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Worship, Prayer and Bible Resources

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year B

Liturgical Colour - White

jesus and our timeIntroduction

The image of Jesus shown above is typical of many early examples of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Pictures of Jesus like this carrying a lamb on his shoulders are common in icons, but there is one shown below found in the catacombs from the second century, where Christians used to bury their dead durng the Roman persecution. This type of image can also be found on early grave stones. Jesus likened himself to a shepherd and he said he was a 'good' one. He was contrasting himself to the bad ones who had come before, such as those spoken of in Ezekiel chapter 34. The religious leaders were bad shepherds because they didn't look after the sheep, but rather themslves. They had behaved badly towards the weak, the sick and the vulnerable, but now God himself would become their shepherd and the sheep would be cared for.

Opening Verses of Scripture  Psalm 23 v 1

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father's sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all your people may be gathered into one flock, to the glory of God the Father.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

First Bible Reading   Acts 4: 5-12

The Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ NRSV

Second Reading  1 John 3: 16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.  NRSV

Gospel Reading   John 10: 11-18

Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the 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 does not 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’ NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

Merciful Father, you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection, and give us grace to follow in his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW 


At the time of Jesus Shepherds were rough peasant types, they were not an esteemed group. The Pharisees considered shepherds as a part of an unclean profession. The well to do looked down on shepherds as a vulgar class. When Jesus uses the words ‘Good Shepherd’ he was choosing to align himself with a group of people who were not usually associated with the word ‘good’. You had to be a certain type of person to be a shepherd. They lived away from civilised life, there were no facilities, they lived with animals, slept with animals, they were dirty and not just physically but also spiritually, they could not go to synagogue. So why did Jesus align himself with shepherds? Perhaps one of the main reasons was that he wanted to contrast himself as a ‘good’ shepherd, as opposed to others who were ‘bad’ shepherds. This is another one of Jesus attacks on the Jewish leaders.

In the Old Testament today in Ezekiel 34 God, speaking through his prophet Ezekiel, castigates the religious leaders of Israel and tells them that they are greedy, selfish shepherds who care more about themselves than they do for the sheep! Their crimes were that they had done the following
· They only take care of themselves

· They ate and clothed themselves but they did not take care of the flock. 

· They have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.

· They have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost

· They have ruled the people harshly and brutally

Note that the things which Jesus accuses the religious leaders of is not the stuff people might think of as being particularly religious. Jesus is saying to the Jewish religious leaders, you are just not nice. The people deserved better than this and as a consequence the religious leaders would be shepherds no more. They had their chance, and blew it! The point Jesus wanted to make was that this did not mean that the people were not going to have a shepherd. God was intervening himself and he would ensure that the sheep were properly looked after. He would make sure they had pasture, that they had safety, that the lost were found and the weak restored and the injured healed. There would be a new justice.

Shepherding life in first century Palestine may be a long way away from our understanding of how people behave who look after sheep today, nevertheless we can make sense of what Jesus is saying. Jesus knows that being a real shepherd was not a great career move, it was not a profession for those who were fainthearted and there might be a real cost to pay. A real shepherd might have to risk his own life for the sheep, and Jesus knows what that means for him as he would soon give of his own life on the cross. So when Jesus tells us that he is our Good Shepherd what he is saying is that he will be with us when things are tough. That is what real shepherds do, listen to Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want he maketh me to lie down in green pasture he leadeth me beside still water, he restoreth my soul, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear nor evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. ……

Why does the fact that a shepherd has staff bring us any comfort? It is because the shepherd uses his weapons to protect the sheep from the enemy. Wolves or robbers who came by would have to face combat. Jesus is saying that real shepherds don’t just look after themselves, they look after the sheep, even if that means that they have to put themselves in harms way. Jesus is saying that he is not just your fair-weather friend. Fairweather friends are folks who will stand by you when there is no risk, but when trouble inevitably comes along, when bad things happen, they disappear. They run away because they really only think of themselves. Jesus is not a fair-weather friend, he promises to be with us when things get tough or when there is something which is a real problem. He won’t just stand by you he will lay down his life for yours.

We know that this aspect of being a shepherd is important for Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that for him as shepherd every sheep is valuable. There will be no sheep which is considered expendable. None shall be lost, Jesus will seek them out. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep, he loves the sheep, so much so that he will lay down his own life for the sheep. It seems hard for us that Jesus could be concerned about each one of us, surely the greater good is more important, one solitary life cannot be that important? Yet we know that Jesus counts every single person as important, irrespective of whether or not they are lovely looking or specially talented. Jesus went out of his way to call out the unlovely and the unloved, the ones with broken bodies, the ones with wounded minds, the ones considered by others to be best left alone. Jesus gathered them in so that none shall be lost, all are valuable, all are loved.

Jesus also says that when he speaks we will hear his voice, just as a sheep recognises the shepherd.

What Jesus is saying is that if you listen to his voice you will not find a theory or a religious idea, or even a creed by which to live, you will find him. Jesus is saying that he knows you, he knows your name. He doesn’t care if you are beautiful, or clever, or popular or messed up and frightened and lonely. Jesus worries about all the sheep and considers them all of value. He knows what worries and upsets you, he knows your needs, what you care about and he wants to share your life. So today is the Sunday of the Good Shepherd and a great time to take time to listen, to hear what Jesus might be saying to you. Nobody is left out, he speaks to every one here and laid down his life out of love for each one of us.


Billy Graham will be remembered as the person who preached the gospel to more people in person than any other in the history of Christianity. He was very opinionated and influential and his views were sought on many issues by the presidents of the United States. However as he studied scripture his views matured throughout his ministry. For example his early crusades had racially segregated audiences, but he realised this was wrong and during a 1953 rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Graham tore down the ropes that organizers had erected in order to segregate the audience into racial sections. In his memoirs, he recounted that he told two ushers to leave the barriers down "or you can go on and have the revival without me." 

He also warned a white audience, "we have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride."

When reflecting on Jesus as the Good Shepherd it is worth thinking about words which Billy Graham spoke which attracted great criticism from evangelicals. Interviewed by Robert Schuller’s at his Crystal Cathedral in 1997 in the ’Hour of Power’ he was asked

Dr Schuller Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?

Billy Graham  Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think the Apostle James answered that in the First Council in Jerusalem when he said that God’s purpose for this age was to call out a people for his name.  And that is what God is doing today hes calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

Dr. Schuller: What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?

Billy Graham Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

Dr. Schuller: This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Billy Graham: There is. There definitely is.

Those words by Billy Graham got him in trouble with many of his evangelical Christian friends who did not believe that God’s mercy could be so wide. I wonder if one of the scriptures which scripture prompted Billy Graham to say these words came from today’s lesson from John’s gospel where Jesus says,

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I will bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice.” 


  1. The King of love my shepherd is

  2. Majesty

  3. The Lord’s my shepherd

  4. Fill thou my life

  5. I will sing a wondrous story


Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer encouragement in the Christian life

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian,

if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die

Risen Christ, faithful Shepherd of your Father’s sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all your people may be gathered into one flock, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Father God, we are thankful for Jesus. We know Him and He knows us. Thank you for all those who have been our shepherds. We ask that you would help us to be your good shepherds. Amen.

Living God, you have given us a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: grant that we, being risen with Him, may fix our hearts on heavenly things and share eternal life. Amen

My natural mother, my gracious mother, my most precious mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself dirty and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it better, except with your secret help and your grace. Julian of Norwich (c.1342-c.1416)

Grant to us, O Lord, to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain, that reaching the eventide victorious over all temptation, we may again praise you, the eternal God, blessed over all things now and for ever. Amen Mozarabic Sacramentary, 10th century

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen


Jesus the Good ShepherdAdditional Material



If you ever watched Desperate Housewives on television you will remember the episode where the businessman Carlos returns to work after a kind of breakdown and starts giving money away to people who he believes have suffered from his previous deals shutting down companies and laying people off. He has looked at his life and sees that his wealth is built on the poverty and exploitation of others and he wants to put it right. His wife Gabby is furious and resentful, she tells him that he must care for his family that she will not be hurt as a result of his desire to be a better person and care for others. The episode ends with them being very angry with each other. In the passage from Chapter 10 of John today, there is a similar sort of thing going on. Jesus has healed a blind man and the Pharisees are incredibly resentful of Jesus. Jesus accuses them of not caring for others and thinking only of themselves and he likens them to thieves and robbers. Jesus tells them that he will give away everything, even his life, in order to care for others. By verse 33 of Chapter 11 we read that these Jewish Leaders had decided that they would kill Jesus because of the threat which he posed to their temple and nation.

Jesus was trying to help people to understand that God cared not just for the Jewish people, but for all people. He spoke of ‘other sheep’ that God cared about, those who were outside the Jewish nation. The leaders behaved just like Gabby with Carlos, they were concerned only about themselves and their own interests. Jesus knew that taking on vested interests was dangerous and he speaks clearly about the fact that he will end up like a Good Shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep.

We might be critical of the Jewish leaders and selfish people like Gabby, yet there is always a tendency to be concerned only about the welfare of ourselves and people like us. The Jewish leaders wanted to protect their livelihoods and the Jewish nation, they were unconcerned about the ones Jesus referred to as sheep from another pen.

We can all behave like this when we are suspicious and resentful of others who are in some way different. There is a very human desire to build borders and boundaries, which we then have to define and defend against intruders. God’s desire is rather that these human borders and boundaries are broken down. We do well to remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for all sheep, not just the ones in our flock. His love and willingness to give extends to the whole world which is his family.

One Shepherd, One Sheep Herd
In today’s Gospel Jesus says twice “I am the good shepherd.” The context is the continuation of the discussions Jesus is having with the Pharisees after He has healed a man who was born blind. This man, who was blind, first heard the voice of Jesus and through believing in that voice came to believe and that was his sight. The implication is clear: the Pharisees are blinded by what they see and so are impaired of hearing and therefore do not believe. Hearing and believing becomes the central message of Jesus’ saying that he is the “Good Shepherd.” And, as the Good Shepherd He will stay faithful whilst the “hired,” or the Pharisees, turn away and have turned away from their vocation of tending and leading their “flock.” The Pharisees hear that they are interested only in being paid and so have made that their mission rather than caring and guiding their flock.

In identifying Jesus as the "Good Shepherd" John also sets up the contrast not just between Himself and the present day Pharisees but between Himself and the self-serving and corrupt "shepherds" of Israel's past, the wicked kings and leaders whose lack of concern for their people resulted in internal decay and external ruin. Indeed, the corruption of Israel's kings so disgusted God that Ezekiel had prophesied how God would personally come to be their shepherd. Thus in Jesus we see God's desire to shepherd His people personally being fulfilled. What Ezekiel expected to be exercised by God is now accomplished in Jesus. Jesus' care for his sheep is total: He shepherds the flock at the cost of laying down his own life for them. In some ways this is the reverse of what we might expect. Ordinarily in biblical times it was the sheep that were sacrificed, but in Jesus we have no ordinary shepherd!

Jesus the Good Shepherd not only lays down his life for the sheep, He knows the sheep and the sheep know him, not just through some kind of superficial knowledge but through deep experience and a relationship. Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep (that’s us!) because, as John tells us at the beginning of His gospel, He "became flesh and lived among us". Jesus knows his own, because he has lived in our skin and has experienced our joys and sorrows.

The ministry of the shepherd is threefold: to protect the sheep, preserve the unity of the flock, and to lead them. The shepherd does whatever he can to protect the sheep from harm and from being scattered. The response of the sheep to such a shepherd is to hear his voice and to follow where he leads. As Christians we have a responsibility to shepherd the community in which we live and to be the sheep that faithfully follow the voice of Christ. It is not enough to go through the motions of being a Christian, Christ wants more than lip service, He wants our hearts.

Contained in the message of the Good Shepherd there is a clear message regarding all our roles in leadership within the community of faith. Just as it berates the failure of Israel’s spiritual leaders and attacks the ‘professionals’, who are in ministry for the job and not as a calling, it emphasises that without personal commitment to God there can be no real leadership within the church. It’s a reminder to all who seek to lead, in any walk of life, that they need real commitment to the cause and that they need to keep close to those they seek to lead.

John’s gospel also illustrates that the role of the true shepherd is not only to be inward looking and care for the flock already in their charge, but to be outward looking and bring in sheep who are not already part of the flock. Sheep who might be very different from ourselves. We have one shepherd, we should be one Sheep Herd.

Jesus’ way of winning people was to be attractive to them and to care and provide for them, whatever their background or heritage. To lay aside by choice his self ego, and become a door through which they could be nurtured and enter into fellowship with God and each other. Just as Peter was called by Jesus to feed and nurture His sheep, so are we. And in Jesus we have a model which He invites us to follow. To be leaders and shepherds, caring, feeding and nurturing for those in our community whatever flock they may come from.


We do not know what Jesus looked like and there is no physical description of Jesus in the Gospels. The Jews had a history of not liking graven images and so Jewish depictions of people around the first century are scarce. One of the earliest images which we do have of Jesus is that shown of him as The Good Shepherd. During the persecution of the Christians under Rome, Christian art appeared on Christian tombs. Christians were buried not burned, because they believed in the bodily resurrection. In the first picture on the left we can see a wall painting from the Catacomb of Callixtus from the early third century. Shepherds were common forms of art showing the pastoral life. Jesus is disguised as Orpheus, young, beardless and in a short tunic.

Whilst we do not know what Jesus looked like, whatever his physical appearance, it is clear from the reading in John today that he felt no difficulty in describing himself and his ministry in a manner which we would think of in terms of hard working, dirty, manual labour. The images of a shepherd which we sometimes have gives a rather false and fluffy depiction of how hard it was to be a peasant shepherd in first century Palestine. The Shepherd worked a hard life on the edges of society, unable to keep the religious laws. The life was one of constant challenges and dangers from nature and from other men who would threaten the sheep. Shepherds were not clean either ritually or physically, because theirs was a life which entailed sacrifice to care for animals who could not care for themselves, no time to go to synagogue.

Jesus describes himself as a worker, willing to put himself in harms way to protect the ones that he loves, not as a remote figure in authority. Jesus is disparaging towards the religious leaders because they were only interested in themselves. Now their time is up and Jesus is showing a new way, a way in which the love of God is revealed towards his people by a shepherd who is faithful and true.

We can only guess what Jesus face might look like, but we see clearly his character and we know his voice. May God grant each one of us the time to be still and calm the noise so that we can still hear that still small voice of Jesus leading his sheep.

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Broad and narrow way - KirkhamBritish Museum number 1999,0425.13
Title Object: ‘The broad and narrow way.’ English edition of an 1866 Dutch issue. 1883 Colour lithograph  Published by: Gawin Kirkham
Printed by: Headly Brothers


The meditation this week considers the outrage which greeted the comments by Dr Billy Graham that we might be surprised at some of the folks who Jesus welcomes into heaven.
This picture today was produced by people who knew very clearly who was going into heaven and who was going straight to heaven. This kind of print flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Originally made in Germany the picture found widespread appeal among Victorian evangelicals who wanted to clearly distinguish those bound for hell and those for their eternal home in heaven. The preacher Gawin Kirkham had it reproduced with English text to accompany a sermon. The Broad and Narrow Way is a picture representation of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13–14).

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

The picture  anticipates the divine judgement which will face those who do not accept the prevailing moral preaching at the time.  The historical note published beneath the image reads:

"This picture is of German origin. It was designed by Mrs Charlotte Reihlen, of Stuttgart in 1862; and, at her request, was painted br Herr Schacher, a young artist, also of Stuttgart. A Dutch edition was produced in Holland in 1866. One of these Dutch copies was brought from Amsterdam in 1868 by Mr Gawin Kirkham, from an enlarged copy of which he has lectured nearly a thousand times. This English edition was issued in 1883. The "History and Explanation of the Picture", with Portraits of Mrs Reihlen and Mr Kirkham, may also be had of the publishers, one penny each'.

You do not need to have listened to one of his 1,000 sermons to guess what constituted unacceptable behaviour to deny you access the heavenly mansion which God had prepared for you.  Under the welcome banner is wide gate pointed to by a sign which forces you to choose either ‘Death and damnation’ or the tiny narrow gate of ‘Life and Salvation.’ A tub thumping evangelical preacher stands by the sign warning of the perils of making the wrong choice. Take that wide gate and all manner of world vices are there to greet you. Underneath the entrance statue of Bachus, the pub is open with people taking leisure drinking. For each vice there is a Bible quotation illustrating the sin, in this case Isaiah 5:22 ‘Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine.’ Every sin has an accompanying Bible Verses. One of the worst sins seems to be associated with the desecration of the Sunday.Near the top of the print is a railway clearly marked as a ‘Sunday Trains’ no doubt carrying the entirety of its passenger straight to the fiery furnace.

The sins abound all with clear prohibition from the pages of scripture. There ia a ball room with people enjoying dancing beneath the tavern of worldliness. It is not clear whether the flying of the Union Jack constitutes an error in itself but alongside it men are playing musical instruments to provide a soundtrack as people go about their ungodly business. People are going to the theatre which was obviously considered frivolous and as immoral as those who joined the queue to purchase lottery tickets. A gentleman just inside the gate on the right approaches a woman I suspect to be a prostitute but the verse Proverbs 5:25 doesn’t exist so I am not sure, but there are no verses to go alongside the obvious sins of riding in motorcars or on a bicycle either.

Religion has always sought to control the lives of its adherents, both morals and behaviours as well as beliefs. This is true across all the major religions, but of course even within those religions opinions differ as to what is the constitutes the correct moral lifestyle and behaviour. One persons virtuous living is for another person a living hell. What for one person may be a crusade, jihad or holy war is for another an act of terrorism. To control its members different sects within religions have identified and proclaimed the rules for membership and for this to be successful there has to be a simplistic clarity in  black and white. They have  then customarily relied upon fear to reinforce the message and to ensure compliance have proclaimed  punishment in this world and most critically eternal punishment in the next.  The difficulty is that morality is neither black or white and neither is it something someone else can decide for you. Neither is it decided by the culture, fashion and behaviours of the day, lotteries can be both good and bad, as can the theatre, pubs and place of entertainment.

It is worth remembering that Chapter 7 of Matthew, which inspired this print, begins with the message

‘Do not judge.’ Moreover later in his gospel Matthew notes that the complexity of this dilemma was clearly illustrated when speaking to those convinced of their own righteousness Jesus said,

‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes 

are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’


Picture above Catacomb of Callixtus - The Good Shepherd:
The Catacomb of Callixtus was built along the Appian Way, probably by Pope Calixtus in the early third century. As Christianity became prominent, catacomb remains were moved to churches and catacombs fell into disuse. "In the catacomb of Callixtus, dating from the middle of the third century, the Good Shepherd appears again with delicate modelling of form, face, and drapery. Shepherds were common enough as garden figures in pagan villas; they represented a romantic ideal of the bucolic way of life and the more solid merit of good husbandry and economy, but they could equally well be adapted to Christian symbolism. [John Beckwith, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art, Volume 1979." Yale University Press, 1979, p. 21.] 



This the very special fourth Sunday after Easter when we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

There are some very comforting words this morning in this reading from John

I hope like me that you have filled in your census recently. The government needs to know who we are and all sorts of things about us. Not just our names but information about what we believe and who we really are.

In the Gospel Bible Reading from John 10: 11-18
Jesus says to the religious leaders, the Pharisees: ‘I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me

What Jesus is saying is that you do not need to complete a census to be known by God, you do not need to fill in a form every few years about who you are because Jesus tells us
-   he already knows who you are.

This is in itself great news, but it gets even better, Jesus knows us, knows what we are like intimately, he says

‘Just as the Father knows me’

and even knowing us that well, he still willingly lays down his life for us

Some people are lovelier the more that you get to know them, layers and layers or loveliness, but not everybody is and for those of us who are not riddled with loveliness it is a great and reassuring comfort to know that Jesus loves us even though not all of us is lovely. 

Why does Jesus love us?  He loves us because we are his sheep, in some ways the same as we love our children even when they are infuriatingly stupid or badly behaved. I remember a few months ago Corinne and I were on the B660 going out past Ravensden and we saw a sheep right in the middle of the road with cars whizzing along. The temptations is always to drive on and hope for the best but I remember us and another motorist having to try and herd the creature to safety up a hill and eventually into somebody’s garden.  Jesus knows that sheep are a bit dim and it is the custom of sheep not always to walk the right path and yet we are told that when we stray God loves us so much that he seeks us out and brings us home.

It is worth understanding the context of why Jesus spoke these words this morning.

In the previous chapter 9, Jesus was walking along the road with his disciples and they saw a blind man. The disciples ask whose sin it was that caused the man to be blind, was it the man himself or was it his parents?

In other words they wanted someone to blame.

This is often what people do of course. We look at people who are subject to misfortune and we  look to place the blame. Jesus just set about making a difference and he healed the man.  

· There is a lesson here for us when we see people in need, we don’t attribute blame to the person who needs the foodbank

· or the psychiatrist

· or the women’s refuge

· or help for whatever other situation in which we might find ourselves were it not but for the grace of God,

We just do the work of Jesus and seek to help make things right.

The reaction of the religious leaders was quite the opposite, they looked for somebody to blame and they blamed Jesus for making the man well.

The crime Jesus committed was helping the blind man on the sabbath and it was forbidden to work on the sabbath and that included being kind to people and making them well.

The response of Jesus was to speak these words which we have this morning about how he was the Good Shepherd in contrast to others (specifically the religious leaders who criticised him) as the hired hands who don’t really care for the sheep.

If you ever wonder why Jesus was crucified and theologians have written so many books with different explanations, what it all boiled down to was simple human jealousy. It was episodes like this were Jesus confronted the religious powers of his day and challenged their selfish powers. 

We see this all the time don’t we in people in power? People who use their power to further their own wealth and get even greater power. You and I might not have positions in which we have power over great amounts of money or authority to give privilege or favours or anything else but it is nevertheless a warning to us that

We must use what we do have to best serve others and not ourselves.

We looked at this idea of Jesus as a shepherd when we had our Psalms Lent Series and we reflected on why Jesus chose it for himself

We do not know what Jesus looked like and there is no physical description of Jesus in the Gospels. The Jews had a history of not liking graven images and so Jewish depictions of people around the first century are scarce. However one of the earliest images which we do have of Jesus is that shown of him as The Good Shepherd. During the persecution of the Christians under Rome, Christian art appeared on Christian tombs. Christians were buried not burned, because they believed in the bodily resurrection. In this first we can see a wall painting from the Catacomb of Callixtus from the early third century.

The idea of shepherding was ingrained in the minds of the people who heard Jesus, The scriptures were full of images of shepherds, Kind David was a shepherd and so was Moses and Jacob.

Jesus said that the scriptures and Psalms specifically spoke about him and in one of the most famous psalms - Psalm 23 says - The Lord is my shepherd !  It is easy to see why this is one of the first images of Jesus. Jesus knew this Psalm off by heart and he knew what it meant

It says the Lord is my shepherd - I shall not want -

God wants his people to have good things. He does not inflict blindness

It says that he makes the sheep lie down in green pastures

Sheep lie down because they feel safe and they are fed, they have what they need - food and security

It says that even in the darkest valley, like the valley of the shadow of death the sheep feel safe

We all need to know the closeness of the shepherd - especially in these past days in which we have truly walked together through some extraordinary times of darkness

It says that the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort us

Shepherds were tough chaps and whilst we do not know what Jesus looked like, whatever his physical appearance, it is clear from the reading in John today that he felt no difficulty in describing himself and his ministry in a manner which we would think of in terms of hard working, dirty, manual labour. The images of a shepherd which we sometimes have gives a rather false and fluffy depiction of how hard it was to be a peasant shepherd in first century Palestine.

When the psalmist says,

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me

The rod which the shepherd had was a club, remember that King David slew a lion, he would have used his club, the shepherd was a strong protector from anything which would hurt his sheep. When we say thy rod and they staff comfort me, that rod is a powerful weapon.  

Let me draw things together as we finish this morning.

1. Jesus saw the religious leaders of his day betraying their calling to look after the people. They pointed the finger at others but never looked at their own failures to care for those in need.

2. The early Christian community quickly recognised that Jesus was not like these powerful religious leaders. He was not looking out for himself but thinking of others, so much so that he would give his own life for them. This is the Good Shepherd who cares for us.

3. Jesus encourages us to know that no matter what circumstances of darkness or difficulty we face he walks with us as the Good Shepherd, we have nothing to fear. We might disappoint ourselves in life and not be Good Sheep, but he is remains the Good Shepherd and will always come after us and bring us home.