As you may know by personal experience, most of us go through an identity crisis of sorts when we’re about half-way through college. For some reason, when we get to this particular stage in life many of us become unsure as to who we are or why we have been put on this planet. There’s an old youth choir anthem that expresses this feeling. It’s lyrics ask,
“Why was I born? What am I living for? If I should die, what would I be dying for?Is there an answer to my question? Is there an answer to my plea?”
When I was in college this anthem was popular and I remember being drawn to its words because I was going through my own time of asking myself these very same questions. In fact I changed my major three times before I finally found the answer I was seeking….which made it possible for me to squeeze a four year college degree into five years!
But, other people who face this identity crisis aren’t satisfied by simply changing their major. They feel a need to LEAVE college and go off alone in an attempt to FIND THEMSELVES, spending months hiking across Europe or down the Appalachian trail. Tony Campolo, who used to teach sociology at Eastern College, says that every May one of his students would come in his office and say, Doc, I’m not coming back next semester. When asked to explain himself, the student would say, I need time Doc. I need time. Campolo says that at this point he would always think, This guys’ done nothing in my class for the past six months and NOW he needs time!? The student would go on and say,
I need time to FIND MYSELF. I’m tired of playing all these roles that society says I have to play. I’m tired of being the ME that my FRIENDS expect me to be…the ME the CHURCH expects me to be…the ME that my PARENTS expect me to be. I’ve got to peel away each of these socially prescribed identities. I’ve got to peel away each of these socially constructed roles. I’ve got to peel them away-peel them away do you hear?-and come to grips with the core of my being…the essence of my personality. At this point Campolo would break in and say, Suppose after you peel away each of these socially prescribed identities; after you peel away each of these socially created selves you discover you are an onion?
Well, in his teasing of this college student, Campolo has touched on a very important truth for all of those who face identity crises like this. You see there is a common presupposition in our culture that every body has a self waiting to be found. Now, if this were true someone would have found it long ago. One of the thousands of youth who set out in search of themselves would come back and say, I found myself….just north of Cleveland. But, this doesn’t happen because the SELF is not something waiting to be found…SELF is something that is waiting to be created.
The only way to create self…is through commitment to something in life and the only commitment that is worth giving your SELF over to is a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In fact it is only in THIS commitment that we FIND what we are seeking. Do you remember what Jesus said about this issue? ..whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it. (Matthew 10:39b) This is because we are custom-designed for a relationship with God. In fact, each of us is uniquely-gifted for a specific role in His kingdom. In Ephesians 2:10Paul reminds us of this when he says, We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So you see, it is only in giving our-SELVES over to God’s purposes that we find the reason for our existence and the sense of direction that comes with that all-important commitment. The last verse of that old youth choir anthem I referred to a moment ago speaks of a teen who discovered this truth and said,
“Then I met the One Who loved me, Who gave His all on Calvary.I gave my life into His keeping. He took my sin and set me free.I’m here to love the One Who first loved me. I’m here to live throughout eternity. HE is the answer to my question. HE is the answer to my plea.”
I remember tearing up whenever my church’s college choir sang that anthem because it expressed so clearly my own questions and the answers that I found. You see, like other young disciples down through the ages, I found myself…my life’s purpose…my reason for being…when I surrendered to Jesus’ call in my life. I found myself in losing myself within His will.
And you know, unlike us, Jesus never had an identity crisis. He never had to go out in search of Himself. Even at the age of 12 our Lord knew exactly why He was here. Do you remember what He said to His parents when, after a frantic search, they found Him in the temple in Jerusalem teaching the priests a thing or two? He explained Himself by saying that his life purpose was, …to be about His Father’s business. Throughout His life Jesus made other statements that showed He very clearly KNEW Who He was and WHY He was here. Many of these statements are recorded in the Gospel of John and we refer to them as the I AM sayings of Jesus. You probably know them by heart.
Well, over the next four Sundays I want us to study several of our Lord’s I AM sayings in the hopes that we will come to know Him better here at Redland and in the process will find ourselves in a renewed commitment to His lordship. Next Sunday we’ll focus on John 6:35where Jesus said, I AM…the Bread of life. On April 15th, EASTER SUNDAY, we’ll study John 11:25where our Lord said, I AM…the resurrection and the life. Then on April 22 we will focus on John 14:6where Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except by Me. On April 29th, Mark Cooke will be in our pulpit, leading us as we look at John 15:11,where Jesus said, I am the true Vine. And today we begin with John 10where Jesus said, I AM…the Good Shepherd. Take your Bibles and let us read together these words of Jesus found in John 10:11-15:
11 – I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 – The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns 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.
And John 10:18:
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.”
Now of all the I AM sayings, this one is the most beloved and I think it is for two basic reasons.
1. First off, we are drawn to this particular I AM saying because each of us instinctively knows how desperately we need a shepherd.
Deep down inside we realize that we require guidance or leadership-also known as shepherding-to make our way down the roads of life. I mean, think about it. How many times in the past week have you asked someone for their opinion on a decision that you faced…everything from…what to wear or where to eat or how to handle a homework problem to how to handle some child-rearing or marital crisis? All people need guidance almost constantly and they seek it everywhere from horoscopes to psychics-from parents to pastors. We do all this because everyone knows deep inside that they do NEED guidance in life.
Now, to give you a word picture to help you understand why this is true, let me pose a question:
Which animal are you and I most like? There are several different opinions these days. Charles Darwin of course claimed that the MONKEY was the nearest animal to man and his assertion that we are descendants of apes caused quite a stir. It still does to this day. And like all controversies it has been the source of several jokes. Have you ever heard the one about the ape that was seen ambling out of the public library with a Bible under one arm and a copy of Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species under the other? A passerby asked the ape what kind of research he was doing with those two books and the simian replied, I’m trying to find out whether I’m my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.
Now other scientists-mainly biologists-tend to think that man is most like a mouse or a rat. I say this because they base their testing of drugs for potential human use on these rodents…saying that their bodily functions are very similar to our own. I don’t know about you but it’s a little unsettling to me to know that but pretty much whatever makes a rat sick will affect a human in a similar fashion. What does THAT say about our inner nature?
Some scientists say that we are a lot like ants or bees because like humans they are social creatures that live in highly structured societies. Others have recently compared people to dolphins because of the similar ratio of brain mass to body size.
But in the Bible we are MOST often compared to another animal-SHEEP. David, the psalmist, a shepherd himself, employed this analogy repeatedly. In Psalm 100:3he said, …we are [God’s] people and the SHEEP of His pasture. In Psalm 77:2he wrote, God, You lead Your people like a flock… Psalm 79:13says, We Your people and sheep of Your pasture will give You thanks forever. And in Psalm 23,his most popular Psalm containing this comparison, David said, The Lord is my shepherd….
Throughout the Bible we see this same parallel drawn between man and sheep. One of my favorites is in Isaiah 40:11where it says that God, …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 are with young. Now, we could go on and on citing scriptures that infer that we are similar to sheep. In fact, I’ve lost count of how many times we humans are compared to sheep in the Bible and I think God inspired this comparison in His word so often because—of all the animals God created—the species that most NEEDS guidance is SHEEP.
First of all, no insult intended—I mean you and I are in the same boat here—but sheep on the whole are pretty stupid and stubborn animals. Ask yourself, have you ever seen a group of trained sheep in a circus? Of course not. You’ve seen trained apes and even trained mice or rats or dolphins but not sheep. And you probably never will because sheep are just too simple-minded.
Second, sheep are dirty and wayward. Real sheep aren’t like those clean, fluffy balls of cotton depicted on greeting cards. And if you’ve ever seen the southern end of a northbound herd, you’ll know why. They can’t keep themselves clean, and they smell atrocious. Plus, they tend to wander off easily, perhaps because they can’t see very far….less than 15 yards. And, no matter how many times you bring wayward sheep back, they are prone to wander off again because they can’t learn from their mistakes.
Third, sheep are defenseless and dependent. They don’t have much of a bite… no natural defense—no claws, no horns, no fangs….not even a stink bag like a skunk. To make matters worse they are top-heavy and their legs are spindly. This makes them slow. Plus they have no camouflage, so when they are being chased by a wolf they are out of luck…unless there happens to be a store that sells racks and racks of wool sweaters nearby. Sheep are also susceptible to all kinds of diseases….they will eat too much if you let them and get sick. They are definitely not your king-of-the-forest types.
And fourth, sheep are easily frightened and confused. It doesn’t take much to scramble the simple mental yolk of a nervous sheep. They’ve even been known to plunge straight over the edge of a high precipice in a panic, one following right after another.
Now, God doesn’t compare us to sheep so often in His Word to put us down. He makes this comparison in His book so often because He wants to communicate one very important truth to us. He wants us to know that we are designed to NEED a Guide in life. As David wrote in the 23rd Psalm, we need Someone to lead us on paths that are right…We need a Shepherd with a “rod and a staff” to protect us.
So when we read scriptures like Isaiah 53:6where it says, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…or Mark 9:36where it says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Texts like this should remind us that we have an inborn need for a Shepherd.
So, one reason so many Christians are drawn to this particular I AM statement is because they understand this need. This leads us to the second reason that this particular I AM statement of Jesus is so precious to so many of us. You see, not only do we need a shepherd…
2. …Jesus is the only One Who is qualified for this task.
Now think about it. What are the items on Jesus’ resume’ that show Him to be capable not only to be A Shepherd for us but THE GOOD Shepherd?
A. Well, first off, He knows us like no other guide could possibly know us!
He is not some stranger-some hired hand-some substitute teacher paid to do the job. NO, Jesus knows us. You know the relationship between sheep and shepherds was different in Palestine than in other parts of the world. For example, in Britain most sheep are kept for killing and eating but in Palestine most sheep were kept for their wool or milk. So in the land of the Bible, the sheep were often with a shepherd for years-many times from birth throughout their entire lives. Those shepherds KNEW their sheep and gave them names!
And we could certainly say the same thing about Jesus. He has watched each man and woman be born and grow up that has existed from the foundations of the world. As God in the flesh Jesus knows everything about us from the molecular level on out! I like how MAX LUCADO spotlights this wonderful truth with his comparison of COWBOYS & COWS to SHEPHERDS & SHEEP…
Behold the hero of the American west: The Cowboy. Behold the hero of the Bible: The Shepherd. On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his home. But that is where the similarities end. You see, the shepherd loves his sheep. It’s not that the cowboy doesn’t appreciate the cow; its’ just that he doesn’t KNOW the animal. He doesn’t even want to. Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd with his arms around a sheep? Sure! Why the difference? Simple. The cowboy leads the cow to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. The cowboy wants the meat of the cow. The shepherd wants the wool of the sheep. And so they treat the animals differently.
The cowboy drives the cattle. The shepherd leads the sheep. A herd of cattle has a dozen cowboys…a flock has one shepherd. The cowboy wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes. The shepherd leads, guides, feeds, and anoints. The cowboy knows the names of the trail hands. The shepherd knows the names of the sheep. The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name. Aren’t we glad Christ didn’t call himself The Good Cowboy?
Our Lord is THE GOOD Shepherd because He knows us. We can all say with David: O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely O Lord…for You created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (Excerpts from Psalm 139)
Jesus knows everything there is to know about you and your life situation. And this is not just an intellectual awareness. This is an intimate knowledge between God in the flesh and His creation. There isn’t a single motivation, thought, act, or word, that has slipped out of your being and escaped our Lord’s undivided attention. As Hebrews 4:13puts it, All things are naked and open to the eyes of God.
And not only does He know us…He WANTS to guide us through life. Isaiah 58:11says, The Lord will guide you continually. Psalm 25:12says, Who is the man that fears the Lord?…God will teach him the way that is best. In Psalm 32:8God says to us, I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
In Isaiah 65:24God says, Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
B. And then…another fact on Jesus’ resume’ that makes Him qualified to be our Shepherd is the fact that not only does He know us….we know Him.
We recognize Him when He speaks. And this is the way it is with sheep. They may not be too bright but they have enough gray matter up here to recognize their true Shepherd. And when he calls they will follow. In fact this is how shepherds proved ownership in Jesus’ day. They didn’t have brands or marks. Each shepherd had his own distinctive call and sheep would only respond to that call.
This week I read the true story from the days of WWI when a group of Turkish soldiers came to one of the hills near Jerusalem and stole a large number of sheep. The shepherd had been asleep and when he woke up and realized what had happened and ran into the hills and looked down and saw his sheep a few hills over being led astray by these Turkish soldiers. The situation was pretty much hopeless. They were armed and he was outnumbered. He couldn’t attack. So, the shepherd did the only thing he knew to do. He stood on the hill and put his hand on his mouth and gave out his unique call…that one he always used with his sheep. When he did they stopped, turned, and ran across the hills to him, leaving their captors behind for they had enough of a relationship with him to know his voice.
And we are like sheep in that we know Jesus’ voice. We recognize the call of our Creator and Redeemer. When we become Christians God gives us a sort of caller ID that enables us to distinguish His voice from that of our adversary. And, the more time we spend with Him in prayer and Bible study, the better this caller ID functions. And the wonderful thing about this is when we heed the instructions of our Shepherd we not only make wise decisions that benefit us…we actually join God in His work and benefit others!
In his book, Surprise Endings, Ron Mehl tells a powerful story of what happened when a Christian by the name of Roger Simms recognized the guiding voice of God, and obeyed. On May 7, while hitchhiking his way home after his discharge from the army during WWII, Roger got a ride from a rich business man driving a brand new Cadillac. When he got in the man asked, Are you going home for keeps? Roger replied, I sure am! In fact I can hardly wait to get this uniform off! Roger found out that the man was on the way to Chicago and would pass right by his driveway.
Well, as they rode along they talked and Roger discovered that the man owned a business in Chicago and that his name was Hanover. Well, after conversing about many things, Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to witness to this man about Christ. But he kept putting it off, ignoring the guiding voice of our Lord, until he realized he was just 30 minutes from his home and that it was now or never. So, Roger cleared his throat and said, Mr. Hanover, I would like to talk to you about something very important. He then proceeded to explain the way of salvation, ultimately asking Hanover if he would like to receive Christ as Savior. When he finished Hanover pulled the Cadillac over to the side of the road and Roger feared he was about to be ejected from the car. But the business man bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ. He then thanked Roger saying, This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
Well, five years went by. Roger married, had a two-year-old son, and started a business of his own. One day while packing his suitcase for a business trip to Chicago, he found the small, white business card Hanover had given him five years before. When he arrived in Chicago he felt compelled to look up Hanover Enterprises. When he did, a receptionist told him it was impossible to see Mr. Hanover, but he could see Mrs. Hanover. A little confused as to what was going on, he was ushered into a lovely office and found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties. She extended her hand and said, You knew my husband? Roger said he did and proceeded to tell her how her husband had given him a ride when he was hitchhiking home from the war. She asked, Can you tell me when that was? Roger replied, It was May 7, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army. At this point Roger hesitated. He wondered if he should mention his witness to Hanover and at this point he sensed the voice of His Lord saying, YES, do! By all means! So he did. He said, Mrs. Hanover, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel.
He gave his life to Christ that day. At this point explosive sobs shook her body. Then, getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years. Roger said, Where is your husband, Mrs. Hanover? He’s dead, she wept, struggling for the words. He was in a fatal car crash that apparently occurred not to long after he let you out of the car. He never got home.
You see, Jesus is qualified to be our Shepherd because we know His voice and when we listen and do what He says, we join Him in seeking and saving the other lost sheep of this world.
C. But there is one other quality that makes Jesus more than capable of being our Good Shepherd. And it is the fact that He laid down His life for His flock.
There are many stories of shepherds in Jesus’ day dying in the process of attempting to protect their flocks from wolves or lions or thieves. And, as Jesus said in our text, a hired hand would not do this for he was only interested in his pay but a true shepherd would, for he loved his sheep. They belonged to Him. A TRUE shepherd knew and loved his sheep from birth. And that is exactly what Jesus has done. Our Creator and Redeemer laid His life down to protect us from sin and death. In essence, the Good Shepherd, became a Lamb, that One sacrificial lamb Who died for the sins of all mankind. Now up until this point sheep were sacrificed in the temple for the Shepherd. But in Jesus the roles were reversed. The Shepherd sacrificed Himself for His sheep.
I remember Randall O’Brian telling us years ago that when cowboys in Argentina or Brazil would come to a piranha infested river, through which they had to drive their cows, they would protect the herd by taking one cow up stream a few hundred yards where they would kill it and throw it in the river. The piranha would attack the dead cow and while they were thus distracted the cowboys would lead the rest of the herd across safely. Well, this is an example of what Jesus has done for you and me…except for one thing. As He says here in John, no one took His life from Him. He laid it down of His own accord. He willingly died for you and me.
This was his purpose in coming to earth in the first place. Do you remember what John the Baptist said when He saw Jesus coming to be baptized in the Jordan? Behold, the Lamb of God, Who comes to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) In the same text where the prophet Isaiah compared us to sheep who had gone astray He spoke of Jesus and said, Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities…by His wounds we are healed…for He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open up His mouth.
So, this I AM saying of Jesus is beloved by so many for two reasons: we all need a Shepherd and only Jesus is qualified to meet that need. One more thought….do you remember those first five words of the Shepherd Psalm? Let’s say them together:”THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD…” Now listen as I say these words, “THE LORD IS
MY SHEPHERD…” “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD…” Do you get the subtle emphasis there? God can’t be—WON’T BE—your shepherd until you make Him your Lord. Shepherd’s lead….sheep follow. He can’t…He won’t lead you—until you commit your life to follow Him. If you are here today and you don’t know the GOOD Shepherd, He is here right now and as I said a moment ago He wants to guide your life! Even now He is calling you by name! So it is up to you….Will you accept Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord and in so doing find yourself?
There may be other Sheep here this morning who know the Good Shepherd but don’t have a fold! You are looking for a flock to join! I know I am biased but I think the best one on the planet meets right here! We would love to have you become a part of this church family. However it is that God is leading you…we invite you to follow. Won’t you come as we sing?