The Church should always be asking what its purpose is according to Jesus. In today’s text, Jesus gives us a very clear picture of the Church. It tells who are the people that belong to the Church and what is its purpose. Jesus called the Church his flock; he is the shepherd and we are his sheep.
People who know Jesus and live in a relationship with him understand the gospel very well. They understand that Jesus wants the relationship between the shepherd and his flock to be very personal. When he calls them, they hear his voice and come, but do not listen to the voice of a stranger. They understand that he is their Savior and their shepherd.
In our text, when Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep,” he is referring to the cross where he paid the price for the sins of the world. Peter described it quite well when he wrote, “He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (I Peter 2:24, 25).
We are reluctant at times to put ourselves on the same level as the Almighty God. However, this holy God wants us to know that, even though he is God of Gods and Lord of Lords, he wants to live in a personal relationship with us. We need to come to his Son every day with our cares, concerns, and problems so that he can answer them. How else can we live in this tough old world?
I thought of this the other day as a big funeral was taking place in our church. A tragedy had taken place and the life of a young woman in our community was taken. I prayed that our pastor would have the opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with those whose hearts were broken.
Jesus also speaks in our text of the resurrection. “. . . I lay down my life Ð only to take it up again.” He is referring to the resurrection and to that time when he will take us into the heavenly mansions to be with him forever. There is that relationship.
This is the group Jesus calls his flock: Only those who trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. They are secure in the assurance that they will live with their Shepherd forever, for he is the overseer of their souls. He is their ministering shepherd who brings them back into the fold when they go their own way. This is the relationship between Jesus Christ and his Church.
In verse 16 of our text, Jesus also says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life Ð only to take it up again.” Jesus wants to enlarge his flock so he is sending us out his to tell the world about this great Shepherd. And when he sends us out with the message of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus, the invitation comes from the Savior himself.
Who was it that served as Jesus’ undershepherd by introducing you to the Shepherd? Was it your father or mother, your brother or sister, another member of the family or a good friend? Was it one who was very concerned and said to you, “Jesus likens himself to a shepherd. He has laid down his life; he lifts it up again that you might be his forever. He has been crucified to pay the price for the sins of the world and to win the victory over sin, death, and the devil.”
Christ wants this picture made abundantly clear to this world, for not all are part of the flock. He would love to have all in the flock, but some don’t want that relationship. When that is the case, they face this world with only their own strength and power.
Think of what it would like to go through each day without Jesus Christ. Although life is filled with many pleasures, we also experience some very hard knocks over the span of time. It is a sobering thought to be without Jesus Christ during those times of despair. It is even more sobering to think of entering eternity without a shepherd who loves us to the end. That is why we need to hear the story of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus says in our text, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life for the sheep. Although there is a hired man, he does not own the sheep so when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs because he is a hired man and he cares nothing for the sheep.”
Many people care for us. However, they are humans, and when push comes to shove, they may run. But not so with Jesus. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own. My own sheep know me.” He wants to live in a personal relationship with you. He needs us to go to those who are not in the fold Ð that relative, that friend Ð when God opens the opportunity and speak that word to their heart that the Holy Spirit might build a faith in their life. The flock is then one person bigger because of you or me! That is Jesus’ picture of the Church.
That is quite different from the picture that the Church is primarily a group that teaches fine morals and does acts of mercy. While there is no question that the y have come from the Church and the teachings of Almighty God, good morals are but a minor purpose. The real purpose of the Church is the redemption of the human being.
It is a real challenge to go out and help build the flock as the shepherd tells us to do. Yet, we do not go alone for the Holy Spirit accompanies us. We cannot do it ourselves, but are only his instruments. It is exciting to see where he will take us and what will happen.
We pray for the kingdom of God and the betterment of his world. And we, who are undershepherds in our family, have the great challenge and privilege of telling them about Jesus.
That is Christ’s Church. It is a challenge he gives to us Ð to be concerned about this world. If you are a confessing Christian, just think of the ways we have to reach out. Every night there is terrible news of something happening in the United States. A mother kills her children; a husband kills his wife. It is almost nauseating and puts a burden on my heart. I wonder if all this would be happening if only the Church had a correct understanding of its purpose as it has been given to us by Jesus!
It seems rather simple. Yet, we cannot discard it in search of a far more profound answer. Why not just be a part of the flock and a servant of the Shepherd. Minister to the lambs and everybody else who stands outside the flock. Give it your careful thought and make it a part of your prayers.