The Good Shepherd
April 30, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
I Am The Good Shepherd
1. The early church was recognized as a sect [within] Judaism. It was called "The Nazarene sect" because Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee. However, the church would become completely separate from Judaism's society about when the first century, during which the church was born, was drawing near to a close. Anyone who publicly expressed that Jesus was the messiah would have been expelled from the synagogue. This was a very severe situation for the church. It was a certainty that one would become the target of persecution by the Jews, but even more was certain than that. For, to be driven out of the world of Judaism, which was a religion recognized by Rome, meant that one would become the target of imperial Roman persecution. It was a great ordeal. One's faith would be shaken greatly.
2. The Gospel According To John, which I read to you earlier, was written in that kind of time period. The people were gathering on the Lord's Day for worship, just as we do now, but in the kind of situation where one's faith is shaken. [I think that] it also came to pass that the leaders were arrested one after the other. What would happen now? What would happen to this small assembly of ours? Amid the anxiety of the unforeseeable future, amid the fears, they did assemble together, they inclined their ears to the word of the Lord, and took part in the body and the blood of the Lord. In [all] this, the gospel was also read aloud.
3. Please try to imagine how that the words from this gospel, which I read to you earlier, were read out loud in these services [of theirs]. "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep also know me. It is the same as my father knowing me and my knowing the father. I give up my life for my sheep," (verses fourteen and fifteen). I would think that this message was such a great encouragement to them. They must have literally clang to these words of Jesus. And Jesus probably spoke over and over to their hearts with [these words], "O my sheep, do not be afraid. I am the good shepherd. You will not be thrown out amid trials. [I'm] your shepherd."
4. Likewise, we are now hearing this same message. Jesus is speaking in the same way to us who are here in this place. Of course, the situation we're placed into is different from the early church. Our church is not encountering persecution from the state or from its people. But, the hardships that the devil uses to shake our faith, to separate us from God and to cause despair are not necessarily always just simple things like persecution. All the different powers that exist in this passing world are at work trying to draw us apart from God. We are living in that kind of [world], and all of us are nothing more than powerless sheep, unable to resist a wolf if it came. Wouldn't you agree? However, Jesus does speak over and over to us, too, even though we are [in such a fix like] that, saying, "I am the good shepherd." Since that is so, the main thing is that we listen to his voice and keep following [him]. We are not to get separated from the shepherd.
I Know My Sheep
5. Today I would like for us to remember in particular verses fourteen and fifteen. "I am the good shepherd." In what sense is the Lord "the good shepherd?" It is written as follows. "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep also know me. It is the same as my father knowing me and my knowing the father." [His] being "the good shepherd" means that he is the shepherd who knows us.
6. Unfortunately, the exact figure of a shepherd tending sheep is not very familiar to us. When I used to [live] in Osaka, I often went to a sheep ranch because there was one named Rokko Ranch two hours away by car; but, I never could find someone who was the shepherd there. It seemed altogether different to me from the daily life of the sheep in Palestine.
7. The shepherd lived day to day with [his] sheep. It says that he gave names to each and every sheep and cared for them. In verse three the text has written that "The shepherd calls each name of his sheep and leads it along." As we would see them the sheep would all look the same to us, but the shepherd could tell each sheep apart one from the other. The sheep were never ever merely "a flock of sheep" to the shepherd, one sheep could absolutely not take the place of some other sheep, each and every single one was a precious sheep.
8. When Jesus said that "I am the good shepherd," what was in his mind was the bond of the sheep with the shepherd. When he says that the shepherd knows his sheep, it doesn't mean that he knows just the habits of sheep and the natures of sheep, but that he knows each of the sheep. It's not that Jesus knows all about what humanity is, but that he knows me, he knows you. [We're] not lumped up together.
9. And on top of that he said something astonishing there. He said, "It is the same as my father knowing me and my knowing the father," (verse fifteen). Should [we] claim such a thing? The bond between God the Father and Jesus the Son was a unique relationship. We can see repeatedly in this gospel how Jesus was connected to God the Father with a bond of deep love and trust. Jesus said, "I and my father are one," (verse thirty). But, Jesus was saying that besides there being such a relationship between the Father and the Son, it was also between Jesus the shepherd and his sheep.
10. As a matter of fact, as we see in the gospel record, the relationship of Jesus and the disciples was truly like that because the disciples' knowing Jesus in a true sense came later. But, before the disciples know the Lord at that [level], Jesus had known them. The truth be told, he had also known even [their] weaknesses and sinfulness, that lie hidden inside them. Jesus knew the disciples even better than they knew themselves. When we read it later, the text will say that Jesus even knew that his disciples would soon forsake him and run away. Jesus even knew that Peter would deny him three times. Neither Peter nor any disciple understood himself by himself. However, the disciples would soon come to know that they were known by Jesus. In this manner then, they would come to know that Jesus the shepherd knew more about them than they did about themselves and he knew them inside out as his own sheep.
11. Jesus says to us as well, "I am [your] good shepherd." As [our] shepherd, the Lord knows us. The Lord even knows our sins as we've rebelled against him and [the Lord knows] even our weaknesses hidden on the inside which we would never want shown to the outside.
I Give My Live Away For The Sheep
12. Having known his sheep so thoroughly then, the Lord goes on to say, "I give my life away on behalf of the sheep." This is another part of the contents of what the Lord meant when he said, "I am the good shepherd."
13. Whenever a shepherd gives up his life to guard the sheep, he does it because he loves [his] sheep; because the sheep are more important to him than his own life. What's more, it doesn't say here in the text that "I am giving my life away for the good sheep." Jesus' love is not an award for our self sacrifice or loyalty. Think about it. Jesus spoke this message before these very disciples, soon to forsake him and flee. [He told them], "I am giving my life away for the sheep."
14. Is there even any one who would say in all sincerity to all of us, "You are more important than my own life?" After this, there's a wedding today. I would think that the couple getting married would say that to each other, at least at this present moment. "You are more important than my own life." Any way, if there is such a person, I think you're a really happy one. No matter how bitter, how painful, how worrisome or fearful, you could keep on living.
15. But, yet there are boundaries eventually even with respect to human love. Having known everything about you to a thorough degree, upon knowing everything completely, even the weaknesses that you hide within and the many different sins that do not show on the surface, if you are still a person who can say in all sincerity that "You are more important than my own life," what do you make of that? When you give it some serious thought as it pertains to you, won't you inevitably declare "that's impossible?"
16. I think you will. The message that Jesus is giving here is that such a thing is "impossible." But, the disciples would soon come to see. In being a direct eyewitness of the crucified Jesus, they would come to know one truth. He knew our weakness. He knew that we would forsake him and run off. When all is said and done, he knew also that we were only thinking of our very selves. But, to us as we are he has said with all sincerity: "I give my life away for the sheep." "O my sheep, you are more important than my own life." He said that with all sincerity and truth.
17. This matter is expressed as follows in John's epistle. "Jesus gave his life away for us. Through that, we have known love," (First John 3:16). The one who has loved us to that extent has risen from the dead, and lives right now, and will be [our] good shepherd for eternity. Generations of the church have believed that and have proclaimed it. Therefore, even still at the end of the century, the words of Jesus were read aloud when everyone assembled together. And still today these words are read aloud in worship services.
18. Jesus knows us. He knows whatever [there is to know] about each and every one of us here right now, whether our weaknesses or our sins. He also is the one who gave his life away in order to atone for our sins and in order to save us. I asked you just before if there is anyone who could say with all sincerity and truth that "You are more important than my own life." This [Jesus] says to us even today, "I am [your] good shepherd."
19. From here on out as the Lord's flock of sheep we will keep on walking towards the kingdom of God, towards the time when the will of God will be on earth just as it is in heaven. While we hear the voice of [our] shepherd, let's keep following [our] good shepherd. We won't understand the things that happen in [even] one year's time on this earth in which the church is placed. Even in our own specific personal lives all kinds of unexpected things will turn up. But, because we do have a good shepherd, we do not need to worry. Let's hearken to his voice and follow [our] good shepherd from here on as well.