Sunday, 22 Apr 2018; Easter 4

John 10. 11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
 14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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 are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’

Have you ever felt sheepish? The dictionary defines this as “showing or feeling embarrassment from shame or a lack of self-confidence.”

Jesus is our shepherd, so we ought to feel sheep-ish. This will not bring us shame or a lack of self-confidence because Jesus has taken away our sin and showed us how much we are worth by dying for us.

Sheep in Jesus’ day did not fear mint sauce, only the temple! Shepherds looked after sheep so they would produce wool, milk and more sheep. Only a few were used for sacrifice and they weren’t usually eaten at other times.

So the sheep and shepherd had the prospect of a long term relationship. The shepherd was probably acting as midwife when a lamb was born and, as it grew up would look after it and get to know about its personality, strengths and weaknesses. A bit like a parent. The sheep would be given names by the shepherd. In verse 3 Jesus said that the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. The sheep and shepherd had an intimate relationship. They would know his voice and follow him. This is a picture that Jesus is using to tell people what it is like to know Him. In verse 10 he said that he had come to bring abuna==dant life to those who follow Him.

Jesus said that He is the good shepherd. Just like most professions most of the time there were bad & good shepherds in Jesus’ day. The bad shepherds, that Jesus used as a metaphor for the Pharisees, were in it for their own interest and didn’t care for the sheep. The Pharisees just cared for themselves and didn’t want to break out of their self-righteous comfort zone and lead people to God.

A good shepherd would go ahead of the sheep and lead them to good, green pasture and still water, which was easier to drink than moving water, see Psalm 23. He would help them through rough terrain, like the valley of the shadow of death, which is a real, steep, rocky valley in Israel that I visited 27 years ago. A good shepherd would defend his sheep against wild animals and robbers.

As the good shepherd Jesus goes a step further. In unfortunate circumstances a shepherd may lose his life defending the sheep against, say a robber. Five times in this passage Jesus said that He would lay down his life for His sheep. His love for His followers, His sheep, led Him to voluntarily and deliberately let Himself be crucified because God the Father had planned his as the way to put people right with Him, verse 18.

Jesus talked about having other sheep. Verse 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus was talking primarily about Gentiles, non-Jews. They would be brought to faith as well as Jewish Christians and they would all be united. Not by blood or race but by God the Holy Spirit living within them all. We are united with other believers, sheep if you like, by trusting in Jesus our good shepherd who laid down His life so we can be free to know God. This trust is brought about by the undeserved work of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus’ sheep we need to keep on knowing Him and listening to His voice. We can do this by coming to church, listening to sermons, praying, attending a home group, reading Christians books, watching Christian TV or listening to Christian radio. We will continue to encourage people to pray, and particularly to pray for people to come to faith in an initiative called “Thy Kingdom Come”.

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. This is 10th - 20th May this year. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. Last year 85 countries and 50 denominations took part.

The goal is that:

people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family - as a church, individually or as a family;

churches will hold prayer events across the UK and in other parts of the world; we will be announcing these shortly.

people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.

A selection of free Prayer Resources will be available at St Martin’s Church from 1st May. It will continue to be open for prayer every weekday 9 am - 4 pm.

Probably some 95% of our Parish have little to do with the church and Jesus. We need to pray for them and others known to us who have yet to come to know Jesus as their shepherd.

The Archbishop of Canterbury shared a story about his inability to invite a university friend to a Christian event, many years ago. He talked about a mission that was being planned at his university and how there was someone he was thinking he could ask to come along. He explained, “I was terrified, absolutely terrified, and I prayed for him every day but I couldn’t quite get up the nerve to ask him to one of the talks.”

The mission started and he still hadn’t asked him. He described feeling like a complete failure because he hadn’t had the courage to invite his friend to one of the events. But God had been at work and his prayers were answered in the strangest way.

During the week of the mission he was in the library when the friend he had planned to invite came up to him. The Archbishop recounts, “He said, “Oh Hi, Justin… I hear there’s some kind of Christian thing going on this week in the university.” and I said, “Yep, yes there is.”
He said, ‘Is there any chance I could be allowed to go to it?’
And I said, ‘Yes… you can come with me if you like!’
He said, ‘Oh, can you spare the time?’
I said, ‘Yes.’ “

The friend went along and through that mission he found Christ and is still walking with Him today. According to the Archbishop, “The Holy Spirit is the one who opens ears and warms hearts, not us.”

So if you’re praying for your friends or relatives to know Jesus and are struggling to know what to say – don’t stress about how to speak to them - just pray.

Dear Jesus, we are thankful to you for being our Good Shepherd. Thank you for loving us and taking care of us. Most of all, we thank you for laying down your life for us so that we can have everlasting life in heaven with you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen

Gathering prayer

The Lord is our shepherd.

He promises to care and protect us,

and he invites us to follow him.

So come, this morning, individually and

together, to sing, and learn,

and pray in his name.