the end of their life no-one ever said that they regretted that they didn't spend more time at work.
We live in a consumerist society. If some people feel down they go out and buy something. We are encouraged to buy things that we cannot afford to pay for using credit. This has caused so many problems for people who cannot pay back what they owe.
We think that "the customer is always right" and, as we are customers that means that "I" am always right. This leads on to a rejection of and lack of respect for those in authority. We see this in the way that the newspapers treat people. We also see it in the way that people treat God and the Bible.
Being led by Feelings.
The measure that is used nowadays is "How does this make me feel?" This is one of the things that fuels consumerism. This goes against the way of Christ which is for his followers to take up their cross every day, Luke 9:23. The cross was not pleasurable, comfortable, but a one way ticket to suffering and death, but also to resurrection.
This being led by feelings can lead to insecurity about how other people feel about us which can lead to a concentration on the superficial, what we look like, wear, drive, where we go etc. It also leads to addiction to drink, drugs, sex, and other pursuits that enslave.
Jesus has the antidote to busy-ness, to thinking that we are always right, the feelings that lead us to want more yet leave us unsatisfied, fear of what others think of us, perhaps even a fear of what we are really like underneath it all.
Jesus knows us by name, intimately. He loves us. He wants the best for us. He wants to lead us, provide for us, protect us, save us.
We need to focus on our relationship with Him, to reject the things that will rob us of that relationship and the abundant, extraordinary, life that He has for us.
Jesus' words pointed to himself as the good shepherd and denounced the Pharisees for failing to fulfil their duty to God. This echoes the words of Ezekiel 34 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
In Jesus' day the Pharisees and teachers of the law were wealthy, often at the expense of the poor. They loved to be seen in their fine clothes, performing their religious duties and looking down on those whom they considered 'sinners'. They took great pride in observing a multitude of rules, but were denounced by Jesus for ignoring justice and compassion. They would have known of Ezekiel 34 and that Jesus' words were an indictment of their leadership.
In Ezekiel 34 when, after denouncing the religious leaders for exploiting the sheep, the prophet continues, 11" `For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Isaiah 40: 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.