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From Chris's Heart

March 2010
I Am The Good Shepherd Part 2
by Nick Harris

Being a Jew, Jesus was aware of the outcast status of the shepherds if His day, and of the various tasks these shepherds were expected to perform. And yet Jesus would say, "I, myself, am the good shepherd." In other words, He dared to identify Himself with these outcast shepherds. And time would prove that Jesus would indeed be seen as a shepherd by others throughout His lifetime.

His opponents looked at shepherds as outcasts and they looked at Jesus as an outcast. They saw Jesus as being socially and religiously unacceptable, so they totally ostracized Him. But Jesus did not care about the ostracism of the establishment. They did not belong to Him, or to His Father.

In His eyes, the members of the religious establishment were “of their father, the devil,” and He would not allow these men to deter His mission in life, no matter what that role might cost Him. He was determined to be “the good shepherd.” He gladly accepted the responsibility for every sheep that His Father had entrusted to him. He knew that His sheep were helpless without Him, and He had to be a shepherd to them.

For example, one of His sheep was a man born blind, whose story is told in John 9. We know that this man was one of His sheep, because he had believed upon Jesus, and therefore had become one of His own. The religious authorities, on the other hand, considered this man to be worthless and without value. This man was just a poor, blind, and wretched beggar, depending upon the charity of others. Because of this, the shepherds of the religious establishment wanted no part of this worthless, wounded sheep. But Jesus, the good shepherd, did. In fact, by His own admission, He would have left ninety-nine other sheep behind to have rescued this one poor, lost, blind sheep.

B.F. Westcott, in his classic work, The Gospel According to St. John, provides the following insight to the way in which Jesus understood His role as shepherd. Westcott writes:

"In John 10, Christ reveals Himself under two distinct aspects. He is the door in regards to the society (the sheepfold) to which He gives admission; He is the good shepherd as regards of the individual care with which He leads each member of His flock." (Page 153).

Everything about this “good shepherd" teaching in John 10:11-21 deals with the way this “good shepherd” cares for the sheep that His Father entrusted to Him.

Perhaps it is this picture of Jesus as a concerned shepherd, and perhaps it is this shepherd's personal commitment to each of His sheep that causes people to ignore the fact that shepherds were the most outcast people who lived in the time of Jesus, and this picture also draws these people to cling to this image of Jesus as the good shepherd.

This image of Jesus as the “good shepherd” has become a poignant symbol of the ministry of Jesus. Many churches around the world have a stained-glass window depicting Christ the “good Shepherd” standing amid a flock of sheep and carrying a lamb in his arms.

This famous window was found in the church that I pastored for almost 23 years, First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The beautiful, historical sanctuary had an east to west orientation, the west wall being in the back. The “good shepherd” window was located on that west wall in the middle section of the building. From the pulpit that stood in the center of the chancellery the pastor looked directly at that wonderful window. Unfortunately, this window no longer exists.

On April 19, 1995, a terrorist truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Building, directly across Robinson Avenue from First United Methodist Church. Both structures were virtually destroyed, and the “good shepherd” window in the church was utterly demolished. All that was recovered from that window was the face of Jesus. That piece of glass was saved, and was later incorporated into the center of a beautiful rose window in the new prayer chapel, which is part of the new sanctuary, chapel, and education complex erected by the members of the church following the bombing.

All that remains of the buildings that were standing prior to April 19, 1995, is the old sanctuary, which was constructed prior to Oklahoma statehood (1904). This building was converted into the great hall of the church in 1999. During reconstruction, a new “good shepherd” window was created and installed in the space where the old window was located. The necessity of replacing this window was the one thing upon which almost every member of the congregation insisted.

One reason, this window was/is so important to the membership of this great church is the fact that it constantly reminds them that even in a terrorist attack, they have a shepherd who truly cares for them. We all need that assurance today. We know that we are sinful beings; we know that we are not easy to love; we know we are contrary; we know that we tend to wander away from our God, just like stubborn sheep; and we know that we behave stupidly at times. That is what sheep do.

Several years ago, I learned something about the behavioral patterns of sheep when I was driving a rental car between the towns of Beer Sheva and Sodom in the state of Israel. Riding with me was an Israeli friend, who was born and raised in Israel. And he had once been a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces. In 1970, following the Six-Day War, he had been assigned to the Sinai. At that time, the entire peninsula was in Israeli hands. While stationed there, he learned the Bedouin language.

Seeing a Bedouin shepherd watching his sheep and goats, and knowing that Danny could speak his language, I asked him if we could stop. At that point, the only Bedouins to whom I had ever spoken were the Ta’amireh who make their encampments between Jerusalem and Jericho, and many of them speak at least some English. But I suspected that this Bedouin shepherd might live more like the shepherds who lived 2000 years ago, than the more urbanized Ta’amireh, living east of Jerusalem. Danny agreed, and we stopped.

This shepherd was quite friendly, so I began to ask him questions, and Danny interpreted for me. My first question concerned the responsibility of the shepherd, as this shepherd saw it. He said to us, "I represent the only source of life for these sheep and goats; without me, they would all die. The goats would survive for a little while, but not the sheep, because they are so stupid, and stubborn.”

Then, this Bedouin shepherd, who was missing about half of his teeth, spoke to Danny again. He was so animated that I asked Danny, what the man had said, and Danny responded, "He just said that these animals may be stupid and stubborn, that they are his responsibility; he must care for them, just like his grandfather and his father cared for their sheep before him." Such is the life of the Bedouin shepherd, and such has been the life of shepherds since the day that sheep and goats were first domesticated. The other responsibility of a shepherd is to care for his flocks.

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus spoke of his own shepherding role, he added something that the shepherd I encountered in the desert could not have said. Jesus declared:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." (John 10:11).

(To be continued)

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