Sunday, April 22, 2018
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
I wonder if Jesus experienced emotions when He hung upon the cross . . . when He submitted His will to the will of His Father and gave His life for us. Did He experience the “indescribable aloneness” or the “terror”? If so, then no wonder He cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). And to think, it was all in our behalf.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus lay down His life for us. What a mission of love that is! It’s that love that has inspired millions over the past 2,000 years.
Please note, however, that laying down your life for a friend or even a stranger is different from laying down your life for a sheep. Yet listen to Jesus’ words: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
I don’t want you to be fooled. What transpired on the cross of Calvary wasn’t a transaction between equals. A man laying down his life for dumb and dirty sheep is different than laying down his life for another human being.
I hope you don’t mind being called a dumb and dirty sheep, by the way, because that’s who Christ died for, you and me. Actually, it’s the sheep who should be insulted. After all, a sheep never killed his neighbor, or passed along the latest juicy gossip. A sheep never deliberately abused its body with drugs or stole from its employer. Judged by their own standards, sheep are pretty decent creatures. Still, I don’t think any of us would lay down his life for a flock of intellectually challenged sheep. I think we can say, “God created sheep in order to make chickens look smart.”
A group of Chinese shepherds in Mongolia were put in a difficult situation when their herd of sheep took it into their heads to commit mass suicide in a lake. Two goats with an apparent death wish, jumped into the 5 ft. deep water, prompting the sheep to follow. Twenty herdsmen took three-hours to rescue 281 sheep, while another 249 animals, including 206 goats, drowned. Some of the rescued animals had to be restrained from jumping back into the water.
Remember your mother saying to you something like, “Well, if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Well these sheep did. Just because some moronic goats jumped into the river, these dumb sheep followed right along.
Sheep are dumb! Have you ever met a sheep trainer? Ever see sheep do tricks? Know anyone who has taught his sheep to roll over? No. Sheep are just too dumb. Who wants to give his life to rescue a dumb sheep? Of course, we must admit that people sometimes do things that are equally as dumb.
A man was desperately short on cash. He saw no way out except to take a pistol that had been handed down in his family to rob a bank. His got away with $6,000. But, was promptly arrested.
At his trial, two significant things happened. First, he was sentenced to six years in prison. But second, as the courtroom looked closely at the evidence, spectators began to take a close look at the gun he had used in the robbery. It was a .45 Colt semi-automatic, an antique made by the Ross Rifle Company in 1918. And it’s value? About $100,000. Did you catch that? he robbed a bank for $6,000, all the time holding, potentially, a $100,000 gun in his hand!
So yes, human beings sometimes do things that are not too bright. Of course, we can sympathize when humans do dumb things out of desperation. But what about people who do things that are downright evil?
Why did God create the human being in the first place? That’s a good question. Human beings obviously have a problem deep in the soul. And it is a problem far worse than any ever posed a sheep.
The Bible teaches us that we human beings have always carried a snake problem with us. Everything we touch we infect. We discover a way to harness the wonderful energy of the atom and begin building bombs. We invent the internal combustion engine and pollute the air. We discover a way to extract from nature cures for various ailments and we end up producing addictive drugs. The Lord of Life gave His life for creatures who do such things, creatures such as you and me. Why in the world did He do it?
Evidently God sees in us something that we don’t see in ourselves. What a wonderful God, to care for dumb, desperate, sometimes evil creatures like you and me.
Imagine that you’re performing the funeral for the thief who died on the cross next to Jesus. He must have been a career criminal, because crucifixion, the most humiliating form of execution, was only reserved for the worst offenders. Only in his dying hours did he repent and turn to God. And yet, in that very moment of repentance, God removed that man’s sin and received him as a beloved child. What an awesome God of mercy and grace! Maybe we can’t brag on this man’s life, but we sure can brag on God. What a wonderful God we worship, to have mercy on people like you and me!
What I hope you see is the divine absurdity of it all. The Lord of all the universe lay down His life for you and me. He lay aside His regal robes to take up the cross of degradation and death. He lay aside His crown of glory for a painful crown of thorns, and He did it for us. Can you get your mind around such an astounding truth? Are you worthy of such an act? I certainly am not. Are you?
Somehow God found a way to turn dumb sheep into sons and daughters of God. That’s why Christ lay down His life. I don’t fully understand why it had to be done that way, but the result is staggering all the same.
There was a time when former President Jimmy Carter was working in the Philippines on a house for the Habitat for Humanity. The house was near where the famous Bataan death march of World War II began. It was a very hot day, and as President Carter and the others worked, their bodies were covered in sweat.
The homeowner was later asked what meant the most to him about the project. He replied that one day as he watched, he noticed that as President Carter worked with the mortar, some of his sweat fell into the mix. The homeowner expressed his emotions like this: “I know my walls are blessed with the sweat of President Carter in them.”
Sweat dropped from Jesus’ body in the Garden of Gethsemane when He committed Himself to the assignment which God gave Him, but it was drops of blood that sealed the deal on Golgotha.
A Gallup poll reported once that 98% of Americans believe in God. That’s incredible. Eighty percent believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But in that same poll, only 40% thought that religion was very important. I find that difficult to believe. People believe that Jesus shed His blood in our behalf, and then we say it’s not really all that important? Sounds like something a dumb sheep would say.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for his sheep.” I don’t like being classified with sheep. But I know I’m a sinner. I know I am unworthy of having the Lord of Life sacrifice Himself in my behalf. Rather, I should be sacrificing myself for Him. Today’s not too late to start. By His grace I will continue to dedicate the rest of my life to Him. I hope you will too.