Episode 1. The Shepherd and His Flock
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When we hear Jesus promising us an abundant life – which is exactly what He does promise us – it’s easy to think “Yeah, right! Must be for someone else.” But actually … it’s not. …
When we hear Jesus promising us an abundant life – which is exactly what He does promise – it’s easy to think “Yeah, right! Must be for someone else.” But actually … it’s not. It’s a promise for everyone who decides to follow Him. Question is – how does it work? How can you have an “abundant life”?
As we race through life day after day one of the things that I think happens to us is that we somehow get conned or duped into the mantra of the times, ‘the great lie’ I call it. And that great lie goes something like this: If you earn lots of money and you spend it on this and this and this and this and this, this toy, these clothes, that holiday, this dining experience, if you live your life like that, then you’re going to be happy.
Now that lie is as painful for the rich as it is for the poor. For the poor, people who simply don’t have much money, many who don’t even have enough food and shelter, they see this dream of wealth and it aches to think that they have so little and so many others have so much. It’s not fair.
And for the wealthy this lie is just as much a pain but only different. They’re in a position to chase that dream; the only problem is that it’s like a mirage in the desert. When they get there, this place where they thought they’d arrive at, this place where having earned and spent the money on themselves they should be happy, they discover it’s a mirage, it’s a sham.
And so they try again and again and again, many spend their whole lives chasing happiness only to be disappointed at every turn. And before you know it they’re looking back on a wasted life and that is so tragic. So what’s the answer?
I think as we head into yet another new year now’s not a bad time to be asking these questions. What’s life all about? Am I going to be happy this year? And so that’s why today we’re kicking off a series of programs that I’ve called ‘An Abundant Life In Jesus’. Because so many of us have spent so much of our lives chasing happiness, me included. That’s what I was looking for and that’s what I could never find.
So many of us wish we could be happy and yet we don’t really know what happiness is so we go looking for it in all sorts of places. Jesus promised something outrageous to His disciples, to all those who followed hard after Him. He promised them an abundant life, in fact a super abundant life. Sounds fantastic doesn’t it?
Someone once asked me, “Okay but what does that actually mean, an abundant life?” That’s a good question. I mean a super abundant life sounds just perfect but what is it? What does it look like and how can we have it?
Well let’s kick off by having a listen to what Jesus actually said. This passage comes from John chapter 10 beginning at verse 1. He said:
Very truly I tell you anyone who does not enter the sheep fold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gate keeper opens the gate for him, the sheep hear his voice, he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he’s brought out all his own he goes ahead of them and the sheep will follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. Jesus used this figure of speech with them but they didn’t understand what He was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and bandits but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate, whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd, the shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand who isn’t the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Now that’s a really interesting passage, it’s a beautiful picture; the shepherd and his flock. Back in those days, let me explain, the shepherd normally had a small number of sheep, 50 to 100, and literally he knew each one of them by name. Now sheep, we sometimes think are stupid animals. They’re not, they’re actually quite bright.
They’re problem simply is that they’re short sighted and so that’s why he calls them, they hear his voice and they go to him and then he goes ahead of them and they follow on behind him looking for pasture and water and the shepherd keeps them safe.
Now being a shepherd was a tradition. It was handed down from father to son. A real shepherd would literally protect his sheep with his life from wild animals and robbers we’ll look at that tomorrow. So there’s the shepherd with his flock wandering the rocky plateau and in winter he’d bring them into the sheep fold in the town or the village which is what Jesus was talking about. He’d take them in and all the shepherds would basically bring their flocks into the same sheepfold.
The next morning the shepherd, one by one, would come to the front gate, the real shepherd of each flock and because he had a personal relationship the sheep would know his voice and he would call them and they would go only when their shepherd came. Not with a stranger because they didn’t know the stranger’s voice. They would go with their shepherd.
That’s exactly the picture that Jesus paints here. So this is a picture that the people had in their minds in 1st century Israel as Jesus was telling them this story; this winsome picture of the lonely shepherd tending his flock, protecting them with his life.
That’s what Jesus was drawing on in this story but did you notice verse 6 of John chapter 10?
Jesus used this figure of speech with them but they did not understand what He was saying to them.
You and I, we wander through some difficult places in life, we truly do. When we’re young we think we’re invincible, we think huh, we can conquer every mountain, but life soon teaches us that we’re more of a small boat on a great and mighty ocean.
And yes Jesus promises us an abundant life. Again we’ll look at what that means over the next couple of days, but look at the context; the context of this abundant life is as one of His sheep in His flock under the safety and the care of the true shepherd.
See it’s this picture of safety and protection and of a shepherd who did in fact lay down His life to save us – to save us from the ravages of the devil; to save us from our own sin; to save us from God’s judgement.
Storms will come and go, wild animals will come in life to tear at our flesh, thieves will come to kill and destroy, bad things will happen to good people. Is there any one of us who doesn’t have one thing, something in our lives right now that hurts? Something we wish wasn’t there. I mean is there?
Jesus never ever, ever promised His disciples a comfortable ride. In fact quite to the contrary, He said to them, “Guys, if they persecuted me they’re certainly going to persecute you.” And at a time when His disciples were afraid, John chapter 16, verse 33. He said:
I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. For in this world you WILL face persecution but take courage I have conquered the world.
The promise of an abundant life comes not as a promise to make all our circumstances and all our relationships and all our finances and all our futures rosy, that was never ever His promise. No, the promise of an abundant life comes to us in the context of sheep wandering the plateau with their shepherd in a dangerous place.
It comes to us in the context of the realities and the rough and the tumble of life as we live our lives under the protection and the safety and the sacrificial love of this one true shepherd – Jesus:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
And because of the world in which we live, that abundant life was purchased for you and me at a price, at a very great price.