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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:The Shepherd's Comfort
Text:John 10:11-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

John 10:11-18 – Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1 Manuscript

Well, today we are going to begin our foray into the Heidelberg Catechism. And we will begin with Q and A 1. And as we do so we are going to begin as the catechism begins, with the theme of comfort. And this should give us pause. This is the theme of the catechism, and it’s the theme of the catechism because it is the theme of the gospel. That God gives comfort to us in Christ. This is the effect of it. It is possible to have another faith, faith in another Jesus, one who doesn’t comfort or assure us. If our faith has missed this point, the point of comfort, of hope, of assurance, then we need to be directed once again to his word, and we will see that today in John 10.

We will see that because we belong to the good shepherd, we have comfort in life and death.

1) Bad Shepherds

2) Good Shepherd

1) Bad Shepherds

As with all passages of Scripture, this one comes in a context. And the context for John 10 is found in John 9. That whole chapter is devoted to the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. Well, after Jesus healed the man, he was brought to the Pharisees, who then asked him how he was healed. They didn’t like his answers, nor the fact that he was able to convict them on the fact that they had no idea who Jesus was. And so what do they do with this man? V.34. They remove him from the synagogue with spiteful words ringing in his ears.

And it’s not only that John under the inspiration of the spirit is putting these things together, we read in verse 35 that Jesus heard about this, and went to seek out the man, and the man became one of his disciples. Jesus knew what the Pharisees did, and so he addresses their actions in John 10.

And while Jesus spoke before about the thief and robber, now he speaks about the hired hand. This is the person who is paid to work as a shepherd. And work like this wasn’t for the feint of heart. It wasn’t glamorous or picturesque. It was rough and rugged, outdoors and dangerous. And Jesus gives a realistic scenario in v.12-13. This is a pretty clear illustration, isn’t it? If you recall, a few years ago we had Mycoplasma Bovis come to New Zealand dairy farms. The response of the government was to cull the infected cows. If you were watching at the time, you had to notice something interesting. That while the farmers were compensated for the value of the cows, they were still unhappy. Why? Because they invest time and effort into building a herd just the way they like it. It’s not a matter of, “You can just buy new cows.” There is an emotional connection that money can’t compensate for. And so the fact is that if there is some sort of pest that you know will threaten your herd, you will do what you can, even to your own danger.

But not the hireling. Even though he carried a rod and could probably have quite effectively defended the flock from the attack, no amount of risk is worth it for him. The hired hand is not willing to put himself on the line because he is working for a paycheck, not for the sake of the sheep. And this doesn’t result simply in the loss of one sheep, yes the wolf kills one or two, but the flock is scattered. Making them all vulnerable to rough terrain, to the elements, to other predators.

And the connection here to the Pharisees is clear. They have shown by their actions how they feel about the sheep. They have this man in John 9 who has been blind. Someone who should have been their object of compassion, but who now they have turned and attacked. They should have rejoiced to see that he had been healed, but what do they know? They know that this Jesus is a threat to them. Not to their lives, but to their power. That the good shepherd has arrived to take possession of his flock. And what do they do? Rather than loving this sheep, they are willing to sacrifice him. To make him an outcast for their own benefit, out of fear. They are the hired hands.

What comfort is there in shepherds like this? Shepherds who think of themselves rather than the sheep? Shepherds that will leave his sheep in doubt with regard to whether they are safe, whether they are cared for, whether they are loved?

And while the Bible never presents Jesus as the bad shepherd, churches can do this! They can turn the good shepherd into the hireling. They can beat a drum that calls into question whether your shepherd loves you, cares for you. Threatening that perhaps gospel comfort isn’t for you. Removing comfort, removing assurance. But this is precisely what Jesus is condemning.

2) Good Shepherd

And so in opposition to these hired hands, Jesus says “I Am the good shepherd.” And there is something important to not in the words here, “I AM”. You might remember the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3. God there commissioned Moses to speak on his behalf, and Moses was reluctant and asked God who he should say was sending him. What God says there is that he should say that I AM sent him. A phrase which is related to the covenant name Jahweh, and which describes his eternal nature. This is the way that God reveals himself to his people, and now Jesus takes up that same phrase with regard to himself. He is making a not-so-subtle claim to be divine! And when Jesus used this phrase with reference to himself in John 8:58, they knew that he was claiming to be God and they tried to stone him!

But as the divine son of God, what is he doing, how does he describe himself? He is the good shepherd. And exactly what that looks like Jesus himself explains. V.14-15a.

One of the characteristics of the shepherd is that he knows his sheep. And once again that shouldn’t be a serious shock to the stock farmers here. And it’s more than just the knowledge that comes from ownership. It’s the knowledge that comes from relationship. It comes from the shepherd having raised each and every sheep in this flock, from caring for them from birth to death for years. There is not one sheep there that he hasn’t cared for at some stage, and so there is no sheep that he doesn’t know!

And this is the shepherding that Jesus has to his flock. An intimate personal relationship that mirrors the personal relationship of Jesus and his heavenly father. And the fact that we are known by Jesus isn’t ignored by the HC either. Indeed, we belong to him, and as a result it says that his knowledge is so intimate that not hair can fall from our head without his will. Each and every thing that happens to us his concern.

What is the second characteristic of this shepherd? Well, as Jesus said already in the first verse of our text, he lays down his life for the sheep. And here is where the Pharisees have failed so deeply. Shepherding wasn’t for the faint of heart or the weak, and the noble shepherd places himself between the wolf and his defenseless flock.

And this is what Jesus came to do. He says this again in v.17-18. His mission is to be that shepherd. To be the one who sees and knows the danger that approaches. When the Roman Officers came to arrest him, he didn’t cower and hide, he stood and said “I am he.” But of his followers he said “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way.” Jesus knew that without his sacrifice, all of his sheep would be lost, dead in sin, condemned to judgement. In the face of this danger, his mission is to save them from that, to save them from their sins. As the HC states in such plain language, that he has full paid for all my sins with his precious blood. This was accomplished to free us from fear, free us from danger. And it succeeded because of his power.

You see, here is the difference between the Good Shepherd and a natural shepherd. If the wolf puts the shepherd to death, he has free reign on the sheep. But this is not what happened at the death of Jesus. Why? V.18. Because this shepherd wasn’t killed against his will, but knew that laying down his life would accomplish the victory that the sheep needed. Why? Because by his power he went to death, and by his power he defeats death itself. By laying down his life he ensured that no wolf could harm one of his sheep ever again.

And he intends to take possession of every sheep for which he died. V.16. Many, if not all of those who had begun to follow Jesus would have considered him the one who would bring about a new Empire of Israel. But the reality that Jesus is pointing to is the breadth of his mission. There are sheep in other places, from other nations and peoples that will hear the voice of their shepherd and will come and be gathered. And these diverse flocks are not gathered to remain diverse, but are gathered into one. One church, gathered under the one lord with one faith in him. Seeking to follow the one shepherd who laid down his life for them. Under his rule, rather than as the HC says under the tyranny of the devil. Indeed, that gathering that Jesus will accomplish will be a raid of the pens of the devil, calling out those who he has paid for by his blood.

If you don’t know Jesus tonight, you might be thinking to yourself, “I want a shepherd like this for myself. A saviour who knows me, loves me, and lays down his life for me.” Well, the good news is that here Jesus is announcing his raiding mission. To take those who are not from his flock and bring them in. He welcomes you to his flock, and joins you to it by faith, and by faith alone.

And we all must understand that it is this promise that drives the final line of the catechism. “Because…life.” United into one church, with one Lord, through faith in him, following the shepherd who gave his life for us.

And to you, his flock, the shepherd says, “I know you, I laid down my life for you, I gathered you, so be assured, take comfort.” He died so that you can live in hope and joy. And because you belong to him, you can have comfort in life and in death.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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