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Worship Theme: The risen Christ gives his Church protection
Sermon Theme: Safe in the Selfless Sacrifice of the Savior Shepherd
Tony Stark aka “Iron Man,” from Marvel’s Avengers, WWII American soldier John Robert Fox, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan, three men working at a Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Harry Stamper (played by Bruce Willis) from the blockbuster 90s movie, Armageddon. What do all of those people have in common? Whether in real life or in the drama of cinema, each of these people gave up their lives as selfless sacrifices to save the lives of many others.
Tony Stark used the Infinity Stones to disintegrate the evil villain Thanos and his army and save the universe, but the strain of using the Stones killed him. Lieutenant Fox radioed for a barrage of fire upon an Italian town overrun with German Nazis even though he was trapped in the middle of it. He died that day, but his sacrifice allowed the US forces to regroup and launch a successful counterattack. Captain Miller led a group of U.S. soldiers behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers had been killed in action. They sacrificed their lives to save the one. The Chernobyl disaster could have been much worse if three men didn’t give their lives to prevent a complete meltdown of the entire nuclear power plant. Harry Stamper stayed behind on a quickly approaching meteor headed straight towards earth to detonate a bomb to blow the meteor apart and spare earth from destruction.
You could add any number of similar stories from your favorite movies or reading of history, but I think you get the point. People have made countless selfless sacrifices of life in order to save those who are in danger. One of the most powerful ideas in the movie industry has been a constant – self-sacrifice. Have you ever given any thought as to why that is? Not only is it because we laud such heroes, but I speculate that deep down inside each one of us we know or sense that we need to be rescued from something. We long to be safe and secure. We need a hero. We need a sacrifice.
Today’s reading from the gospel of John sets up one my favorite themes of the year – Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This whole picture of Jesus being the Good Shepherd portrays the care, protection, providence, and comforting presence that Jesus offers to his flock – you and I, his sheep. Yet all of these qualities are surrounded by one phrase that is repeated three times in this section. It says this, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” “I lay down my life.” A selfless sacrifice. Let’s look at that important phrase to understand how we are safe in the selfless sacrifice of the Savior Shepherd.
But first, understand the implications of you being sheep. Now there were plenty of other more pleasant things I would rather call you today, but the Bible calls you a sheep and I’m going to roll with that. Sheep are docile, harmless, and rather dull animals. When a storm rages they will pile into a corner of the pen so tightly that some are crushed. If a sheep falls on its back, it is often unable to right itself. When a predator attacks a sheep, it doesn’t have fangs or claws to defend itself.
Aren’t there times in life where you are like that too? When you follow the crowd and find yourself getting hurt, your faith crushed? Times when you fall and can’t right yourself? Or you find yourself unable to defend yourself when temptations and attacks against your faith come at you? Add to that the fact that while you are smart and intelligent, you are often clueless to a right relationship with God or make foolish choices in life. We’re like sheep. Like sheep you need a shepherd.
In steps Jesus. “I am the good shepherd.” You need to note the sense of “good” here too. This is not like you might say the coffee is good. The movie was good. The weather was good. That kind of implies that it was ok, but could have been better. No, when God uses the word “good” in Scripture it has the sense of something excellent, beautiful, great. So, when Jesus says that he is the good shepherd, he’s saying that he is the best shepherd you could have both in his qualities and character and in his work. He contrasts this with the other shepherds you might have leading you in this life. They are just hired hands. The hired hand doesn’t own the sheep, so when trouble comes, like a wolf attack, that hired hand is gone. He doesn’t get paid well enough or have enough interest to stick around and defend the sheep.
So, who are the hired hands in your life that have let you down? Who is it that you have followed, but have been failed by? Government? Doctors? Friends? Family? Spiritual leaders? False teachings? Even pastors? When all else fails, when all others flee, there is one who has a vested interest in you, who will not leave, who will not fail you. That’s Jesus who laid down his life for you because he is the good shepherd. He laid down his life to defend you from the most ferocious wolf attack you will ever face – Satan. In fact, the Bible calls Satan a roaring lion looking to devour you. Jesus laid down his life and took the worst of Satan’s attacks in your place so that you can be set free and be safe in the Shepherd’s arms. Jesus laid down his life for you because he is the Good Shepherd.
Here’s another stunning reason why Jesus laid down his life for you. Listen. “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”. Jesus knows you. When a shepherd spends as much time as he does with his sheep, he gets to know them each pretty well. I don’t know how many sheep a shepherd can watch at a time. It probably varies. If it’s around 100, the shepherd could know each sheep pretty well. If it’s closer to a thousand or more, that gets more challenging if not impossible.
Jesus as the good shepherd knows every one of his sheep. That means he knows billions of sheep. You might think that would mean that he couldn’t possibly know you all that well. But listen to these promises. He knows his sheep with the same kind of intimacy and bond that Jesus has with the heavenly Father. David wrote in Psalm 139 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 16). Jesus said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Jesus not just knows you, but knows what you go through because he experienced it too. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus your good shepherd knows you and your weaknesses and your tendencies. He knows that you are unable to rescue yourself or survive before the Lord God on your own. He knows that you can be prideful and arrogant, harsh and rude, self-righteous and ignorant, lustful and greedy and discontent – all these things that separate you from God. Jesus knows that the only way to save you was to take your place and give his life as a selfless sacrifice to pay the price for your sins. So, Jesus laid down his life for you because he knows you and loves you.
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, a lot of soldiers sacrificed their lives to save just one soldier. One. While Iron Man saved the universe from evil Thanos, if you’ve watched subsequent shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you see that more villains continue to pop up and Iron Man isn’t there to save them anymore. Stamper gave his life to destroy a meteor, but what about when the next one threatens earth? If a shepherd dies protecting the sheep, the sheep are saved for that moment, but what about when the next wolf appears?? My point being, every human selfless sacrifice gives a life and that’s it. They’re still dead.
But not so with your Good Shepherd. “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.” Your good shepherd gave up his life to defeat your sin so that you stand forgiven, and to overcome Satan’s influence in your life, and to destroy the grip of death. But what good would it be for that shepherd to remain dead? That’s the joy of this good shepherd. He didn’t remain dead. Jesus rose to life to give you eternal life. Your Shepherd died, but lives again.
That means that Jesus is the good shepherd who can be with you always, and guard and protect you every day, and no power can overcome him or you. You are safe in the selfless sacrifice of the Savior shepherd. By safe I mean that you are forgiven, you are saved, you are protected, you are cared for today and always.
At the end of the day, why does this matter? My friends, there are a lot of things that you could follow in this life. There are a lot of troubles that can overwhelm you. Jesus is the only one who can rescue you from your sin and lead you to eternal life. Jesus is the only one who can provide the perspective you really need for this life and the life to come. Jesus is the only one who can daily protect you against the real enemies of sin, death, and Satan. He does it by his selfless sacrifice as your savior Shepherd. So, follow the Good Shepherd and rest safely in his arms. Amen.
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