(Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/7tVNEyzQKbc)
[Jesus said,] ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been reflecting on the resurrected Jesus as witnessed by a handful of people. His first encounter was with the women at the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. Later that day, he met up with most of his disciples and shared fellowship with them. One of his disciples, Thomas, wasn’t there that evening so he came back a week later to prove his resurrection. But earlier on that third day, the resurrected Jesus had also met up with a couple other disciples on the road to Emmaus. Several people had opportunities to witness the risen Jesus and they each had distinct reactions whether it was disbelief or shock or confusion or doubt or gladness or just plain unawareness. And their reactions are, in many ways, representative of our own reactions to the resurrected Jesus. Some of us are completely unaware of Jesus even when he is walking right beside us. Some of us need proof that Jesus really is walking among us. Others claim he walks among us, even right beside us, but unless he personally reveals himself to us then we struggle to believe. Some of us don’t need proof or revelation, we simply believe in the resurrected Jesus through faith. The Bible, God’s written Word, declares it to be so so we believe it to be so. Some of us are shocked by it, others confused by it, and yet others who are gladdened by it. You see, our reactions to the resurrected Jesus are not unlike those who first witnessed him. This is why we lift up their encounters each year during this season of Easter—to affirm our reactions to the resurrection.
But then we dedicate an entire Sunday to reflecting on who Jesus was as the Good Shepherd. Why? We were just processing our reactions to the resurrection, trying to make sense of it, and now we have to shift our attention to understanding Jesus as the Good Shepherd. What does the Good Shepherd have to do with the resurrection? I’ve been wrestling with this question all week long and I think I’ve come to some connections. But first we must ask another question: what purpose does the resurrection serve? Or, to ask it differently, why do we need the resurrection? Why can’t Jesus just go down in history as another great saint…as another person who revealed a lot about God and lived an admirable life? Well, because Jesus is more than a great saint…Jesus is God! And as such, he is entitled to behave completely different than all other saints. He is entitled to behave as God behaves. At the very least, the resurrection reveals that Jesus doesn’t have to obey the same rules that we do. Jesus doesn’t have to die and stay dead. Unlike the rest of us, Jesus can come back from death in essentially the same form. We are forever changed by death but Jesus is unaltered by death. Those who encounter the resurrected Jesus can know who he is because his essence stayed the same through death. We might not know at first but eventually, through God’s grace, his essence is revealed to us. So the resurrection teaches us that Jesus, in essence, is unaltered by death. Jesus lived through death and keeps on living.
But the resurrection also serves to reveal that Jesus is willing to do anything for us. Jesus will go to great lengths to earn our love and trust. Jesus will suffer and die for us. Jesus will experience death and come back to our world, not simply to show us that he can do it but also to let us know that he knows firsthand what awaits us in death. Jesus goes where we can’t go, at least not without being forever changed by. Jesus does what we don’t want to do. Few of us actually want to die. We might want our situations to die, certain relationships to die, certain experiences to die, but not ourselves to die. The desire to live is a very strong desire. God wants us to have this desire. Likewise, we have an equally strong desire not to die. Death is something we just don’t like. Yet Jesus goes through it on our behalf. Jesus dies so that we might live, truly live…enjoy life! Our love and trust in him is only deepened by his willingness to die for us. And the resurrection affirms his love for us. He doesn’t abandon us in death. He comes back to us. He sees what we don’t want to see, do what we don’t want to do, and he comes back to and goes on protecting us.
The resurrection reveals characteristics of a good shepherd: someone willing to do and see the undesirable, someone willing to not abandon his sheep, someone willing to stand fast and remain unaltered. This is the Lord that we serve…that we are called to serve. Jesus wants to be our shepherd, our fearless, steadfast, protector. We simply must allow him to be our shepherd. We must simply acknowledge our vulnerability, our frailty, our proneness to wandering, our hesitancies, and our eagerness to follow. Jesus gives us green pastures to lie in, he leads us beside still waters, he leads us in right paths. Jesus gives us abundant life. He IS the gate to everlasting life! There is no better shepherd!
A.W. Tozer, the great American preacher from the early 1900s, once noted there are 3 distinct marks of those committed to following Jesus: they are facing only one direction, they can never turn back, and they no longer have plans of their own. The resurrection reveals Jesus at the Good Shepherd. Wherever he goes, we ought to want to go. He goes places that will forever change us even though he is unchanged. He guides us to where we want to be, whether we know it or not. As we continue through this season, let us acknowledge him as our Great Shepherd. Let us place our love and trust in him alone. Let us be glad that in the resurrection, each of us is…called to be sheep.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.