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Fourth Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, April 25, 2021

This Is Who I AM and Will Always Be

Text: John 10:11–16

I don’t recall ever knowingly meeting a secret agent, so when someone tells me their name I assume that they’re telling me the truth, and it’s not an alias. When you introduce yourself to me by name, I would like to think that I can call you by that same name sometime in the future and you will not tell me that isn’t your name anymore. Now in fairness, I have noticed that my memory isn’t what it used to be so if I call you by someone else’s name please be prepared to show grace and gently correct me.

Of course, occupations can change, and you might be doing one thing when we meet and something entirely different when we meet again. However, your name and who you are in essence likely remains the same. So, if you tell me that you are of Scottish descent, or German, or some other nationality, then that is in essence who you are, no matter what changes in your occupation or address. You may have changed the way you feel about something, or your opinions may have changed, but even then, your name is left where it is, and you remain who you are in essence.

One of the great comforts that we should have about God is that He doesn’t ever change. Throughout the Scriptures, God reveals himself to men by describing who he is in essence and then reveals something about his character or nature. He is always the only God, there are no other gods before him. He is the only way to salvation, and all things in the heavens and the earth reveal His glory and majesty. But one of the ways he has chosen to reveal to us His character and nature is through His names. Throughout the word of God, we learn more about the identity of the God that we worship as we consider His self-revelation in his names.

In Exodus chapter 3 God spoke to Moses through a burning bush commanding him to go and tell the Pharoah of Egypt to release the children of Israel from their bondage to slavery. Moses asks God who he should say had sent him. He couldn’t very well go to Pharoah and tell him that a burning bush gave him a message. Even back that long ago it was considered unusual if a plant struck up a conversation with you. So, God answers him in Exodus 3:14–15,

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

At the beginning of the verse where God is speaking to Moses, the word for God is “Elohim” but he further reveals his character and his nature by referring to himself as “I am who I am” which is often translated as “I will be what I will be”. This was later shortened to Jehovah and then later Yahweh, the Lord. In that name God is revealing to Moses that he was the same God who had revealed himself to their forefathers. That name was understood as focusing on God’s eternal, self-sustaining, self-determining, sovereign character who would reveal himself in supernatural ways, like through a burning bush not being consumed. The revelation of God (Elohim) as the Great I am, also revealed God as the One who had made covenant promises to the patriarchs. In His name, Yahweh was teaching Moses that he was not merely the God of the past, but as the one who remembers his covenant promises.

Throughout the Old Testament God would use this name to identify who was speaking but would often further add a description as to a part of his character. For instance in Genesis 17:1 the Lord (Yahweh) appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.” We see here that the Great I Am (Yahweh) is God Almighty (El Shaddai).

Throughout the Scriptures, God (Yahweh) reveals his nature by attaching one of his attributes or characteristics to his name. A few examples are:

Yahweh Rophe- “the God who heals me” (2 Kings 20:15)
Yahweh Yireh- “the God who provides” (Genesis 22:14).
Yahweh Shammah- “the God who is there” (Ezekiel 48:35)
Yahweh Nissi- “the Lord my banner.” (Exodus 17:15–16)
Yahweh Shalom “The Lord Is Peace” (Judges 6:24)
Yahweh-Raah “The Lord My Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)

There are over 100 names for God in the Bible and they each describe a part of his character and nature and how He chooses to relate to us. It’s important to note that they describe who God is and has always been. God will not change and there is nothing to add to or take away from his perfection. Whenever God reveals something about himself, you should know that what He has revealed will not change.

In light of this, today we will consider our Gospel passage from John 10:11–16 where Jesus reveals both his divinity and one of his essential characteristics, “I am the good Shepherd.”

Also, in the Gospel of John, there are six other times where Jesus refers to himself as the “I am” and then follows it with a particular characteristic that describes his essence and nature within his divinity.

In chapter 6:35–48, ib; John 8:12, “I am the light of the world”; John 10:7, “I am the door”; John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life”; John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; John 15:1–5, “I am the true vine.”

It was these claims that infuriated the religious leaders of Jesus’ time the most. They would have picked up on Jesus’ description of himself as the “I am.” In John 8 the Pharisees confronted Jesus about his claims that God was his Father because in their language He was making himself equal with Yahweh. In fury and desperation they accuse him of being demon-possessed and Jesus’ response was to call them liars who were like their father, Satan. They respond that their father was Abraham. Listen to his reply in John 8:56–59,

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

Because we live 2,000 years later and in a vastly different cultural context, it’s difficult for us to appreciate why Jesus’ claims were considered blasphemous and therefore he should be put to death. In our “live and let live” culture such claims would be laughed at and forgotten, considered the ravings of a lunatic. We have to remember that the Pharisees were passionate about God’s law in Torah.

In Exodus 20:2–3 the first commandment was,

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other God’s before me.”

They were furious because Jesus referred to himself as “I am” which was breaking the first commandment, unless he was telling the truth. Throughout the discourse of this morning's Gospel reading, we will see that Jesus, through the revelation of his name, was inviting his listeners to see him as proof that Yahweh was indeed a covenant-keeping God, and Jesus was Yahweh-Raah “The Lord My Shepherd.”

Let’s read John 10:11,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

There are two things I want us to see from this verse.

First, most of us remember the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Goliath, a Philistine warrior who was a giant, taunted the army of Israel by challenging any of their warriors to come up against him in battle. No one was willing to engage Goliath out of fear. David, a shepherd boy, was sent by his father to check on his older brothers and take them some food. While there, David hears the giant mocking the armies of Israel and he volunteers to fight the giant himself. Listen to the conversation between David, the shepherd boy, and Saul the warrior king of Israel,

But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

You know the story. David, the shepherd boy, kills Goliath, the Philistine warrior, with a rock thrown from a sling. Eventually, this shepherd boy became David, king of Judah, and eventually, Israel. Jesus in his royal human linage was referred to as “the Son of David.” In 2 Samuel 7:16, God promised King David,

“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

The Scriptures refer to Jesus as the Son of David who will rule in righteousness forever. Remember that David was the youngest son of Jesse, was the least likely of all the sons of Jesse to be chosen according to the standards of men. God told Samuel that he didn’t look upon the outward appearance but on the heart of a man. Jesus would later call fishermen and make them “fishers of men” and here the Lord took a shepherd and made him the shepherd for his people Israel. Jesus, the son of Joseph, as far as the people of Nazareth knew, was a lowly carpenter, not someone likely to be calling themselves, I am.

Second, David was an example of a good shepherd who put his own life in jeopardy to save the life of one of his father’s sheep. The Sovereign Lord gave him the strength to overcome animals that would normally have little trouble killing a shepherd boy. David loved his sheep but also loved Jesse, his father. Sheep were the wealth of many of the families of Israel. Their lives depended on the sheep for wool, meat, and milk.

Jesus came to be the Good Shepherd for the people of God, at the request of His Father. Believe it or not, we are the wealth of God’s kingdom. However, even though Jesus was willing to take up the role of a Good Shepherd he didn’t merely risk his life to protect his sheep; he intentionally gives His life for the sake of His sheep. Unlike the human shepherd, Jesus took on the identity of the Good Shepherd in order to lay down his life for the sheep. The closest way we can see this concept is in the “suffering Servant” from Isaiah 53. Listen to Isaiah 53:6–7,

6All we like sheep have gone astray;
          we have turned—everyone—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him  t
          he iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, 
          yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, 
          and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, 
so he opened not his mouth.

This willingness to die is what makes the shepherd good. It was in his death that he revealed what it meant when he called himself, “the Good Shepherd” and it would be this act that would prove it.

John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Dr. Rod Whitacre in his Commentary of John’s Gospel comments,

The beauty of the Lord's character attracts those whose hearts are able to receive divine beauty. This is far more than an admirable death of a martyr. For in this death we see the beauty of God himself, since God is love, and love, as John says (1 John 3:16), is the laying down of life. It is precisely because he was in the form of God that he poured himself out and laid down his life (Philippians 2:6–8). In Jesus we see the divine character, and what we see is beautiful. When we are able to really see God as Jesus has revealed him, we cannot help praising him if we have hearts that are open to God. Such a vision of God's beauty is at the heart of all true worship.

Let’s read John 10:12–13,

“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Jesus draws a contrast between the true good shepherd who will risk his life for his flock as opposed to the bad shepherd who doesn’t have a true love for the sheep that belong to someone else. Why should he risk his life, they don’t belong to him and if he gets hurt then he’s out of a job. Besides, being a shepherd is one of the lowliest jobs there is, and it just doesn’t pay enough to risk life and limb. The bad shepherd sees the sheep as there for his benefit instead of him being there to care for them.

This picture that Jesus is painting here is easily seen through our Old Testament passage Ezekiel 34:1–10. The Lord is speaking through the prophet as an indictment against the terrible leadership of Israel’s past and God’s plan to replace that leadership with his own direct care through a future son of David.

A good shepherd would focus his attention on those sheep who were weak, sick, or injured, even though this would require a considerable effort on the part of the shepherd. In the ancient world one of the ideals of a good king was to care for his subjects like a shepherd. The poor and those who were oppressed should receive particular attention as the objects of royal care. However, Jerusalem’s kings were often the ones who were the primary oppressors.

In our Gospel, Jesus is focusing on two problems in particular, the lack of care on the part of the hired hand and the threat of the wolf separating and scattering the sheep. By the time that John was writing this Gospel the image of the wolf was seen from those who came from outside the community teaching false doctrine.

Jesus had warned in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.“

In Acts 20:29–30, the Apostle Paul warned the church in Ephesus,

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Also, the problem of “the hired hand” continued in the church, as seen in Peter’s exhortation to the elders to shepherd the flock willingly as the calling of God, not just for money (1 Peter 5:2).

Let’s read John 10:14–16,

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

The relationship that Jesus has with the Father needs to be understood as the perfect model. It’s not simply as acquaintances, but is an intimacy of devoted love. Jesus describes it as a oneness in John 10:30, and a similar oneness of life is affirmed between Jesus and his disciples in John 15:1–7, the vine, and the branches.

The new community of believers would be based on Jesus’ death. The pattern for this life in community would be based on the willingness to lay down their lives for each other. The possibility and power of such a life came through the life of Jesus poured out on the cross, uniting God and mankind by taking away the sin of the world and revealing the glory of God. It would be unique and vastly different from the ways of the world, who, although they gather together around a common purpose, don’t stay together if individual needs and desires are not met. The idea of laying down their lives for each other wouldn’t likely ever come up.

This was to be the trademark of those united together under the Good Shepherd, but sadly, that is all too often not the case. Why? Usually it’s because the enemy finds a way to enter the community and divide the sheep. This should not be so, but we are living in a time where our nation is deeply divided and sadly, those who call themselves Christ-followers are too often divided and estranged from each other. We must fight this and seek the glory of God and the wellbeing of each other if we would see the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst and the kingdom of God growing.

Finally, Jesus said that he had other sheep, not of that fold, who were likely his Jewish disciples. He would also bring in the Gentile world, literally all the nations of the world. That had been the desire of God as far back as the promise to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The question is, what would be the common and unifying principle that would hold this diverse and larger flock together and give them an awareness of the enemies who would scatter them? It would have to be that together they sought to stay in the presence of the Good Shepherd and be well aware that there is an enemy whose purpose is to scatter the sheep, to divide and conquer.

We must refocus on what Jesus revealed to us through his names and see him as the evidence that God is a covenant-keeping God. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that King David testified to in Psalm 23 and the promises of that Psalm are as real today as in the time of King David, if and when we follow the Lord as our Shepherd.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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