St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 08-03-08: Jesus, Our Shepherd
08-08-08: Jesus, Our Shepherd

Jesus, Our Shepherd

Some six hundred years after David composed his Shepherd Song, Psalm 23, our Lord said with quiet assurance:

"I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep ...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" John 10: 11 -15.

This is our Lord Jesus, "...that great Shepherd of the sheep" Hebrews 13: 20. He saw us as "...sheep without a shepherd." He came " seek and save that which was lost" Luke 19; 10. He is the one who left the ninety-nine on the hills and went to look for the one that wandered away, forever establishing the value of one person, one soul, and the eternal Father's desire that not one of them should perish (Matthew 18: 12 - 14).

It is Christ alone who has a shepherd's heart, beating with pure and generous love that counted not his own life blood too dear a price to pay down as our ransom. He has a shepherd's eyes, that takes in the whole flock and misses not even the lone poor sheep wandering away on the mountain cold. He has the shepherd's faithfulness, which will never fail or forsake, leave us comfortless, nor flee from our presence.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Since the beginning of time, various religious persuasions have decreed that a lamb should give up its life for that of the shepherd. The shepherd would bring his lamb to the sanctuary, lean with all his weight on the lamb's head, and confess his sin. The lamb would be slain, a life for a life.

What irony! Now the Shepherd gives up his life for his lamb! "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" Isaiah 53: 5, 6.

Jesus died for all sin; the most obvious sins of murder, adultery and theft as well as the secret sins of selfishness, bad thinking and pride. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross. This was the final cure for sin.

Our Creator God loves us so much that he himself took on our guilt. He internalized all our sin and healed it. When it was over, and complete, He said "It is finished" John 19: 30! There is nothing else for us to do but respond to his first shown love, enter into forgiving acceptance and now live according to his precepts and imitate his lifestyle because He not only died for our salvation, but to teach us how to live as well.

The Good Shepherd calls us to listen for the slightest sounds of life. He hears the faintest cry. If he hears nothing at all, He does not give up or go away. He does not coerce or force our response. He even lets us wander away, hoping the weariness and despair of separation will turn us around. And when we turn to him, He is there to greet us because He is there all along. "The Lord is near to all, who call upon him" Psalms 145: 18.

Yet we persistently ask, `Why should He want me? He knows my sin, my wandering, my long habits of yielding to evil influence. I am not good enough. I am not sorry enough for my sins. I find it difficult not to sin.'

Our waywardness does not have to be explained to our heavenly Father. He is never surprised by anything we do. He sees all by a single glance, what is, what could have been, what would have been apart from our sinful choices. He sees into the dark corners and crannies of our hearts and knows everything about us there is to know. But what He sees only draws out his deeper love. There is no deeper motivation in our God than love. It is his nature to love; He can do no other, for "...God is love" 1 John 4: 8.

He lovingly invites us during this sacred time: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" Matthew 11:28-30.

To know and understand our God is like this and to have the privilege of entering in communion with him is the rest He speaks of. There is no more profound lesson that this: He is the only One we actually need.

The word Shepherd carries with it thoughts of tenderness, security, and provision; yet it means nothing as long as I cannot say with full conviction, "The Lord is MY Shepherd."

What an enduring and profound difference that monosyllable makes; all the difference in the world. It means that I can have all of God's attention all of the time, just as though I am the only one in the world. I may be part of a flock, but I am one of a kind. It is one thing to say, "The Lord is a Shepherd," but it is entirely something else to say and profess, "The Lord is MY Shepherd." When we think about it faith is a matter of personal pronouns. St. Thomas the Apostle knew it well when he said, "My Lord and my God" John 19: 28. This is the faith that saves.

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