Acts 2:14, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20-25
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s the Fourth Sunday of Easter. We also call this Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Gospel message that we just read.
In this passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. In the previous chapter, chapter 9, He was also talking to the Pharisees, and they were challenging Him and trying to trick Him, as they often did. So He’s continuing His conversation with them, and He uses a familiar image to identify Himself to them – and to us. A sheep pen would have a fence or a wall, and a gate. The shepherd would lead the sheep in and out of the sheep pen. So in the day they could go out to graze, he would lead them out through the gate, and at the end of the day they would come back to the pen. He would lead them all into the pen through the gate. At night, the shepherd would sleep by the opening to keep the sheep in the pen, but also to keep predators or thieves out. So if somebody was trying to break into the pen, they wouldn’t be able to go through the gate, because the shepherd was there. They’d have to go over the wall. Jesus uses that very image to distinguish Himself from false teachers and false leaders. He says He is the gate. Jesus is the gate. He is the only way in, where the sheep belong. Again, others who come over the walls, those are thieves, those are robbers, He says. He’s talking about these Pharisees who are trying to trick Him. Now, our Gospel author, John, says the Pharisees didn’t get that. But that’s what Jesus is telling them, and of course that’s what He’s telling us, too. Those people were just interested in their power and authority – the ones who were trying to deceive Him, the ones who wanted to defeat Jesus. They were threatened by Jesus. They were interested in their own position in society and in their religious institutions. But Jesus is the gate. Jesus is the way. The sheep would follow the shepherd because he cares about them and the sheep recognize him. Jesus says they recognize my voice. Just like the sheep would recognize the voice of the shepherd, Jesus says His people recognize Him and follow Him. They know who He is. The sheep would follow the shepherd because he cares about them.
There’s a connection between this week’s message and last week’s message. Remember, last week we talked about the disciples who met up with Jesus and at first they didn’t know who He was. Then, as they were breaking bread with Him, He said the blessing, they saw this is Jesus. That was a focus last week, this coming to recognize Jesus, to see who Jesus is. Jesus is there, even when we don’t know it. Even when we’re down, even when we’re feeling lost, even when we’re feeling alone; which I know many people are right now. Jesus is there, whether we know it or not.
And we know who He is. In our first reading for today, from Acts, is that same speech we heard part of last week; where Peter, at the feast of Pentecost, is telling a crowd who Jesus is. He’s telling the people there in Jerusalem, who gathered there for the feast of Pentecost, that Jesus is their Lord, and their Christ, and they killed Him. Some of the people hear what he says. Remember what Jesus said in the Gospel message today, some people will hear His voice and recognize who He is. These people heard this message about Jesus and they knew who He was talking about. What do we do? What do we do, they ask. Because it says, “they were cut to the heart”. They felt terrible about what had happened. What can we do? And Peter tells them, “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
That’s what we do – and so what I want to say is this; these passages I’ve been talking about from Acts and from the Gospel message today sum to this question you can ask yourself – who do you follow? Who is it that you follow? This is what these passages are telling us. They want us to reflect on that. Who is it that we follow? You can follow your own inclinations. You can seek to be your own master; it’s unlikely you’ll succeed, because there’re so many things trying to sway you one way or another. You can follow other people, other people you know, other people you see, and so forth. You can follow politicians. You can follow media, advertising messages, you can follow the world around you, social movements and changes and ideas and all that. You can follow all those things, but there’s only one who is the gate and that is Jesus Christ. I want you to ask yourself today: who am I following? And do everything you can to make the answer to that question: Jesus Christ.
Right now we are all tired. This lockdown has dragged on and on, and we’re tired. We’re tired of the stress and anxiety and uncertainty. We’re tired of being shut in. We’re tired of being alone. I’m tired of not being able to see my congregation. I miss them. We’re all tired of this. I’m tired of not seeing the people I work with and know and so forth. I know you are, too. We want to return to normalcy. We’re tired. And when you’re feeling tired, I want you to remember that image of the Good Shepherd and the gate. At the end of the day the sheep would follow the Shepherd through that gate to rest. At the end of the day, when they’re all tired, they could follow the Shepherd. And the Shepherd would lead them back to where they belong, where they could rest.
Find your rest in Jesus Christ. Follow Christ and Christ alone.