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"So This is Jesus Christ!"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 21, 2002
By Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 10:1-18

These are the words of Jesus: "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns 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 away because he's a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know Me."

Have you ever noticed how you think you know someone and it turns out, the person is different than you ever imagined?

This has a downside and an upside. People can disappoint you. The clean cut sales rep whom you liked right from the start turns out to be quite the slick operator, cutting himself a profit way beyond what is fair; or the neighbor you were sure you knew who's being arrested for some unthinkable crime. This is the downside.

Here is an upside. You meet someone at a party. The next day you have your television on, and there that person is. It turns out she's a medical researcher and onto some very hopeful findings that could save lives. Wow! You never would have guessed it.

I began a new ministry a year and a half ago, and I am amazed almost every week at the hidden gifts people have which suddenly show up. We meet, we talk, and a week or two later I find out the person has a voice like an angel or plays basketball like Jordan or can paint like Van Gogh or reads the Scriptures aloud like Olivier. It blows you away. You think you know someone and there is so much more there than you ever imagined. It can be that way with Jesus.

A few years ago, author Philip Yancey wrote a book titled, "The Jesus I Never Knew." In his book he owned up to the fact that the real Jesus of the inspired Gospels is more than, bigger than, greater than the Jesus he had known since his childhood days in Sunday school. In the book, Yancey recalls an opening scene from the film, "La Dolce Vita," where a statue of Jesus is being transported to Rome.

The statue is suspended by a cable from a helicopter and the chopper swoops across the Italian landscape with "Jesus" beneath it. A farmer sees it and shouts his greetings to Jesus. Everyone who sees the statue knows who it represents. "Hey! There's Jesus!" they shout. The chopper passes by a beach with a group of sunbathers and then it doubles back again for a second pass and, sure enough, even the bathing beauties wave their greetings to Jesus on His way by.

That film came out many years ago. But the universal recognition of Jesus is even more pronounced today. Just about everybody knows something about Jesus. The world's leading religions outside Christianity are even ready to call Jesus a great teacher or prophet or example of being human. Everyone today seems to want to wave at Jesus or salute Him or honor Him. It's hard, if you're religious or not, to stop from liking Jesus of Nazareth.

The stories about Him, after all, are so winsome -- the way He reached out to touch the sick, how He bounced kids on His knee. Jesus striding up and down the hills of Galilee with His happy band of disciples almost like some Pied Piper and Robin Hood combined. His teachings, after all, have shaped the separation of church and state, the practice of nonviolence, and the basic virtues we want our kids and grandkids to learn -- like humility, sacrifice, and courage.

But what if the real Jesus is more than that? What if our image of Jesus is somehow so riveted and fixed that we haven't gone deeper with Him in a very long time? Perhaps you've never gone deep enough with Jesus of Nazareth, deep enough for Him to make a difference in your life, deep enough to see Jesus as He really is.

As a child growing up in an old German Lutheran church in Chicago, we had a huge statue of Jesus up front. (At least, it seemed huge when I was a boy). I remember once when they were remodeling the church, the statue of Jesus was taken downstairs for a little freshening up. It was very strange worshiping without Jesus there. My parents took me downstairs to assure me Jesus was still there, but was getting made over, so to speak.

Still today, when I picture Jesus in my mind, I picture that statue. We have the same unalterable image of Jesus in our minds -- who He is, what He stands for, what He's done.

But could there be more? That's where this beautiful text from John 10 comes in. It gives us Jesus saying, "I Am." Here it's "I am the Good Shepherd." In John 14, it's Jesus saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." We'll look at that one next week. But all over the Gospel of John, Jesus is saying "I am." From "I am the Bread of Life," "I am the Light of the World" to "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Jesus wants you to know Him, deeply, truly. The words themselves are like statues. We've maybe heard them many times, but perhaps they carry more meaning than we know.

Eight hundred years ago Richard of Chichester wrote a prayer that simply said, "O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly, day by day."

"Knowing Jesus more clearly" means stretching us beyond the familiar, as beautiful as the familiar Jesus is, to the real Jesus of the Scriptures. What's more familiar than Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Actually, the earliest artistic works of early Christians show the Lord as a shepherd with a lamb atop His shoulders. Who doesn't love that image? On the surface, more than anything, it shows Jesus to have been a caregiver of the first order. Christians know that. Oh, do we know it.

For several months, I visited a great Christian who was dying of Lou Gherig's disease. At his bedside he had two chairs, one for the person visiting him and the other for the Lord. He let you know if you sat in the wrong chair! For us Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ as the great caregiver goes way beyond any humanistic look at Jesus as that rare, caring male so full of gentleness and concern for every one of His friends.

For us, Jesus as shepherd or Jesus as caregiver, means He was willing to die in our place, take our punishment on Himself. After dying, He came alive again, the only One who has ever died and rose, never to die again. Oh, He raised Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus would have to die again. Not Jesus. He is alive after dying, even right now. So a Christian facing death puts a chair for Jesus by his bedside. This is a caregiver who just keeps on caring and giving. And He'd be just one more founder of one more religion without His resurrection and victory over death. I like the comic who said he'd like to be buried in Jerusalem because it has the highest resurrection rate of any city in the whole world.

But there's more about Jesus to be learned from His words, "I am the Good Shepherd." I'd like to stretch us, and from the Scriptures find four deeper truths about Jesus as Good Shepherd.

First, Jesus wants us to know in these words that He is God. When people heard Him say He is the Good Shepherd, He wanted them as He wants us to know that He's the shepherd of Psalm 23, the psalm almost everyone seems to know. He is the One of whom we say, "The Lord is my shepherd." If we somehow focus so much on the humanity of Jesus that we've forgotten His being fully God, these words shake us up to the truth. This is Jesus Christ -- the Lord, as in "the Lord is my Shepherd."

Second, when Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd," He wants us to know that He is the promised Messiah Isaiah wrote of 700 years before He was born, "See, the sovereign Lord," Isaiah writes, "comes with power. He tends His flock like a shepherd and carries those close to His heart. He gently leads those that are young." This is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, promised for centuries and duly present and accounted for in history.

For our Jewish listeners, this is just one more exciting fulfillment that Jesus brings to the many beautiful prophets who spoke and wrote centuries before Him. He completes these prophecies; He fulfills these promises. Calling Him shepherd is no title of weakness or even of sweet pastoral pictures. It's much more. It's a title of one who leads. They called kings shepherds in the ancient world. This is Jesus Christ -- the Messiah King, the sovereign Lord, coming with power to lead His flock.

And third, when Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd," He gives us a picture of sheep in need of a leader who will take initiative in their lives. Jesus says in these same verses that He is the door to the sheepfold. In Jesus' day, shepherds brought their various flocks into the village to be safe in the fold at night. When it was time to take them out to pasture, each shepherd came to the fold and called his sheep one by one. He knew them that well. They knew his voice and they followed him. He was in a real way their door to security as well as to the green pastures.

Initiative -- it is one of the most crucial aspects of being a leader. The Greeks had a word for leadership that simply meant the one who stands out front. This is Jesus Christ, the One standing out front, leading us. He is the One who takes the first move to call us, to heal us, to forgive us, to lay down His life for us. So He is the One we follow.

And fourth, when Jesus says "I am the Good Shepherd," He stretches us to see how beautiful it is to have Him as our Leader. It is an amazing thing, how a Good Shepherd differs from hired help. The Good Shepherd can see the whole flock at once scattered across a pasture, and He can see each one as well. He knows and loves the flock, but He knows and loves them just as well one by one. To call Himself the Good Shepherd is to call us to know Him more clearly, to love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is a daily relationship of authority, provision, care, and sacrifice on the part of the Shepherd. For the sheep it means daily listening for His voice, obedience, following where He leads -- day by day.

"The problem with life," a frustrated fourth-grader once said, "is that it's so doggoned daily." That's quite an insight from a fourth grader. It is every day. We have the Lord, we have the Messiah, we have a leader who knows us all and knows each of us one by one. Imagine that! One billion Christians on earth and this Good Shepherd knows every one of us by name.

Going deeper with Jesus Christ, I mean, getting to know Him as He really is can change your life. More and more as we follow Jesus and listen to Him in His Word, we become like Him.

So Christians through the ages have taken the initiative in caring ministries because Christ is our leader, and He challenges us to do just that. What a different and better world it would be if pastors took more initiative in leading their flocks and if Christians took more initiative in introducing people to Jesus or invited them to worship.

This is the Jesus Christ of the Gospels -- the Good Shepherd still alive today, caring, leading, and calling us to a deeper, more personal relationship. If your Jesus has been too small, too timid, too fixed, too insignificant to change the way you live, He wants you to see Him as He really is -- the Son of God, Messiah, your Savior, your Leader, your Good Shepherd. This is Jesus Christ, more than a statue, more than a cliché, more than the Jesus you may have known before. Maybe it's been too long since you've learned more about Him. If, for the first time, you're beginning to see Him as He really is, then all that He asks is what He gives by His Spirit -- the will to listen for Him, to trust Him, to follow Him, and to stake your life on Him, here and for eternity.

Please pray: "O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly, day by day." Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 21, 2002

ANNOUNCER: I'm Mark Eischer and my guest today is Dr. Rod Rosenbladt. He's professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, CA, and a regular co-host of the national radio program "The White Horse Inn." Dr. Rosenbladt, glad to have you with us today.

ROSENBLADT: Thank you so much. It's good to be here.

ANNOUNCER: How do you talk about Jesus with someone who doesn't necessarily believe the Bible is the Word of God?

ROSENBLADT: Well, the wonderful thing about that, almost uniquely, is Christianity is a historical religion. Now you can say that about every religion in the sense that it started sometime in human time. But you could have, in Christianity, a Jesus who is available to the historian, the normal historian without having an inspired Bible. And it's possible to have a conversation because the claim is the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. He is available to common knowledge, because He became flesh.

ANNOUNCER: So, in other words, you're focusing on faith in Christ, the historical person to establish His identity.

ROSENBLADT: Right. You start with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And you start with the evidence for Jesus' life and whether it's dependable as we find it written down by the Gospel writers.

ANNOUNCER: Is there anything to corroborate the accounts we find in Scripture?

ROSENBLADT: Well, there is. Gary Habermaas has done some good work on that. But the thing we are tricked into many times by the non-Christian is "give it to me from the outside." There we have to say, wait a minute. Let's imagine the whole New Testament is torn into pieces, because that's what it was in the beginning. It was individual writings. So you have to evaluate those on their own and see if any one of them passes the tests. You don't, first of all, go outside. The non-Christian is saying, "The only knowledge I will accept is that which is outside the written Bible." This is scholarly nonsense.

ANNOUNCER: How would that work if you applied it to any other type of historical question?

ROSENBLADT: Well, that's exactly what you do. Aristotle said the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the writer rather than someone else thousands of years later. Until he shows himself to be a charlatan, you first of all read the book as if it is what it claims to be. And in the same way, we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, first of all, to see what they claim. They could be wrong, but we've got to prove it.

ANNOUNCER: Now, how might the discussion vary, depending on the world view of the person to whom you're speaking? For example, one person would say, "Well, sure, the Bible is the word of God for you, the Christian, but for me it's the Koran, or for me it's the book of Mormon." How would you deal with that kind of situation?

ROSENBLADT: I'm so sorry. That is just corrosive and endemic in our whole culture. It's really the loss of the western concept of truth. If you get into talking about what's true for you but isn't true for me, you've lost the concept of truth. There is no such thing as something true for you but not true for me.

ANNOUNCER: One person might have a different view of Scripture. He might have his own set of sacred writings.

ROSENBLADT: Right. And then you ask, "On what factual evidence do you accept that?" It's amazing how little there is outside of the New Testament for religious claims. Usually, it's just, "I see it and you don't."

ANNOUNCER: One other option would be that a person doesn't think there could be such a thing as "the Word of God." Perhaps they're coming from a secular or a naturalistic perspective. How would the discussion go in that situation?

ROSENBLADT: Well, in that situation you say, "Gee, it must be nice to know synthetic a prioris (things about the universe that are true without having to check facts). How exactly do you know that?"

ANNOUNCER: A person could say upfront, "Well, there is no such thing. There could be no such thing as the Word of God."

ROSENBLADT: Yes. And the question then is "How do you know there couldn't be?" In other words, if you remove it from factual testability, and say you know there is no such thing, it begs the question, "How do you know there is no such thing." How do you know before examining the facts that that's the case?

ANNOUNCER: We'll continue our conversation with Dr. Rod Rosenbladt next week in part two of "So This is Jesus Christ."

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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