John 10:11-18 – “Good” Shepherd?

The Good Shepherd by He Qi

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 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.” (NIV)

Sheep and Shepherds

Many people in today’s contemporary times are completely unfamiliar with sheep and shepherds. So, when it comes to picturing Jesus as the good shepherd, idyllic scenes might come to mind, full of green meadows and pastoral landscapes in which there is perfect peace and rest.

Having been raised in rural Midwest America, I can confidently say there is little romanticism to the life of shepherds and sheep. Sheep eat a lot. They’ll eat just about anything that’s growing out of the ground. Think about how you would feel if you ate copious amounts of plants. Yep. Lots of gas, trips to the bathroom, and stink.

That’s how it is with sheep. They continually poop and the smell is downright awful. A lot of a shepherd’s daily work is helping sheep deal with all the gas inside them. Sheep are easily prone to bloating from excess gas. This isn’t just an uncomfortable situation for a sheep; it’s an emergency life-and-death scenario. The shepherd must continually be vigilant to the sheep and take care of such circumstances immediately and carefully.

Taking care of sheep is dangerous, difficult, and tedious work. Historically, shepherds were rough characters, constantly on the move to find good pastures for the flock’s voracious appetite. They had to deal with both animal and human predators looking for an easy meal. Being mostly outdoors, even at night, led to their reputation as drinkers – keeping up a consistent nip of spirits to keep warm. And, of course, they smelled bad.

So, when Jesus described himself as the “good shepherd,” this was anything but a pleasing picture for people in the ancient world. The closest equivalents to our modern day might be for Jesus to say, “I am the good migrant worker,” or the “good carny” (carnival employee).

Identifying with the Lowly

Anyone or any profession in which we might deem a person in that line of work as of dubious character – that is how a shepherd and their work were viewed by ancient people. It is the lowly of society who get down and dirty. Because of their work, they get a suspicious and contemptuous reputation. Remarkably, Jesus unabashedly aligned himself with such people.

And yet, it is the discounted profession and the counted out in which we must pay attention because God is probably at work in their midst. The despised Samaritan gained the label of “good” by Jesus for giving himself fully to save a stranger. Jesus puts the same adjective in front of shepherd. Whereas no one in polite society would use “good” for shepherd, Jesus labels himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus, this incredible figure who puts good and shepherd together also goes out of his way to bring other sheep into his fold. Since Christ identifies himself as a stinky lowly shepherd, he has no problem connecting with everyone. After all, when one is already low, there is no looking down on another.

People everywhere, no matter their station in life, can hear the voice of Jesus speaking to them when they, too, are low enough to be able to listen.

The Sacrificial Lamb

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is also the sacrificial lamb. In laying down his life he takes it up again (John 10:17). And when we participate in that dying and rising, when we eat the bread and drink the cup of salvation, we know he abides in us (1 John 3:24). Remaining in Christ with our good shepherd means, we, too, lay down our lives:

This is how we have discovered love’s reality: Jesus sacrificed his life for us. Because of this great love, we should be willing to lay down our lives for one another… Beloved children, our love can’t be an abstract theory we only talk about, but a way of life demonstrated through our loving deeds. (1 John 3:16, 18, TPT)

Community is messy. People are stinky. Stepping into another’s life is rarely picturesque or idyllic. Yet, it is the same time elegant and aromatic. For we discover that our old ideas of beauty are obsolete. We gain a new spiritual sense which is redolent with the fragrance of Christ.

O God, Shepherd of all your people, deliver us from all troubles, worries and cares that assail us so that we may always do what is pleasing in your sight, and remain safe in the care of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 2:8-12 – All I Want for Christmas Is Joy

Welcome, friends! Christians around the world celebrate good news of great joy because God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Click the video below, and let us enjoy a time around God’s Word.

The video below is, of course, a classic…

The Christmas speech of Linus, quoted from Luke 2

The Christian’s unspeakable joy comes from the incarnation of Christ…

My Soul Magnifies the Lord by Chris Tomlin from the album Glory in the Highest

May Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, shine upon you, scatter the darkness from before your path, and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory. Amen.

All I Want for Christmas Is Joy

Seeing Shepherds by American painter Daniel Bonnell

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12, NIV)

When I think of sheer unbounded joy, I think of dogs. My own dog, Max Power, waits every day for me to get home from work. And when I walk through the door, he acts as if he has not seen me in months, wagging his tail so hard that it looks like it will fly off his butt. This is one reason people like dogs so much – their joy brings us joy. It is not a joy that was ever learned in obedience school – it is just built into the relationship. 

Genuine joy does not come from getting all the presents we want for Christmas or having everything go our way.

Joy is not a product we can buy at the store. Authentic, real joy is the fruit of meaningful relationships. My dog cares nothing about how much money I have or even if he has the best dog food to eat and a trendy collar to wear; his joy comes from being with me.

The good news of a Savior coming to this earth means God is coming to be with us.  This is good news of great joy! We are loved because God is good, not because we are good.  And because God is good, and we are a mess of humanity, there is joy that the Lord is coming to save us!

The reason Christ’s birth was good news of great joy to the shepherds is that they were shepherds.  Shepherds in the ancient world were generally looked on with contempt. In fact, Egyptians refused to eat with Jews because they were mostly shepherds (Genesis 46:31-34). 

Shepherds spent most of their time living with their sheep outdoors, to protect the flock.  Shepherds were neither well-dressed nor culturally refined. They mostly smelled like sheep poop. Shepherds also had the notoriety of being drinkers. Because they slept with the sheep, many shepherds passed the time and dealt with the chilly air by taking a nip of alcohol.  We do not really know whether most shepherds were drunkards, or not; but we do know they had a bad reputation.

Becoming a shepherd was not a profession a young person aspired to. Nobody took out a student loan to major in shepherding at the University of Jerusalem. King David started out as a shepherd. He was the youngest in the family and got stuck with the job nobody else wanted.

Out of all the persons and people-groups the heavenly angels could have come to announce the birth of Christ, it was shepherds.

This is truly a gospel of grace. The angelic announcement to a bunch of stinky shepherds is profoundly significant.  It is important because grace is being shown to the lowliest of society. A lowly Savior, born to a lowly family, and placed in a lowly feeding trough, came to reach the lowly, common, ordinary person.

The Shepherds by Malaysian artist Hanna Varghese (1938-2009)

To have this kind of attention from God Almighty is like the master of a dog walking into the house. We, as the common, ordinary mutts of society, are beside ourselves with joy, feeling privileged to be in the same room as Jesus.

It is only the lowly and humble in heart who will see God and enjoy the Lord’s presence. That is because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. It is why the angels came to the shepherds and not to the religious leaders. It is good news of great joy for all the people. 

The gospel is not limited to those who are the most educated, the wealthiest, or from the most prominent of families – it is for everyone.

Yet, even with this good news of grace, many people still live their lives in fear and worry instead of joy. The message seems to only linger on the surface, not getting firmly pressed into minds and hearts. 

Even though a Savior is born, we still experience the harshness of a world under the dominion of darkness.  We worry about constant disease, financial difficulties, and the daily stresses of life.  We fret about dealing with ornery people, hard circumstances, family members who go astray, and the little plastic things on our shoelaces coming off leaving the shoestrings frayed! 

Sometimes, we strain our eyes to try and see some joy.

Jesus is the son of David, born in the town of David – both were anointed as kings but had to go through a lot of hardship before realizing their kingships.  We live in the time between the two advents of Christ in which God’s kingdom is already here but not yet here. It is a topsy-turvy time characterized by a weird mix of sinner and saint, despair and joy, adversity, and comfort.

Real joy is not found in having every circumstance go our way and having everyone like us, all the time. Joy comes from the gospel of grace, from God coming down and being with us.  Being in the presence of the Master makes all the difference. If joy comes from being with God in Christ, then cultivating and practicing the presence of Jesus in our daily lives is important and necessary.

Had the angels come into Bethlehem, a town swelling in numbers of people because of the Roman census, I am not sure anybody would have heard them. The shepherds were away from the noise, out in the quiet solitude of the fields by themselves. So, they were able to hear the message of God when it came.

Noise comes in various forms, both around us and within us. Sometimes we even create noise on the outside so that the boisterous racing thoughts on the inside will get drowned. To be quiet is to be able to listen. To listen is to receive another’s voice.

Receiving the voice of the angels, their message, and their praise to God, is the pathway to joy and the way out of unhappy inner noise.

We need deliverance from our brokenness and unhealthy ways of coping. There is far too much unhappiness in this world. One in every two-hundred teenage American girls cut themselves on a regular basis. More than half of people in the United States with serious depression do not receive or will not get adequate help.  Anxiety disorders affect nearly sixty million adults in the United States. 

The coming of Jesus Christ into this world makes a difference. God has come to be with us to meet the deepest needs of our lives. The deliverance can be realized as we eagerly anticipate the Master, spend time with him, and allow the Lord’s loving presence and compassionate voice to transform our hearts and change us from the inside-out. 

Christianity is not a magic happy pill to swallow; it is a relationship with God which is cultivated and grows over time.

Joy is relational. That means no amount of positive thinking, buying new stuff, or good situations will create joy or sustain it. Christianity offers joy in Jesus – not a cheap sentimental happiness of having every prayer answered or each situation go our way – but the settled joy of God with us through the valleys as well as on the mountain tops.

Neither worry nor fret. Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. In the town of David, a Savior is born. He is Christ the Lord.  What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wealthy man, I would give him frankincense or gold. Yet, what can I give him?… 

I can give him my heart.